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Rejoicing on the Path Unplanned

This powerful blog post was written by Hope for Life’s Sponsorship Coordinator, Amanda Good.


 

I stopped writing at the end of last year all together after the loss of one of our sponsored boys. The death of my sweet friend Patrick hurt. Every time I have tried writing since, I’ve become overwhelmed, closed my computer, and walked away. But, I’m finally ready. It’s time for more stories.

Last November was bittersweet. It brought with it a crushing brokenness alongside something beautiful. In a span of three days one boy’s life ended while another was made anew. I want to tell you about two boys.

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Patrick, 12 years old

Patrick was timid, studious, kind, and friendly. He was the younger brother of one of the boys who lives at our home. Patrick stayed with his mom just around the corner from us. He was in our sponsorship program. We saw him frequently on weekends when he came to visit. He was a sweet, gentle boy, who liked long hugs.

In mid October we learned that Patrick’s mom had been diagnosed with HIV. My coworker and I went to check on her because we heard she wasn’t doing well. When we walked into her home we found her on her thin mattress on the ground, laying on her side, extremely sick. She sat up, meeting us with weary eyes, fighting back tears at our arrival. I looked around and couldn’t fathom what she was going through. There were bits and pieces of stale food on the dirt floor. The smell pierced your nose. She told us about the treatment she was receiving and that neighbors were helping her as much as they could.

She went on to tell us that her son Patrick was also sick. Patrick was just around the corner of the small two-bedroom place, she called him in. The sight that followed remains seared in my mind. There was a small curtain; at first I only saw his two ankles. My fear grew as his feet stumbled forward. The curtain opened to the left and there he was. He stepped through the doorway, let himself down to the ground, and lay on the unclean mattress with his mother. He laid his head on her lap. He shook with chills even though it was probably 85 degrees out. She covered him with a thick, rough blanket. I looked at his body trying to understand where the boy I knew had gone. I had never seen someone so malnourished. I stuffed down the emotions welling up inside of me. I turned to my coworker and in looking at her, without words, I knew we were both thinking the same thing. We both knew it wasn’t by chance we were here today. The mom was struggling to fight for herself. She couldn’t make food or take Patrick to the doctor; she needed someone to stand for her when she couldn’t. We knew it was God’s hand that brought us there to do something, so my coworker and I put Patrick between us, holding him up and were off to Hope for Life.

The following weeks Patrick remained with us, bouncing between different clinics, prescribed new medicines, none of which he responded to. He had constant diarrhea and was unable to hold down any food, drink, or medicine, continually throwing up anything with the potential to help him. He could barely sit up, leaving no chance of getting to the bathroom. The smell in his room was unbearable. Our boys would carry him to the shower and bathe him. They would wash his clothes for him. He hadn’t eaten in weeks and was beyond dehydrated. He had been treated for malaria, typhoid, and amebas. Everyone kept saying he just needed a few days and that he would be okay. During those weeks I wanted to believe he would recover but day in and day out I saw no signs of recovery. I arrived at work each day afraid to open his door. The worst of all combinations, I felt helpless and restless. His case wasn’t considered an emergency because he was mostly conscious, which meant no clinic would transfer him to a hospital and if we arrived at the hospital without a transfer they would refuse to admit him. While that room felt like a living nightmare there are memories within those walls that still bring a smile to my face.

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Valence carrying Patrick from the doctor

Day after day I watched our boys come into his room and pray for him. They sat near his bed. The kindness of our boys continued to bring love to him even in the hardest of times. There was one day we had taken him to a clinic and when we returned Patrick laid down on his bed looking at me. It felt like his eyes were trying telling me something. I had a feeling he didn’t want to be left alone. I had his brother Olivier ask him just to be sure. He told Olivier he didn’t want to sleep. I had Olivier ask him if he would like to play with some small boys. He nodded his head yes. Two small boys, Claude and Jean Paul had heard what he said. I watched them smile and sprint to go get the Legos and cars in the other room. They laid the Legos out in front of him while he sat up on the bed. He tried grabbing a Lego in front of him but he was too weak to lean over; the boys quickly realized this, and began picking up handfuls and holding them in front of him. Patrick’s eyes lit up grabbing pieces from their hands. He started building a house. One of our oldest boys Pacifique watched as he struggled to push the pieces together so he moved closer and began helping him build the house. What a sight. What compassion. What beauty in this dreary little room! My heart was full as I watched our boys love Patrick the best they could.

After almost three weeks of no progress, we knew it wasn’t enough to continue waiting it out; it was time to fight. We got him a transfer and admitted into a hospital after nearly 7 hours waiting outside the emergency room where the doctor had left the facility. Patrick’s brother, Olivier, and one other older boy who lives at Hope for Life, Valence, accompanied us (coworker, myself, and Patrick) to the hospital.

The emergency room, while horrifying, felt like a familiar place after last year’s experience with the young girl Sandrine who was in the hospital. The needs of that room felt once again like an unending ocean of needs. That scene is another story all to itself. I remember sitting down waiting for Patrick to be admitted after hours of running around trying to get someone to pay attention to his case. I was exhausted, frustrated, furious, and impatient. Valence and Olivier could see right through my aggression with nurses and the hospital, they saw behind my eyes the fear, but ultimately the sadness. I sat down away from the group for a few minutes while we waited for the doctor to arrive, Valence came and sat down next to me. He grabbed my hand, put it on his lap, and held mine in his. He didn’t say anything, and he didn’t need to because his actions said everything; you are not alone. He was loving me the best way he knew how, and it was enough.

