He Will Wipe Away Every Tear
[From the archives: during this month in which the Church prays specifically for the souls of the faithful departed, Lindsey reflects on the lives she saw pass into eternity during her time in The Philippines.]
January. March. June. September. October. November.
These are the months that hold days that send our family to the Malaybalay public cemetery to pray and remember.
It’s June now, and we went to the cemetery today. Two years ago, little April Grace died from a treatable bowel condition at 14 months old. We only knew her for three months, but this blog post describes how her death affected me at the time.
April’s death continues to be a defining moment in my life as a Christian. I’m not the same as I was before that day. In many ways that’s a painful reality. Who wants to be changed by an event like this? The unjust circumstances of her death and the desire I still carry to have been able to have changed things for her and her family is like a scar that won’t quite heal. I have processed and prayed through and recovered from the trauma I experienced when she died and the guilt I took on because I couldn’t stop it, but I’ve come to realize that that scar won’t ever fully heal.
And you know what? I’m ok with that. I don’t want to forget little April, or what happened to her, or her family even though it hurts me and it costs me to remember.
It hurts me and it costs me to remember–to know–that she’s not the only one. The reality of these untimely, preventable deaths in Malaybalay and all over the world because of poverty, injustice, and apathy…these deserve my thoughts, my actions, my prayers, and my tears.
This must be the hardest part about being a missionary to the poor in the same place for six years. We’ve grown to deeply love the people we serve, and when you love, you draw closer to the beloved. Then when you get too close, you become vulnerable to their suffering. Death is tightly bound up with poverty, and so our hearts have become vulnerable to the sadness and the all too often senselessness of death among the poor. April was the first, but she wouldn’t be the last.
We visited Christine every weekend for two years. She suffered from cancer and kidney failure that rendered her totally home bound except for her twice weekly dialysis treatments, which she wouldn’t have had but for the saints who support our mission. She was pretty, funny, and smart…a true light. She was 32 when she died.
Jonathan was 22 years old. He came from one of the poorest families we have ever encountered. He had multiple organ failure, most likely due at least in part to malnutrition. Jonathan had been pretending to be his younger brother Bryan, who still qualified for government health insurance under their mother’s disability coverage because he was under age. For nearly a month, someone from our community visited him every day in the hospital, paid for his treatments, read the Bible to him, and encouraged him to turn to the Lord. He did on his deathbed, and Ramon baptized him minutes before he met the Lord in person.
We visited Rosario every Tuesday for two years before she passed away suddenly from cervical cancer that wasn’t caught in time because she was in jail. She was quite a character. Her spunk and humor is best illustrated by the fact that she had named her daughter Axl Rose after the Guns N’ Roses frontman, her favorite rock star. She was 48 years old when she died.
Bob was 20 years old. He was an incredibly talented sketch artist. Bob had cancer that metastasized into a large tumor covering half of his face and he eventually went blind. Our community tried to help him by paying for chemotherapy treatments but it was too little too late. He died just this past March.
Paolo was a cute kid from our neighborhood. We didn’t know it, but he had a heart condition from birth. The doctors had warned his mother that he needed surgery for years, but she was a single mom with six other kids. If she missed work to take him to a specialist in Cagayan de Oro her other children wouldn’t eat, so she definitely couldn’t afford an expensive heart surgery. Paulo’s condition finally became too much for his little body, and when I went to the hospital to see him three weeks ago I was faced with a crash cart, dozens of staff running in every direction, and his mother’s devastating cries. At her request, I baptized Paulo the day he died. He was only 8 years old.
Gosh. These stories are sad. It hurts to remember and it’s depressing to type. It’s easier and funner to share the feel-good glory stories when they happen (and they are happening!). But these lives, these deaths must be shared, too, and not forgotten, even if it makes us sad or uncomfortable.
The truth is, I should lie awake some nights thinking about these brothers and sisters and their grieving families and all the injustice in the world and even weep over all of it on my knees. That these stories–and so many, many more–are real and are happening even now should affect me and compel me. They should move me into action as my heart is broken and put back together to look more like Jesus’ heart, which burns extra brightly with love for the poor.
This is the work that little April Grace began in me two years ago. I’m not the same as I was before she died, and I don’t ever want to be, no matter the hurt or the cost. Pray for me, little one, I still have a long way to go!
Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May April Grace, Christine, Jonathan, Rosario, Bob, and Paolo rest in peace.
“‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.’ The one who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.'” – Revelation 21:4-5
Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!