Monday, September 19, 2011

Here is the kind of situation that we face regularly and that continues to tie us in knots: I was sitting peacefully at home this afternoon, taking a break from studying by knitting a few rows (on something that is a surprise for a friend who may or may not read this blog) when the doorbell rang. I went out to the gate, called out, "Qui est-ce?" and got back the answer that it was my neighbor, Marc, whom I don't know. But he sounded nice, so I opened up. He greeted me, then told me that he is desperate for help, because his newborn has a serious infection and is in the hospital. He made it sound like life and death (which of course it may have been – how would I know?) He needed 6500 CFA, or about $15.00, for medicine. I asked to see the prescription: he said he hadn't brought it with him. I asked him for the name of the medicine and he told me. I asked him to describe the problem, which he did – in great detail. All of the time I was thinking about what I should do. We don't usually give people money in such cases, unless we know them well, know the need to be real or have some way of verifying it. I had only about 45 minutes before I needed to be at CTC (the mission's training center) in order to do some important business online. So I went through my protocol by telling him that of course I would have to phone Monsieur Paul. This is to be expected, and it gives me both time to think and a second opinion. Paul agreed that I shouldn't give him money but really couldn’t offer much help otherwise – like I said, we still get tied in knots. Finally I told Marc that I was leaving soon for the training center and would meet him at a certain point along the way so that I could go with him to the clinic where the meds had been prescribed. When it came time to leave, it was just starting to rain, so I went back in and put my laptop inside of a plastic bag, inside my backpack. As I picked my way through the muddy street, getting wetter and wetter by the minute (I was trying to keep my umbrella over my backpack rather than over me), I kept wondering whether or not he would show up. If it was a scam, the rain might keep him away. Even if it wasn't, he might assume that I wouldn't come in the rain. I also prayed for the baby – if there is one – and for my computer, and for wisdom and patience and that I wouldn't get too grouchy because, after all, "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." A couple of times I thought about turning back, but then I thought that it might be true, and a baby might be very sick, and I could easily manage $15.00 and a soaking in order to save a baby's life. What if this incident was the real purpose that God had in bringing us back to Cameroon? To shorten the story: I met up with him; we went to the clinic; they verified his story; and I gave him the money. I told him to bring me the receipt and the box the meds come in tomorrow morning, and he assured me that he will. But it means nothing. If it is a scam, he can just split the money with the guy at the pharmacy, who will give him a receipt and a box. Or he can buy the meds and sell them later: people often sell single pills on the street. In that case, I will have encouraged him to continue a life of dishonesty. On the other hand, he may be a perfectly honest, desperate father, and I may have been in a position to help him save a baby that will grow up to cure cancer or be the next Billy Graham. Most likely I will never know the end of this story.

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