Anywhere but the Hospital

Foreign hospitals make me nervous. Maybe it’s the donkey grazing in the parking lot, maybe it’s the unfinished concrete everywhere, or maybe it’s the arrow at the entrance pointing to the back of the building that says, “Morgue.” I don’t know what it is exactly, but the fact that this particular foreign hospital is actually my local hospital makes me very nervous.

Two years ago, while my wife was out of the country, I had to check myself into the hospital. Emergency service took seven hours. I am glad I wasn’t bleeding like the person before me had been, as evidenced by the blood splattered on the wall near my head. As I lay on my gurney in a room with about 20 other patients, I stared at that blood on the wall and thought about how nice it was that I was saving money. I mean, a single day in an American hospital with cleaner walls could set me back the price of a gently used car. On the other hand, after the second hour of watching the guy on the gurney across from me writhe and scream in pain from a kidney stone, I thought, Maybe a little bit of privacy would be nice, too.

A trip to the hospital here means a lot of waiting in lines. That means waiting near lots of contagiously sick people. The feeling I get being crowded in a waiting area with six chairs and 90 wheezing people is enough to make me consider going around back and finding a seat in the morgue. At least no one is breathing there.

In America, you have a variety of magazines for waiting people to read. You have lounges filled with padded chairs and maybe even a children’s playroom. Not here. Stand near the door holding a number and wait until you either get well, see the doctor or pass away—whichever comes first.  

This morning I went to the hospital with Halit, one of our faithful church attendees. He stayed at our house last night so we could get an early start. We arrived at 7:30 a.m., and the hospital was already packed.

Halit is a 54-year-old contractor. He has a happy spirit and loves children, but, being recently divorced, he is alone and has found our church to be good family. He swears up and down that he is a devoted Muslim, but in truth he is desperately in love with the Bible and its message. Before a recent trip to his homeland in the East, he told me, “Pastor, give me lots of literature—New Testaments, videos about Jesus and brochures. I will pass them out. The East is dangerous for you, but I am a Muslim. I will get this good news out. Everybody needs to read this stuff.” Obviously we are delighted Halit is part of our church family.

This week, when Halit’s chest started feeling tight and he called me with fear in his voice saying he couldn’t breathe, I was deeply alarmed. I rushed him to the hospital, and we discovered (after four hours) that he had pneumonia.

While waiting for his x-rays, I began to think what an amazing ministry Jesus had in that he worked with sick people. Mentally sick, emotionally sick and physically sick. The hospital waiting room looked much like I imagined the Pool of Bethesda might have. Not the pool itself, but the restless, stinking edges where people with oozing wounds, bloodied bandages and scar tissue hung out. The best I could do for Halit that morning was to read Psalm 91 to him and pray. Not so with Jesus. He could put people back together!

There is a part of the Gospels that all the writers left out: How did the disciples feel when all these sickly people were crowding them to get close to Jesus? The disfigured, diseased and dirty formed a continual shuffling ring around Jesus. Certainly there are clean crippled people. The man who was lowered by friends through the ceiling was likely one of them. But I have found that the crippled and diseased often don’t have friends, and a great share of them are dirty. How did the disciples deal with this? Did they feel like I do at our local hospital?

Last week, I went to the hospital to visit one of my church members. Sadaatin, our nearly blind Bible worker, was in the hospital for 10 days. He says he had such a good time in the hospital, he wished he could have stayed longer. In a filthy hospital? Crowded with sick people? How is that possible? Sadaatin says he had such a good time in the hospital because he was testifying about Jesus the whole 10 days! “I just told more and more.” On the first day I went to visit him, it wasn’t visiting hours, so he came out of the hospital and stood in his pajamas on the front steps. That day, providentially, before I even knew I was headed to the hospital, I had put a little vial of anointing oil in my pocket. Suddenly remembering I had the oil, I rejoiced and told Sadaatin I would anoint him on the spot and pray for him. I had a small pocket Turkish New Testament I gave to him along with two other Adventist books for him to give away since he can’t read them.

When I returned three days later, Sadaatin introduced me to a man in a wheelchair on the front step. “This man saw you pray for me and asked what kind of good friends I had who did this kind of thing. He asked if he can come to our church.” Then he told me his nurse had seen the New Testament by his bed and asked if she could have it. He told me with a huge grin that he had been telling people about Jesus everywhere, and he gave me an order for more books to share, including more New Testaments. He presented his two doctors with Ben Carson’s Gifted Hands in Turkish. By the end of his stay, he was so energized that he had enlivened the whole floor with his Gospel telling.
How did Sadaatin stay so cheerful in the filthy hospital? His secret is being nearly blind! He couldn’t see the blood on the walls, the dirt on the floors or the stained sheets. Instead, he only saw the invisible hearts of men and women who needed something. Can you imagine a hospital with 2,000 beds and just one of them filled with a Christian? Sadaatin could see that challenging opportunity, and it made his 10 days in the hospital a blessed experience.

Somehow I think that is what Jesus saw when he came to earth. And I think, slowly, the disciples began to see through His eyes.
“For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:15-18).
God, please blind me so I can see!

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