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A letter from Kari Nicewander in Zambia

May 2013

Dear Friends,

She knew she would not be able to eat her lunch, nshima and relish packed carefully that morning. But if she did not do it, who would? Everyone else refused to go near the man, with his rotting flesh, his septic skin—this living human being who smelled like death.

Kari and Mrs. Soto at Justo Mwale

He was epileptic—she knew that right away, because so many people with epilepsy walked in with burns like this, with limbs that had caught on fire and stayed in the flames during the seizure. Like so many others, he was cooking his food, over open flames, when the dancing lights of the fire set off another fit, and he had no control as his arm flailed in the fire. 

The difference with this man was that he did not seek treatment right away. In fact, it had been weeks; dirt infected his body, his bone was exposed, and the wounds were now septic. The man was alive, but the flesh was dead, and the smell was almost unbearable. He was covered with dirt everywhere; he lived alone in a compound.

My language partner was the only nurse at the clinic who would tend to him; she washed his body, she cleaned his wound, she wrapped the rotting flesh in clean, white cloth. And then she spoke to him, encouraging him to go to the hospital, telling him that there was hope for his arm. He just needed to trust her. And as he waited for transport to the hospital, she offered him her drink, brought from home. He sat, and he sipped, and he waited. And finally, he left.

Mrs. Soto wondered about him, and prayed for him, for weeks. And then, a few days ago, she saw him on the street. He walked up to her and smiled, showing her a clean, healed arm. At the hospital he had received a skin graft, and despite the presence of a few scars, his arm was whole again. 

Mrs. Soto did not just care for the man medically; she gave him her own drink, she spoke to him with kindness, she offered him hope. And when no one else would touch him, she did. She reached out her hand, and she helped to make him well.

A man cooking nshima; the open fire can be very dangerous for people with epilepsy

Sometimes I wonder how it is that I have the blessing of knowing her, how it is that God brought us together, every week, to study Chichewa and talk about our lives, our faith, our families. But I am so grateful for this woman who inspires me with her faithfulness, with her love, with her compassion. Even though she has lived with poverty, pain, and disease her whole life, she has never given in to complacency. Instead, she keeps on reaching out, she keeps on touching the untouchable, and she keeps on living as Christ’s hands and feet in this world. I am so grateful to know her and to learn from her, a bit about Chichewa, and a lot about love.

Mrs. Soto does not have a lot of money; her husband is a student at Justo Mwale Theological College, studying to be a pastor in the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian, and their income is very limited. And yet she offers what she has in order to bring about physical, spiritual, and emotional healing. She gave the man her drink, her care, her resources, her touch.

When she told me this story, her face came alive with joy and she said to me, “Well, you know it is what I love to do!” And I knew. For this is only one of the stories I have heard from her...

            A 22-year-old man attempted suicide after his friends found out that he was HIV-positive from birth. She sat with him, she listened to him; in fact, she was the only person that he would talk to after he tried to kill himself.

            Our neighbor's 2-year-old became very ill; Mrs. Soto brought the child to the hospital, sat with the parents, held the mother’s hand.

            Another neighbor, who died very suddenly, did not die alone. Mrs. Soto was with her, and after her death Mrs. Soto slept in the house with the grieving sister.

She offers what she has. She is present in pain, even in the middle of the night. She touches the untouchable, even if it means she won’t be able to eat. She loves people back to life, radiating the power of God’s healing love.

I know that I need to offer what I have, and she inspires me to offer more. Time, money, prayers, the vulnerability of an open heart. I hope that you will join me in this, that you will also offer your time, your money, your prayers, and even your open heart, ready to hurt for those who suffer.

If you are already offering these things to our ministry, we offer you our heartfelt thanks. If not, please do consider supporting our ministry, through time, money, prayers, and a vulnerable love. Because God’s healing happens when we offer these things. Just ask Mrs. Soto.

God bless you,
Kari, Joel, Frankie and Johnny

The 2013 Presbyterian Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 115
Read more about Kari Nicewander and Joel DeJong's ministry

Write to Kari Nicewander
Write to Joel DeJong
Give to Kari Nicewander and Joel DeJong's sending and support


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