Thursday, April 23, 2009

Failure 2

Saul came to the house about 5:15 am to ask if I could take him to the hospital to retrieve the body of his wife. We left immediately, but (as is typical in Malawi) had to wait for the fuel station to open…

We got to the hospital at about 6:15 am, this is when I realized that the mourners hadn’t finished, but moved. Earlier that morning I thought it became eerily silent because the mourners had run our of energy to cry. I was wrong. The people had left the village, taken the 10 mile walk to the hospital to be near Failure. The wailing and crying continued through the night and continued still.

One of Failure’s daughters was crying the most. Screaming in Chichewa… the only words I could understand were “Mom” and “God.” It was too much for Saul to take. It was the first time I’ve seen a Malawian man cry.

We loaded Failure's body into the back of the Landcruiser and headed back to the village. Her family members packed in as well. The mourning continued all the way back to the village. 10 miles seemed like 100 as I tried to drive slow to miss all the bumps, so as not to disturb Failure.

As we pulled up to Saul’s hut, a large crowd had gathered. They were distraught with grief. People were hitting and kicking the side of the car and crying... It seemed like they believed in their emotional state that if they could just make me turn around and leave, death would go with me. I have never seen mourning like this. Wailing, crying, shouting, singing, hitting the ground, the car… How they all must have loved her!

It was time to move her to the hut. The back liftgate was jammed again... I was thinking, "What will I do if I can't open this!!!" 2 minutes later I got it open.

When we were carrying her into her house one of her daughters was trying to wake Failure up, shaking her and screaming. Saul, barely able to stand with grief and tears, and others had to hold his daughter back so we could get the body in the house.

After this I got in the car and drove back to the house, which is only about 150 yards away. I sat in the car for a while trying to process all that had just happened. I just don't get it.

Why are there no doctors here?
Why do 16,000 kids die of hunger related causes every day?
Why do 1 in 5 kids die by age 4 here?
Why do 1 in 16 die in childbirth here?
Why is Malaria killing millions per year, when the cost to prevent it is pennies to us?

The answer is, we don’t really care. Of course, that is a huge generalization, but as a whole I think it is correct.

Statistics mean little until you see the faces.

I still feel like I am the failure here. We all are. You and I are responsible for her death and the death of millions per day. I’m sure many will read this and be upset. Some might even cry. This may sound harsh, but the tears of the rich don’t save lives! In fact, Africans are drowning in the tears of the rich! If this makes you angry with me, I'm sorry, but I hope the anger will turn to compassion for the poor and that you'll move past feelings of sorrow into actions of love.

I know this may sound self-righteous for me to write. But I share the guilt. Even worse, I have been a witness to the horror of extreme poverty and still have returned home a selfish, wasteful person several times... I pray that this time I don't forget. That this time I come home and spend my time and money wisely. That this time, I move beyond drowning Malawi with my tears, but find ways to make them float. That this time I can inspire people to use what God has blessed them with to bless others...

They are still wailing next door. I am going to help buy a coffin now and try to understand what in the world is going on here. Funeral is later today. We will bury another statistic.

Shane Mast

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


She died at 2:23 am. Even now, at 3:36 am the cries of the village continue all around us. They are screaming, crying, sobbing, like they will never stop.

A young woman, a daughter, a wife, a mother in her early 20s. Her name was Failure Solomon, as if from her birth her destiny was foretold.

Cause of death? Unkown. Like so many, including a child of 6 yesterday, people die here and there is no doctor to diagnose, to give answers to the loved ones left behind. You can hear it in their screams right now: “Why, why, why…” I don’t know much of the language, but anguish and grief are universal.

I don’t think it’s the fact that people are dying. People die everywhere in the world every day. It’s the unknown manner in which they are taken. There is no one to say, “I’m sorry. There is nothing else we can do.” There is just sickness, weakness, and death. No answers. Just questions.

I visited Failure earlier today at 2:00 pm as I had heard she had taken a bad turn. When I got to the hospital she was there with her husband Saul by her side and family members looking on. She was comatose. Not moving. You wouldn’t know she was alive except for the rising and falling of her chest. Her husband hadn’t been told anything. You could see the sadness and fear in his eyes. He told me they didn’t know what was going on. No one had told them anything.

I searched for a clinician (closest thing to a doctor here), only to find one nurse who wasn’t even familiar with the patient. She reluctantly came with me and looked at Failure’s chart. She said she is probably ok. Her unconscious state, probably the effect of the anti-vomiting medicine they had given her and she would soon recover.

Me: “But what does she have? What is wrong with her?”
Nurse: “We don’t know.”
Me: “Can I take her to Mangochi?”
Nurse: “No, she is too frail. Plus they will only give her the same treatment we are now. The clinician will be here in 30 minutes. Come back and check on her tomorrow.”

This is the closest thing we had to answers in this case. I felt good that I could help get some understanding. When I told them, the family seemed relieved to know that it appeared that it was a negative effect of the medicine that was making Failure appear so sick. I left the hospital thinking everything was going to be ok. 12 hours later, she was dead.

The crying continues. The hopelessness of the unknown in Africa sucks the life out of everyone. When you have an enemy you can see, you can strategize and attack him. When the enemy hides, you live in fear, not knowing when or where he is going to strike. He takes out neighbors, friends, family and you are helpless to defend them. The hopelessness leaves everyone wondering, “Why her? Why him? Why not me?”

Worse than dying of AIDS. Worse than dying of Malaria. Worse than dying of TB, Hepatitis, Cholera, Typhoid, maybe even starvation or murder, is dying of the unknown.

The more I think about her name, the more I feel like the failure here. I have come from the richest, most powerful country in the world. In school, we are taught from a young age that we can do anything that we put our minds to. We can change the world! In church, we are taught that God loves everyone equally and that those who ‘have’ should help those that don’t ‘have’. That God blesses us to bless others. That the most important commandment is to love God and one another.

If these two things indeed are true, and I believe that they are; If the church truly is the body of Christ then why are children dying of unknown diseases? Why are they dying of treatable and preventable diseases? And why are these things still happening on such a huge scale without the American Church doing EVERYTHING in its power to stop them? (As Pastor Greg Boyd says, “Our enemies are not flesh and blood. They are the principalities of evil.”) Isn’t that why we were born in the most powerful country in the world where we have the freedom to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to all ends of the earth? Or were we born in the land of opportunity to use it to our advantage, to create our own personal kingdom?

May God bless Failure’s family and the millions of others on this continent who live day to day, losing loved ones to the above diseases, to war, and of course, the unknown.

It’s now 4:21 am. The sun will be up in an hour and the village has switched to silent mourning. It is eerily silent now as the people have no more energy to cry. Of course this will be a day of mourning for the village and for us because this time, the unknown took one that we knew.

Shane Mast