Resolving To Do God’s Work; Arthur Kennedy Writes

christmasLast year, I sent a New Year message to my patients that generated quite a few comments. This year, my message is to all my fellow citizens.

Permit me to begin with an encounter that I had with a patient at a Specialist clinic that I ran in Cape Coast. The woman sitting in front of me was 80 year-old Madam Ama Adadzewa( name changed for privacy), who had missed an appointment with me a month earlier. When I gently scolded her for missing the appointment, she said, “Dr. Mennya obiara ma onnye me mma. Manko na metse.” Implying that she does not get the support she needs.

She related that sometimes, because of her infirmities, it is difficult to get around and to do things for herself. When I asked about her children and grandchildren, she said they were all over the place; Kumasi, Accra, Takoradi and “aburokyir”. She told me that she had spoken to one of her daughters a week earlier but that none of her children and grand-children had been to see her in three months.

Since she could not recall the phone number of any relative, I wrote my phone number for her and asked that she request one of her children to call me. I have not received a call yet. When she walked out of the room, my nurse made a remark that has me thinking about our priorities since then. She said, “Dr., when that woman dies, you will be shocked at all the people who will show up to give her a fitting funeral!!” It appears to me that my patient could use a little bit of the attention that her death would command from her family right now.

In fact, daily, at work, I see variations of our neglect of the living contrasted with our veneration for the dead. Many patients do not get the care they need because they cannot afford some basic things needed for their care. Indeed, sometimes, they lack visitors to just comfort and encourage them. Most of the time, however, when they die, there are very concerned relatives who show up. While these examples are just from health, my concern is broader than just health. There are young people with well-off relatives whose leave school because of unpaid school fees, to mention just one example.

This pervasive lack of kindness does not just exist within families. As a society, there are significant and pervasive gaps in caring for one another. For instance, during my work in North America, I noticed that virtually every hospital has a group of volunteers who help the staff to care for patients. These volunteers send samples to labs, wheel patients to places for tests and just provide moral support to patients when they need it.

Over here, the only volunteers that I have seen, at the Central Regional Hospital are young men and women who have travelled from distant corners of the earth to volunteer. Most of them volunteer either as a way of broadening their life experiences or improving their chances of getting into professions like Medicine and Nursing. These eager, mostly white young men and women wheel our patients to tests and ran errands to help our hospital staff. Quite often, they pay a small amount to our facilities or some intermediaries for the privilege of volunteering to help our patients.

And their numbers are woefully inadequate judging by the extent of the need. Now, I do not know about you but I am deeply troubled by the fact that thousands of able-bodied young men and women live here but we require others to travel from so far to help our kith and kin.

And yet, we are very religious and reputedly very kind. Every Sunday, we fill church pews and lift our voices in praise of the Lord. Indeed, in this country, hardly a public event can take place without a prayer. Hardly a week passes without some religious group organizing to pray for the peace or the health of our country. We hold elaborate prayer sessions to celebrate anything imaginable.

And yet, so many who need our kindness and generosity go without. Now, do not get me wrong .I am not some naive and pious idealist mouthing platitudes. Indeed, I too can do better so this is a critique of myself as well.

How can we improve this?

First, let me begin with government and institutions. Could we consider making volunteering part of our national service? For instance, we could require a person doing national service to volunteer two hours every week at a hospital or similar facility.

Second, our educational institutions could require volunteering as part of the requirements for entry into competitive courses like medicine, nursing or the universities in general. If universities in Australia and Germany and America, to mention just a few, can get their students here as volunteers, our universities can do so too, right here in our backyard. I am baffled that our universities seek world-wide acclaim while they are unable to make an impact on something as simple as kindness to our sick, elderly and infirm.

Third, since our religious leaders have so much influence with us, I urge them to lead on this issue. While I am sure that some are already dealingxmas with this issue, I am sure that they can and must do a little more. If some of our priests spent a little less time painting old ladies in our families as witches and a little more time preaching to us about our obligations to them based on God’s word, they would get a little more love from all of us.

Despite all that our governments and institutions can do, however, the key to solving this problem is you and I—as God’s children. It says in Matthew 25: 40-47 that, “And the king will say, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” Then the king will turn to those on the left, “Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. For I was hungry and you did not feed me. I was thirsty and you did not give a drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison and you didn’t visit me.” Then they will reply, “Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and not help you?”

“And he will answer, “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.”

In the New Year, let us all resolve to do a little better—in caring for the sick, the infirm and indeed all those whose circumstances are a little worse than our own. As we do so, let us sing to ourselves, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers——“

It will make our families, our communities, our country and each of us a little better. As John Kennedy was fond of saying, “We are God’s instruments and therefore, here on earth, God’s work is truly our own.”

May God grant us all—in unity and love– a very successful 2013.

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