During one of our times working in Kenya, I had an added job beside teaching–school ambulance driver. This was an unofficial job but one that I got to practise regularly because of the fact that our school was located a half hour drive from any medical facility and there were very few cars around at that point–and even fewer that would be available almost any time without charge. Most of these ambulance trips took place at night–it seems the students’ illnesses never got serious until the generator was shut off around 10:00pm.
These trips were predictable. We would be getting ready for bed by the light of candles and battery lamps when we would hear the sound of footsteps on the gravel outside the house. The school principle or his designate would knock on the door and ask if I could take a student to the hospital. I would agree and grab my keys to make the trip. We would load the sick student in the back and fill the car with other students and/or staff for the trip–they were for security in case the car broke down at night. Kenyan roads were not overly safe at night.
One night, we got to the hospital and began our usual wait to see a doctor and discover what would happen with the student. As always on these trips, I was anxious and tense and dealt with it by chatting with the students who were with me and watching the activity going on in the hospital and its area. That night, I noticed a woman sitting by herself in the far corner of the waiting area where the weak lights didn’t really reach. A bit later, I noticed one of the students, Anna, who had come along for the trip sitting with the woman.
Since I noticed a lot of other things that night, I didn’t pay much attention to the woman or my student except to remember where she was for when we left. I was actually more interested in watching the official government ambulance driver on duty that night, hoping that he didn’t get called to an emergency because he was so drunk he could barely stand, let alone drive.
An hour or so later, our student was taken care of and we were ready to head back. Curious, I asked Anna what had been going on. She too had seen the woman and rather than just observe as I did, she talked to one of the hospital staff and discovered that the woman has brought in her child for treatment of some illness but the child had died. She had been sitting in the dark corner holding her child crying. My student had gone to her and spent the time we were waiting with the woman–talking, listening, praying, being there.
I was humbled by her actions that night. Her story keeps coming back to me because it is so powerful–as is her ministry. The last time we worked in Kenya, I had a chance to work with her through my teaching and I was still impressed with her faith and her expression of it.
What she was doing that night was being a witness. She didn’t know the woman; she had no need to intervene; she, like most people, really didn’t know anything that would really help in the situation–but she was willing to walk to that dark corner and show the grieving mother something of the love of God. I don’t know what Anna said to the woman that night–and I would guess that if I had asked her, she wouldn’t have remembered it either. But I do know that she gave witness to the most important reality of all.
She gave witness to the reality that even in the midst of her sorrow and pain and loss, this woman was loved by God, who cared enough for her to send Anna to sit with her in that dark corner as she struggled with her own darkness. Although I was the teacher and Anna was the student, I learned something important about witnessing that night.
We are witnesses to the love of God in the darkness of the world. We are witness to the fact that God cares and wants to help. We are witnesses to the presence of God in all life’s situations. What we say and what we do need to begin with God’s love and care and grace and never move beyond that clear and powerful message.
There are lots of ways to express that message–but our witness must always be to God’s love and care and grace.
May the peace of God be with you.