Guest author- Dr. Andrea Parker
Diana’s smile is amazing. I met Diana in August. But, it took until quite recently for me to see that smile.
Before I share Diana’s story, I want to briefly introduce some background on story-telling. In the past few years here at Tenwek, I have learned the difficulty in sharing someone’s story, especially with attention to the different contexts from which we come. I have found this to be true in sharing my own story but find it especially difficult in appropriately conveying another’s experiences. Especially when involving injustice, it can be difficult to fairly tell a story without worsening biases a reader may already have about the subject or topics of the story. Again, this can be a particularly challenging aspect of sharing a story that crosses cultures.
I also need to say that Diana’s story is really difficult to share. It is unfair and full of injustices. I have done my best to share her story in a way that brings dignity and honors the image of God in all persons involved without cheapening or minimizing her trauma or that of those who have gone through similar experiences. Diana has eagerly given her full permission for this story to be shared and for the pictures that celebrate God’s work in her life and our participation in and witness to that work to be a part of the story. Telling this story is a collaborative effort. I have written the story from my perspective; Julie Ganey, whose role in this story through her work with Tabitha Ministry was incredible, took all the pictures. Together, we pray that the words and pictures convey the “beauty from ashes” that is this story.
Injuries are a huge part of what we see as doctors at Tenwek. In addition to accidental injuries, many injuries are intentionally-inflicted, perhaps due to land disputes or livestock ownership issues or in situations of domestic violence. Diana was admitted in August with severe head injuries, deep cuts through the skin and bone such that the brain was visible, as well as multiple other deep cuts and injuries to her back and arms and amputation of two of her fingers. These were violent injuries, clearly meant to do serious damage or cause death. Diana was brought in several hours after her injuries, and immediately taken to the operating room, where her wounds were washed out and repaired. Her physical wounds, that is.
Over the next several days, we began to see that as severe as Diana’s physical wounds were, equal in severity were the non-physical wounds. And those wounds cannot be sewn together and repaired in a few hours of time in an operating room. Diana struggled to eat. She was tearful. She would not make eye contact. She rarely spoke and relied on her sister to answer questions; I did not even realize she spoke English.
We began to hear parts of Diana’s story – she had been injured by a man, not her husband as she is not married. It was not the first time; she had old scars. She was scared. Over several days to weeks, we prayed for her on our team rounds, and we spent time with her later in the afternoons. We felt a deep desire for her to know her worth, both to us and to a God who loves her with an incomprehensibly immense love. We wanted her to know that she was deeply cherished. Our chaplains and social worker came and met with her, and over the course of those few weeks, she came to know the radical love of Jesus who cares so profoundly about each of us.
As we began to make plans for her discharge from the hospital, we had questions. Was it safe for her to return home? Did she have a community to support her? How could she better understand who Jesus is and how God can work in her life?
Throughout our few years here, Bob and I have seen numerous examples where the ideal person is available at a time when their particular, unique skill or expertise is needed. For instance, a patient with a complex vascular problem is here the one week of the year that we have a vascular surgeon available. In these times, we have become deeply grateful for and found a new appreciation in the way that God uses the Body of Christ – our various gifts, desires, enjoyments, strengths – for His glory. We have become keenly aware of our own small part in this picture. While most often I’ve seen this happen through medical providers, in this situation, God used Tabitha Ministry and some other missionary and Kenyan friends.
Tabitha Ministry (https://www.wgm.org/project/tabitha) is a ministry to Kenyan women in the area surrounding Tenwek Hospital. It started out of a home Bible study but has grown to a network of thousands of women learning the Bible and caring for one another. It was started by a missionary friend, Linda, and a Kenyan woman, Peris ROtich. As Diana was in the hospital, I reached out to Linda, Peris, and another friend who works with Tabitha, Julie, in hopes that they could meet with Diana so that perhaps she could be connected to a group of women from Tabitha, near her home, who might be able to provide continued support and encouragement. God used the Tabitha leaders in beautiful and wonderful ways to minister to Diana, and I began to hear more of Diana’s story through them.
Diana is one of eight daughters and no sons. Had she been born into a family with sons, likely her life would have been much different. If she had a brother, as her parents aged, they would have been cared for by a son and daughter-in-law. Instead, Diana was chosen to stay with her parents and care for them, both as a financial provider and for their daily needs. Diana is a teacher, and her home is on the same plot of land as her mother and father’s.
Diana is not allowed to marry. As an unmarried woman, Diana is vulnerable, lacking the protection a husband would afford her. And there are men in her community who take advantage of her vulnerability. She has three children with two fathers. A particular man in her community, the father of two of her children, periodically comes to her house to spend the night, and at least once prior to this story, he has abused her violently enough to leave scars.
One morning, as he prepared to leave the house, he suddenly turned violent, taking a machete and attacking her, even as she tried to run away. Leaving the house, she screamed for the neighbors before she collapsed, and he escaped. The neighbors came, and when they saw the severity of her injuries, they assumed she was dead; she scared them when she asked them to take her to the hospital. The first hospital they took her to saw how bad her injuries were and wouldn’t even allow her into the hospital, sending her instead on to Tenwek with a blanket to soak up some of the blood. Tenwek is an hour and a half of very bumpy dirt roads from her house. Diana said she didn’t even feel the trauma of the ride as she was unconscious.
As the women from Tabitha talked to Diana, they were able to share personal experiences and situations and encourage her in her newfound faith. They spent hours over several days with her acknowledging her trauma, allowing her to talk and process the situation, and hearing her fears. They prayed, shared scripture, and sang songs with Diana before her discharge. And they arranged for Diana to have women visit her at her home through a Tabitha group nearer to her. I am so very grateful for the time these women spent pouring into the life of another woman.
A little over a week ago, Julie, Peris, and I had the opportunity, along with several women from Tabitha who joined us at various points on the journey, to visit Diana in her home. We met her parents and children and had a beautiful time of hearing Diana’s story. She related that in that moment as she was escaping, as she was fearing for her life, she just cried out to God, that he would forgive her and forgive this man. Hearing her say that reminded me of Christ on the cross. She said she had heard about Jesus all her life but had never known him until she was in the hospital.
Diana and her family told us of the many ways in which God intervened on her behalf that day and the way He has changed her life since. Her family was supposed to be away, yet their plans had changed, and they were around. In this very remote area, a car just happened to be passing by the neighbor’s house, and the driver offered to drive her to the hospital for no charge. When they arrived at Tenwek, Diana’s mother was told that she would need a blood transfusion and also given an estimate of the cost of the hospitalization and surgery. She was overwhelmed wondering where she would find family to donate blood and money to pay. She happened to run into another relative who was at the hospital for an unrelated reason, and that relative organized family members to donate blood and contribute to the cost of her care. She talked about God’s work in her life including the way that He has miraculously taken away her fear, her nightmares, her anger and her bitterness and her shame. We shared chai (Kenyan tea) and songs and prayer and hugs.
I will not pretend to understand why these things happen or why sometimes evil seems to prevail in this world or give easy answers. Nor do I want to naively overlook or simplify the trauma that she or others have experienced. But, I do know that God’s work in Diana’s life is obvious. Her smile is not one of naivete or ignorance or denial. Her smile is that of someone who knows the love of God in a real way.
Diana is in the middle with the blue head scarf, her 4 year old son in the front center. The rest are Tabitha bible study leaders, friends, neighbors and relatives.
Mike (pediatric surgeon) and Julie (nurse/mother to two) living in Kenya, East Africa