I hadn’t washed my face for three days. I hadn’t had a proper bath in three weeks. The African red dirt and the sticky sweat were welcomed though … keeping the crisis real and at hand. To bathe, to wash my hair, to change my clothes would be normal things.
And normal was as far from me as the east is to the west during those days.
My daughter lay unconscious in a mission hospital bed in Cameroon, malaria ravaging her small, eight-year old body.
During African Orientation training in preparation for Bible translation work in Equatorial Guinea, the assignment for our group of trainees was to live in African villagers’ homes so we would assimilate to the culture. We’d been through two months training so far, and village living was the climax of the orientation course. It was in that last week of village phase that our daughter Mesa became ill with malaria.
We started chloroquine and Mesa had a slight rebound. Malaria can present in this way—similar to Covid. One day you’re sick in bed and feeling like death and the next, you’re swinging from jungle vines and humming Phil Collins’s You’ll Be In My Heart Tarzan tune.
But for Mesa, the malaria wanted another round.
For two more days, our daughter couldn’t hold down food or liquids. My husband and I decided I would catch a bush taxi to the nearest town where our group’s team leaders camped out. They were the contact points for the multiple Bible translators and their families staying in the rural, mountainside villages. The leaders had a satellite phone and we hoped they could call a nurse back at headquarters in Yaounde two days’ drive away.
Once a day a cab that by American standards would have resided in a junk yard would wind through the tiny villages in our area and carry consumers up and down the mountain to buy goods in town. On this day, me and six Africans piled into the car and on top of one another, made our way down the winding roads.
Checking in at our team leaders’ hotel, I discovered they’d taken a day trip to another village. In a foreign town not knowing anyone, I didn’t have a lot of options. Land lines and cell phones were nonexistent. But through a series of miracles that are another story to be written, that night, after I’d managed to find a ride back up the mountain, the team leaders appeared in our village!
Back down the mountain we went to stay overnight in a hotel so we could get Mesa a malaria test the next day.
That night, in the hotel with no running water or electricity, Mesa took a turn for the worse. She was unable to tolerate even tiny sips of bottled water and by 5:00 am I was banging on our team leaders’ hotel door. Through a series of satellite phone calls with headquarters, it was decided that we would drive to the mission hospital two hours away.
By the time we arrived at the hospital, Mesa was unconscious. A local aviation missionary with JAARS met us as we drove in. He pulled my girl from the truck, gathered her into his arms, and rushed past the lines of Africans waiting to see doctors. I ran behind, my backpack bouncing as we made our way past wards of sick African children. “There’s been a cholera outbreak,” he explained dashing across a courtyard and into a small building. “I’ve secured you a private space so you’re not exposed.”
The little building hosted empty hospital rooms because African families can’t afford private hospital accommodations. Mesa was the only patient in that small adjacent building.
A local doctor arrived at our room in minutes and with IVs administering fluids and stronger medicine, the doctor returned to the wards packed with sick children after explaining that we would wait and see if the medicine would take effect.
With only my daughter and me in the room, my emotions morphed from crisis mode to reality mode. My husband and other child had no idea we’d been evacuated—no idea where we were. I had one change of clothes for both Mesa and I and as I alluded earlier, we’d been taking bucket baths in our African village home for three weeks. No phones, no internet, no gift shop for snacks, no nurse to summon with my questions.
My brain wouldn’t wrap around the circumstance in a logical manner. Shock set in.
Fragmented, my prayers seemed to litter the floor instead of lift to the heavens.
What were we doing here, Lord? Why?
Why would you let this happen, Lord?
And then the knock came.
Expecting a doctor at our door, I opened it to find a large man in a worn, dusty suit—like he’d come in from a desert sand storm. Oddly, I remember his shoes—they were without laces, sole pulling away at the toe.
In broken English, he asked to come in.
I stepped back unsure of what he wanted but unsure of all things at that moment.
“I heard of the white child,” he said, opening the thick dog-eared Bible in his hands. “And I have come to pray.”
He read a passage in French, then he bowed his head.
And in his mother tongue, he prayed.
It wasn’t one of those big demanding prayers that call on angel armies, no. It was the quiet prayer of a son talking with his attentive father.
I didn’t understand a word with my ears, but my heart grasped every syllable. I clung to those sounds, knowing, trusting, this visitor said the words I couldn’t find.
The African man nodded knowingly then closed his Bible.
I couldn’t move.
Quietly, he left the room.
In a hospital room in Africa, I experienced a sacred moment.
Do angels wear suits?
This one did.
And Mesa, still unconscious in the bed, stirred. I unglued my feet from the floor and rushed to her side.
Her eyelids fluttered. I grasped her hand.
Halleluiah! She pressed her fingers into mine.
Within a few hours, Mesa sat up and ate the tuna fish salad the aviator’s wife had made for us. My husband and son showed up two days later, having gotten word of our evacuation through the African mode of messaging—word of mouth. It took weeks, but Mesa fully recovered from the battle with malaria.
For years I’ve pondered the unusual visit considering that we might have experienced an angelic encounter. Whether angel or a godly African obedient to the whispers of Our Maker, this man with the worn shoes was Christ to me. When I couldn’t pray, a priest met me where I was.
What are we doing here, Lord? I had asked.
And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wants to come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me.” – Luke 9:23
If we were not sick, we would not need a healer. If we were not lost, we would have no need of a savior. If we were not poor in spirit, we would not need our Christ.
I was poor in spirit in that hospital room. I needed Christ.
Thank God for my need.
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