Sometimes the heaviness of a place can weigh you down like a fog. That’s how it felt when we first arrived at the clinic. Its large courtyard was full of desperate families seeking help, anxious parents fighting for the lives of their children.
But everything suddenly changed when one small boy’s bright smile lit up the entire area and instantly penetrated my heart like a welcomed shot of adrenaline. He brought joy to a very somber place. He was just what we all needed.
We were in East Africa and had just walked into the Hand of Hope malnutrition clinic for the very first time. It is a difficult, somber place—and yet, hopeful. Perhaps that sounds impossible, but that is the business that we are in—and the specialty of our God—bringing hope to desperate situations. And the little boy who ran up to greet me was the perfect example of hope springing from hopelessness. More so than I even realized at the time.
Best. Handshake. Ever.
He shot his little hand up toward me for an introductory handshake, and his entire face smiled. You know the kind, a smile that squishes up eyes and takes over cheeks and joy oozes out of every pore. His name was Isayas, and he was five years old. I shook his tiny hand, and he was instantly my best friend.
Isayas was strong and healthy, but just a few months ago his story was one of utter desperation. At that time, Isayas’ father and mother brought him to the clinic believing that they would soon lose their precious son. His hair had fallen out, his belly was extended, and his legs and feet were incredibly swollen, the edema a visible sign of his body’s fight to survive as it consumed his own internal organs in search of nutrients.
When the doctor explained that they could, indeed, help their son, Isayas’ parents experienced their first glimmer of hope. Isayas entered our inpatient program to receive the advanced nutrition he needed as well as treatment for the accompanying infections. His little body responded quickly to the loving care, and now, months later, his happy family was here for a follow-up visit.
Just What We Needed
For a couple of days now, Isayas had been following me and our other team members as we worked throughout the clinic. He was part of the crew and just the bright spot we needed as we documented these life and death situations. He was our constant reminder of why we were there—an unstoppable force of giggles and joy.
In one particularly poignant moment that I will never forget, we showed Isayas’ father a photo from the day he first brought his son to the clinic. At the sight of that stark reminder of the amazing change in Isayas’ health and appearance, his dad instinctively raised his hands and broke into spontaneous worship to the God who saved his boy’s life. Isayas’ mother was in tears on the other side of the room and tears streamed down my face as well. The beauty of such pure and sincere gratitude grabbed my heart and has yet to let go.
When it was time to leave, Isayas clung to my neck and I carried him around for a long time. Of course, I eventually had to say goodbye, but the image of that giant smile and his little hand stretching up to say hello will stay with me always. As will the realization that none of it would have been possible without you—the partners who provided for the clinic, medicine and food that saved his life. He is just one of many precious children and parents that you have touched with the love of God.
There are many more desperate mothers, fathers and children like Isayas waiting for their miracle. And together, we will be there, extending a hand of hope.