Embracing pain

Something happened on Friday that left a very deep impression on me.

 I was part of a team that was helping to train one of the biggest Pentecostal churches in Thailand to run the Alpha Course. The mother church in Bangkok has started running the course and wanted its 50-plus daughter churches in the other provinces to start doing it too. So more than 150 full-time staff from around Thailand convened in Bangkok for a three-day training, along with other revival meetings that the mother church was conducting for them.

 On Friday, one of the trainers ran a sample session on “How to be filled with the Holy Spirit”, a talk that’s used at the Alpha Weekend. At the end of the talk, the trainer got the pastors to come forward for a time of ministry, and the team went around praying for them.

 It was nearing the end of the ministry session when someone asked me to pray with a girl who was crying profusely. I went over to her and before I could even say anything, she just held on to me, weeping into my shoulder. I held her tight as her sobs rocked her very small frame. As I gently prayed over her, my heart grieved along with her. There was so much sorrow that was emanating from this little waif of a girl, who was crying as though her heart was breaking inside.

 I found myself praying God’s love over her, reminding her that God loves her very, very much and God has never abandoned her. I sensed that she either had a very bad dad or she might not even have one at all. And I felt so strongly that God wanted her to know that He is her Father and she can call him Papa.

 I don’t know how long I stood there holding her. When the sobs started to subside, I pulled her away a little, just enough for me to brush her hair from her face, tucking it behind her ears, so that I could actually look at her for the first time. By now, she was hiccupping from crying too much while her eyes were swollen from the deluge of tears. She was very skinny and her head came up to just my shoulders. Her dark skin, simple pink polo t-shirt and blue jeans hint at a humble background.

 I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to pray for, but that just elicited more tears. Very slowly, through the hiccups and tears, she whispered that she has AIDS and her parents died from the disease too. (I’m not sure if she were HIV-positive or had full-blown AIDS, but she did use the term AIDS.) Her schoolmates would not go near her and call her all sorts of names. She only has one friend, she said. She is in Secondary 2 but looks like a nine-year-old.

Like any teenager, she must have her dreams. Dreams of having a boyfriend, of being pretty, of having a future. But the reality is she has a death sentence hanging over her. And her sore-scarred arms were a constant reminder that she’s different.

My heart ached for her then, as it does now, two days after meeting her. So much pain to bear for a 14-year-old. I feel so helpless but the only thing that keeps me going is the promise that God is close to the broken-hearted and I know He has a special place in His heart for her. I don’t know if I’ll see her again but I think of her often and each time, I pray that God will be close to her.

Friday was a public holiday in Thailand and honestly, I wasn’t thrilled at having to spend it in church. I’d much rather go to the beach or chill by the pool. But I can say with all my heart now that I can’t think of a better way to spend the public holiday than praying and grieving with an AIDS orphan in my arms.

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