Sunday, November 27, 2016

How God Has Worked Through Our Helping

by Dave


You may have read of our distress in thinking through when to give in a past blog “When Not Helping Hurts”. I wrote about a little girl in our neighborhood that was sick, our desire to help, and frustration in not knowing what to do. With much prayer and seeking counsel, we decided to help financially. And now, I thought I would give you all an update on how Madeleine is doing. I am pleased to say that she is doing incredibly well, considering her condition. First, though, I will tell you about her sickness.

The Sickness

Originally I just knew that Madeleine was very sick. Her stomach was extremely swollen and lumpy, definitely a bad sign. She also had pretty much no energy, her skin was yellow, and she just looked terrible. Her father told me she often woke up at night with extreme pain in her limbs as well. The family had taken her to a clinic who had recommended a particular test that she would need to get in Bertoua (the closest big city). Her father approached me for help with transport to Bertoua and money for testing. This was the first step in our personal dilemma, as I knew that he could find the money for these tests, but also that he would not. So, as a foreign missionary, would it do more help or hurt to give them money for these tests?

Well, we decided to give them money and they took her to Bertoua. It turns out that Madeleine has Sickle Cell Anemia. The sickness has caused damage to her organs, which is why her stomach is so bloated. This is a very sad diagnosis because there is no fix for this. Sickle Cell is something that she will have for her entire life, and her life will likely be short. In a moment I will talk about her needs, but first, I am so pleased to report that we have seen great progress.

She has so much more energy, has grown several inches, is losing baby teeth, growing adult teeth, and just looks so much healthier (praise the Lord!). Her stomach is still uncomfortably swollen, but she has said that some of the other symptoms have improved as well (i.e. she has less pain in her limbs). Though her family does not attend church, she often comes to our porch Bible studies and knows many of the Bible songs by heart. It has been a remarkable joy to see her improvement in this area. She went from a sad, lifeless, skeleton to a joyful, vivacious little girl. She giggles with our girls in the front yard, and leans her head on my chest when she sits next to me in church. We are so happy. However, we remain sober knowing that she is in constant mortal danger. Allow me to describe for you her physical needs.

Her Needs

Blood. The main way that Sickle Cell is treated is multiple blood transfusions. I just spoke to someone the other day who said that she knew a girl with SC that had to receive blood over 20 times in a single year. This is without a doubt the saddest part of this reality. There is no way that Madeleine’s parents could ever afford a lifestyle of blood transfusions. Further, the hospital in Bertoua could never provide her with all of the transfusions she would need. The only answer that I see for Madeleine would be for her to move to somewhere with a better hospital, and have funds for a lifetime of medical intervention.

Diet. One aspect of life in a Cameroon village that makes these issues even worse is that protein is hard to get. Meat, beans, milk, and eggs are all expensive and the diet of my neighbors is mainly starch. This is one area that I feel like we have been able to help. From time to time we give Madeleine eggs and beans and have been able to talk with her family about her diet. I believe that it is mostly because of this change in diet that Madeleine has greatly improved.

Prophylaxis. Because Madeleine is already anemic, we have been told that if she catches a major illness which also causes anemia (i.e. malaria) she will most likely die. She needs to be taking medication everyday pretty much for the rest of her life. This is yet another expense that her family cannot afford. We saw this as an urgent need, and all of our family takes prophylaxis every day (prophylaxis is a medicine that you take daily to prevent disease), so we decided just to invite Madeleine to our house every day to give her the medicine. We are able to buy the medicine in bulk, which means it is so much cheaper for us, than it would be for them.

The Ongoing Dilemma

In the decisions mentioned above, we have chosen to go against the principles that we previously held, and are normally given in helpful missions books like When Helping Hurts. Specifically, as I mentioned in the first post, we have always been told that we should not do for others what they can do for themselves. This applies to a few of the decisions we have made, including paying for the testing and for protein rich food. In both of these situations, there is no doubt that her family could do better than they do. But we have become convinced that they will not. Which leaves us believing that if we do not intervene, she will die.

Another missions principle is to not engage in unsustainable support. That is to say, we should not do things that make the nationals dependent upon us. In this case, if something would prevent us from being here, this family would have no resource for the prophylaxis. However, once again, we feel like to not give her the medicine is to just let her die.

I am not sure that any of our confusion from earlier has been resolved, but it has been such a grace to see her grow healthier. And as I reflect on the decision I most certainly do not regret it. However, had we decided not to give and she had died, I know I would have regretted that decision. I believe that as I grow in my understanding of missions I am leaning towards being more and more generous. I am coming to believe that many times the cost of not giving is greater than the cost of giving. I think the goal is to not only be wise, but to be generous. Perhaps my generosity will lead some to abuse me, perhaps they will think I am a fool, but I would rather be an abused, foolish, generous man than one seen to not love. And for many poor, especially when dealing with medical matters, to not give is seen as to not love. I am certainly not saying that I have all the answers, but I am glad that we erred on the side of generosity in this case, and I pray for wisdom in the future.