In our Caring for the Caregiver program, my psychologist friend tried to illustrate to the caregivers how important it is that we learn to carry each other’s burdens. One has to realise that the caregivers are not professional nurses. They have a very basic knowledge on what to do and have to learn through experience and through continued training. Furthermore, they bond with the patients whom they are caring for and each time when a patient dies, they literally go through the trauma of losing a beloved. And to put this in context: at Dwaleni, the place where we started with our Home-Based Caring project and where we have 45 caregivers working, three of the group’s patients died last week. This was not exceptional. This is the rule! It happens every week. Playing around with statistics, it would mean that at least 150 patients will die during the course of the year which means that each of these caregivers are going to go through the trauma of loss through death at least three to four times this year!
To illustrate how we have to carry each other’s burdens, she asked three of the caregivers to come and stand in front of the group. She then asked them to raise their arms until they were horizontal and to keep them there. She then asked the centre person whether she would be willing to take an empty cup in each hand, which she agreed to do. After a few seconds she asked whether she could put a lightweight jacket on her arm, to which she agreed. The psychologist kept on adding these light items to her arms. It wasn’t long before the caregiver started to groan. Although the weight of each individual item was so small that it was fairly easy to keep her arms up, the combined weight started showing on her face. But the illustration went further, because the other two people, although they had no added weight on their arms, also became tired and their arms started dropping. When the centre woman was asked if another item could be added, she bluntly refused! At that moment the other two women were told to move in right next to her, as close as possible, and by putting their arms on each others shoulders, they were able to support each other – with the emphasis on each other, because not only was the burden of the centre woman spread over the combination of three people, but the burden of the two women on the outside was now also being shared by the one in the centre and they were able to stand like this for a long time without suffering too much.
Could it mean then, when Paul tells us in Galatians 6:2 to carry each other’s burdens, that not only will the burden of the person carrying the heaviest load be lightened, but that the relative light burden which I may have will also be lightened, when I opt to help carry that person’s heavy burden?
Today we continued the process of helping a part of our group of caregivers to verbalise the emotions which they go through as they reach out to those who are infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. With the two sessions that we have had up to now (with two different groups) a few interesting things came out. The one is that the Swazi language which is used in Swaziland, or siSwati as it is officially known, seems to lack the vocabulary to accurately describe certain emotions. What we did was to encourage them to draw a “map” of their journey with the Home-Based Caring group, almost like a footpath, on which they indicate the positive things as well as the negative things which they had experienced. This was then discussed in small groups of five or six and eventually each of the groups appointed someone to give feedback to the larger group. The word which they continually used to describe negative emotions is translated as “depressed”. They were depressed when they saw the terrible need but could not do anything about it. They were depressed because sometimes there is friction within the group. They were depressed because sometimes people would gossip. Not angry or frustrated or sad – always depressed. In English and in Afrikaans we have such a vast vocabulary with which we can express our innermost feelings. This is definitely much more difficult to do in siSwati.
My psychologist friend who went with me again today made a very interesting remark. When the people spoke about their negative feelings, nobody ever mentioned that they were “depressed” because they are not getting any money for the work they are doing. The closest that anyone came to speak about money is that a woman remarked that she becomes depressed when she enters a home where people are extremely poor and she so much wants to help them, but is unable to because she herself is so poor that she cannot do anything for them, except to be there, to pray for them and to help them with certain tasks in the home.
This project is not the average ministry that one would find in most Western countries (although I can see no reason why not and in fact I believe that every congregation should have a similar ministry where they reach out to the poor and destitute within that specific community in a way that will bring Christ into the hearts of those people). But as we were driving back I thought to myself that most churches neglect their most important asset in the congregation, namely the people. I have seen so many wonderful church members reach a point where they cannot go on with whatever ministry they are involved in (youth, missions, children, etc). And I wondered to myself how many of those people would have continued if the church leadership had really focussed on them, ensuring that their most basic needs within the ministry are met and that obstacles are removed, so that they can continue to do the work which God had called them to do.