My young friend Zeinabou died this past week.
She would have turned 8 this December...
That's Jonathan's age, almost exactly. Sometime during her second year of life, she became deathly ill with a combination of cerebral malaria and meningitis. She survived, with long-reaching, serious consequences.
Damage to her brain resulted in hydrocephalus. I'll never forget the night her mama came to the door to ask for help, little Zeinabou sick with malaria again and in so much pain due to fluid trapped in her skull and compressing her brain. When we took her to the doctor, they told us there was nothing they could do... the family was too poor to pay for the surgery necessary... she would experience increasing pain until she finally slipped into a coma and died.
We started praying, and God provided.
He brought the funds in for her surgery and the one neurosurgeon in all of Niger is a brother in Christ. Surgery went well, and despite her significant handicaps, her family seemed to enjoy her continual joyfulness. I hardly ever saw that girl, except that she was smiling or laughing.
Each little step forward or progress she'd make, her mama would tell me... after she learned to say "Nya," (mama), then once she began taking her hand to her mouth to communicate hunger, even calling me into her concession to hear Zeina say "har har," (her attempt to say water), and finally, right before our 2009/10 furlough, she began waving hello and goodbye. Her eyes were always alert, always watching events occurring around her.
We came back to Niger, this time living in a different neighborhood and I no longer had the opportunity to see her almost every day. But I'd try to swing by once a month or so and see how she was getting along, and greet her mama.
Her daddy stopped Tim on the road the other day to say she had gone.
I know it is so much better for Zeinabou now. Like a friend wrote to remind me: "Aren’t you glad that we know that heaven is a real place? Zeinabou is happy and perfect today…no longer suffering in her body." I do know that.
But I'll miss her smile when I go to visit.
I'm sure her mama will, too.
Some might say that Zeinabou's life didn't amount to much - one of many children in her family, a desperately poor, severely handicapped child who could at best barely communicate in one of the most difficult, least developed places in the world barely surviving until she finally succumbed to a vicious health menace. I can't agree... if I did, I'd be saying the same thing about myself because until Jesus chose me... and I chose Him back, I was in the exact same boat.
These words help me to remember Zeina, to celebrate the precious life she was given and to thank God for the gift He gave me when she became my friend:
"Our family praises God for the disability in our midst. God is perfectly sovereign over disability. God is perfectly good in disability. God in Christ is perfectly gracious and merciful in His working in and through the imperfect vessels that we all are. One day He will mercifully and joyfully give us perfect resurrection bodies. I long for that for myself. I long for that for the disabled. The hope of this full restoration only comes through Spirit-wrought faith in Christ as we respond to the Gospel (I Cor. 15:1-4).
We bare the common mark of imperfection whether disabled, diseased, or 'normal.' That common mark is a sin-stain that needs Jesus’ saving and sanctifying blood-washing. Not a person alive or who has ever lived is outside of this birthmark, save Jesus alone. That is the most astounding statistic, 100% of people are marked by sin and the Gospel conquers 100% of its final effect. Jesus conquered death that we might live, being made perfect in eternity with Him (Rev. 21)." (Click here to read the rest of this article by Justin Reimer)
I must have taken all my photos of her home when we last furloughed. Her sweet, contagious smile does, however, remind me of Zeina.