Olivier stayed with Patrick overnight and I arrived early in the morning to relieve him. Immediately I was the entertainment of the room for the Rwandese mommas. They watched as the very clearly incompetent white girl attempted to communicate with the very sick boy to see how he was. The mom in the bed next to us was pointing to him and was doing some charade that very clearly meant to wash him. I told her yes but I didn’t have a basin. Then she gave me one and pointed outside. She helped me get Patrick outside where there was a balcony and a chair. This was going to be a first. I helped him take of his clothes, watching him barely able to hold himself up, and struggle to remain upright. I put soap in my hand and washed over his emaciated arms and legs, then pouring water over him as he shivered. He was so weak he could barely hold his head up. I wrapped him up with a towel, got clothes back on him, and then we sat together waiting for a nurse. The blood test work he had done the night before was still not processed because the machine to provide the results was broken. I anxiously paced around the nurses station asking when the machine would be fixed, they didn’t know. There I stood again, helpless, in a hospital with broken machines and inattentive doctors, praying for my God to help.

Hours went by with no answers; they promised we would have some by the next day. In the afternoon another coworker came to take over, I leaned down to Patrick, hugged him, and told him in Kinyarwanda “I love you.” Those words would become the last three words I said to Patrick because that was the last day I saw him before he passed away.

In the hospital they were unable to make a diagnosis aside from “blood infection”. His week in the hospital before passing away was also the week before I left for Kenya with Fred (plenty about him in blog’s previous). It was a crazy time with a lot going on at the organization but also in planning for what was coming up so soon with Fred. When I received the message that Patrick had passed away I immediately was filled with deep regret and guilt because I wasn’t there. I blamed myself for not being more present when he was in the hospital. I know I could have advocated for him more. I could have asked more questions of nurses and doctors to make sure they had a diagnosis. And those words have haunted me for months now, “I could have done more.”

Patrick’s burial was by far the hardest day I’ve had here, I’ve never experienced remorse and sadness intertwined as great as that. Watching a mother bury her son wrecked me, I felt like I personally had let her down. The bigger question I carried was, “Did I let God down?”

After months of wrestling with the loss of this little one, I finally have peace. It’s not a peace that says the death of a young boy is ever okay, it’s a peace that says and knows, “God is Almighty and in control, and I trust wholeheartedly this was His plan.” I don’t have to agree with the plans of God, I don’t have to like them, I just have to trust Him and I can do that because over and over again He has shown me His infinite love and goodness.

I saw His goodness just a day after we buried Patrick. Monday afternoon we had the burial and Tuesday at 6am I was boarding a flight with a 6-year-old named Fred on my way to Kenya. Of course this was how it was going to happen! Of course my God had a miracle in store after such a devastating loss! He didn’t give me time to sit on the side line, He picked me right up and said, “get back in the game!”

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Off to Kenya!

Traveling with a 6 year old who knows zero English and has never been outside of his village was hysterical. He was going through culture shock and loving it, eating everything edible in sight. I almost had to tell the flight attendants to stop bringing food because I was afraid he was going to get sick. I’ll never be able to fully understand the challenges of his life but during those days in Kenya, I got glimpses of just how difficult life is for him. He took his first shower not out of a bucket and he wanted to stand. In trying, he slipped trying to stand, from then on I helped him. When I was helping him, I thought back to Patrick, I felt sadness wash over me. I thought about Fred. I thought about how challenging life would be without a leg, to constantly need someone’s help, to rely on others. I would hate it. I hated that feeling when I tore my ACL and that was only for a few weeks. This was his life. One already amputated and potentially another depending on what the doctor said. I frequently was hit with waves of sadness about Patrick, running alongside my belief and hope Fred’s story would have a special ending, or should I say new beginning, all to its own.

The morning after we arrived in Kenya we met the doctor. Following our consult, the doctors ran scans and discussed his case. By the afternoon they had returned to us saying that an amputation wasn’t necessary and that they could repair the leg! I still replay the moment the doctor said that over and over again in my mind, asking him to say it again. I was in disbelief. I will never forget the moment that I called one of my coworkers and on speaker phone had her translate everything the doctor had said to Fred. I told Fred that we would be coming back to Kenya to have the leg repaired next year. He couldn’t contain himself. He covered his face with his pillow and rolled around in the bed, overwhelmed! We were both overwhelmed. We sat in the bunk bed together, smiles on our faces, laughing. In that moment I saw and understood how much correcting and keeping this remaining leg meant to him, it meant everything. From that night, Fred’s never been the same. He has a glow, his hope is visible, you can see it. He ditched his crutches, he’s got a strut. His mom said he returned from Kenya a new boy. And he did, he had a new identity. He saw himself in a new way, he saw the world in a new way. He had a new beginning, his life would never be the same.

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Fred after he heard the news!
Fred after he heard the news!

These two boys, Fred and Patrick have shown me just how fragile and unpredictable this life is. No matter how hard we plan, everything can change in a moment’s notice. There are twists and turns we never would have chosen. We find ourselves in positions and places we never expected to be; sometimes we wind up exactly where we were born to be. We get beat up. We stand up. We grow up. We march on with the choice to lick our wounds or walk tall, and champion them. We all know bad things come suddenly, but maybe we forget that’s how good things come too. We can spend our whole lives imagining and planning one path, one future and then there comes a day when it all changes. In these times, some prayers are answered while others are not. When they aren’t answered, it doesn’t mean they weren’t heard. There is a God who hears our cries and feels our pain, and He is with us in all of it. Fred’s shown me that against all odds and all defeats, to never give up, to wake up and fight, to remain steadfast in hope, to know anything is possible for those who believe. I can see now, even after our darkest days, we can find ourselves rejoicing on the path that wasn’t planned, the one that hurt for a while… and truth be told, its so much better than anything we ever could have imagined.


To read more about Amanda’s journey visit her blog: https://amandatgood.wordpress.com/

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