Saturday, August 7, 2010


She lay on the bed in a cradle position holding her head in her hands, moaning in pain. In comes the daughter, sitting at the bench with keen attention and smiles. I introduce myself through the pastor who translates for me: “I’m from America and I’ve heard about Korah, and my heart breaks for the people here. I’ve brought these groceries…grain, beans, lentils, peanut butter, cooking oil and sugar.” They both smile. I tell them a favorite parable of mine: the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. We all weep together as we ask God to please have mercy on this woman. Please heal her? My hand grips her head. She has “the sickness.” HIV.

The young girl escorts us outside with smiles and waves goodbye. She goes back to her small abode. An 8x8 room. No bathroom, no kitchen, an electric light bulb hanging on a thin piece of wire….

Next day, I’m preaching a service for women with AIDS. There’s the young girl from yesterday. “Salam! It’s so good to see you.” Handshakes and hugs. It really is good to see her. She stays for the meal afterward. She is so kind, and sweet and always full of smiles. Her favorite subject is English and she reads her Amharic Bible. She’s a good student, says the missionary.

Later that day, I inquire about her to the missionary. I’ve heard stories of rape. I’ve heard stories of hunger-based prostitution. “You give me sex, and I’ll give you this food.” I’ve heard worse stories still…like Fistula, the trauma that occurs to a girl’s bowels when she is raped (also happens during childbirth). There is a hospital in Addis called Fistula. It’s dedicated to these girls.

“What will happen to her when her mother dies? Will she be ok? Will she be taken care of?”
“What does it matter? She’s accepted Christ,” the woman says.
“Well,” I say. “I’m concerned for her welfare. Will she be kidnapped? I’ve heard stories. Will she be sold into sexual slavery? I’ve heard of that too. Will she be okay?”
“Oh, she’ll just get raped,” the woman says.

She’ll just get raped.

No no. This cannot happen. This will not happen.  I cannot save every person, I cannot save the 100,000 people in this slum, I cannot save the 10,000’s of girls at risk just like her. but dear God please, I can rescue one girl. Yes, I can rescue one girl. I must help her. I will not leave this country until I find a way…

She’ll just get raped.

Sunday comes, I’ve been praying all weekend. I look about the church, and don’t see her. I go outside. Children playing, people coming from all directions. She’s not there. Back in the church, and around by the courtyard. No. I look up the alleyway, up the rocky, craggy alleyway. People are coming, but she’s not there. There’s a stream of rain water flowing down the alley. I look down and see a plastic cup, split in half. Broken. Is that what you are, my dear? Are you a broken cup? Have you been…? Are you at the dump, foraging for food? Are you sleeping in due to yesterday’s long, list of chores? Are you doing laundry, hunched over a lone tub full of last week's rain water, your back aching so soon in life? Where are you? You must come. I've come to help you. You must come. Where are you, my dear? She doesn’t show.

A boy comes up to me, and wraps my arms around him. Yellow shirt and a bald head. He then stands, content, with my arms around him. Silent now. He just wants a dad. Where's his dad?

After church. Do you know the girl we visited Thursday, minister Mindaye? Yes, I know her. I’m visiting her today after church. Come with me. No, I can’t. I have another meeting. I want to sponsor her, though. I understand the church has a program. How can I sponsor her? I’m leaving the day after tomorrow, and I must meet with her. When can we meet? How about at the seminary at 4pm? Yes, the seminary at 4pm. Okay good. I’m leaving the day after tomorrow. You’ll be there right? You must come. Please come. Here is 10 birr for the taxi. Please come.

All day Monday, I traipse around the market with the dean of the seminary, but my thoughts are bent on meeting with you, my dear. 3:15pm and I’m in the courtyard. I wait. I sit straight up. Eyes fixed to the road above, fastened. No movement. Maybe they’ll come early. 4:00 comes. I stand up to see the road. Nothing. It’s ok—African time. Not the same as American. 4:15pm. They’ll come. They’ll come. 4:30. Nothing. They’re not coming. You can’t always trust everyone. No. Think positive. Believe. They’ll come. Pacing. Walking around. “What’s wrong?” a woman asks. I tell her. “Oh, Mindaye. I know Mindaye. Let me give him a call.” (A city of 5 million people). “They’re at the gate,” she says. “Thank-you!” I say. I begin to run. “They’ll be down in a minute!” she shouts after me. But I run. Arms flailing, leaping over rocky mounds and uneven stones, jumping over puddles, I sprint across the parking lot, and swing left up the ramp. People are watching. I’m a fool! Keeping running then. Up the ramp now, and swinging around to the right on the sidewalk. Belching diesel taxis crowd the streets. Running still. Ah ha! I see them. I see her! I throw my arms wide open and she does the same, and we embrace. You came, you came! I’m so happy you are here! I hug the minister. You came. You came. Thank-you Mindaye.

She wants to be a nurse. She likes African history, and famous people of Ethiopia. She loves to sing. She does the laundry and takes care of her sister and brother. She’s the mother now. "Don't mention adoption," says Mindaye. "It gets their hopes up." The next best thing then: “Do you have anyone supporting you?” No. “Would you like me to support you?” Yes. “You are like a daughter to me.” "You are like a father to me.” Let’s eat.

A big plate of rice, meat and bread. We all share a common plate, but she eats it all. So thin. Would you like my water bottle? No. Are you sure? Please, take it. No, she smiles. Okay. Time to go now. Getting late. Dangerous in the slums, and now it’s dark outside. “Minister Mindaye, thank-you for trusting me to preach at your church. Thank-you for trusting me to serve with your church to these people. Thank you for coming today. I must leave tomorrow. It’s too short. I want to stay. I have to go…I begin to heave heavy sobs, and cry. I look up, and she’s doing the same. Teeth glaring, lips strained, eyes red and cheeks rolling with tears. Her hand is on the table, so I reach out and grab it. It’s so small. It’s so cold. Holding hands, we weep together. “Your heavenly Father loves you more than you can know.”

It’s time to go now. I walk her to the taxi. You’ll not have to go to the dump now my dear. You’ll not have to sell your body for food. You’ll not have to worry about paying the rent. We’re going to get you an apartment. You’ll be safe there. You’ll go to school—a Christian school. You’ll become a nurse. You’ll sing in church. The taxi is hailed. It’s time to go now. She turns to me and gives me a hug. “,” she says, in a broken, Ethiopic, English. “Goodbye,” I say.

I walk away to find a room to weep, pray, and weep some more.

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