Maundy Thursday is memorialized for the beauty of Jesus’ service and a last supper shared with his friends. It is a day forever marked by betrayal and the wrestling of Jesus’ spirit in how the story was about to unfold. Today, as I remember, I am most aware of his words: Love one another as I have loved you.
It was 11 years ago, while walking down a dirt path, I sensed God speaking a similar message through these words to me: “Juli, if you want to love Timon, you have to love his son.”
Timon was one of my first patients in Kenya. By the time I met him, HIV had taken over his body and he was unable to speak; ironically enough, he was able to sing. I will never forget, although it is impossible to describe, the look that was within Timon’s eyes as we sang together. It was as if his eyes told the story that he was no longer able to speak. They were tender and yet troubled, piercing but still inviting. In a culture that doesn’t allow men to cry, Timon’s eyes were always filled with tears.
He most often could be found sitting in a chair under the shade of a tree; and the only words he really spoke, while holding up his one working hand, were, “Mungu tu” (It’s only God) and “Kipchumba,” the name of his son.
Just days before Timon passed away, I, along with our Kenyan team, listened to these words compelling us to love Timon’s little boy. We committed to stand with his son. Kipchumba was in fourth grade at the time. We supported him to go to a nearby Christian boarding school. While we could never replace what was lost with his dad’s death, we stood with him. I will never forget when one of his teacher’s handed me an essay in Kipchumba’s handwriting with these words: “My parent is Juli. When there was no school fees, she paid for me. She loves me so much! She can’t forget me. When my father was sick, she was coming to see him. When my father got lost, she took me as her boy. I thank God for giving me a good parent.”
Kipchumba was the first child to call me mom, a title I did not really deserve but forever will be honored to have held.
I had dreams of how Kipchumba would grow up to know and love God. He would break the cycle of disease and death. He would become all that God created him to be.
Earlier this year, Kipchumba was just beginning college and was studying to become a scientist. He was such a brilliant kid. Along the way, he made some really poor choices and was involved in an incident that ultimately led to his death.
This morning, I sat under the same tree that I used to sit with Kipchumba’s dad, and with bitter tears, I grieved his death. The story has not gone how I hoped or prayed, and I am wrestling with regrets and the disappointment of Kipchumba’s loss. And while it all hurts so much, I will never, ever regret choosing to listen to the voice which called me to love Kipchumba.