Ethiopia Vignette #4
Life and Death in Burji: Aki and Tiblett
Aki died quietly, a victim of tribal warfare. A few days before her passage into the Father's arms, we were driving down the road and met her on the road. She was being carried aloft on a mattress, borne on the shoulders of her relatives and neighbors.
We stopped, turned the vehicle around, and helped to load her into the back of the Land Cruiser. We were en route to a rural church. This was the first time since my cancer diagnosis that I'd been back in Burji. People were waiting to greet us at the church, but this was more important at the moment.
We drove to the government clinic in Soyama. As we drove, church leader Oshe told me her story. She was from an Orthodox family. She and her brother had come to true faith in Christ a few years before, and were regular attendees in the local protestant church. Their farm was at the edge of Burji land. The Guji tribe next door was eager for their land. They roamed the area, preying on men working their fields. One day Aki was walking through their fields taking lunch to her father. She was shot in the belly by a Guji man. There is no hospital in Burji land.The government clinic tried to give first aid, but she needed to go to the distant Arba Minch Government Hospital; this was a full 8-10 hours' drive away. The church took a special offering for her medical care and got her to the hospital. She stayed there until the money ran out. Then she was sent home with an indwelling urinary catheter, still very sickly.
Her family tried to care for her in their hut. But she grew weaker and weaker. It had been a year since she had come back home. The indwelling urinary catheter had not been changed during that time. And now they were bringing her to the clinic in desperation.
Aki was carried up the back steps of the clinic into a medium-sized room. Iron beds ringed the room. Some had mattresses; some did not. She was laid with her mattress on a bed frame. I went to pray over her.
How emaciated she looked! Her skin was yellow, her cheeks hollow. Her eyes looked at me, limp with fatigue. She was beyond feeling. Each breath was shallow. Her mouth was dry and caked. My heart went out to her. It was clear to me that she was septic, and there was little hope for her. I could hear the family's amazement that I would stop to be with Aki, that I would touch her, that I would pray over her. But what else could I do? She was my sister in the Lord. Though we had never met before, and though we could not speak words to each other, we would spend eternity together, and we had this moment together.
After my prayer, the family wanted to show me the sore on her back. They rolled her over, parted the sheets, and I saw the largest decubitus ulcer I have ever seen in my life! The bone was openly exposed. The meat yellow and black. The stench was unbearable. I knew then that she would die. Even in America, with the best of medicine, she would be a difficult case to heal. I doubted if she would last to the end of the week.
After we got Aki settled, we drove on the church and had a wonderful time of fellowship and testimony. I shared with them the reality of my cancer, the prognosis, and the unchanging character of God. He is always loving, always just, always sovereign....before and after cancer.
He does not change. And it is by living in the reality of His character that we have not only peace, but also joy, in the midst of the most difficult situations. I encouraged them to trust God to be who He says that He is. My greatest prayer request was that the Lord would make me to faithfully serve Him and trust Him until the end. One man walked 6 hours to meet me at that church....what an honor he showed to me! Many of the believers in this church were some of the first to come to Christ in Burji. They had known my parents and they had known me as a little child living amongst them. Such precious fellowship can only be found in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus! There are no racial, language, or cultural divisions in His family.
We drove back to our room late that day, and the next morning I asked to go to the clinic to visit Aki. She was still alive, hanging on, lying in that same dirty room. I prayed over her again, asking God to be merciful to her in her passing to Him.
I turned around. Across the room sat a mother, bent over her little baby. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, rocking gently. Beside her sat a little boy, his face a study in anxiety and concern.
Then I recognized the woman. She was Bogalech. I had met her the year before. She lives in the mountains of Burji, a wonderful godly woman who at that time was in charge of the women's work in all the Burji churches. We had driven down the mountain together and I still remember her and Oshe talking away. How I love to hear the Burji chatter.
Why was she here in this clinic? What was wrong? As I questioned her, she showed me her baby. The child was over a year old now, but could not lift her head, could not swallow food, could not roll over. The clinic staff had said that she was mal-nourished. Bogalech explained that her milk had dried up and they were encouraging Bogalech to feed her baby adult food, chopped up. But the baby choked and now they said she had pneumonia. They had given her a shot.
As Bogalech spoke, I noted the quiet desperation in her voice. What could she do? Nothing. This clinic was the best medicine available to her. She had tried everything she could to save her child, but it was clear the child would die. Her heart ached with the anticipated pain of the burial to come.
