A mother, a doctor, and a writer see God at work even through the suffering of a young boy
Courtney Keen, a staff writer for Samaritan’s Purse, recently spent a week covering our work in Honduras.
I don’t want to write about Araon. It’s hard. It hurts. I don’t want to write about Araon because his life is too big for my fingers on the keyboard.
But those reasons aren’t good enough. His story needs to be told. It’s a story about Immanuel, “God With Us.” God with us in a hospital room. God with a mother and a missionary doctor. God with us reading these words and bearing one another’s burdens.
And so I write about Araon.
He is 7 years old. He loves to color. His favorite books are the “Curious George” series. Araon likes how George can do things by himself and doesn’t need help. He also has a Curious George stuffed animal, and Araon sometimes speaks on his behalf saying things like, “George is cold,” or “George is hungry,” or “George doesn’t feel good.”
The day I met Araon, he said that George was shy, but he was also happy to get released from the hospital.
“When he goes home, he takes George to the trees and talks with him for hours and hangs him from the branches,” Araon’s mom, Glenda, said.
I met Araon and Glenda at Hospital Loma de Luz in Honduras. He was recovering from a radical neck dissection surgery. Araon’s skin can’t protect him from the sun. Doctors have been removing surface tumors from his body since he was 3, but this time they had found a cancerous growth.
There’s not a cure for this rare skin disease. Araon’s older sister, Maribel, lived six years with it. People in developed countries can make it into their 20s.
Araon’s doctor, Judy Blumhofer, is a pediatrician from Wheaton, Illinois, who is serving at the hospital through the Samaritan’s Purse Post-Residency program.
“The Lord was gracious,” she said. “He brought him through the surgery beautifully.”
Dr. Judy loves being at Loma de Luz. She loves the people, the culture, and the fact that what she does makes a difference.
“I work in a place where I can legitimately say that I save kids’ lives,” she said. “We see miraculous cures.”
But sometimes there are children like Araon whom you can’t protect from pain. There are mothers like Glenda whom you can’t promise that everything is going to be OK.
“How do you join people in their suffering and just walk alongside them?” Dr. Judy asked. “How do you just become their companion and not desert them? That’s Araon and Glenda.”
Dr. Judy never pictured herself living and working overseas. But during her residency, she came to believe that God was calling her to missionary medicine. Through a series of events, she followed His call to Hospital Loma de Luz in August 2012 for a two-year assignment.
She is one of the few pediatricians in this remote area on the northern coast, and impoverished families come from far and wide in hopes that she can help heal their children. Now, she can’t picture herself practicing anywhere else.
“I am staying because the Lord is saying, ‘I need you here, and this is what I have for you,’” Dr. Judy said. “Even if I go back to the States at some point, my life in the States will never be the same.”
On the morning I visited the hospital, Dr. Judy brought glue to Araon’s room. He wanted to add the finishing piece to his lion puppet—the mane.
“Dr. Judy is so sweet, and she has treated Araon so greatly,” Glenda said. “He really loves her.”
She helped her son glue on the lion’s mane, and we listened to its 7-year-old roar and watched its thumb-paw wave.
Glenda, a Christian, has spent countless hours gluing, coloring, waiting, and praying in other hospitals and has endured various reactions to her son’s condition.
“I have gone through moments where people don’t want to touch him or hold him, even in a hospital, because they think it’s something contagious,” she said. “It’s been hard, but I understand that God is working through it.”
Staff members at Loma de Luz often come by Araon’s room to say hello, to color with him, or to read from the stack of books on his bedside table.
“Here Araon has received everything that he needs, and it has just been a completely different way of treating people,” Glenda said.
The doctors and nurses at Loma de Luz are also allowed to pray with patients and share their faith. This is Dr. Judy’s purpose for serving at the hospital.
“I do this to tell people about Jesus and to tell them about His love for them. There’s so much freedom to do that here,” she said.
Faith in Christ has given Glenda the strength to care for Araon without falling into despair.
“When I see that he goes through surgery or other trials, I really have to hold onto the Lord because I feel like I’m going to faint, like I can’t do it anymore after so many surgeries,” she said. “When I pray to the Lord, He always answers.”
After this operation, Araon had a skinny drainage tube running down from his neck. Dr. Judy came in the afternoon to take out the tube so that he could get ready to leave. Araon put on medical gloves and helped. I sat outside the room and heard him cry only a few brave tears.
Later, he and his mom headed to the children’s center down the street—an extension of the hospital—for a few days to wait on some test results and let him heal further. Then Glenda took Araon back home to his dad, where the three of them live the precious, unknown number of days they have together.
Loma de Luz means Hill of Light. At this hospital, the light of Christ shines into deep places.
This Light allows a doctor who never imagined coming to never want to leave.
“This is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Dr. Judy said. “But the hardest thing I’ve ever done is also the best thing I’ve ever done.”
This Light enables a suffering mother to offer hope to others going through something similar.
“I would encourage them to keep fighting and not listen too much to what people say,” Glenda said. “I would encourage them to keep pressing on and trusting God.”
This is God With Us.
“Mommy, my monkey!” Araon said at the end of my time in his room.
She passed it to him, and he held it up.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
I don’t want to write about Araon because I don’t know how it ends. But he is alive today in Honduras with his parents and Curious George. Is George cold? Is George hungry? Does he feel OK? Maybe they are outside hanging from the branches.