Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Hike I Didn't Go On

I wrote this several weeks ago but didn't finish it until now. Sorry for not posting for a while...

Hiking is one of my favorite things to do. Whether I'm with a bunch of good friends or just walking with God,  I've found incredible peace and divine communion among the mountains, trees, and streams that make up God's lesson book of nature.

Since coming to Timor-leste, hiking is what I've missed most (besides the people I love). There are plenty of mountains, forests, jungles, valleys, beaches, and rocky cliffs for hiking and climbing, but I haven't been able to find a "hiking buddy", and hiking alone isn't an option here. It doesn't help that I live in the capital city.


Today, I could've gone on a hike. Paulo, Miguel, and several other friends from church went up to Dare (da-rhay) after lunch. As I watched them get their camel packs and put their shoes on, Miguel came over to me.

"Katie, why aren't you getting ready? Why aren't you coming?" He pleaded with me, "I want you to come hiking with me! I don't want to go without you. Why can't you come?"

I set down the Bible study I was writing. Why wasn't I going? Every part of me longed to go, but before I knew about the hike I had said I would play violin with some church members who were going to sing at the hospital. 

"Miguel," I sighed, "I can go hiking with you another day, but I may not have another chance to bring the hope of Jesus to Gill."

"Fine," he says as he walks away, "but we're going to have fun and you're going to regret it!"


You see, Gill is the man that my friends and I were going to visit at the hospital. Gill is a 33 year old, Timorese man with congestive heart failure. He is also an animist. Animism is basically a complex tribal religion based on reincarnation and superstition. Not only is Gill an animist, but he hates Adventists. When his sister became a Seventh-Day Adventist and started coming to our church, Gill and his brother beat her until she ran away.

Now Gill is dying. He is in a lot of pain, his heart cannot pump his blood sufficiently, and he is drowning in his own body fluids. Yet, until last Sabbath, Gill would not go to the hospital. His mother had gone to the witch doctor who lives in the mountains to get him medicine, and he wouldn't trust himself to the "malae" (foreigner) doctors until he'd tried spirit medicine first.

For weeks our pastor's wife (she's a doctor) worked with him in his home, trying to bring him comfort physically and spiritually, but things would get heated whenever she offered to pray. The Holy Spirit was working too though, and on a Friday evening he finally allowed her to pray with him. Afterward she asked if she could bring some friends to sing and play violin for him the next afternoon, and he agreed.

After church and potluck a group of church members (including me as the violinist) sang and played for Gill and talked to him about his health. Although we were not able to convince him to go to the hospital, we did pray with him, and later that same evening he called and asked to be brought to the hospital.


Exactly a week later, Gill's future is looking bleak. He waited too long to go to the hospital, and his heart has expanded to fill most of his chest cavity. He can barely breath, and the small hospital here in the third-world city of Dili doesn't have anywhere near the medical technology, or even the sanitation, that it would take to give him what he needs - a heart transplant.

At the hospital, I'm overwhelmed by what I see. First we stop by the maternity ward to congratulate a friend who just gave birth. Six new mothers with their little babies and huge families crowd into each un-airconditioned room. Some patients moan, and others aimlessly wander the halls. We find our friend before we find an information desk or attending nurse.

After seeing the new baby and drawing a crowd with our songs, we move on to find Gill. We find him in a cramped, windowless room, supportive family members sleeping on the tile floor around him. He has a new wound where one of the nurses ripped off a bandage too quickly. There is a desperate look in his eyes. He knows he's going to die. We try to make him more comfortable and encourage him, but I can't share the Bible study that I have written for him because there is no one to translate this time. Still, I know that the Holy Spirit was there. It was Him who brought calm to that sick room and a smile to Gill's face as my friends sang and I played.

Now I'm back home, and my whole being is flooded with a wave of exhaustion. There is no euphoria or feeling of accomplishment this time. I'm not excited or on fire like so many other times after an afternoon of sharing and singing and praying. Listening to Miguel's glowing reports of their hike in the rain (my favorite!), a tiny shadow of doubt asks me if my visit even did any good. Yet there is something else, something at first less noticeable, but much stronger and more lasting. Through my mental, emotional, and physical exhaustion there weaves a fine thread of peace. Peace that cannot be broken. Peace that in giving I received. It passes all understanding...

Gill passed away at 10:00 pm on November 29, 2012. I don't know for sure if I will see him in heaven,  but at least I know that for one afternoon I helped give him a little of heaven's peace while he was here on earth.