The typical Christmas morning filled with pancakes and stocking stuffers was left 11,000km away as I sat inside a mud-floored church which housed over one thousand Ugandans. Passionate preaching and music that blew out the large speakers on two separate occasions was just the beginning of what would be my most memorable Christmas ever.
What is Christmas? As I asked myself this on Christmas Eve, I came up with a sermon title that I would use if I could ever preach on Christmas. “Christian Algebra 101: Solving for ‘X’ in X-Mas.” I think it’s a typical frustration for most bible-believing pastors that Christ has been removed from his own birthday. And rightly so. But it’s just that Jesus has been taken out, but he’s also been replaced. Keep this rolling around in the back of your mind.
After an awesome church service we geared up to travel to Mulago hospital which stood as the largest government run hospital in all of Uganda. It is also the hospital featured in the award-winning film “The Last King of Scotland,” which follows the life of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and his oppressive rule over the Ugandans.
We traveled to this place in which CLD has an ongoing ministry to try and serve the sick and injured people on Christmas. It seemed like a good way to celebrate this season of giving; not with those in excess but with those with nothing.
One thing you need to know about Mulago hospital: the average amount of patients per nurse is between 50 and 100, depending on the season. This means that patients will be seen once a week, if they are lucky. Patients who arrive with lacerations or burns, which both can be easily treated, will contract infections which will lead to amputations and even death. Just to think that such cases, which range in the triple digits each month, could be avoided by a simple suture job or sanitary bandaging blows my mind.
I met one man whose image is burned into my brain and will hopefully never be removed so that my heart for justice will never die. I approached the man lying in the corner of the ward with light from the window pouring down on him, emphasizing the sharp contours of the bones on his rib cage and of his skull. His hands raised toward us and his frail fingers reached out. He released a guttural moan and his eyes, so sunken into his clearly defined skull, stared at us with unblinking desperation.
He retracted his bloodied bed sheet to reveal his body to further expose his malnutrition. A tube led from his opposite hand into a bloody bandage through which the tube was fed directly into his stomach. Soft Lugandan speaking was exchanged between the man in the bed and our translator, Waheed.
“He has a problem with his throat… he cannot eat,” Waheed relayed. “But the bigger problem is that the nurses do not have the right food to feed him through the tube. He hasn’t been fed.” Hasn’t been fed? I asked. How long has been here? It looks like he has eaten for days, or weeks. His response shook me to the core.
“The nurses have not returned to him for two months.”
Two months. Try saying Merry Christmas to a man who’s been ignored and not fed for two months. There’s nothing merry about this Christmas at all, I remember screaming inside my brain.
This man will not survive. His body has been breaking itself down and consuming itself as a last measure of survival. Without intense nursing, this 70+ year old man would die by the end of the week. We bought him milk and begged for 30 minutes for the nurse to come and feed it through the tube.
The accounts which took place today were captured on film and will be edited and shared with the world. Though many, if not all, of the people that were filmed will be dead by the time you see the footage.
The good news, which I’m sure you’re waiting for, is that we’re alive. No one is sick and everyone has been doing great. It was a challenging day for us but not impossible. Our debriefing later tonight will be difficult as we try and let what we’ve experienced shape our hearts. Pray that we don’t let the events that transpired today be swept under the rug.
I’m reflecting that Christmas has had a lot of joy added to it. A lot of warm-fuzzies, a lot of chestnuts roasting on open flames and presents neatly wrapped with bows. What I learned about Christmas today, however, is that the cost of Christmas wasn’t all happy marshmallows. There was intense suffering and there was pain. Excruciating pain. Jesus’ crucifixion wasn’t adorned with rainbows and smiles, but exists as one of the saddest days in all of past, present and future. This is what I saw in Mulago. And this is why I have no other choice but to take this “Christian thing” seriously.
My person-pleasing heart would love to apologize to you at this point for shattering your happy Santa Christmas spirit. But I won’t, and instead will tell you that while you sit safely at your computer, there are those who are sitting in hospitals watching their mother breathe her last. There are those holding the hand of their brother who has been stabbed twice in a mugging and will not make it through the night. Remember these people, remember their suffering, and most of all remember the cost of Christmas that was paid on the Cross.
We Love you will all of our hearts and thank you for your countless prayers.
Your friends, brothers, and sisters,
Tommy, Virginia, Luke, Kristen, Bouge (David)