Sh-h-h ninito, no llores. Dios te ama. Sh-h- Little one, don't cry. God loves you. Over and over I whispered these words to the frail, emaciated little Honduran boy as I gently stroked his thin, black hair. I didn't know his name or even his age, though I estimated him to be around a year and a half old. So frail, so sad, so frightened - my heart ached to comfort him.
I first met him an hour before. I was on a medical mission trip to the tiny town of La Esperanza in the mountains west of Tegucigalpa. I was there as an internal medicine specialist with a team of others to provide basic medical care in an underserved region. This was my fourth medical mission trip to Central America. The mission trips were a catharsis for my soul, cleansing me of the built-up frustrations and pressures from years in clinical medicine. Not even 50 years old, I was beginning to "burn out" and more and more I wondered if I had made a mistake going into medicine. My heart was hardening and my passion for medicine and compassion for people were eroding. These mission trips enabled me to experience medicine in its purest form unencumbered by paperwork, managed care and a litigious society. I felt joy again in ministering to the beautiful people of Honduras. Little did I know that God, instead, would use a tiny child to minister to me. La Esperanza, which means hope in Spanish, would restore hope in me.
As I was seeing patients each day, several women on the team saw the need for the children to be bathed, deloused, and dressed in clean clothes. They scoured the small town's stores and bought all the children's clothes and shoes they could find. An area was set up for bathing using large trashcans-each child was washed, had his or her hair deloused and was then given new clothes and shoes. The laughter and delight of the children reverberated throughout the site. The word spread and more children camel As I witnessed this, I , too, wanted to be part of this special ministry. I decided to take a half-day from seeing patients and instead spend the time helping wherever I could with the children.
He was the first . He cried and cried ever so weakly, his black eyes brimming with tears. His thin arms and legs covered with dirt, too weak to really resist the help we offered. As carefully as I could, I cleaned him. He left dressed in fresh, new clothes and shoes, no longer crying-but not smiling either. An hour later he was back, his new clothes completely soiled and a feeble cry again on his thin, trembling lips. As he stood weeping, I carefully removed his clothes and shoes. I laid him down on the sun-drenched walkway and began cleaning him again. Thoughts of my own boys, now nearly grown, came to mind, and I was overwhelmed with a need to show this little one the love and caring that was missing in his life-a life of poverty compounded by physical and emotional neglect. His crying continued, barely audible at times. He laid lifeless, hardly moving, head turned to the side where he continued to stare as if looking for someone. Suddenly, memories of rocking my boys as infants came flooding into my mind. I began to whisper a soft, soothing sh-h-h-h in his ear just as I had done with my sons telling him again and again "No llores, ninito, no llores. Dios te ama". His soft sobs eased and he looked at me with his ebony eyes. He calmly lay there as I finished cleaning him, all the while continuing to whisper to him as lovingly as I could. Once he was dressed, he was taken away-to where I do not know.
In that brief encounter with this Honduran boy, I was reminded again of why I went into medicine - to serve others. The years of demanding work, long nights on call, administrative headaches and managed care had slowly hardened my heart. God used this little one to begin a softening, one which continues today.
Andy Lamb, MD