A Story from the Field: Dr Peters writes:
“I don’t think I’ve ever cared for a patient while being watched like that before. There were so many people – you could feel the silence. Little children, older men, young pregnant moms, and his wife, all watched silently as I set down my medical bag and began to work. They all must have been there for quite some time, watching the dying carpenter struggle to breathe – waiting for us.
Five days earlier, pastor had asked me to see this man. He asked me multiple times. The first six times he asked I said no. I knew I wouldn’t be able to cure end stage small cell lung cancer, and anyway, we had to cross a checkpoint and I didn’t have the paperwork to enter the restricted border area. I’d love to, but I just couldn’t. The 7th time he asked, I said I’d pray about it. I don’t know why it surprised us so much when Sarah and I both sensed God leading me to go. By the time pastor asked an 8th time, I said yes. (Our friend is a deeply patient man).
After some hours on the twisting, serpentine road that threads its way along the cliff face towards the little village, we crossed the river. After some negotiation (I declined the initial proposal to trek over the mountain, around the checkpoint) we approached the checkpoint with a little trepidation. Much to my surprise, the checkpoint guard cheerily waved us through without any questions, and we began the ascent to the village.
I’ve spent years in this area, but the roads still delight me. The rock, the ice, the warm sunshine, the trees, the river roaring thousands of feet below, the huge off-road transport trucks that look like minuscule ants creeping along the threadlike trails on the far canyon wall – all echo the power and majesty of a God Above All gods. We all took pictures and marveled at the beauty.
Then we entered that little rock and hand-hewn wood home.
The Christians from the village gathered at the old carpenter’s house that Sunday morning. They seemed to have been waiting for hours. I evaluated his fluid status, his respiratory status, and gave him some opiates for his air hunger. The Sunday morning service took place in his single-room house, so I stayed by his side during the service, listening to him breathe, watching his wife and pregnant daughter care for him. I spoke that morning from our wedding chapter, Psalm 91, reflecting on the tension between our joy and our sorrows. The grief of a fallen world is admixed with the calm assurance ‘resting under the shadow of the almighty’. Before Jesus had done any miracle or preached a sermon, he was declared ‘my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.’ As I closed, I reflected that we too, as we walk through a life of suffering and joy, do so knowing we are God’s beloved son, beloved daughter, in whom He is well pleased. We left quietly after a communal meal, the old carpenter breathing more easily after a second dose of the medicine.
A little piece of my heart is again left in a small mountain village.
A few days later, my dear patient expired, and villagers came to the carpenter’s home again. This time they came to beat my friend the pastor and take the body. For six hours, the believers in the village stood around Pastor, blocking their neighbors from beating him. In the end, Pastor’s gentle appeals were heeded – this funeral is not about one religion or another, but about supporting the family and the legacy of the man. The ceremony was completed without violence – the first Christian cremation ceremony ever to occur in that little village.”
Please pray for our friends out there. They live with great beauty, great suffering, great opposition, and a great God. We love them so much, but also know that photos and stories only give a small glimpse into their complex and varied lives. Pray that they remain strong despite the pressure, for leaders to be raised up, and that God will provide for all of their needs.