Friday, August 1, 2008

Crossing Paths with Nathan

Yesterday morning, I met a doctor from South Africa who told me tales of the high crime rates in his city of Johannesburg. Although he had spent the previous night in our city, had been warned of the security risks, and was here with the purpose of Med-Evac'ing a boy to South Africa, he looked me squarely in the eye and stated emphatically, "You people have not a care in the world here." I thought that he was joking, and almost spit my coffee out in his face, trying to muffle my laughter! But then the hope rose up in my heart that just maybe we are showing this doctor the strength of the Lord in the face of crisis, causing him to falsely believe that we have a wahala (trouble)-free existence in spite of an onslaught of fiery darts that our enemy loves to cast every chance he gets!
This story is about a 15 year old boy named Nathan, for whom I had the pleasure to care this week. Nathan is a missionary kid from a different country, and had come to minister to the orphan kids of Gidan Bege. He, his sister, and his team arrived in our city on Monday morning from the States. The sunset that evening was spectacular, so Nathan and a buddy climbed the highest structure on the guest house compound to witness the sight. Their perch was a 20+ foot metal scaffolding, which they believed to be firmly attached to the ground. However, as the boys both began their simultaneous descent, the tower began to fall. The other boy was able to jump to safety, but Nathan was pinned beneath the heavy metal, crushing both of his legs in the process. The team rushed to lift the scaffolding, and Nathan was transported to our mission's hospital, the best in the city, but still considerably lacking in modern medical equipment and ability.
For this I am most thankful, that an excellent orthopedic surgeon was visiting Nigeria through SIM for 3 weeks, and was available to operate on Nathan's crushed legs immediately. Breaking both legs and damaging the muscle around the right tibia/fibula, the surgeon was able to intervene in a way that saved the bones and tissue. My involvement in his care began early Tuesday morning, when I took over from the family practice doctor who came with Nathan's team. Immediately, I was impressed by this boy. His legs bore the heavy "external fixators" that the surgeon had placed the night before. He was in and out of consciousness, as the general anesthetic lingered in his system. But every time that he woke, he smiled at me and tried to converse, not just about his injury, but telling me about his upbringing as an MK, about his wonderful parents and many siblings. His love for his family was evident on his face, and was proven by his questions as to their welfare.
For the following 48 hours, I spent the majority of my life with Nathan. Our ability to manage pain is minimal, as strong narcotics are scarce or unavailable. But even as his open wounds were being scrubbed, he barely even winced. Never one time did he complain. I asked him how he could be so brave, so far from his parents. He stated simply, "The Lord is helping me." The medications were giving him a serious migraine, but many of the missionaries wanted to visit him and pray for him. Without fail, when a stranger would come to greet him, Nathan would extend his hand, invite the guest to sit down, and proceed to ask about their lives and ministry. He would always thank them for coming. He even tried to muddle through the Hausa greetings with the Nigerians who came to visit him, always with a smile on his face. Countless times, as I moved his injured legs, I know the simple movements brought him unbearable pain, but he just smiled and thanked me for helping him. I just kept thinking, "What if this was my Colin, lying in a hospital thousands of miles from home? This could be MY son!"
We were set to evacuate Nathan to South Africa, but I was concerned that the bumpy road would jar his tender legs, upsetting his already queasy stomach. We do not have an ambulance, so we converted an old van by removing bench seats and putting a mattress on the floor to transport him to the airport, where a Leer jet awaited him on the tarmac. Over bumps and potholes, no complaints. As the driver dodged a swarm of motorbikes and animals on the highway, no complaints. As the swerves made him nauseous, no complaints. As his muscles tightened and flexed in an excrutiating, involuntary spasm, Nathan just looked into my eyes and panted, "It will pass soon."
As his stretcher was lifted into the plane to prepare for lift-off, my thoughts turned to his parents, and how proud they must be of their son. His life in crisis was an incredible testimony to all who met him in Jos. He had every natural reason to be egocentric, focused on his own pain and the common question, "Why would God let this happen to me?" But he never once went there. His faith is wonderfully simple, the kind that Jesus used as an example to the religious community. My prayer is for my own parenting, that I may be an example like Nathan to my precious children, and that they would also live a life marked by that amazing brand of grace. Godspeed to you, Nathan! May your recovery be quick and your life continue to bless those with whom you find your path somehow mingled!


Gretchen said...

Praise God that Nathan and his family had you to care for him. How much easier did you make his experience because you have Christ within? Blessings. Gretchen

The Black Family said...

Oh Kel,

You brought tears to my eyes! I just kept thinking what a blessing it was to have you there over your "friendless"summer - God knew that Nathan would need you. It definitely made me think of my own Nathan! Our prayers are with SA Nathan.

Love you!