I looked at the child. Her eyes were bright, her suck was good...there was hope! "What is her name?" I asked Bogalech. "Tiblett," she replied. That moment I fell in love with little Tiblett.
Immediately I went to Oshe. "We must take this child to a bigger city to see a real doctor! I'm going back to the capital in a couple days. Why don't we take this baby and her mother with us, and we'll take the baby to see your brother (a doctor) in the big city of Awassa?" Oshe discussed this idea with Bogalech, and she readily agreed. Word was sent to her husband, an evangelist in far-off Konso. He left immediately on the long trip to Burji. Bogalech walked back to her village to arrange for the care of her other children with extended family.
Two days later, we pulled out of Burji; a phone call to Oshe told us of Aki's death. As we drove, I prayed "God, help us to help this child Tiblett. Lead us. Guide us. And thank you for the privilege of being a help to them."
We pulled into Awassa, a large city south of Addis Ababa. It was known for its medical facilities and its university. We went straight to the doctor's office. Diagnosis: Down's Syndrome with cardiac involvement.
I explained to Bogalech and her husband Wolde what Down's Syndrome is. "It is caused by some changes when the baby is first made in the womb. Some cases are mild, others are severe. Development is delayed, but if you are patient, she will eventually walk and run like other children. And God seems to give these children very special sweet and happy dispositions. They are full of love. And I have seen Him do great ministry through children and adults with Down's Syndrome." After a short time of grieving, they welcomed their child has God had made her.
Knowing there was nothing medically that could realistically be done for Tiblett, I began to coach the mother. I explained to her that she must go back to 100% breast feeding; Tiblett's muscles were not developed enough to handle swallowing food safely. I gave Bogalech some protein bars and taught her about good nutrition. We discussed the necessity of drinking lots of good water. We saw to it that she rested. (I have often said that the life of a woman in Ethiopia is just above that of a donkey; they both work sooooo hard!)
And sure enough, within a few short days her milk came in full, and Tiblett was enjoying a full meal again. Within a week of breast feeding, she was a new creature. Both mother and baby were happy. They returned to Burji; Wolde returned to his work in Konso. And I returned to America.
Six months later (July, 2010) we took the largest team we had ever taken to Ethiopia. I had in my heart to send some tools for Bogalech, to help her in raising Tiblett. So amongst the other ministry supplies, we loaded a little musical swing and an exersaucer. I knew that eventually Tiblett would move from breast-feeding to normal food, so I packaged up powdered baby cereals and packaged fruits and vegetables, along with Melba toast. My focus was on the nutritive vitamins and additives to aid in her growth and development. Traditional Ethiopian food is eaten from a common platter, using only hands. So my suitcase for Tiblett contained a little bowl with cover, and a child's spoon. Baby Tylenol, teething aids, rattles and clothes finished out the supply list. And lastly, I found space for a new dress for Bogalech.
What a joy it was to present these items to Bogalech and Tiblett. Ed Johnson from our Team put the swing and exersaucer together for me. And I wish you could have been there with me when we first put Tiblett into that musical swing. How she laughed and giggled!!! And all around, the Ethiopians wondered at this gadget. Never before had they seen a musical swing. We gave them extra batteries, and gave strict instructions that Tiblett and only Tiblett were to be in the swing. If the older children tried to get in, it would break.
I demonstrated to Bogalech how to mix the baby pabulum, we checked that Tiblett could process the food well, and then we loaded everything into the Land Cruiser to help Bogalech get everything back to her village home.
Months passed. From my home in Virginia, I sent emails and phoned to Oshe. "How is Tiblett?" "She is doing good! She is getting big. She is beginning to pull herself up on the chair." How I longed to see her!!
The next team went in November, 2011. It had now been 1 1/2 years since we had made that trip to the doctor in Awassa. I sent clothes and new toys for Tiblett. Oshe gave them to Bogalech and then he sent me pictures! She was walking! She had that happy, happy smile that so often goes with Down's children. She was fat and chubby. And she looked so beautiful in my new clothes!
But the greatest joy of all what when I got to see little Tiblett on Skype. By the grace of God and according to His goodness, He sent us Dale Jennings who was familiar with computers. He set things up for Oshe on the computer. Bogalech, Wolde, and Tiblett came from their mountain village, and we joined them from Virginia. As I looked at that little girl via satellite, my heart exploded in praise to God.
By His loving sovereignty, He had taken Aki to Himself, and He had blessed Tiblett with life....and He had allowed me to be an integral part in both situations.
April 13, 2012