A lesson from Juan

One incident that was particularly memorable for me was in the small community of Yawari, which is not far from the small town of Archidona. There, our mission worked in the local elementary school, where we set up stations on the basketball court and in some classrooms. Chickens and dogs wandered around the school, children played on swingsets, the atmosphere was lively. Our MEDLIFE students even played a game of basketball with the students after the mission, which was great to see.

Amidst the atmosphere of joy, a very sick man, aided by his relatives, slowly walked over to be seen by the doctors of MEDLIFE. This man, Juan, who was only 40 years old, but looked at least 60, had a bulging tumor in his stomach that looked like the size of a grapefruit. He said that had had this tumor for at least five years, and could not afford to see a specialist who could remove the tumor, nor was in a condition to work to save money for the operation. He was an immense pain, and any help we would could offer him was all he asked.

It was in this moment that my heart sank, a feeling of compassion that I want to help you but there is nothing I can do. Only a surgery could help this man, something we had no way of doing, and he had no way of paying for, and most likely only available in larger cities like Quito that he had no way to travel to.

These sorts of moments in our lives are difficult ones for me. We often express in English, “I wish I could help you.” “I wish” – an expression of profound desire to realize that which is not realizable – are both the easiest and the hardest words to utter, to think.

But, out of this difficult moment of truth, came a tiny miracle: Juan smiled at us, and said “gracias por venir” – ‘thank you for coming here’. No anger, no desperation from him, just a simple “thank you for coming.” Such grace, such humility, such appreciation.

We believed we had come to help and teach the people of Yawari about health, but instead we left with an important lesson about life by someone with neither health nor access to healthcare: “gracias por venir.”

-Steve Byrd

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