Recently I took a team of students to Haiti, and we had the opportunity of working with the Sisters of Charity for two mornings. The first morning we found ourselves at the gate of the Hospital for Sick Children. Once through the gate a nun ushered us past a portrait of Mother Teresa and into a ward with 50 metal cribs containing 50 babies. Infants die without human touch. Our mission was simple: hold infants for two hours. The little boy that I chose had a tag that told me his name was Donovan. He was lathargic and there was a sadness in his eyes that never went away, even the few times I coaxed a smile out of him. The hardest part of the morning came when I had to place Donovan back in his metal crib. He held up his arms, and with great sad eyes, cried for me not to put him down. Somehow in that two hour period without words, we had bonded. It was hard to walk away. There was nothing else I could do. There would be another volunteer coming to hold Donovan. Despite feeling horrible, I realized that two hours is better than no hours, and that it is ultimately God who is holding these children. Two hours at a time, using our hands.
A few days later we pulled up to The Home for the Dying. This time the bodies lying in the beds were all grown up, but still very sick. My wife Colleen took the female students to the women’s ward, and I took the guys to the men’s ward. We walked into the first room armed with a guitar, 2.5 creole worship songs, and tubes full of cream. Once again it was the simple ministry of human touch. We sang and then fanned out with the cream and began to rub the feet and legs of dying men. It seems that no one wants to touch the dying. I understand this. Everything in my flesh was repulsed, but there was a man staring at me with sad eyes, and it was as if the Holy Spirit was speaking an invitation through that look. Slowly I put cream on his feet and legs and began to massage it in. He was too sick to speak at all, but he looked peaceful. I said a prayer for his comfort, and then he died. An orderly with gloves came over and checked for breath. He closed the man’s eyelids and pulled the sheet up over his face. I stood there awkwardly, realizing that I was the last touch this man had felt on earth. I thanked God for giving me grace to deny my flesh and follow the Spirit’s prompting. Ultimately I know it is God’s Hand, not ours, that brings peace when there is no healing, but sometimes He wants to touch the world using our hands.