Advice from an "Amigo Pastor" on Serving in Guatemala
It has been awhile since I posted something that pat wrote. I think there is a lot to learn here.
|Gabriel's Dad and his grandson|
As we got to know the family and learn their story, our friendship grew. Gabriel had been born with Spina Bifida, and, at the advice of the doctors in the hospital where he was born, never had surgery to correct the large bulge on his back where his spina cord protrudes from his spine. At eleven years of age, we wondered if this could be corrected and arranged for him to see our friendly neurosurgeon in Guatemala City.
Since they lived quite a distance from the capital, we invited them to stay with us when they came for the appointment and got to know them even better. During their time with us, Dad did a lot of talking with our guys about the goodness of God and his great love for them. I got to know not only his story but his heart.
So, what happened when we visited them the other day did not come as a complete surprise.
After consulting with the doctor and receiving a referral to a national hospital where Gabriel could have the surgery, we met a number of road blocks in the process. This did not seem to bother Gabriel's parents nearly as much as it did Dick and me. They repeatedly told us, "en el tiempo de Dios" (in God's time). They seemed willing to pursue the surgical option, but didn't feel the same urgency Dick and I did. After some time, they decided they would leave Gabriel as he is and trust God to care for him. After talking with them the other day, we came to understand why.
As we were talking about the provision of God (as we often do with this family) Dad asked permission to share some thoughts with us. Of course, we agreed.
He began by thanking us for caring about his son and their family. He said he knew we wanted the best for them. But, he suggested, maybe we did not understand God's best for their family.
He went on to say that while they appreciated all the effort and expense we incurred to bring them to the various doctors, Dad was thinking perhaps we could have used our time and money more wisely, helping someone who really needed it. You see, though Gabriel had this huge ball of nerves on his back, he had adapted well to living with it. He did not see himself as handicapped, and his parents agreed.
Dad went on to explain that they believed God had Gabriel born as he was for a purpose. While modern medicine said that he needed to have the ball on his back removed, he was healthy and happy, and even able to crawl around and move his legs (he could have lost this ability with surgery). They understand the risk he faces of meningitis if he injures the ball and bacterial enters his spinal fluid, this has not happened yet to Gabriel, now twelve, they didn't think it a big risk.
They choose to trust God that this will not happen in the future, or, if it does and he dies from meningitis, this is God's plan for him. Dad reminded us that this world is temporary, and that really, we were created for heaven. We would all go to eternity sooner or later, and if God chose to take Gabriel to heaven sooner, so be it.
While it would be easy to dismiss this conversation as ignorance and superstition on the part of Gabriel's folks, it was anything but. As he spoke, both Dick and I felt the conviction of Gabriel's dad's utter dependence on God and his complete trust in Him. This is an educated man who choose obedience to what he believes to be God's will over the cold hard facts of science. How could we challenge what he believes is God's will for his child?
As Dick and I left that day, we reflected on his words. We didn't in the least feel chastised or rejected by this admonitions to us. Rather, we felt honored that he trusted us enough to share these thoughts with us. We respect his great faith, and were encouraged in our own by his example. We also came to understand more about the best way to minister in Guatemala, to a people whose life experiences and perspectives are so very different from our own.
What we realized gave us cause to pause and reflect on our approach. As careful as we tried to be when we first suggested the option of surgery, clearly stating repeatedly that it was solely the parents' decision, we realized today how much of this process they had gone through, not because they believed it best, but out of friendship and respect for us. Talking with Dad about this in retrospect, we realized that they didn't want to offend us by rejecting our offer of help. While we wanted them to have the best medical options available, they believed all along that they had the best advice, from God himself. But, until our relationship had grown to the point where it is now, they were hesitant to share this with us--they didn't want us to feel rejected by their refusal to pursue modern medicine.
So what did we learn from this? In a nutshell, that the best available medical care may not be what is best for an individual situation. . .no treatment is without risks, and sometimes these risks are not worth it. Where there is pain and suffering to be relieved, perhaps the risks are worth it, if there is no other way to give relief. If the quality of life can be significantly improved, maybe it's worth taking the chance to pursue treatment. But, where a family does not perceive there to be a problem with the condition (such as in Gabriel's case), maybe there isn't, and it just might be better to leave things alone.
I know this goes against every fiber of our US way of thinking, that if something is medically possible it should be done. I'm not talking here about callously looking the other way in indifference to suffering. But how much suffering can we cause by our insistence that our US way of handling disability and infirmity is the best? Hard questions, and I'm not sure I know the answers.
In this instance, however, I have to confess I don't think I ever really stopped to ask God how to proceed (I can't speak for Dick here.). For my part, I just assumed that because I saw a problem, Gabriel needed to see the doctor. I put my trust in our neurosurgeon to know what is best. when I needed to be putting my trust in God and ask his specific direction. Truly, there was no urgency here. Looking back, the more I prayed for the doors to be opened for Gabriel to receive surgery, the more obstacles we encountered. You think I might have at least considered the possibility that these "obstacles" were really God's way of protecting us from charging ahead with what was not his best for Gabriel.
I often pray that I will not lag behind the movement of God, but that I will also not rush ahead of him either. I fear in this instance, I did rush--or at the very least proceeded in my own wisdom. I'm not beating myself up over this failure, but am grateful for God putting a godly man in my path who could lovingly help me see where I am lacking. I pray in the future I will seek God first and always. I pray, too, that I will be more conscious of the undue influence I might be exerting in a situation where I do not mean to. Life in a different culture is complicated, and after almost five years, I am just beginning to understand how much so.