Blood: fluid substance that circulates in the arteries and veins of the body.
I feel obsessively attached to my personal quota of 8 pints. I still cringe to remember the first time I visited a blood bank. After doing the deed, a kindly nurse pointed me in the direction of a table with juice and chocolate biscuits; I never made it; instead they had to peel me off the carpet. Subsequent attempts have been little better and I had more or less given up. Until, that is, just a few weeks ago
Judith joined our church at the end of last year. She and her husband Daniel are refugees from neighbouring Zimbabwe. When we first met them, Daniel was eking out a living chopping firewood. He has since found work checking that lorry drivers have paid their tolls. Ironically they are both university graduates and should be able to command well-paid jobs but things are rarely that simple here.
Judith's pregnancy troubled us. She contracted a tenacious strain of malaria that gnawed voraciously at her red blood cells. The resulting anaemia led to severe swelling in their legs and poor nutrition sapped her remaining reserves of strength. Yet no one else seemed bothered. Not even the nurses who checked her over when she went for her regular antenatals. One in five children here don't reach their fifth birthday, so no one cared about the plight of yet another refugee.
A blood count of 4.0 is critically low in an ordinary person. In a pregnant woman it becomes a matter of life and death. We sent Judith to the hospital for an emergency transfusion, but the blood bank was empty and she was sent to fetch two family members who could donate blood. Feasible, if you're a local person with a supportive family around you. But all Judith had was her husband, Daniel, and a motley crowd of waifs and strays known collectively as her local church.
My wife went down the next day to offer her blood. Unfortunately Daniel's was rejected: incompatible blood group. The nurses were ready to send Judith away. They didn't seem interested that she was only weeks away from delivery. In desperation my wife placed an urgent call: would I be willing to donate?
The needle was enormous so I looked to the side and tried not to flinch. My wife sat opposite and smiled reassuringly. But just then, just as the first few drops began to trickle into the collecting bag, everything went wrong. Living in Africa, my face normally sports a healthy tan, but the colour vanished in an instant. My lips turned white, my blood pressure fell through the floor and my pulse slowed to a crawl. I'm told that it's called an intense vagal response. What it means is that all my capillaries opened and my brain was deprived of oxygen. I gasped frantically for breath and would have fainted, had not my wife responded promptly and elevated my feet.
It's at such times that you think deeply about your own mortality. Were I to expire, would I enter joyously into Heaven? My answer was immediate. Yes. Without a shadow of a doubt.
The phlebotomist noticed that things weren't exactly going as normal. Did I want to stop? My sluggish thoughts fastened on to Judith and her unborn child. They would kick her out if I recanted. Martin Luther King once remarked "If a man hasn't discovered something that he would die for, he isn't fit to live." I hope that I passed the test. This time.
Judith received her transfusion that same day. It was just as well. Her baby decided to make an early appearance the following weekend. Without the power of my blood and my wife's coursing through Judith's veins, we think it entirely possible that both mother and child would have died. Thanks be to God for his great mercy.
Jesus said "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (Jn 15:13 NIV) But we don't regard Judith and Daniel as just friends. They have been torn from their homeland; we as missionaries have been uprooted from ours. We share an affinity with them that transcends national borders. They are brother and sister to us, holy brethren united by agapē love. We stand together as one family forged from the far more precious blood that the Saviour shed for us all.
Gregory Kane is a missionary from the UK who ministers in Mozambique, Africa. He can be contacted through his web site at http://kane.elim-moz.org/
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