I’ve been visiting hospitals a lot recently. I went to see a church member (I’ll call him Joe) who’d had his gall bladder removed. He shared a large room with four other men, so visiting for family and friends was restricted to an hour at noon. While we visited, Joe’s co-worker stopped by to see him. Excited, he told us what he was learning about God, that he read the Bible together with Joe and a few others at work. Then he said to all of us, referring to Joe’s spirituality, “He’s running; I’m just taking baby steps.” I didn’t say anything because I was thinking, “Yesterday, Joe told his sister to lie—to claim she was the wife of one of his roommates so she could pop into his room for a few minutes before the operation.” Instead of “running up front,” I saw Joe as a weak, stumbling, blundering Christian; yet, his friend looked up to him and wanted to be like him.
The night before I’d stayed in the hospital lobby with Joe’s wife, waiting for him to leave the recovery room so she could see him for a few minutes before she went home for the night. While we waited she told me about Joe’s sister’s hard life: Her husband left her, her oldest daughter fought with her grandmother, and as a result, they lost their rent-free house (from the grandmother). She presently spends two-thirds of her salary on rent, leaving about $47 for food, electricity and water, and whatever else is needed (bus money, for instance, or clothes). She works for her brother-in-law who only pays the bare minimum and takes advantage of her situation to get the most work out of her that he can, and she is illiterate, has no legal documents or training to get a better job. Yet, when I met her, she was happy, upbeat, had invited Joe’s wife to leave the hospital for awhile and have coffee with her at her house, and afterwards, she and all her kids joyfully walked a mile and a half to take Joe’s wife back to the hospital to meet me at 11 p.m., walking through a bad part of town known for its drugs and thievery.
And while we talked, I could see that Joe’s wife saw herself as so much richer and better off than her sister-in-law. She said Joe sometimes bought food for his sister, then added, “but he can’t afford to give a lot.” I, on the other hand, saw Joe and his family as poor and destitute. Sometimes, they haven’t had much food to put on their table, either. They have no car, and live with their six children in a cramped, two-bedroom house. Joe has only a second-grade education.
It was after one in the morning when we finally left the hospital--Joe’s wife feeling rich and blessed, me like a millionaire.