A mom, riddled with worry over her own sick child, wraps someone else’s baby against her because his temperature is low and his own mom hasn’t arrived yet. A construction worker pauses his work to carry a young girl across a mud puddle so she can get home safely. A young man stops traffic with his motorcycle in the middle of the street in order to return a single avocado to a girl that had fallen from the basket on her head. The community rallies around our guardian after his home was flooded to get him back on his feet with a dry place to stay.
Acts like these are an everyday occurrence in Guinea. In a place of poverty and daily difficulties, living life as a community is not a luxury for the few, but a necessity for all. As we have gotten to know more families, we have started to hear a common phrase repeated during times of hardship - “On est ensemble.”
“On est ensemble” (in English, “we are together”) is a popular phrase for Guineans that has revealed to us a beautiful truth in the midst of what often appears to be an ugly, broken world. Our teammate has had the privilege of providing wound care to a young boy who was badly burned by an open fire most families use for cooking. His mother is dying of HIV, her newborn daughter is dead from HIV-related illness, and the burn on her only remaining child’s leg is so bad that the most probable outcome is amputation. After the death of her daughter, all four of us went to visit the family and as we sat across from her in her tin-roofed living room, tears fell down her face and all any of us could say, all any of us needed to say, was “on est ensemble.”
Rachel recently diagnosed a newborn baby with severe congenital heart disease, for which no care is available in Guinea. As she sat with the parents explaining the inevitable truth that he would likely die from his heart disease within a few weeks, and the reality of the situation became clear to them, the phrase came again, “on est ensemble,” and provided just a small piece of comfort to the family and to the medical team.
In situations like these, people don’t care what you know, how many degrees you have, or what skills you possess, because there is simply nothing that can be done in the moment to take away the pain, to ease the suffering, or to fix the problem. Of course, we are here to work for the people of Guinea to right some of the many injustices that exist here, and it is an overwhelming joy when God uses our competencies to provide visible results. But in Guinea, as everywhere, there is pain, suffering and death that can’t always be fixed. And although you can’t measure it, you can’t add it up, there is something extraordinarily powerful that happens when we are willing to simply be with those who are suffering.
“Such presence seeks to say, “You may fundamentally know, in your echoing pain or fear, that you are not alone.” This is the most important thing we offer one another in times of hardship and distress. This is the heart of the acts of mercy: “When you are hungry, I might not be able to get you a job but I will not turn my back on you; when you are a stranger, I will not forget you; when you are sick, I will sit by your bedside; when you are in prison, I will write and wait and remember and visit you.” And that is the fundamental way God engages suffering. Not by fixing it; not by re-narrating it; but in being with us in the incarnate Christ and in those whom, in the power of the Spirit, God indwells in order to be beside us… Christianity is most transparently embodied when disciples imitate Christ’s incarnation and show up among those on whom the world has turned its back, whose suffering the world cannot bear to see. It is not about having the solution or the answer, but about being present even when you have no things to do, actions to offer or words to say. That is what faith means.” - Sam Wells
In the midst of suffering and even death, we can find life, SO LONG AS we do it together.
May God use us to reveal the beautiful truth and mercy of the incarnation of Jesus Christ to these people we love, that they might catch a glimpse of the HOPE we have in what is to come - that one day, all things will be made new, and all nations will proclaim His glory. Amen.
“Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” - Psalm 46