The Season of Waiting

The room at the hospital was packed with people. Of the many images of East Africa that remain vivid in my mind’s eye, the wall-to-wall crowd in the waiting room of the HIV/AIDS department of the Bugando Hospital in Mwanza, Tanzania is one that will be always with me.

It is an image of waiting.

Literally hundreds of people had come from near and far, some walking for days or even weeks, in hopes of receiving medical treatment and care. Their long, expectant faces barely looked up when I and my colleagues from IMA World Health entered the room. We had come to monitor the health programs Week of Compassion and other members of IMA World Health had funded and supported. As we opened the doors and were confronted by the crowds living with HIV/AIDS, it was perfectly obvious just how long many—if not most—of them had been there, waiting. Waiting…

Waiting to be tested, finally, to find out whether or not they had HIV or AIDS. Waiting for life-prolonging medicines and treatment. Waiting for counseling and support from nurses, hospital staff, and others living with HIV/AIDS who could offer solidarity and understanding. Waiting for the affirmation that they did the right thing by coming to the hospital and seeking treatment and not allowing the stigma of AIDS dissuade them from getting the help and support they need and deserve.

While in East Africa, the news I received from the Horn of Africa only seemed to get worse. The scenes of children, women, and men waiting for water and food and a safe place seemed unending. I couldn’t help but wonder just how agonizing it must be for a mother to have no other recourse than to wait, as her children look up at her asking for something—anything—to eat. How does one wait under those circumstances? How does one wait for rain, when, in the meantime, there is nothing to drink, bathe in or wash with? What must it be like for the 13 million people affected by the drought and famine across Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya to wait in refugee camps for their lives to change? How would you find the internal strength to continue waiting to survive yet another day when all around you points to death?

How would you wait for that?

Advent is a season of sacred waiting. At Week of Compassion, we’re admittedly not very good at waiting. We never, ever want to wait to get life-changing and often even life-saving help to those who need it most. We know that you don’t want us to wait to respond to human need and suffering in the world. We know that you count on us to work immediately, effectively, and efficiently. Most importantly, we know that those who need our help and hope wouldn’t want us to wait, but to act. To reach out. To make a difference. To trust God to work through our gifts and resources to transform those lives that otherwise do way too much waiting…

As we wait for the birth of the Christ child, may we hold close all those who have no other choice but to wonder and to wait…