Hope in a Hospital Ward

The ward is long and narrow with shafts of bright Ugandan sun falling on the beds of men and women stretched out in pain. It smells faintly of lye and unwashed skin. Outside under a mango tree are dozens of colorful woven grass mats where loved ones sleep as they tend to their family in the ward. Only those patients who have money will receive medical care.

We’re here to visit Pastor David and his wife, Florence, who was hit by an inexperienced driver on a boda boda and whose leg bone was shattered. We find the kind-faced pastor faithfully attending his wife. He has to sit beside her on the mattress of the pallet as there are no chairs. Pastor David has very little yet will give it all up to care for his family.

We pray for Florence and then we pray for two elderly men across the aisle who also have broken bones. Then Pastor David points sadly down the long row of beds to a woman sitting bare-chested with deep slashes across her back, front, and face.

“Her husband cut her with a panga,” he tells us in soft Luganda. “Her daughter, too.”

I can barely breathe as we step close to her beautiful, scarred body. She looks scared and cries, “Don’t touch me!” when I reach instinctively for her hand. Then I see it is swollen and wrapped in gauze. I sit in shock on the mattress beside her as our team ministers to this young Muslim woman with short cropped hair. She says this hasn’t happened before. It was the first time her husband has done this kind of thing.

Later we meet her daughter — only three years old — who’s carried by her jajja, the woman’s mother. She has scars on the back of her legs where her father’s knife cut her before the mother stepped between him and the child to take the brunt of the attack.

We leave money for their medication and then go. Later when I’m alone, I shake and cry for an hour. How could someone hurt his wife and child in such a way? What kind of desperation drives a man to use a knife on his own flesh and blood?

It’s the desperation of poverty. The festering desperation of daily sweeping garbage off the red dirt surrounding your tiny home, only to have to do it again and again and again — because no amount of sweeping with the branch of a tree is going to permanently solve the problem of filth and litter. But they try, because this little is all they have, and the constant struggle just to survive either drives one mad or to Jesus.

I think of my Ugandan pastor friends, some disabled, others with emaciated bodies, who’d gathered in a tiny church to share with us their vision for starting up a store together and selling kerosene, so they can feed their families and care for orphans and jajjas in their communities. They’d already saved a quarter of what they’d need to start it up, and we say we’d be honored to come alongside them, because this is how to begin to fix the problem. Through their own ideas and unity. Through humble hearts linking arms and giving whatever they have to end poverty’s cycle of desperation for their families.

Later we’ll meet the pastors’ wives who’d also joined hands and their small savings to start up a hair salon in faith.

Hope begins with an extension of oneself — an embrace, a handshake, a prayer. Hope begins by grasping the one next to you instead of attacking them. It takes great faith, this hope. Faith that our new friend in the hospital expressed when she haltingly asked Jesus to take all her sin and brokenness and to come into her life — daring to believe in a good God even in the face of betrayal and pain.

Because ultimately hope is Jesus offering His scarred, wounded, naked body so that we might be saved. He knows what it’s like to be betrayed. He knows the pain of slash wounds across His back. He gave up everything to lift us out of our darkness and make us His family. He’s the only One who can fully enter the depths of our brokenness, and His cross is the only tree that can sweep all our garbage away forever.

A woman in a hospital ward has been introduced to the only One who will never hurt her. And hope shines brighter than the Ugandan sun.

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