Pain and Its Relief
My brother is Chairman of the Department of Pain Management in one of Canada's leading universities. When he was appointed to that position I said to him, "I have come to the conclusion that all of life is pain management." He nodded.
Oddly, prior to taking this position, he himself had endured much. We all go through pain, struggle through it, and look for answers through it. But sometimes you are silenced in the midst of horrific pain. I think my mother must have suffered a lot in her life because she was always reaching out to people who were hurting. It did not matter to her what place in society the person held. What did matter was that she cared and helped in whatever way she could. One of the hardest things for her was to watch her own sister burn to death.
A woman sits in the waiting room at the Agni Raksha clinic in Bangalore, India.
I was reminded of that in a grim way on a recent trip to India. I had taken a few business friends to four cities in India with the goal of helping meet some needs of our Wellspring International projects. The most painful experience of all was to visit a place called Agni Raksha, which literally means “fire or burn care/safety.” From the moment we entered the facility, we could barely get into the doctor's office because of the crowd of patients waiting to be seen; I would guess well over a hundred people waiting in a few tiny rooms, either burn victims themselves or those bringing a loved one that had been burned. How did they become part of this tragic situation? Most were women who had been burned by their spouses, or else the abuse they had suffered at the hands of their husbands was so great that they had attempted to end their lives by burning themselves. I have seen many a pitiable situation in my life, but this was one of the worst.
The lead doctor in Agni Raksha herself is a burn victim, and as a young child she committed her life to going through medical school and training to help those in similar situations. One of those we saw was a woman so badly burned from the neck down that she was receiving specialized attention; nurses were applying medication to the melted skin and gently wrapping her in soft bandages which needed to be changed every forty-eight hours before infection set in with catastrophic results. We were all in silence watching this and left Agni Raksha with our hearts heavy.
But what we were actually witnessing was hope. I take you to two scenes.
One was a woman who had been treated for extensive burns some years back and was now a helper in this place. She came to me and thanked me for my ministry, asking if she could pray for me. She prayed in Tamil. (My Tamil is minimal but I could follow a few words here and there. Hindi was more my staple in India.) But as she prayed, the words flowed like a fountain of emotion, thought, and conviction. It was an amazing gift to receive, and that is not overstated. She prayed for my voice, for the message I carried, and most importantly, she pled with God to enable me to keep preaching.
I was moved beyond words. These are the simple of the world, the formally uneducated but with bright minds; they are materially impoverished but have a wealth of spiritual depth. They are untainted by worldly accolades and sophistication. They are the ones who have been touched by our Lord and now put out their hands to touch others in His name.
Hope is a beautiful and contagious thing. When bitterness and remorse are conquered, purpose and direction take over. She had a life with purpose and you could see it in her eyes.
But there was another side to hope. We were a group of eight. The three businessmen who were with us saw the need, asked the doctor what she needed most, and her answer was an operating room attached to their facility so that they didn't have to wait weeks or months for the hospital to clear a date. The cost to build an operating room was significant.
But these three men together said they would fund it and the doctor was so affected by the generosity of their hearts in being the answer to her prayers that she saw hope for her patients. She is one of the highest trained specialists in the field, trained at the famed Christian Medical College in Vellore, India. That institution was the vision and result of the renowned missionary Ida Scudder. Her name is writ large in India's memory of those who gave the gift of health to its people. The sequence of hope was visible. It came from the heart of Christ through the hearts of people to reach people in need.
Dr. Prema works a long day and a long week to touch these melted bodies and give them back their hope, wellbeing, and dignity. Every age group is represented there, from young children to the elderly.
Following that visit to Bangalore we traveled to three other cities. I spoke at some and we visited other areas of need where help was given and promised.
In a meeting in Mumbai held at a very sophisticated setting for some very high placed people, the feeling was such a contrast and not easy to process. During the Question and Answer time, one senior executive asked, "How does one cope with fear?" What a question from the arena of the wealthy! I would have expected that from one of the burn victims. Instead, we heard it here.
Then came another question: "Do I need a guru to get me through life? Is a guru necessary?" I began my answer to him by thanking him for his question and appreciating the way he worded it. Then I said that what is necessary depends on what your greatest need is. And your greatest need is that of a Savior. In fact, I told him, “Your guru needs a Savior, too.” The one who can teach you the best is the one who has first found the Savior.
I was not sure how he would receive my answer, but that man made it a point to come and meet me afterwards and thank me.
I'm afraid that in the Western world where everything is so sanitized we no longer believe that we need a Savior, but that we are our own saviors. It's an alluring feeling, but a deadly one. It is only as the heart is transformed from the love of self to loving God that we can carry His saving grace into other lives.
I have thought about these things during the long hours in the air. The world is full of pain. There are those who delight in inflicting it; we see them on the news every now and then. There are those who are indifferent to the pain of others; something inside has been burned within and desensitized. There are those who are in the thick of it, crying out for help. There are those who help bring the balm of healing.
I traveled with three men like that. They touched my own heart.
As for pain management itself, I think of the words of the Greek writer Aeschylus, drawn to my attention by my wife:
"He who learns must suffer. And even in our sleep pain, which cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awe-ful grace of God."
We are all ever learning. And without the grace of God we will never learn the greatest truth that our Savior suffered for us; it is because of Him and through Him we may touch others. In a world so bereft of hope, maybe pain is the invitation to truly live and let live.
Maybe that is exactly what has happened in the Savior-touched lives of the wounded in Charleston. One can see where the real power lies here.