A few weeks ago, I was at King Faysal Hospital in Kigali with Mugisha Gabriel getting immunizations. We waited a bit of time and I fed him a bottle of baby formula. When the feeding was done I began to burp Mugisha as an American. I firmly and affectionately patted his back in rhythm. Before the burp came up a Rwandan mother noticed my poor child care techniques and quickly offered her correction. A baby is best burped by a firm rhythmic back massage. Firm pats such as mine are close to abuse.
All humanity expresses affection. We’re made in God’s image and feel compassion for one another. We touch. Our touches heal, nurture, and help babies burp. These gestures of affection are irreplaceable.
Babies in Rwanda burp to massages. Babies in America burp to pats. Humanity thrives with gestures of affection.
During our Uganda years we were fortunate to find a good pediatrician, Dr. Mary Mpalampa. She was a healer of bodies, minds, and spirits. Her very presence made us well. Our children thrived under her care. When our children had their first immunizations with Dr. Mpalampa she rapidly placed her hands on the location of the injection and firmly pressed down. Our kids screamed. She was convinced her hand’s pressure would prevent swelling and our children would more rapidly heal from the injection.
Dr. Mpalampa’s hands were used different than our American doctors, but she kept us healthier than any doctor we’ve ever known. Humanity thrives with these gestures of affection.
Early on in our Uganda years we tried to do everything ourselves. An older Navigator missionary, Jeff and Carla Steinke put us under their wings for a few months. They pointed out that in a developing world one can hire people to do household tasks for low costs. For instance, a Ugandan cook’s monthly salary is only the cost of eating out once per week. If a household cook prevented us from eating out the cook's salary was actually a budget saver. By hiring good household staff our lives are more focused on ministry and family, and less on butchering chickens. Also, by making good hires we create an economic means to pull a few families out of destitute poverty. Thus our home since the early days has always been filled with people. We look like an Old Testament household with a large family, many frequent guests, and staff. It is an expression of the gestures of affection in which humanity thrives.
Some of our CCR members, Marguerite Nyagahura and Rose Apolinary noticed that we were hardly sleeping during our first months with Mugisha. He needed to be fed about every two hours to recover from his pre-mature birth. As a child Rose was in a refugee camp with a friend, Susana Batamuliza. Rose did economically well in life while Susana remained part of Africa’s working class. Susana however is a skilled mom and grandmother. Rose and Marguerite suggested we hire Susana to care for Gabriel through the night. We pay her $200 per month. She is now one of his grandmothers. We all smile when she comes in for the evenings to watch Gabriel.
Susana on occasion gives Mugisha his medicine to prevent seizures. When she gives him his medicine she lifts his left arm. It is a Rwandan gesture of affection. We’ve never done it this way in America. Yet when Gabriel’s arm is lifted he takes medicine better. He now lifts his arm on his own when his medicine is given.
Humanity thrives with these gestures of affection. They change from culture to culture. At times one’s culture sees another as “odd,” but when you receive the gesture with an open heart it has a way of nurturing our body and spirit.
One of the Lord’s promises for those who are called to leave family and friends is that we shall receive many more friendships in this life and the one to come than we left behind (Mark 10:28-30). As we close our season in Africa’s Great Lakes Region we have been very blessed by many friends and experiences. Their affection to our children is irreplaceable. We are blessed.