A few weeks ago I got in a car with four other ladies from the church. I had no clue where we were going or what we were doing, but I did not even bother to ask- I guess I am getting used to the unexpected. As we travelled down the road, carefully avoiding the cattle being herded into their pen for the evening, I looked out the window and smiled- embracing the landscape, the people, the moment, and the element of surprise.
Just as the sun was setting we pulled into the Mankweng Clinic which up to this point I had only seen in passing. Fantastic, I thought, a hospital- my favorite. For those who are unaware, I have a tendency to faint at the sight, smell, or thought of blood, needles, or anything medically related, so obviously a hospital setting is a bit of a challenge for me. Still uncertain of our purpose at the clinic, I took a deep breath and followed the other ladies with me into the sterilized air. We asked directions from a worker there, who led us down a maze of whitewashed walls, slick tiled floors, and florescent lights until we arrived at the surgical ward. Even better- open wounds and IVs. I looked straight forward, carefully avoiding glancing into the windows of the patients for fear of seeing something that I could not handle. We turned into one of the rooms with six ladies who appeared to all be breast cancer patients at various stages. A few were standing, most were sitting on their beds preparing for the night ahead, and one was sprawled out on her bed hooked up with IV’s and relatively unresponsive to our entrance. Breathe- God give me strength. The lady whom we were visiting was an active member of the youth in our congregation, and she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was in the hospital preparing for her upcoming operation.
We sat around her bed and chatted for a bit, except in Sepedi so I mostly just observed. She looked happy to have company and comforted by our support but, despite her bright smile and cheery countenance, I could sense worry in her eyes, just as in the ladies around her. When the chatter subsided we stood to pray. Our prayers were full of cries to the Lord to help our dear friend be healed because we the church needed her; we can not survive without her. I know the collective prayers not because I have suddenly developed telepathic abilities, but because prayer here is not silent. Each person was standing with their heads and hands lifted to God, ready to receive his blessings and shouting their prayers up to him in the language of their choice- some in Sepedi, and some in English. As you can imagine, six ladies screaming in various languages to God at the same time creates quite the cacophony, but it does not shock me… anymore.
As our cries were dying down, in walked some members of another church and asked if they could pray for the patients. They began their prayers, which were once again spoken aloud and shouting, but they spoke with more fervor than us Lutherans. They went to each patient and, with their hands on their foreheads or waving up and down the required spot of healing, they shouted prayers to the Lord. What caught my attention was not the shouting, but exactly what they were shouting. The man to my left was standing with the unresponsive lady with his hands on her head screaming for instant healing of her ailments. A man to my right was waving his hands over a standing patient while shouting “FIRE, from the top of the head, to the sole of the feet! FIRE of the Lord!” What is going on? Do they really expect these people to be instantly healed? But as I scanned the ladies of the room once again, I saw each one of them with their heads bowed and their eyes squeezed shut, hoping earnestly for a miracle from God to heal them.
Churches and prayers such as this are very popular here in
You would not get this at a Lutheran church in the
If I had a seizure in church I would want immediate medical attention, not a thousand hands trying to heal me with the power of God. But how amazing is it that the power of prayer is so well respected and believed in that it exceeds the power of medicine? Is that not how it is supposed to be balanced- God first, then the knowledge and ability of man second? “I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see, all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14. No matter what we can do here on this earth, God is the all-powerful ruler, and in him is where our future lies, not in the hands of the doctors.
This seems to create a large split between the world of medicine and our religious beliefs. Is it wrong to take advantage of the advances in medicine to boost our health and prolong our life? I would like to suggest that instead of working against each other, medicine and religion are actually working in tandem. Perhaps the cries for “instant healing” go deeper than meets the eye. Those men may have been flailing their arms and encouraging the Holy Spirit to come heal those ladies- but what exactly is healing? According to the ELCA's social statement on health, healing, and healthcare, which I encourage you to read, healing is more than simply curing a disease or illness; it encompasses both the body and the spirit, and speaks of restoration of well-being in God. The cry for the fire of the Holy Spirit may not have any physical repercussions, but the ladies were restored in God and healed of their worldly worries. In this light, medicine can help cure bodily ailments but, in order to be in full health, the spirit must also be healed and strengthened in the Lord. Together, medicine and religion can create a strong, healthy follower of Jesus.
It is encouraging to see the unfaltering FAITH with which the people around me believe in prayer and the ability of God to heal. It is a FAITH which is full of fire and fervor and calls for miracles from God. Although instant healing was not given to those six ladies in the hospital, the incredible FAITH with which those prayers were given healed and strengthened the souls of the patients in the Lord, so they could proceed with the road ahead believing in him and his miraculous work. Do not be afraid to shout to the Lord your praise, thanks, and cries for help- you may just receive a miracle of healing in return for your faith.
~Heather Anne Nelson