Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Finding Christine

A blog post appeared on August 10, 2009, entitled A Walk to Forever Remember. (It is perhaps my favorite post.) I wrote of providential encounters deep into a rural area,… one with the young mother named Christine and her two starving newborn twins. That was three months ago and they have remained a poster on the wall of my mind, where they represent many of the fundamental issues and challenges concerning our struggles on earth,… not only for the 3+ billion who are desperately poor, but also for those who have some means to respond but are either overwhelmed, or ignorant of the situation, or perhaps simply do not care.

So a few days ago I set out to find Christine, along with my buddy William and our new Team Member, Mark Darrough (a recent Clemson grad and heretofore unknown identical twin of Nathan Allen). We did not know if we would be able to find her. All we could do is try our best to retrace our footsteps over hill and over dell.

We knew we were on the right route when we encountered Liberata, the woman about whom I wrote near the beginning of A Walk to Forever Remember. Liberata was again stunned and delighted to see us enter her very basic compound. Although she did not know Christine, she dispatched her grandson and nephew to help guide us in our search.

After walking quite some distance for about an hour (almost all very steep downhill), we found Christine,… or rather, Christine found us. She RAN up to us and threw her arms around us with enthusiastic joy. Her mother, Dancile, was with her as well as one young baby. ONE baby,… a tiny boy named Dusengimana, which means “Let Us Pray to God”.

I asked Kristine how she and her babies were doing. She told me that the other twin died,… a little girl named Dushimana, “Let Us Praise the Lord”. As Mark observed and commented, this was very difficult news for me to receive and process. True, I had wondered whether we would find either of the babies alive. But stroking the face of one baby caused me to greatly miss the other, and grieve "the half-empty glass”. I know that “the half full” perspective is most commendable, but dammit, Christine’s baby had died and there was no escaping that sad fact. Christine had been told that her baby girl had died of AIDS, but Christine was unconvinced and confused, for her own HIV/AIDS tests had conflicting results. The surviving baby boy, Dusengimana, is now seven months old, is still hairless, and weighs 3.9 KGs, that is, less than 10 pounds. That certainly strengthens the suspicion of HIV/AIDS, but it could also be evidence of the initial theory of simple starvation.

Well, we had found Christine and her surviving baby, and we had done so for a purpose: To deliver two backpacks full extraordinarily nutritious, high calorie, high-protein nonperishables,… and a few perishable items, including two containers of frozen milk (which were no longer frozen) and a round of cheese. I should not have been surprised when Christine told us that she had never before eaten cheese, nor did she know what it was. We had to tell her not to eat the plastic wrapping or the wax, and not to eat the entire round in a day, for it would give her a wicked stomachache.

Christine and her mother gasped, and laughed, and covered their faces as we pulled out items like cooking oil, rice, pasta, and other staples. Items like packaged tuna, sardines, and a jar of honey required explanation and instructions, including the instruction that Christine’s body was somewhat of a “factory”, and that this food is to be eaten and processed by her so that it can benefit her extremely frail baby. But how does she actually do this living with her extended family in a culture where EVERYONE is hungry and EVERYTHING is to be shared? These are the dilemas of the poor. I am pleased to say that we also delivered many packages of infant porridge, but sorry to say that I doubt that little “Let Us Pray to God” is capable of eating it.

Much sooner than we would wish, it was time to go. Actually, the “time to go” was already long past, for we would surely get trapped by darkness. We had anticipated this possibility, but I had taken some comfort in the fact that we had a fairly full moon and clear skies. But I had not considered the time of the “moonrise” (which was apparently quite late) or the fact that we were in a very deep, narrow valley. Indeed, the blind men’s trek out of there, climbing a steep, narrow path (often a ledge), through the African bush, in total darkness, was quite a challenging adventure which made us only more anxious to return.

Postscript: This sort of “relief work” giving is not at the core of the mission of Bridge2Rwanda. There is a time for this kind of giving, and I was convinced that this was that right time: extreme “special circumstances”, which included the combination of abandonment by an abusive, alcoholic husband; newborn twins; the tail end of the dry season; a lack of food necessary to produce breast milk; and suspected HIV/AIDS. I do not deny the great personal gratification that comes with the privilege of stepping into Christine’s circumstances and having something to offer. But the core mission of Bridge2Rwanda is certainly much more than immediate personal gratification, whether Christine’s or mine. It is to create self-sustaining programs, particularly in the education sector. We eschew the creation of dependency that enslaves and deprives people of their personal dignity. Our work is slow, methodical, and focused on empowering Rwandans to lift themselves and their country out of desperate poverty,… a hand up, rather than a hand out,… and not a hand up to a temporary, teaser taste of an improved quality of life, but rather an extended hand that offers education, skills and tools for sustainable transformation. ‘Taint sexy, but it makes a real and lasting difference.

Thus, although I told Christine that it was a great privilege for me to meet her 3 months earlier, and how God has used (and is using) her in my life, and how nice it would be to see her in the future, I was also clear that we may never see each other again. She assured me that she understood and that she was just grateful for the two visits that meant so much to her. We prayed together and then she, with “Let Us Pray to God” strapped to her back, walked us to the extreme perimeter of her village, where the path disappeared into the darkness.