Desperate

She came in to my office rather quickly, and abruptly stated her problem. I was taken aback a bit, having gotten used to the slow stroll and lengthy monologues from the typical Tanzania patient here. She was sixteen years old, and needed a urine pregnancy test. Her manner was bold, almost brazen, but there was a sense that she was trying so hard to be brave and confident but just under the surface was an uneasy nervousness and hint of fear. I probed a bit, and she explained she had missed her period last month and was worried she could be pregnant. I ordered the test, and sent her to the lab, figuring we would talk some more after the results. The line of patients continued. After a little bit, she came back in with a little slip of paper. I looked at it, the pregnancy test was positive. In medical practice, I’ve found most patients appreciate a gentle but direct answer when waiting for a result, even here in Africa, though there is a lot of beating around the bush and indirect meaning and ways of saying things, the patients appreciate a truthful direct answer to their medical problems. I told her the result. Her stoic and brave face crumpled in anguish and she burst in to tears. My heart went out to her. She cried out in Swahili and some broken English, even crying out Jesus’ name at times, but more in a swearing manner. After settling down a bit, she quickly looked at me with a desperate fire in her eyes and asked me to abort the pregnancy for her. I probed some more and she opened up a bit. She explained she lived with her grandmother, both her parents were dead, and that she had a 9 month old baby at home. Her dilemma was that she recently had been accepted in to a high school in Dodoma and was supposed to start her secondary school education. It’s common practice here in Tanzanian high schools that if a student gets pregnant, they are kicked out of school. Once kicked out, it’s very difficult for these girls to find another spot. She pleaded with me to perform an abortion, or give her some medicine that would abort the child. What a sin sick world we live in, where a young teen feels the pressure to try to fix one sin with a grievous other because she will be judged by a double standard that says she can’t go to school if she is ‘sleeping around’, but the boys who do aren’t held to the same standard. We talked for a while, I tried to tell her that the pregnancy inside her is a life, and we could help her with different needs as she tries to provide for two young children. I talked with her about finding her work maybe with the local pastor’s family in the village she’s from. I tried to explore options with her, any option other than killing the child that was growing inside her. I gave her my cell number, and the number for the pastor in her village that I knew well. I tried to meet her where she was, understand her circumstances. I didn’t even get a chance to talk to her about STD and HIV risk, something that would be standard topics you want to bring up with sexually active teens. To make a lot of headway with those topics it requires a trusting doctor/patient relationship, built up over time, something I didn’t have with her. I felt like I was just scratching the surface, and though I tried to reach out to her with compassion, when she came to the realization that I was not going to do what she had been asking me to do over and over, her countenance stiffened again. She regained the brazen look on her face and left my office with a determination that makes me worry she will go and have an abortion any way she can find it. And some of those ways, in the woods with a witch doctor or traditional practitioner, could be fatal for her.
These interactions beg a lot of questions…. How do we, as followers of Jesus, preach the Kingdom of God in word and deed, and reach out to people who find themselves tangled in webs of sin and brokenness. How do we speak truth in to their lives from God’s Word, without preaching at them in a condescending way? How do we come up with creative solutions for helping them, instead of just kicking them out of school? How do we confront sin instead of condoning it, while still accepting the people made in God’s image who don’t even know Him or what sin is?
How did Jesus do it? How did He come in to this fallen world and bring hope, love, and salvation? The answers will shape the way we follow Him and the way we love our neighbors.
-Jon

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