Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Even there

It's quickly becoming a favorite place of mine though I've only spent 6-8 hours there in total. Honestly, my first minutes inside were full of timidity and nervous observation. As the gate was slowly unlocked, pushing willful escape artists out of the way, it was as if we were being welcomed into a cage full of lions. My eyes were busy scanning the scene, never lingering too long to avoid being surprised by an unexpected encounter.

 The noises greet you before you even cross the muddy path that brings them into sight. Screams, groans, bickering, singing, laughing, conversation, crying. This is Kenya's one and only mental institution--the "civil" women's ward.

 Wangare* meets you at the gate and squeezes you so tightly you feel like your organs will come out of your mouth. Not just upon greeting, but every few minutes. Sneak attacks from behind are her favorite, and maybe mine too. Her laughter echoes through the stale walls and urine soaked floors. She proudly buries my entire arm in the pit of her own and drags me throughout the whole ward, introducing me as "rafiki yangu" (my friend). I am blown away by the honor of her introduction. I strangely miss her in the hours I am at home, surrounded by people who respect my personal space.

 Alice* repeats the same few sentences repeatedly, sharing her desire to become a US citizen. She follows too closely for my comfort and sees a way-too-small opening on the bench as a an eager invitation to sit. After a few minutes, I lose feeling in my left leg and run out of graceful responses to her repetitious mutterings. Her husband visits her daily and I would say she is the best dressed women in the ward thanks to his faithful efforts. She treats him poorly when he comes but he keeps on coming back. This kind of love baffles me.

 Mary's* sweet demeanor meets me at the gate every time. She has more love in her frail 80 pound body than anyone I've met. Her story will cut your heart into pieces and yet she is the first to tell you that she does not doubt God and His power. She speaks so sweetly of her God and I love Him all the more. Though she was granted permission to be discharged months ago, Kenyan hospitals require you to stay until you can pay your bill in full. It is a practice synonymous with prison. She tells me she is fasting and as much as I respect her faith, I beg her to eat. Her bones protrude and her gait is weak. I tell her she needs to remain physically strong so she can care for the children who wait expectantly for her. She nods with brimming tears. I ache to erase her pain. I stand in awe of her resilient faith in the same God I call my own.

 Sarah* talks to me about the mzungu ("white person") she knows, assuming if we are both white, we obviously must know each other. I listen for a few moments as she skips sentence breaks and talks without end and then intervene to tell her to eat the food she has collected before it gets cold. I just need a small break from her incessant talk and maybe if her mouth is full my ears can have a rest. Just as her mouth is filled, she breaks into singing the Kenyan national anthem. Some women stand in respect and other just look on.

 The one I feared the most is now a friend, as I have learned the key to her heart: food. She is nonverbal, very stout, and wears only a medical gown which barely covers her front and hangs open in the back. She seems unable to recognize when her stomach is full, so roams around to each person who is eating, demanding they give her some of their portion. The wise ones have learned to quickly fulfill her request so as to avoid an altercation. She has been abandoned again and again and again until she reached adulthood and no one knew where else take her. If for no other reason, I want Jesus to hurry up and come back just for her sake.

This beautiful woman doesn't respond when I ask her name, but she yells loudly that God will come. I nod my head and grab her hand, telling her that He is already here. We both look around and say it aloud. "He is here. (Mungu ni hapa.)"

I have to believe it, though I feel my own doubt creep in as my eyes scan the scene once again. But yes, even (or most especially!) in a cage full of urine soaked and wandering women -- He is here. Women. Women who have moms and dads and childhood memories and brothers and sisters and husbands and CHILDREN and gardens and market vendors who know their name and how many kgs of flour they will buy this week and homes they wake up to sweep. This cage is filled with moms and daughters and wives, not wild animals as I had once believed.

 You can see the kindness in Jane's* eyes the second you meet her. She remains quiet, except to warn me when I am about to sit down on a bench that is covered in human, adult excrement. Though she does not join any of our conversations, I watch her and her love for others amazes me. She gently scoots down the bench to sit next to a severely ill woman who is unable to feed herself. Jane has learned that the woman just needs help getting the food into her mouth, where she is then able to push the food down her throat with her index finger. Before Jane even takes a bite of her own food, her heart beats for the others around her.

 The one most precious in my heart is the one who brought me here. She puts her limp, sedated arm around me and says "I am bad". Together we lift her chin and force her eyes to meet ours. "You are not bad." "Do you hear?" "You are not bad." "Jesus is here and He says you are not bad. You are His child." "Do you hear?" As if speaking to a child, I will her to believe me. I will not tell a lie. I also will not allow a lie to be spoken without calling out against it. Satan will not be the loudest voice echoing through this place. Not in the ears of my friend. He will not reign here. She asks to come home with me every single time we visit. I ache to say yes, but know that she needs just a little more time to adjust to the medication and be reviewed.

I cannot blame her for even one millisecond for wanting to leave. At the same time, I am encouraged to no end by the work God is doing when I see the precious friends she has made in just one week here. They are sisters. The most beautiful sisters who seem to not even imagine withholding love from someone who is different. I hide tears behind my sunglasses at the sight of their love for one another.

 I love so deeply the God who chooses to be present in places as seemingly hopeless as this overflowing prison. He pulls us out of the miry pit and even when we still feel neck-deep in the muck, He is there with us. I just love that God. I love the Jesus who tells us as He walks this pain-ridden earth that these women that fill this cage are absolutely precious to Him, a king. Giving our whole lives to them is not a waste, it is worship.

 A personal pet peeve of mine is the constant asking God to come and join us as we worship Him. Though I don't know that the invitation does any harm, can we just believe assuredly enough to skip right to THANKING HIM for being here? And if we have to invite Him even into our churches, what about the places where darkness is tangibly thick? Can we trust Him to be there or is it our duty to unlock the gate, push back the ones trying to break loose, and give Him a place on the bench?

 Is the God who lifts my head and goes before me the same God who has the same fond affections for these seemingly forgotten women, sisters, and mothers? I ask Him the whole way home. I so need Him to be and the next time I go, I ask Him to show me Himself so clearly because my eyes are new at this stuff. The recognizing Him in hurt and pain and injustice is something I am just beginning to learn. I need him to pick up my eyeballs and place them in front of His sweetness every single day here.

 Today the muddy, soiled ground where overmedicated women lay was recognized as undoubtedly holy ground. I saw Him everywhere. He was in the patient doctor (one of TWENTY FIVE mental health specialists in a nation of over 43 million people) who spoke lovingly to the hundreds of women in her care. He was with and shining so brightly from precious Mary who keeps on believing He is working for her good, even now. He was in my sweet friend who shared the precious fruits and soda we brought her with the sisters she has found here. He spoke through Margaret* as she took a weeping woman in her arms and assured her over and over again that this pain will not last forever. He is in Wangare's* laugh and tight squeezes.He is all up in the laughter that just doesn't quite make sense in the conditions these women live in. He is there -- where women and moms and daughters and sisters endure. Though most of the country, their own families included, have given up on or forgotten them, God is there and He is crazy about them and He is not going anywhere. That kind of love leaves me breathless.
"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you." Psalm 139:7-12
"Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end." Matthew 28:20
He will never leave or forsake His people. Even there, He is


  1. It has taken several readings and stillness to begin to say, JESUS. and even now that's all I got.

  2. SO this: "Though I don't know that the invitation does any harm, can we just believe assuredly enough to skip right to THANKING HIM for being here? And if we have to invite Him even into our churches, what about the places where darkness is tangibly thick? Can we trust Him to be there or is it our duty to unlock the gate, push back the ones trying to break loose, and give Him a place on the bench?"