Once upon a time, there were two couples that were friends – Lin & Barry and Mark & Diane. They were such good friends, they said that they would take care of each other’s children should anything happen to either couple. Mark and Diane left for South Africa eight years after the AIDS epidemic was understood and diagnosed because Mark was a doctor, and he wanted to see if he could help. He became the foremost champion for helping AIDS victims and their families, and for raising awareness of AIDS throughout Africa.
Nobody calls it “America’s Invention to Destroy Sex” any longer.
Months before I got engaged, I heard Lin speak at a Women’s Day, which was held in Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, and it’s the only thing I remember about the entire day. She said that it’s one thing to share about what you’re going through when you’ve already gone through it – to share what you’ve learned, and how God has helped you through it. It’s quite another thing to share when you’re in the midst of the storm and you can’t see your way through.
Lin’s husband, Barry, had been diagnosed with brain cancer shortly after they were married, and he was given only a year to live. Through prayer and faith, he lasted fifteen more years, and in that time, they had three children together and started a ministry in the Caribbean. But on the day Lin shared, her husband was nearing the end. She described how she curled up on the floor of a public bathroom stall, weeping, and trying to get the courage to continue – to be there for her dying husband and three children. As I listened to her, I cried and cried. My own suffering was still so fresh.
Matthieu and I got married, and left for our year in Africa, where our work was overseen by Mark and his wife. The rest of the team met him, but his trips to Hargeisa never fell during our months there; and we only spoke to him on the phone, never in person. When we returned from Africa, we learned that Lin’s husband Barry had died.
A couple of years after that, we heard that Mark and Diane had returned to the States so that their children could finish high school and attend college. Right after their move back, Diane said she was feeling tired and was going to go lie down. She went into her bedroom, suffered an aneurism, and never woke up from her nap.
This weekend I was plunged into the memories of Africa. This weekend I was a fountain of tears as I remembered our time there, and saw some of the walls around my heart crumble away. This weekend I was inspired to action once again.
Six years after Mark’s wife died, he and Lin got married to each other. And now they are taking care of each other’s kids (and grandkids) – together!
And this weekend they came to visit our church in Paris.
I was not able to hear Lin speak to the women on Saturday because I was teaching, but I had a good conversation with her after church on Sunday – one of those ‘chewy’ kinds of conversations, where you skip the small talk and get right to the heart of the matter.
Not only had Lin lost her husband all those years back – she also lost her job shortly after that. For one year, her suffering was so great, it was hard for her to leave her bed. And this was not even her first bout with suffering! Her parents were missionaries in the Dominican Republic where they were prisoners of war for three months. Lin saw a couple killed right before her eyes when she was nine years old.
She said that when you suffer, you can cut off the parts that hurt, the same way you would cut off a diseased limb. You cut it off to preserve yourself – to preserve your sanity. But when you do that, you’re also cutting off your possibilities for happiness. Yes, you feel less pain. But then you feel less overall.
On the other hand, when you embrace the suffering and really feel it, then you suck the marrow out of life. You live. You really live. This is a hard concept for an addict like me who would rather not feel anything uncomfortable.
Mark spoke at church yesterday, and shared news and pictures of what our donations are doing in Haiti and in the Ivory Coast, among other places. He went to the Ivory Coast during the civil war in 2011, when 3000 dead bodies lined the streets so that they were burning bodies on every street corner.
Our monetary help provided food, training, jobs for the members of our church there, so that they were in turn able to help other people.
He showed pictures of Haiti and the after-effects of mass devastation from the earthquakes. They built an entirely new community of 60 houses, including a school, a church and a clinic for the disciples there, so that they could in turn help other people. Mark is in his sixties (I think) and he has not stopped. He keeps going, keeps giving, keeps loving, keeps fighting.
And I just want to weep that I’m not doing the same.
I know, I know. We’re not missionaries. My husband has a hectic job that involves long hours and travel. And he is doing good – bringing about good – through his job. Our children are our most precious charge, and one that God does not want us to neglect. We can do good right here in our own city.
Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?
Oh, that my head were a spring of water
and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
for the slain of my people.
This was the scripture that Mark shared with us yesterday. God sees the pain of the homeless, the broken, the sick, the prisoners, the orphans. And he cares about their pain, weeping a fountain of tears.
But he works through us – through our love and good deeds. And that, in turn, is very healing for us. It says in Isaiah 58 that when you share your food with the hungry, and provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked (and not close your eyes to his plight) but clothe him, and when you not turn away from your own flesh and blood . . . Then
your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: here am I.
The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
then you will find your joy in the Lord,
and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.
When we give to others and ease their suffering, we find – in some sort of miraculous way – our own joy and healing.
After church, we went up to Mark and introduced ourselves, and his eyes lit up with recognition when he heard our names. He thanked us for our work there. But I said, “I miss Africa – I want to do more.“
“You can!” he answers in that robust way of his, where laughter and energy are infused in every word.
“There is always so much to do.”
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I didn’t intend to include a link for donations when I began this post, but if you are looking for something to do through financial donations or through volunteering, Hope worldwide is just one way you can help.