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A letter from Barbara and Larry Moir in Ethiopia

April 14, 2010

We are Dives!

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.(Luke 16: 19-22)

In the opening chapter of his memoirs, On the Edge of the Primeval Forest, Experiences and Observations of a Doctor in Equatorial Africa (New York, MacMillan, 1948), Dr. Albert Schweitzer cites Jesus’ parable about Lazarus and the rich man, named in Christian tradition as Dives. As he reflects on the physical miseries of the African people and the little attention given to them by Europeans, the doctor writes:

“... Europeans trouble ourselves so little about the great humanitarian task which offers itself to us in far-off lands. The parable of Dives and Lazarus seemed to me to have been spoken directly of us! We are Dives, for, through the advances of medical science, we now know a great deal about disease and pain, and have innumerable means of fighting them: yet we take as a matter of course the incalculable advantages which this new wealth gives us! Out here in the colonies, however, sits wretched Lazarus ... who suffers from illness and pain as much as we do, nay, much more ... And just as Dives sinned against the poor man at his gate for want of thought he never put himself in his place and let his heart and conscience tell him what he ought to do, so do we sin against the poor man at our gate.” (p.1)

Every time I leave the BESS compound gates, Dives meets Lazarus. No, that’s not quite accurate. I meet Lazarus in the compound every day. Lazarus is Hirute the Eating Club cook whose drunken husband beats her, taking her meager weekly pay of $8 US.

Lazarus is the 11th grade student who asked me to provide ointment for his infected hip. I applied and antibiotic cream instructing him to return in the morning for more. I made the mistake of suggesting he might need to go to the hospital for evaluation. Six weeks later he returned for more ointment, showing me six infected lesions instead of one. “OK Miressa, I need to take you to the hospital for this.’ “No, teacher, I cannot afford that.” “Is that why you did not return when I instructed you?” “Yes, I cannot afford to pay.” “Then you will not have to pay; I will get the car, you stay here and wait.” “But I cannot pay!” “I will pay, you will go to the hospital.” Three hours and 65 birr ($5 US) later we returned to the school with a diagnosis of a staff infection, and two different antibiotics.

Lazarus is also the unnamed leper that sits just inside the gate of the Post Office and the 10 year old fatherless boy, a diabetic, who lives at the hospital because his mother cannot take care of him. Lazarus has many faces and many stories.

When we moved to Ethiopia we knew that we would see poverty and illness. What we did not know was that we would see Lazarus, or that we would be Dives. We did not know the real sights, sounds and smell of poverty. We have come to know Lazarus, some by name, like Miressa, and Ebsa, and Hirute. Others are nameless only to us, the ferangi, the strangers from America, for God knows their name. Their names are written upon the palm of God’s hand. We no longer feel guilt when we see them, inside or outside the gate, only ... what? Sadness? Grief? Anger? We cannot help them all. A pair of shoes here and there; a trip to the hospital for antibiotics to fight typhoid fever; a Bir into a fingerless hand; a week’s groceries when the pay envelope has been stolen. One thing is certain however, there is hope.

God brings hope through Sena, a 10th grade student who wants to lead her people as a policy maker, fighting poverty and assisting women, 85 percent of whom live in extreme poverty. God speaks hope through the lips of Meseret, 9th grade, who lost his right leg to polio at age nine and dreams of becoming a physician. Zambarone, 11th grade, the son of a mechanic, will become a civil engineer, and Temo, 12th grade, the son of a subsistence farmer, dreams of becoming a research scientist. Dinke dreams of becoming a nurse, Warike a social worker, Chaltu a teacher ... and the list goes on of dreams and aspirations filled with hope for the future, for as the students claim, “If God says, it will be so.”

It is also God’s will that Dives take account of Lazarus’s condition, “and let his heart and conscience tell him what he ought to do (Schweitzer)” and thus join Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham. Let it be so. Amen.

Larry and Barbara Moir

The 2010 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 50

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