It never occurred to me that this may in fact be his last day on earth.
As I stepped into the home of the local witchdoctor where we had been called to aid a sick man, I saw him laid out in a hammock. On his face he wore a grimmace that spoke of the pain he was feeling and on his chest and arms he wore a rash of unknown origin. His legs were stiffened by the pain.
Janet, our nurse friend who had traveled down with us, had already hooked up the IV bag in an attempt to rehydrate his severely dehydrated body. We were down to our last IV needle because his veins were so hard to chase under his parched skin. Two bags of fluid wasn't nearly enough, but it was all we had so it would have to work.
The language barrier made our task even more challenging as I translated from English to Spanish and the village missionary translated from Spanish to Ticuna and then back again. But some pain medication and a muscle relaxant soon brought him some temporary relief and before long we were exchanging names and Junio was smiling a very toothless smile and seemed to be doing well. Rest and relaxation was his prescription for the day as he planned to make a several hour trek back to his village the next.
That evening we were called again to his side. Richard joined Janet while I was busy getting Elliott ready for bed back at the missionary home where we were staying. Junio's pain had returned with a vengeance. His symptoms made us think it was perhaps a case of Lyme's disease and the missionary said that this wasn't an isolated case. These symptoms seemed to occur often in the area, reaffirming our thoughts that ticks could be the cause. More pain meds and rest were prescribed and Richard would check back in the morning. When he left, Junio had improved slightly, but Richard advised he be taken to the hospital two hours upriver first thing in the morning.
Fast forward to morning.
I came in for breakfast after a restless sleep, hindered by roosters crowing all night and a bug net that keeps all hope of a breeze from making its way through for relief from the heat.
After a greeting to those who were already up, I was told the news.
Junio had died during the night. I was shocked to say the least. Sure he was in pain the night before, but it never crossed my mind that he might die.
"How did this happen?" I asked, trying to make sense of it.
Long story short, after we treated him with what we had, they brought in the witchdoctor to see what she could pull off. It was a typical ending to the story. It seems once the witchdoctor gets her hands on a local, that's the end of the road. They believed the man had been cursed and that his soul was dead anyway. When this is the "diagnosis" they see no reason to try to live with a dead soul so often they will stop eating or drinking and just let their physical body die, too. We don't know exactly what the man had or what the witchdoctor gave him, but one thing is for sure--he didn't have to die.
As I processed what I was told, the thought occured to me:
This is our new normal.
Suddenly the heat and bugs didn't seem so omnious in light of the fact that we were in the middle of a culture that is run by witchcraft and myth. The missionaries who have been in this village for nearly half a decade share with us that this is a common occurance. Death--unecessary death--is part of this work and Satan is happy for it.
Even thought the news is hard and I try not to let my mind wander down the path of how heavy this load is, I remember this one thing:
"...the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world." 1 John 4.4
God has us here for a reason and He has already conquered sin. Our job is to glorify Him. He will bring the fruit in His time and in His way.
It was a hard awakening in our first week on the field. But we know the God is sovereign. His ways are good. And we can trust He is working to bring glory to Himself in this dark region.