By: Stephanne Morris Marsh
She was 97 years old. She was wrinkled and hunched over. She didn’t have very many teeth, but she was strikingly beautiful. She had the most gorgeous black eyes that twinkled and sparkled. I saw her as she was walking across the grassy field towards our clinic, and it was almost as though time stopped and everything around me stilled as she drew closer. I stepped towards patient registration so that I could hear her name. It was Ana.
As they took her name and information and filled it in on her patient intake sheet, I desperately wished I had a chair to offer her. She held onto the little wooden make-shift table with tiny, wrinkled, work-hardened hands. I am only 5’2″ tall, and I towered over her. She was barely 4 feet tall. When they were done with her paperwork, I took her arm and escorted her to the waiting area. As we were walking, I could see the pain flash across her face and darken her eyes, and just for a moment, she grimaced. Instinctively, I wanted to protect her. If I could have handled it physically, I would have scooped her up in my arms and carried her. Then, just as quickly as her face had reflected the pain, it was gone, and she flashed an infectious grin.
She intrigued me. I was in awe that she was as old as she was, ancient really, and still so very mobile, almost spritely. She was sharp as a tack and didn’t miss a thing going on around her. While I don’t normally follow one patient from intake to evangelism, I followed her from start to finish. I was drawn to her. I wanted to do something, anything to improve her life . Truth be told, I wanted to take her home with me.
We had over 400 people in the clinic the day I met Ana. I remember many of the faces of the people from the clinics that we haver run over the years, but I will never, ever forget Ana. She sat patiently in her chair and hummed quietly to herself. I stood hovering over her, protecting her, from what I don’t know, praying for her and thanking God I had the opportunity to be there that day to meet her. When it came her turn to see the doctor, I gently took her arm and helped her walk to the waiting chair.
I told the doctor that I would translate for him, that Ana was special. He had me ask her why she wanted to see a doctor, or if she had any complaints. I will never forget her answer after I translated the question. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Well, I heard there were doctors here, and since I have never seen a doctor, I wanted to see what it was like. It took me almost 2 hours walking to get here.” Then she laughed. When I told the doctor what she said, he grinned and grabbed her hand. He had me ask her if she had any pain or anything specific she wanted to ask him about. I did, and she said, “well, my back and knees always ache, but I am used to it and try not to think about it. I have to do my work whether my knees are hurting or not!” He asked what kind of work she did. She replied that she was a sheep herder and that she cut and bundled grass to sell.
The doctor’s eyes welled up with tears, and mine did as well. He was still holding her hand, and he said, “I know that the evangelism team will talk to her about Jesus, but can I ask her if she knows Him?” I smiled and told him that was perfectly fine, that taking care of her soul was more important than taking care of her physical body. He was still holding her hands and he leaned in very close so he was eye level with her. He said, “ask her if she knows who Jesus is.” I did, and even as I was still talking, her eyes danced and her face was flooded with joy. She said, “Oh yes. Jesus is my best friend. He is with me every day, all day. I would not have survived this life without Him.” Her eyes were full and overflowing with tears and as they made tracks down the wrinkles in her face, she was truly the most beautifully radiant woman I have ever seen. By that point, the doctor was wiping tears, I was crying and we were all three connected, forever connected. In that moment, we were connected in a way that is impossible to describe, unless you have witnessed a similar situation yourself.
After we composed ourselves, the doctor asked me to ask her if she was taking any medications. 97 years old, and she had never taken any medication in her life. Not a Tylenol, not an aspirin, nothing. The doctor determined that she was suffering from arthritis, and he told me to tell her that we had something to give her that would greatly diminish her pain. I wish that I could describe for you the look that came across her face when I told her that we had something to help her. Her face was radiant with light and she giggled like a giddy school girl. It was at that point that I asked her if she minded if I took her picture. She told me I could, and that is the picture at the top of the story. It was taken right after I told her we could help her. As I was taking the picture, she was thanking us and at the same time, she was imploring God to bless us and return the gifts we were giving to us in double measure. I am pretty sure the doctor wasn’t ready for Ana to leave his chair, but there was a room full of patients waiting to be seen. Reluctantly, he shook her hand, his eyes welling up with tears once again, and watched us walk away.
I helped her to the pharmacy, where we got her arthritis medication, vitamins, and anti-parasitics. Tears once again coursed down her cheeks when I explained and she realized it was completely free. I helped her walk to the edge of the field, all the time hanging on to her arm and dreading the moment that I was going to have to let Ana go.
It came all too quickly. I had to go back to the clinic, and she had to go back to her sheep. She kissed my hand and I hugged her tight and kissed her weathered cheek. She turned and slowly walked away. I stood there for a while watching her. My heart wanted to run after her, but what could I do? Then I realized. We had already done it. We brought her hope, and we gave her medication that would temporarily ease her pain. We did what we came to do. We brought our meager gifts, oh, but Ana…..she gave us even more. She gave us a glimpse of joy in the midst of suffering. She gave us a glimpse of joy in serving her Savior, even though her life was, by our standards, excruciating and hard to bear. She gave us a glimpse of what it is to persevere and to keep on keeping on, secure in knowing who Jesus is and what He had done for her.
I believe that Ana gave us far more that day than we gave her. She left an impression on me, one that I will never forget. Remembering Ana has made it so that I know, I have nothing in this world to complain about, and everything to rejoice about. And…..I know that I know, I will see Ana again one day. I will be able to thank her for the gift of joy that she gave to me.
Matthew 25:40 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
I am fairly certain, that every single thing that happened with Ana, made Jesus smile.