“I see Jesus in you,” the crippled man said to me.
Surprised, I replied, “No, I see Jesus in you!” “You have the eyes of Jesus and his face.”
“No, no,” he said, shaking his head, “Jesus is in you.”
At this point, I sat down on the sidewalk next to him. His comments had touched me deeply. With tears streaming down my cheeks, I put my hands on his face and looked deep into his smiling eyes, and said, “OK, yes, Jesus is in me but this very moment I’m looking into the face of Jesus.”
He smiled and accepted the compliment but then said, “But you were Jesus.”
This conversation took place on the sidewalk outside of the OB ward. But what led up to these words is quite another story.
It is a daily occurrence to walk on the streets of Ethiopia and encounter crippled beggars. Usually they are sitting on the curb or sometimes, like in Addis Ababa they use crutches to hobble over to your car and beg while you are at the stop light. Many are born with club feet that were never repaired, others suffer from the dreaded Mossy Foot and still others have serious birth defects, unrepaired accidental injuries or osteomyelitis due to malnutrition and filth. The reasons are too many to count.
On this day, Demeketch (my housekeeper) and I were returning from a shopping trip into town. It had rained the night before and the streets were still wet and muddy from the rain. We were on the home stretch and needed to make a decision whether to walk a little further and stay on the cobblestone or turn left and take the shortcut to the hospital and deal with the mud. We were tired and chose the mud road between the football stadium and the Wolaitta Cultural Center. It was then that we saw him, crawling up ahead of us on the muddy road. Like I said, crippled people are not unusual sights in Ethiopia, but crippled people crawling through the mud on their hands and knees are an unusual sight. Slowly, slowly, like a tortoise with a final destination in mind, he was crawling down the muddy road. He was not begging, just hunched over and slowly crawling, crawling, moving ahead inch by painful inch. He was on his hands and knees. His skinny legs trailed behind him, angled up in a V shape where his crippled feet hung at opposite angles. His clothes had long lost their original color and had osmosed into a smudged brown, the color of Wolaitta dirt. His knees were wrapped in multiple layers of torn scraps of cloth…anything to soften the cruel reality of packed dirt on knobby swollen knees. In contrast, his palms rested on new women’s gold plastic sandals. As he crawled ahead he used the sandals to keep his hands out of the mud. We are careful in Soddo about giving to beggars, but this man wasn’t begging. I spontaneously reached into my pocket and gave him all the birr that I had…it wasn’t much. I said something like, “God bless you my friend.” He smiled the most beautiful smile and said, “Thank you,” in English.
I took a few more steps and that’s when the Holy Spirit really tugged at my heart. I stopped, turned to Demeketch and said, “Translate for me.”
He looked up at me from the ground with his infectious smile. “Friend, I said, “Have you ever been to Soddo Christian Hospital? We have a very good orthopedic surgeon at our hospital who might be able to help you.” “He has done some pretty amazing things with crippled people.”
He said, “I am on my way there right now.” “I have heard of this doctor and have come from the countryside to see him.” He continued, “My mother prayed to God that she would have a child. When I was born this is what she got.” “God has given me this life and my mother praised God for me.” “I am her only child and this is what she got.” All the time that he was speaking, looking up at me from his kneeling position on the ground, his brown eyes were crinkled in a smile.
I don’t know why this man waited 35 years to seek help for his crippled condition. I learned that he had come 60 kms on a bus to see Dr. Anderson. The bus station is next to the stadium so he had been crawling to the hospital since getting off the bus. There was nothing we could do to help him get to the hospital any faster so we went on our way. At the hospital gate, however, I stopped and talked to the guards. I told them, “There is a crippled man coming to the hospital to see Dr. Anderson.”
“How will we know him?” they asked. “There are many crippled people who come here.”
“Oh, you will know him,” I responded. “He is crawling on his hands and knees.” I gave them 100 birr and said, “Give this to him when he comes in the gate. This will help him to pay for a card and consulting fee to see Dr. Anderson.”
Later that day, Melesse, a former extremely crippled patient of Dr. Andersons and now hospital employee, came to my house to fill in the ‘rest of the story.’ This man had prayed when leaving his village that Jesus would help him get to see Dr. Anderson. He had virtually nothing but his transportation to the hospital. The rest of the visit he committed to Jesus.
Dr. Anderson had seen him but unfortunately could not help him. He said that he would be worse off if he operated on him. But, Dr. Anderson authorized that a type of bicycle on three wheels be given to him. This bicycle is pedaled by the hands and arms and is very strenuous work. The man would come back the next day and Melesse would teach him how to pedal and use the bicycle. We gave him 300 birr for a hotel room and transportation back to his village. About that time Jackie and Duane came out of their house to go for an evening walk. Duane sadly confirmed that he couldn’t help him. He shook his head and commented, “He was so dirty.”
I said something trite, like, “Well you would be too if you crawled in the dirt all day.”
It wasn’t my careless comment but again the Holy Spirit working. Duane paused and thoughtfully said, “Jackie, let’s help this man get some new clothes.”
I never got to see him in his new duds, but Melesse took pictures. First he taught our visitor how to use the new bicycle. That’s when I had my second encounter with him on the hospital sidewalk. Later Melesse took him to the market and he purchased all new clothes for him. Melesse helped him to get a taxi that would carry the heavy new bicycle back to the village and our crippled visitor was sent on his way. I never learned his name…I’ll just call him “Jesus.”