Today I saw the most beautiful little girl. She was wearing a simple purple dress. Worn, faded, but perfect. She was perfect. You could see it in her eyes. They sparkled with pleasure over the fact that she was going to the ship. I hardly noticed the hole where most of her nose should have been. How could I when she was too busy showing off for us? She was adorable.
Over 7,000 people were estimated to have come to us for help today. The line you see in the image above is just a small portion of what came through the gates. There were so many that a prayer request actually went out asking that the influx would stop long enough for us to ensure their safety. A lot of people think that this is why we’re here.
There are so many people that need help. With surgery, we intend to serve 3,300 people and another 20,000 at our dental and eye clinics. We were so excited to find hundreds of potential patients today, people whose eyes we could lock on and ears we could fill with that blessed syllable: “Yes.”
Yes, we can help you. Yes, you can come to our floating hospital.
A lot of people think this is why we’re here. There’s more to it than that.
We’re here because there is a lack of healthcare for the poor. We’re here because these lines keep forming. We’re here because we want to see these lines disappear.
We may be here for the people we can help, but we’re also here because there are so many more we cannot. Thousands came to see us, but only a fraction left with appointment cards. Many were turned away because they are sick with maladies we don’t treat. Others, because we simply are not offering the right surgery this year.
Can you imagine having to turn people away with illnesses no one back home would ever face? Being trained medically, knowing exactly what you would need to do to help the person in front of you, and being forced to turn them away because there simply is no way we can help them here?
The syllable we hate to utter, but have to so often, is “No.” No, we can’t help you. No, you can’t come to our floating hospital.
It is so hard to do. Maybe this is why they take it with such peace and poise: because it breaks our hearts to tell them no. Today I had to tell a father that we could not help his son. Today our staff collectively had to tell hundreds of parents, brothers, sisters, and friends, “No, we cannot help your loved one.”
But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with the pain we feel when we say it. This is the empathy we should feel. The moments we start to tear up and are forced to shake our heads, because if we say no we’ll start crying outright, these are moments of deepest reality. This is where we are called to be, to share in the joy and the suffering of our brothers and sisters here in Congo.
We are here to love people who are hurting, people who are broken and beyond our aid. We cannot help them all, but we can share their burdens. Even if only for a moment. This is our privilege.
And in that moment we can show we that we love them, however brief, however helpless it makes us feel. In that moment, they are not alone.