Doing What We Can
“He has a fever,” the mother said, through an interpreter. “He needs the green pills.”
I touched the forehead of the smiling toddler in front of me. Perfectly cool to the touch.
“No fever,” I said. “Does he have any other symptoms?”
“It’s inside fever,” she said. “He feels hot on the inside, not the outside. Please give me the green pills.”
I checked his throat and ears, looked into his perfectly clear eyes. “I don’t see anything wrong with him,” I told her. “And, anyway, the green pills aren’t for children. They are antibiotics and only for adults who need them badly.”
Then we got down to the truth of the matter. “They are very expensive if the doctor prescribes them. I want to have some just in case I need them.”
As patiently as possible, I explained that I am happy to give some medicines so they have them in case they need them. “I can give you paracetamol or Betadine or Bandaids or burn cream,” I said. “But antibiotics can be bad for you if you take the wrong kind or take them when you don’t need them. I can’t give them to you for just in case.”
She was not happy, but this was a scenario I’ve gone through many times before. I don’t like to give antibiotics at any time, because they interfere with gut bacteria and can cause long-term stomach problems. When I know there is an illness that actually needs antibiotics, though, and when I am sure they have no way of seeing a doctor, I have some on hand to give.
The incident is just an example of the problems we face while doing our best to help the poor hill tribes people. While some come with legitimate complaints, others are just shopping.
“I have stomachache, headache, backache,” they tell me. “My husband is at home. He has a cut on his foot. Can I have bandages and alcohol?”
Brother Ricky Cash, who has helped with medicine in developing countries all around the world, put it in a nutshell. “If we want to help those who need it, we have to just assume there will be those who are out to take advantage of us. “
I think of that often. There are many who have no means at all to get medicine. They have no money, no transportation, and, often, no ID cards that will allow them to be seen by a doctor. I can’t always tell which people are needy and which just want to load up on free stuff. Do I deny the truly needy because I can’t tell who they are?
And do I blame people who try to lay up a store of medicine? What if I was a mom in a place where children die all the time because they don’t have medical care? Would I be willing to tell a little white lie to have something in reserve to help them?
I’m thinking of putting together small bags of first aid supplies to give out so people won’t feel compelled to fib to me in order to take home medicine. Soap, Bandaids, Betadine, and antibiotic ointment with maybe some paracetamol thrown in for good measure. And perhaps some medicine for diarrhea – the most common and the most dangerous of the complaints we see.
The next patient was a little boy, about three years old. He was burning up with fever and you could see in his eyes that he was very ill. He tugged at his ear. No need to get out my otoscope. I could see the drainage.
“Who is his mother?” I asked the crowd.
“No mother,” the pastor replied. “He orphan.”
“Who is taking care of him?”
A toothless, elderly lady tottered to the front of the line and smiled. I questioned her and found she is not related to the boy. She just took him in because he had no place to live. No chance that this little guy could get to the doctor. He got the antibiotics — the ones formulated for children. If I had my way, he would have a new home, too. Three-year-olds should be raised by parents. At least he was not totally on his own, as many children are. The church people begged us to take him and his sister, but we don’t have the staff or facilities to care for him. I hated to leave him there!
We are praying that someday the Lord will open the doors so we can care for more children. In the meantime, we do all we can do.
Paul’s main calling is to spread the Gospel and to train pastors and he rigorously keeps to that, in spite of the temptations to wander off into filling just physical needs. It’s tough to do that, sometimes! Here are a couple of pictures taken from the service in Plang Hoc where we ministered last Sunday.
He is in Mae Ai today, training the men from Laos. They are a promising bunch, lapping up all the teaching and serving God faithfully in their difficult situations. I’m at home taking care of our kids. We don’t have live-in staff anymore, so I’m not free to travel with him.
We really need property of our own rather than the widely separated places we are renting. Please pray with us for exactly the right place and for the funds to purchase it when we find it.
We recently visited a children’s home that is doing just what we want to do. They have about 20 kids who range in age from 14 to 18. They have a Christian learning center, taught in English using ACE curriculum, and then the kids go to Thai informal school one day a week. That fulfills the Thai government requirements and does something positive to change the lives of kids from the villages. They can get an education, be taught about the Lord, and have a future. Their children won’t have to depend on the kindness of missionaries to have healthcare and proper food. They will have hope.
We just need a place and people to help us. Please pray with us about this need!
We were interested to learn that it’s not a big year in Thailand. They are called “dek ying” or “little girl” until the age of 15. They seemed surprised that we made a big deal about it. Having raised four teenagers ourselves, though, we have an inkling of the challenges and blessings ahead.
As always, thank you to our supporters who make it possible to help these who are so needy and thank you for your faithful prayers!