Editor’s note: In a break from the norm, we’re featuring a piece of creative…well, mostly fiction, based on the life of people encountered by Starley Bullard as she served in a collection of Southeast Asian islands, battling a mutual enemy: Death.
Though it’s challenging to accurately imagine the perspective of anyone of another culture, there seem benefits, too, in trying.
(No known Christians currently reside in this village, but its name is concealed for security.)
I’m well-acquainted with death.
I’m a nurse in a village on an island. Medicine here is hard to come by and easy to get rid of. Especially since the earthquakes.
Ever since the last big quake destroyed the clinic here, my life has been consumed by the emergency clinic we’ve set up. The normal problems we always face, like dengue, malaria, typhoid, and infections were all multiplied when the quake took everything from this village.
Three days after the quake, we had a big open tent up and running as our emergency clinic. We had hundreds of patients, from women giving birth to old men dying, all beneath one big, open tent.
When the sun rose overhead during the day, our patients were set outside in the breeze to keep them from baking in the tent’s heat. With little clean water and no real shelter to house these people, countless died.
So yes. I’m well acquainted with death.
When Things Became Different
But the last couple of months have been different.
It all started when a big man who looks like one of us but talks like a white man came in with a few of his local friends. They came in with a big group of young people ready to help anyone in our village any way they could.
My husband ran to meet them and called them over to our house. They didn’t hesitate when they saw the rubble that used to hold my family.
They spent as long as it took to clean up everything, then they sat and talked with my family.
It wasn’t long before they began to talk about how they do the things they do because of the love they have from the prophet Isa.
“always praying for me”
After these men cleaned up the rubble from our house, one of the local women in the group kept coming back to visit me. She encourages me, always praying for me in the name of Isa.
Today, that same woman came back with two of her friends. The two young white girls sat and smiled and laughed with me and my daughter. They shooed the chickens, sat in our pagoda, and listened as I told them about our lives here.
When we talked about the clinic and everything I had to do as head nurse, one of the girls began to tell a story. She talked about how she had worked in a place that held people who were just trying to die comfortably. She said working there was very hard, but it always reminded her of someone she knew that could raise people from the dead.
I shuddered as goosebumps rose on my arms. Raise people from the dead?
She laughed at my reaction and explained that the man she spoke of could bring people back to life as if they had never died! She told me a story about Isa–this same man they all kept talking about–and how he brought a man back to life who had been dead for three days!
He called out his name, and he walked out of the tomb alive.
She ended the story by saying this same Isa had not brought her back to life like this, but he had given her a new spiritual life. I listened and smiled and was happy to change the subject back to my family and work.
The Man Who Raises the Dead
As we walked through the clinic later and talked about all of the people who had suffered so much and died after the earthquakes, I kept thinking about what the girl had said.
Could Isa really bring dead people back to life? How did he have that power?
I waved goodbye to them and steered my motorbike home. and I thought of more questions. What did she mean when she said that Isa had given her new life?
She said herself that she had not actually died. But she talked about having this peace, about knowing for sure that she would be with Allah when she died.
How did she know that? How could she say she knew? And what does it mean to have a new spiritual life?
I’m well acquainted with death. Even now, the men in my village are gathered in a house praying for a person who died last week. They hope that by their prayers Allah will forgive this dead person and let him into heaven.
Is that what the girl meant by a new spiritual life?
But she’s not dead. I’m so confused.
I park my motorbike and walk back into my house–just hoping tonight I might figure out some answers to all of these strange questions.