July 15, 2009

A Question of Value

2009 1520 page20 capitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, very well, thank you. Nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, very well, thank you.”

I turned toward the sound of the nonsensical “English” chant and saw its source: he was dark, gaunt, skinny, dirty, and almost naked. He seemed so out of place—a lower-caste person in an upper-caste village; his dirt-caked body incongruent with the full river flowing just a few feet from us; his blabbering in the quietness of the Sabbath morning disturbing.
It was a special day, and I wished he’d leave before the rest of my group arrived. I was there early, after ensuring that my patients were taken care of, switching my turn to speak in church, and driving an hour on mountainous roads.
2009 1520 page20Not the best time to be annoyed by a madman, I thought as I tried to avoid eye contact with him. I hope he doesn’t pester me for money.
And he didn’t stop; he just walked by. He didn’t ask for money; he just mumbled, “Nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, very well, thank you.”
Building God’s Kingdom
As I breathed a sigh of relief, the pastor, church members, and 13 baptismal candidates arrived in the hospital bus. My heart swelled in pride and happiness at the sight. Baptisms in Nepal are done secretly and quickly in rivers that run through remote areas. This was not a time to take in nature, drag out the service, or loiter about.
The group was already on its way to the riverbank and I was getting ready to follow when I heard again: “Nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, very well, thank you.”
Oh, no! He’s back! Maybe he’ll just pass by again, I hoped as I quickly walked to my motorbike to get my cameras and myself ready to record the baptism for posterity.
It was a beautiful baptism. After the wonderful fellowship and lunch that followed, it was time to go. The bus was the first to leave. As I was about to get on my motorbike the man was back. This time he had an empty plastic bag held open. He was obviously hungry, hoping someone would throw a few scraps of food his way.
Yet all I could focus on was his skinny, dirty, half-naked body and his not-so-lucid mind. I didn’t want him near me. I didn’t want to have to deal with him.

What Do You Think?

1. Share some examples of people who, by thier presence, reveal your deep-seating prejudices. List at least five.

2. Why is it so easy to form snap judgments about people? And why is it so difficult to move past those judgments?

When have you actually had human contact with someone who was marginalized by the rest of society? What was the result?

If Jesus is found in the person of marginalized, what will you say to Him when He returns?

I quickly got on my motorbike and drove away. My engine hummed against the background sound of “Nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, very well, thank you.” As I wound my way back to the hospital I was consumed with the plight of that hungry man and the realization that I had with me a can of potato chips I was too full to eat. The chips were probably all that man needed to make his day. Yet I was driving away with them.

I haven’t been able to forget that man. The value I placed on him was based on his appearance and his behavior. One look at him and I had decided that he was unworthy of being part of the baptism service or my lunch.

My fallen humanity compels me to impose my own flawed values on others. It’s easy to judge people by their appearance, their social status, their mental acumen, and the comfort level I have in their presence. That is my humanness, my weakness.
That man made me understand God’s love more clearly, and the price tag He places on each of us. The value He places on us cost Him the life of His own Son. Should the earth have been populated by just one dark, gaunt, skinny, dirty, and almost-naked man mumbling “Nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, very well, thank you,” God would still have sent His Son to die for him.
God’s value system is not like mine. He holds each of us gently in His loving hands, turns us over and over, sees all our flaws, all our handicaps, all our disabilities—then tags us all equally worthy.
Silas Gomes is a general surgeon at Mugonero Hospital in Rwanda. Fylvia Fowler Kline is director for creative writing for Eloqui, a firm that specializes in creative and technical writing. Gomes and Kline were both on the staff of Scheer Memorial Hospital in Nepal when this story was written.