Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Thank You for Your Love: Learning to be Incarnational

Patricia, assisted by chaplain Clementine, admires
herself in the mirror before her dress ceremony   
“Thank you for your love”: Patricia a young woman stood with 8 other women in front of a celebrating crowd. Just a week before she sat watching a similar celebration with tears streaming down her face. Whether those tears were for the joy she had in another’s healing, nervousness for her own outcome, or sadness at a memory remembered from a painful past I don’t know. On this day, however, there are no tears. When it is Patricia’s turn to share she is so filled with joy that she cannot speak at first, so she sings. Voices join hers and our God, the one who is the true healer, is praised. She tells us a little of her story, her embarrassment at university. She tells how she had grown so tired of wearing diapers to school. The embarrassment seemed to prove too much, but just as she decided to drop out and end her education God provided Mercy Ships and free surgery. She is going back to school, dry and no more diapers! After the celebration I walk an excited group of ladies out of the ship and we share last minute hugs as we say goodbye one last time on the dock. As I embrace Patricia she very softly says in my ear these 5 words: Thank you for your love.

Mercy Ships is unique when it comes to sharing the gospel. They follow an incarnational model when sharing about Christ. Incarnational differs from proclamational in that its main focus isn’t on preaching the message of the gospel and proclaiming it to those around us. Incarnational means the focus is on living like Jesus and allowing his love and truth to be spoken though how we live and interact with those around us. It doesn’t mean that we never speak the truths of God’s word; it means that we seek to demonstrate those truths as we live it out.

What does this look like within the hospital? Its hospital chaplains who lead the ward in a daily devotion and songs, but also spend hours in the ward getting to know patients, counselling and being a listening ear. Its nurses who pray for patients and each other out in the open and treat each other, our local day crew and patients with compassion, kindness, respect and love. Its day crew who are able to speak freely in our patients own language, and showing Christ’s love in the way they care. It’s not making it difficult for our Muslim patients to pray even though they pray to a different god, but instead treat these patients with the same love and respect we treat our Christian patients. Its nonhospital crew members coming down to the wards and bringing art projects to share or committing to visit a longer stay patient during the time they are with us. It’s loving a community when out in town and treating everyone with respect and kindness.

While Jesus was a teacher and a preacher, his message didn’t end with the words he spoke. Jesus is relational. When the blind man and the leper came to Jesus they were shown kindness. Jesus touched them, He healed them and then He spoke words of wisdom. When Zacchaeus, a sinner, sought Him out Jesus offered friendship and love. We are commanded in the bible to show this same kind of love. “A new command I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34 -35).
One of our first weeks in Cameroon we invited 3 religious leaders onto the ship: A Christian pastor, a Muslin Imam and a traditionalist. They shared about their beliefs and answered questions so that we as a ship community would better understand our patients and the community in which we were now living. The traditionalist had grown up in a family who practiced the Christian religion and had left the church in search of answers. He said something that saddens me. He thanked us for his time on the ship and for the relationship he had built with the crewmember and day crew who had asked him to come. He said that his experience with Mercy Ships was the first time in his life that he had a conversation with a Christian who was not yelling at him in anger. How can we, as Christians, show the truth of God’s word when we are not also displaying His love in how we say it?

As I strive to be incarnational, I pray that my life also will be reflective of God’s loves to those patients I serve, but I have something to confess. I was nervous about being on the Women’s Health ward this year. Not only because it was different than anything else I have ever done in my 8 years of nursing, but because I was worried about connecting with adult patients. Last year I had the joys of working with both adults and children. When you don’t speak the language it is so much easier to connect with and show love to young children. Their love languages are cuddles and play, both of which I am good at. I also knew that since I would be charge nursing more frequently this year on the ward than last, I would have less one on one interaction with our patients. I was worried that I would not be able to display the love God placed in my heart in a way that would truly be felt by my adult patients. So even though I tried to trust God and his plan for the year, I still worried a bit about connection, and that’s when God put Mama Aissatou into my life.

My dear friend Mamma Aissatou
Aissatou, a women from the Extreme North region of Cameroon, was placed in the bed just behind the charge nurse deck on the ward. She has a special place in many of the nurses’ hearts. I call her Mamma Aissatou partly because she is older, but mostly because she mothered the ward. Mamma Aissatou has mothered 9 babies over the years, but sadly only 4 are living. Most of those babies were stillbirths, one of the last is what caused her fistula. She speaks Fulfulde (a common northern dialect) and French. So she especially looked out for those patients whom did not speak French and patiently translated for us when our Fulfulde translator wasn’t available. Love just poured out of her through her smile, her touch, her reassuring voice. She helped me learn a few words in Fulfulde so that I can now greet my northern patients when I come on shift. By the end of her stay I greeted her by calling her “mon amie” (French for my friend).

Mamma Aissatou was discharged a day earlier than I expected so I missed saying goodbye to her from the ward. Thankfully she returned for an outpatients appointment on the dock a week later so I went down to find her. She saw me first and called out for me: “mon amie!” As we embraced we both knew it would likely be that last time we would see each other this side of heaven. In that moment there were no translators; however, we didn’t really need one. Love is not spoken. Love doesn’t need translation.

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