[This story was originally published on the Servants website in 2005. It touches on the feeling of helpless in the face of no easy answers to people’s problems, and also the importance of prayer in these situations.]
I came to meet Zora when friends of hers asked us to pray for her… She is very ill they said. They were right. I will never forget meeting her…
We were lead up a smelly, narrow, dark, dirty stair case toward her room. Then there she was. Tiny, little more than skin and bones, she was huddled on her bed yet a broad smile lit up her face as she recognised the kids that brought us to see her.
“Saalam Valecum” I said offering a greeting of peace to this lady who seemed old and frail. I explained I had come to visit her because I had heard she was sick. Then as we sat there over the next 20 minutes she poured out her heart to me. I have never met with such an outpouring of grief in my life.
Zora’s family had moved to our urban poor community when their slum –the biggest in the city and just across the river from us- was demolished by the government. A clean up project that left thousands homeless and pushed up rents for the poor in our neighbourhood by 25%.
“Our life is hard. There are many problems” she exclaimed. My husband used to be a carpenter until he lost his eye in an accident. Now he can’t see well enough to do that work. He pulls a cycle rickshaw but doesn’t make enough to pay the rent at Rs1000 per month.
She explained that her daughter was back living with them also now as her husband had set light to her – burning her entire back. Azra looked all of 17 or 18 to me. Her mothers grief was overwhelming. “What hope is there for my daughter now?” Zora knows it will be hard to find another husband for her, yet life without a husband is unimaginable in a culture like this.
This lady, so weak she could hardly stand, hadn’t even mentioned her own illness yet. As we talked further, I discovered that Zora had TB. Medicines for TB are free yet Zora was being charged Rs50 per day by some quack in private practice making a packet from one of the poorest people I knew.
As I listened I was trying to problem-solve, see how I could possibly help… What could I offer? It is always dreadfully uncomfortable when I can’t offer a solution in such desperate situations. Not to be able to fix it all left me cold. I pounced on the one opportunity I could see. I know I could get her good medicines for free. I set it up –but after that avoided visiting her for a while.
After a few weeks she called me back .. Where have you been? She asked. As I reflected that one thing she really really needs is a friend. Someone who will listen and pray with her. (I had kind of tried to hide behind a kind of professional get in there do something helpful -and then get out again!).
I have been amazed since as she recounts how much it means to her that I pray with her. Others come and chat she says – but you pray… that is the most important thing! Of course I have found other more practical ways to be able to help the family also but there are no quick solutions. Please pray with me for Zora and her family and for me as I continue to try and be her friend.
[Anna and Dave Robinson (names changed for security reasons) live with their young daughter amongst urban poor Muslims in an Indian megacity.]