A Gift of Compassion

Emma Roorda, Reporter

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6).

For the past month and a half, I have been living in Jinja, Uganda, working with a medical organization called One4Another International. I had the opportunity to intern with O4A for about six months back in 2015, and I am so grateful that God has led me back to Jinja a second time. One4Another International is a pediatric organization which assists children who are in need of life-changing surgeries. While working in Uganda, my role consists of completing much of the media work involved with the organization, creating medical forms, designing posters, meeting with O4A partners, and most importantly building relationships with the children and their caretakers.

The following story is just one of many ways in which God has been beautifully shaping and equipping me for His Kingdom during the time I have spent serving here in Southern Uganda.

It only took a second — one second for a small spark to cause a kerosene lamp to catch flame. It only took a second for the cotton dress of five-year-old Gift to burst into flame. And it only took a second to cause third degree burns all across little Gift’s neck, chest, arms, and back.

Five months later, after an extensive surgery to remobilize her right arm and countless hours of treatment to help her aching scars, Gift now shows signs of restored life.

Gift and her family members regularly travel a significant distance via both taxi-van and motorcycle taxi to the St. James Orthopaedic Clinic to receive treatment. The first day that I met little Gift, she arrived with her mother, who had her infant son tied tightly to her back. Gift held an obvious dread in her eyes, knowing that she was about to have her wounds dressed once again — a process that often involves the painful application of antibiotics to the wounds. Gift’s petite body remained stiff from both fear and the bandages that seemed to swallow her upper body.

As a nurse began removing the old gauze, the child wailed in discomfort, clearly traumatized by her past experiences and the current stinging pain of the burns. Her mother, who had now begun to move closer to the bed where Gift lay, left her son (who I had now been informed was called Elia) sitting helplessly on the bed beside. As the mother approached Gift, I slowly moved closer to the baby, partially so that I could make space for Gift to feel comforted by her mom and partially because the one-year old was moving dangerously close to the end of the tall medical bed.

As I walked over to Elia, I suddenly noticed that his lips were quivering and his body was shaking. The baby was staring with a deer in headlights expression at his sister’s vigorously bleeding wounds. Tears welled up in his innocent, dark eyes. Despite the unpleasantly soggy cloth wrapped loosely around his groin, I picked him up and turned his little round head the opposite direction of his older sister.

My coworker also noticed the baby’s sadness and slowly leaned over to me. He whispered, “The brother sees Gift crying and feels sorry for her. It’s like they have a connection.”

I responded, “Yes, that’s true; he doesn't even understand what’s happening, yet he sees that his sister in pain, so he’s crying for her.’'

It was only as the little guy sorrowfully set his head upon my shoulder that it dawned on me: this baby — this one-and-a-half-year-old infant —had just taught me an important life lesson.

Sometimes, I really cannot understand why God has led me to Uganda. More broadly, I often feel lost and unsure about the plans He has for my life or even why certain life complications seem to stand in the way of living out my calling as a child of Christ. Yet I bear a strong sense of compassion for the injustices in the world. Agony and abuse that has come from the brokenness that is so present in this sinful world has always been a heavy weight on my heart. I don't know why there is so much pain in the world or why I feel so called to act upon these injustices, but what I do know is that I want to weep and lament alongside those in pain, much as this young child compassionately cried for his sister. Not only do I feel a strong desire to lament, I believe that I should lament. We all should.

I looked down again at baby Elia’s loving face as he remained in that somber, tearful state — lips quivering, eyebrows furrowed. His sadness only subsided when his older sister was finished with her bandage changes.

After the procedure was finished, Gift’s mother smiled and thanked us. I sent both Gift and Elia home with lots of hugs and ‘sweeties.’

As I look back on this situation, I’ve realized that I owe Gift’s family a much greater “thank you” than the one they gave to me. Gift’s bravery and her brother’s tender soul touched my heart. This experience has reminded me that even though God’s calling for me may seem difficult or confusing at times, this complicated life journey that I am trekking is a gift from God. I may not always totally understand all of the details, but it is important that I continue to mourn alongside those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice.