Saturday, August 21, 2010

Sometimes one life at a time

Bridge2Rwanda is in the business of transforming lives at both ends of the Bridge that has been built between the United States and Rwanda. In a world of overwhelming need, which life should you hope to transform? Jesus proposes the one He has placed in front of you. What are the most common tools of transformation? Love; time; a listening ear; encouragement; sound counsel; skills… and sometimes medical intervention (remember the Good Samaritan?) and poverty alleviation. Some of the initiatives and strategies of Bridge2Rwanda are intended to reach and touch many, particularly those intended to unleash the innate energy of micro entrepreneurs. Sometimes the effort is intended to touch and transform the life of one.

Anna Reed befriended 13 year old Jean Baptiste in a place that I have frequently referred to as “a very remote village”. He is a brilliant child, who lives in grinding poverty, but he does not seem to know it. All who meet him are struck by his boundless enthusiasm, irrepressible smile, and insatiable appetite for learning. In a region where only Kinyarwanda is spoken, he delights in greeting you in very good English,… and then Chinese.

Jean Baptiste's ever present smile
Jean Baptiste in his home
Jean Baptiste is indeed brilliant, but his “marks” (test scores, grades) in his modest school were unimpressive. In Africa, “education” and “notetaking” are synonymous. The teacher writes on the chalkboard (that is, a wall that has been painted black) and the students copy it down word for word, and then later recopy it. No discussion. No critical thinking. No creativity. This is not “the Rwandan way”, but rather the remnants of the colonial way for all of Africa.

Jean Baptiste’s “marks” were poor because he had not taken a single note in a year. He sat in school. He listened. But he took no notes because of a fast growing tumor in his hand that he had watched grow for six years. Apparently, a doctor had looked at it and determined that there was nothing he could do. Anna noticed it. We photographed it and sent it to various doctors. We had an American veterinarian from Tyson Foods look at it. (Hey, you use ALL available resources!) We learned that it was not soft tissue or a cyst, but rather bone growing on bone,… a bone tumor. Clearly, it was not going to get better, but rather mark the end of the steep trajectory of Jean Baptiste’s life,… until Anna goes into action.

Over the course of just a few weeks, arrangements were made to transport Jean Baptiste to King Faisal Hospital in Kigali to be treated by Dr. Alex Butera, the best orthopedic surgeon in East Africa. It is a 2½ hour drive on a good, fast road. Just 5 miles from his village, Jean Baptiste, who had never traveled anywhere, became amazed by the distance he was covering. “Are we there yet?” was revealed to be a “universal” in the language of childhood. Car sickness also proved to be a universal feature of childhood.

The day became a day of “firsts”: First trip to Kigali, or ANY city. Upon entering Kigali, he was amazed by the many cars, the tall buildings, and the large fountain in the center of the “roundabout”. What is that?!? He could not understand where all the water was coming from,… or going. And many other “firsts”: The ceiling fans in our home were as frightening as they were fascinating. The toilet required detailed instructions. And the warm, soapy bath will be remembered and talked about for years. Fancy foods were not much appreciated, and a cold soda with ice caused his face to shrivel like a prune. So much music coming out of speakers, in both the car and our home, was just too much.

Then it was time to drive to King Faisal Hospital for examination and admission, but first past the Ministry of Education, the Office of President Kagame, and the US Embassy (“the Office of President Obama”), and other such sites. This was “space travel” for Jean Baptiste, and an inexpressible joy for Anna and me. (Arguably, Anna and I were more amazed and joy-filled by the whole experience than was Jean Baptiste. We both vacillated between giddiness and tears, ourselves overwhelmed by a joy that money cannot buy.)

And then came the time to meet Dr. Butera, a very soft-spoken, tender-hearted man in a military camouflage uniform. As I have already explained, Jean Baptiste has an insatiable appetite to learn. Coincidently, earlier in the day he learned the word “integrity”, so as Dr. Butera extended his large, strong hand to shake Jean Baptiste’s hand, he was greeted with “Dr. Butera: You a man integrity. Thank you very much”.

Jean Baptiste was admitted and surgery was scheduled for the following day,… and Anna and I were permitted to scrub and stand in. Oh, the stories we could tell about the pre-op x-rays, drawing blood, the hospital bed, trays of hospital food, nurses, and again, a porcelain toilet. But I must get on with the surgery, which was fabulously successful due to Dr. Butera’s great skill, care, and patience. It was a procedure which might have been done in 30 minutes, destroying muscles, tendons, and nerves. Instead, Dr. Butera, “a man integrity”, patiently and delicately proceeded as if he were working on the hand of the President or an ambassador, carefully retracting the skin, tendons, and nerves, and then carefully extracting the bone tumor with a minimum of trauma to healthy bones and tissues. It was amazing to observe. Jean Baptiste will have full function of his hand and will soon be taking copious notes in school.

Enough words. Let the pictures speak:
Lump? What lump?
What is "elevator"? 
Feeling a bit sleepy

Oh, THAT lump!

Jean Baptiste was unbelievably precious in Post Op Recovery, where there were many people doing their various jobs. When Jean Baptiste’s eyes fell upon anyone, he would boldly demand: “You! You! What is your name?” When person responded, Jean Baptiste exclaimed their name with great emotion and sincerity, and said “Thank You! Thank you very much!” When Dr. Butera walked in, Jean Baptiste exclaimed: “Behold! The man of integrity!” (except for the “Behold!” part, which is just a bit of literary license.)

And Jean Baptiste wants to also “THANK!” Jim Scotti of Redondo Beach who paid for the surgery. Indeed, Jim, a life has been transformed.