“Hey Bezi!” came a familiar voice from upstairs.
“Yeah!” I wondered.
“I think we have a problem,” continued Anthony in his ever collected tone of non-urgency despite urgent situations.
It was only Monday morning and we hadn’t even stepped foot into the world; what could possibly have gone wrong?
I dashed upstairs to find Anthony lying still in his bed. He proceeded to tell me how he had woken up in the middle of the night with an aching body, feeling weak and cold. This could mean one of two things as far as we could tell. Either he had the stomach flu, or something much worse, malaria. We prayed from then on it wasn’t the latter.
Whatever it was though, it didn’t consider our responsibilities. We still had classes to teach and needed to be at the school in a few minutes, but we weren’t so sure if Anthony should try to hold himself up on the back of the moto while trying to suppress his dinner from the night before. However, we both knew the policy that goes something like, “ you must be at school on time unless you are so sick the capacity to move is requited in unbearably uncomfortable responses (nausea, vomiting, etc.) or simply no response at all.”
After calling the principal to let her know of the situation, she advised that we come to school so she could assess the situation further and determine whether or not to take Anthony to the hospital, or, if it looked really bad, to the more equipped Phnom Penh hospital six hours away. After Anthony downed the distasteful and nearly unswallowable charcoal powder, we took off to school where the principal decided it would be best to take Anthony in the project truck to the hospital in town. There they would test his blood with the hope that it wasn’t malaria or dengue.
Unfortunately, things were not looking so good. The truck had suffered a flat tire leaving Anthony uncertain in his ailment a while longer. After the principal promptly took the truck to be repaired, she returned for Anthony and they were off! Little did I know, I would not be seeing Anthony for quite some time…
Okay, maybe that’s a little too dramatic.
I actually saw him a few hours later tucked silently in his bed. Unsure of the true nature of his sickness I wasn’t sure what to do to help. But after some prayerful consideration, God instigated a plan. Before leaving again to teach evening English classes, I left a trail of notes and vitamin c rich fruit to the kitchen hoping Anthony would find some sustenance considering he hadn’t eaten anything but a small banana he had forced down that morning.
Upon returning home for the night, I ran upstairs to see how our sickly friend was doing, and to my delight, he was as he can normally be found, reading. He told me how the other career missionaries had come over upon hearing about his condition and given him another blood test, but found nothing too alarming. We both were praising God for that, sickness isn’t much fun as it is, but malaria is just cruel. Still, whatever it was, it hadn’t left Anthony for good, but at least he was doing better. In fact, Anthony had returned to his normal functioning self (making innocently sarcastic jokes and garrulously airing his brainwaves at rapid fire) after a few days, and you can trust that we were much more proactive with long sleeves and mosquito repellent after that.
This illness was the first in an untimely series of illnesses. In training we were informed that it is not a matter of if you get sick, but when, and the returning missionaries testified to that. I know I was determined to disprove that theory, but as the season of sickness progresses, it seems that theory is still sound. But even more sure than impending sickness is the healing power of a cheerful heart and prayer. You see, it was just some time later that I would be stricken with a “bug” of my own (and no, not a malaria-ridden mosquito thankfully) where I learned the power of thanksgiving, peace, joy, and prayer.
It was another pleasant Sabbath evening at the teacher’s house and we were all taking a rest from the day’s engagements. I had laid myself down on the tile floor, hoping to finally defeat my inability to drift quickly into repose; however, after a few minutes of wrestling for comfort, I surrendered to the cold tiles beneath me and began reading.
As I read, I felt a change occurring inside me, but not a good change. It felt like my intestines were rumbling and rolling like the primal stages of an active volcano. Assuring myself it was just indicating its need for occupancy, I confidently arose to gather with everyone else for dinner.
The food looked delectable, rice and…well…other Khmer stuff, but for some reason as I continued to shovel it down the hatch it grew increasingly unappetizing (though to no fault of the chef by any means). Then suddenly my digestive system went berserk! It had me searching for postures to appease it but nothing seemed to be working. Externally, I tried to keep my cool, but the pain became too unbearable. My body began to release distress signals (contorted facial expressions) to my fellow consumers who began to assess my condition.
In response to my apparent ailment, my partner in ministry, Anthony, offered the strangest form of assistance conceivable. Using wit and humor at appropriate times he began to take my mind off the pain. I don’t know if this was his plan, but it sure fought to invigorate my heart. He then prayed for strength and healing for me, and one of the teachers gave me some charcoal.
After a glass or two of seemingly inconsumable charcoal, I went to lay down in a separate room. As I lay there I began to pray that God would take the pain away. But soon I remembered something profound I learned this year that I hope to expand on in another blog, and that is that pain isn’t the problem; in fact, it never is, it is only the symptom. The problem was my sickness, though I am not sure what caused it, probably something I ate (it usually is).
Whatever the actual issue was, the solution was much more clear: inner joy, prayer, and natural remedies. These three are God’s practical weapons for battling sickness. As the wise king once said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Pr 17:22) Anthony’s good humor allowed me to take my mind off the pain; and the blissful melodies pouring over the gap in the wall from the teachers singing in the other room swept me up into glad harmony. Prayer exercised faith and put me in the hands of the great physician. And charcoal, God’s natural accommodation to our ailment, effectively terminated the issue.
Within an hour or so the pain had subsided and I found myself beginning to grow in vigor. Thankful to my friends for their faithfulness and encouragement, I burst out into the main room to join them in song. And sing we did, for in good health were we, and for many a good reason do we sing with glee. Though that’s not the end of the season of sickness, for again it would strike, and no less in quickness.