As I sit writing, I recall that one year ago today I was in critical condition in a twenty-five bed hospital in Jenin, occupied West Bank, Palestine. Although I was in a coma and have no memories of the almost three weeks that I spent in two Middle Eastern hospitals, friends and family have reconstructed those days that were full of God’s presence and love that was shown, not by one stranger, but by many of them.
In the beginning of what was eventually diagnosed as bacterial meningitis, two Palestinian doctors in that little hospital consulted with each other and began emergency treatment for meningitis even before any test results had come in. That would have been best medical practice anywhere in the world, and it saved my life. I have come to see this not as just what doctors do, but as God’s presence working through the skills and caring of two strangers.
Some Palestinian olive farmers who were Muslims in religion heard rather quickly about my illness and came to visit my bedside in a lovely showing of Palestinian hospitality. In some inexplicable way, I still feel the warmth of their presence today. Surely this was a manifestation of the God who considers “the stranger”, for not only was I a stranger to the farmers, they were also strangers to me!
After being transferred to a Nazareth hospital, where a number of the doctors, caregivers and administrators are Christian Palestinians, the care and love expressed earlier in Jenin continued. It was in Nazareth that a dear retired, but still volunteering, hospital social worker named Rhadia rubbed my very dehydrated legs, feet, arms and hands with olive oil in another demonstration of God’s tender ministrations. I still feel the warmth of Rhadia’s gentle care even though we had never met until I was graced to be at that hospital on one of her volunteer days!
When it was time to fly home from Ben Gurion airport, a woman from Texas, another stranger, saw me on my gurney, and there in the busy milieu of a large international airport, she kneeled down and prayed for God’s healing touch. What a sight that must have been; I am sorry to have missed it!
Through a 35-hour trip in ambulances, on transatlantic and domestic flights, there were attendants who were concerned about my comfort. On the transatlantic flight, those attendants were alert to my brain’s need to hear spoken words, so they made sure that I heard speech if I opened my eyes for even a few minutes.
In these and many more ways God’s presence covered me through strangers. Men, women, people of various faith traditions, cultures, and varied backgrounds were the bearers of this love and light.
Note: My journey to recovery continued, thanks in great part to family, friends, neighbors, and my dear West Hills community; no strangers at all. But writing about that is not the assignment for now!
— Lorie Wood