Saturday, January 02, 2016

A True Gift – More than Ink and Paper (Peter A. Black)

My gratitude was real . . . and surprising, even to me.
I beamed, “Thank you Lord . . . what a gift!” Gifts come in many shapes and sizes and in various forms. We often think of gifts as ‘things’ – something we give to or receive from someone else.
This ‘gift’? A magazine article.* Words. Black ink on white paper. Also a coloured photo of a smiling, greying-haired woman of Asian ethnicity. I first met Debbie Sirjoosingh three decades ago and heard her address a number of conferences over the years.

I still sense the throb of passion with which she spoke of her love for the people of Ethiopia, the country where she was serving. People were dying in the tens of thousands from disease and starvation, during famine and political upheaval. She’d shared the love of Jesus there, treating the sick and distributing food. After six years, Debbie returned to her work amongst her beloved Turkana people of northwest Kenya.

This woman has been a gift from God to thousands. That ‘gift’ article updated me on her life, and I’m thrilled that her fruitful labour continues and her passion remains unabated today. An afterglow lingered in my soul right through Christmas.
Upon her original arrival at a remote area of Turkana in the early 1980s, she was greeted by 60 degree Celsius temperatures, parched land and whirling, blowing sand and a dried-up river bed and virtually no water.
A grass hut became home and a small rodent-infested hut her dispensary. No phone, no post office and no newspapers. Neither was there electricity or medical doctors. And yet, in her heart she belonged. “[That’s] where God desired me to serve Him: among the Turkana people . . .” she said. 

Although she didn’t know the language and had no one to teach her, Debbie learned by living and interacting with the people and loving them in practical ways. Back then, most local Turkana had never heard the name of Jesus. Many years before, a German missionary couple had shared Jesus’ message, but were long gone.
Photo Credit: SAGE, Fall 2015
“My heart danced with joy,” Debbie said, “knowing that I was sent by the Lord who loves me, to minister to a forgotten people.”
I was truly humbled when reading her words: “I worked on the ground, on bended knees, delivering babies, washing and binding very infected wounds, dividing my bed sheets to give to the naked, cooking porridge and tea to serve the hungry, excavating graves with pick-axe and shovel to bury the ones who succumbed.”
What a gift: one woman, one compassion-filled heart, alone with God!  I’d also heard some time ago that she’d dug foundations and helped erect buildings for housing practical services and ministries for the people of the community. Churches have been established and pastors raised up and equipped to minister amongst the Turkana.
Currently, with funding from praying friends and donor supporters in Canada and assistance from ERDO (denominational-based NGO) and in cooperation with Kenya Ministry of Health, much has been accomplished. Presently a solar-powered health centre is under construction. It will soon be opened to care for the medical needs of 50,000 people and will provide both in-patient and out-patient care.
Although told that there was no water in the area, through prayer Debbie and those involved were led to “the exact spot to sink a borehole,” so they now have water to support the development. She has trained Turkana students who are continuing their education in various aspects of nursing, nutrition, agriculture, and more.
This intrepid follower of Jesus is still gripped by a passionate forward-reaching grace. “My journey continues, hand in hand with Him, until eternity,” she said.  And so, one year flows into the next and Deborah Sirjoosingh continues to go with the flow, sailing on and serving wherever the will of God carries her.
Hers has been an ‘incarnational’ Christian life. And that is what Christmas is about. God was incarnate – “robed in flesh” – in Jesus Christ. He still is, in people like Debbie. More than ink and paper, God’s Best Gifts are “the word made flesh.”

*Photo credit and updated information courtesy of SAGE, Fall 2015;;
Article by Deborah Sirjoosingh with Freda Myco.
(A shorter edition of the above post was published in Peter's weekly column, P-Pep! in The Standard Guide Advocate, Dec. 17, 2015.)
"Parables from the Pond" – a children's/ family book (Word Alive Press)
"Raise Your Gaze . . . Mindful Musings of  Grateful Heart (Angel Hope Publishing)


Glynis said...

"I still sense the throb of passion. . ." I love this line as you speak so admiringly of Debbie. What a woman. What a servant of Christ. We need to hear more stories like this, Peter. Debbie's story is amazing and encouraging. Thank you for giving us a 'gift.' too.

Peter Black said...

Thank you Glynis. My niece, Gil, works with the NG0 involved in such projects, and she and Debbie are long-term friends. You're a great gift to us all! :)~~+~~

Ruth Smith Meyer said...

Thank you for telling us this story, Peter. What an inspiration to us.I want to be that kind of person right here where God has placed me, even though for years I longed to go to another country to do so.

Rose McCormick Brandon said...

I wonder if Deborah knows my friend, Marilyn Bush, a nurse, who also worked with the Turkana of Kenya. She probably does. Small world. Excellent as always, Peter.

Susan Harris said...

This tribute to Deborah S is fascinating. I only heard of her last year when my client shared that she had met Deborah in Africa, and included it in the memoir we co-wrote. I remember researching the Turkana region to get the exact description of its location. Happy New Year, Peter. Blessings on your posts and writing in general.

Donna Mann said...

Great blog - good storytelling. Interesting people - got it all in one place. :)

Peter Black said...

Blessings with grace and peace be multiplied to all, y'all! :)
I'm so glad some of you know of Debbie.
Rose, I met Marilyn Bush several times. The first was in '79 at KGT (Kitchener Gospel Temple), when I was assistant pastor there. She was on furlough. And then, when I pastored in Eastern Ontario I met her parents a number of times. They were retired missionaries. A lovely, faithful couple.
Similarly to Debbie, Marilyn also laboured faithfully in African bush communities for extended periods as one lone missionary woman for miles upon miles. ("Bush" - appropriately named, eh.)
Susan, that's neat that your work with your client brought Debbie and her work to your attention. ~~+~~

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