Divine Love

NOTE: This post - written by Susan - was originally posted on our team blog: www.mccropders.com

What I’m about to tell you is a love story.  This is one of the greatest love stories I’ve ever experienced.  It involves unconditional love, costly sacrifice, incredible patience and perseverance.  But this is not your usual love story.  This is the love story between a young a very  sick little girl and her older brother, and I have been deeply blessed to have seen this love story up close.

5 year old Divine came to our hospital at the end of December and was admitted for severe malnutrition.  Really, really severe malnutrition.  For weeks, she lay in bed, barely conscious and barely alive.   Her mother was unable to stay at the hospital, and since our hospital requires each patient to always have a caregiver, her brother was given the job of caring for little Divine.  From that point on, her 12 year old brother, Moise, was always at the side of her bed. 

He did jobs that I have never seen any 12 year old boy do before; change his sister, clean up diarrhea, wash and clean his sister, feed her, give medication, and sleep next to her (in the same bed, often with other patients) in a very crowded room filled with lots of fussy, malnourished babies and toddlers and their care-givers.

Weeks after she had been admitted,  I walked into the room one day and found her sitting up in bed.  I was shocked.  She still had a feeding tube in and was still on oxygen…but for the first time, I felt like she was going to make it.  For the first time she was interested in playing, and even though she was extremely weak, she was determined to pick up blocks and try to throw a toy at me.

Divine had a type of malnutrition that is a bit deceiving to those of us that don’t have a medical background.  She actually looked a bit chubby.  Her body was puffy and swollen, due to a lack of protein.  As she was fed a high protein formula through her feeding tube over the next few days, her swollen body dramatically changed. She suddenly had a tiny little body that looked like pictures that I have only seen in my high school textbooks of holocaust victims.  Just looking at her tiny little skeletal frame, my throat would tighten and would get choked up.

  Divine is special.  She has some developmental delays, that mean that although she is 5 years old, she has never walked and has never clearly spoken.  I feel certain that if Divine had the help that we offer in Western countries;  therapy, special education, healthy food etc. that she could thrive.  However, there’s not much aid for special kids like Divine here in Burundi, so I can only imagine that most days Divine sits on a mat in their mud hut, neglected, while her single mother is out working in fields, fighting to get enough food to feed her hungry kids. 

  Almost every day for 4 months, I visited Divine and played with her.  Moise was never far from her bed.  Boys his age should be in school and outside playing soccer with their friends, but Moise patiently sat by her bed, tenderly caring for his weak sister. 

He was never embarrassed of his sister, but would clap and cheer and rejoice in her progress.  During those 4 months, we saw some amazing changes in Divine.  She grew stronger, was eating more, was more talkative, was working with our hospital’s physiotherapist, and was actually able to start walking with the aid of a walker. 

Of course, she had some setbacks, like coming down with malaria and another infection.  In spite of the tough times, it was exciting and rewarding to see her gain weight, strength, and see her play and smile every day. Moise became a strong voice and an advocate for his sister, pushing for his little sister to get more physiotherapy time, and be able to borrow a walker.   

  On April 12th, after so many months in our malnutrition service, Divine was discharged and Moise carried her home…we would later learn just how far he had to carry her!  Both Dr. Alyssa (our pediatrician) and I never had the chance to say goodbye to them before they left, so the  following weekend, the two of us along with my 10 year old son Micah, set off to try to find Moise, Divine and their home.  It took about an hour of driving, a few wrong turns, and then about another hour of hiking on little dirt trails following an old man with a machete before we found them. 

They were a little shocked – and honestly a bit scared – that a group of 3 bazungus (white people) just showed up at their home,  but after offering gifts of beans, rice, Busoma cereal and a soccer ball, they were much more receptive to us!

  This family lives in unbelievably extreme poverty. Their house is made of home-made mud bricks, a grass roof, dirt floor, and that’s about it. To a person walking by, you would say that they have nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I would have totally thought this had I not gotten to know Moise and Divine.  What I learned is that while they are the poorest people I have ever met, they are rich in other things. 

If I’m honest, it’s hard to imagine anything for Divine other than a dismal life filled with a lot of suffering, pain and hunger.  However, I have to remind myself that our Father loves Divine so much more than Moise or anyone else does or ever could.  That pain, sickness, and poverty don’t get the last word. That the sacrificial love that Moise showed for his sister, is merely a poor reflection of the divine love God has for little Divine, and for every single person on this earth.

      This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers {and little sisters} 

1 John 3:16

Grandma & Auntie Nora’s visit

Well – i think a lot of people just lost one of the major reasons for not visiting us: “It’s too hard / far / tough of a journey.”

My mom and my aunt – who I think one can agree are not currently spring chickens –  just left after about 2 1/2 weeks with us here in rural Burundi. So unless you’re older than them (which would put you in your 90’s),  it’s a bit harder to say the trip would be ‘too hard.’

We had a great time – honestly not ‘doing’ a lot of things, but just allowing them to see, and experience what our life and work is like here in Kibuye.  This isn’t the first long trip they’ve made together to see us. They visited us in Kazakhstan, they came to see us in France – in fact when they were in France when Alma was born.

They did what they do best, what they’ve been doing my entire life, and let’s be honest – for a long time before I was born: showing kindness and love to others.

They spent as much time as they could up in the hospital wards – playing with the kids, helping to bring some joy and happiness to the children who have otherwise rather dull and depressing days.  Let’s be clear, the kids in the hospital are getting great medical treatment (in many cases life-saving) from people who treat them with love and respect, treating them as fellow people created in the image of God. However, for a kid, hanging out in the hospital for days, weeks, or even months on end can be a bit much, so any distraction is very welcomed. 

They went up to the cafeteria in the hospital, just to have a cup of tea, and hang out in the hospital.

They tried their best to bumble through interactions where they had no language skills, but merely defaulted to smiling, and laughing, and showing kindness.

They read to our kids, to the kids at school, and made who-knows-how-many treasure hunts in the yard where the prizes were small things they brought for the kids from Canada.

They came with us to the market in Gitega, buying sacks of flour, and rice, some cloth,  and clothes for the kids in the hospital.

there’s mom sitting in the Land Cruiser while I run into a ‘store’ in ‘downtown’ Gitega.

They made cinnamon buns, sang songs that I remember from my childhood and did their little ‘parlour-trick’ games that I remember spending I’m pretty much years of my life trying to figure out.

Our family lives a life that is in many so rich, and rewarding, and interesting  – but it does come at a cost.  Some of those costs I think we as parents bare the hardest, others we have actually put on our children, and definitely there is price to for the life we lead that is paid by our friends and family – most notably our parents.  I can only imagine how hard it is to hear your kids say “we’re taking your grandchildren away, for a number of years, to the other side of the world” only to be updated a few weeks later with “there was an attempted military coup, but don’t worry the bullets went right over our house.”

I think that’s why it feels so meaningful, so affirming, so life-giving when those closest to us tell us in all honestly “I can see why you’re here. I’m glad you’re here. I’m proud of you for being here. I think it’s great that you’re here.”  I guess because there are lots of days when we question why we’re here. When we question whether it’s all worth it, and if were delusional when we thought that God really wanted our family to move here, or if it was all big mistake.

Those are the times when it’s so welcomed to have someone say “good job – keep it up.”

So a good time was had by all -and on the way to drop them off at the airport we even got a chance to stop by the lake.

So here’s a picture of me and Mom & Auntie Nora, with Lake Tanganyika and the mountains of D.R.Congo behind us.