Case one: a neighbor family whom we have known for many years. We got messages when we were on our trip that the wife was ill, attributed to malaria (as most things are initially) but with an uneven and incomplete recovery. By the time she came to see Scott there was no definable physical illness, but he treated her for gastritis/ulcers and anxiety. She told me that she needed to stay with her parents for a while, because her house and kitchen were "not good". Hmmm. I thought this was probably a typical marriage dynamic, women are relatively voiceless and use temporary separations or vague illness to draw attention to their needs. But as it dragged on, I talked to the husband, and a deeper story came out. The land they live on is owned by his uncle and others in the clan, not himself. His first wife and child died while staying there. This wife, even though a decade has passed, believes that the land-owner relatives are trying to curse her to get the family off the land so they can sell it for cash. She has run for her life. He seems to find the fear legitimate, and wants to move, to land he owns nearby. But that means building a new house, from scratch (mud and poles, actually). Our medical advice? Do not run away from curses that can not harm you because God is more powerful than greedy clansmen. But do consider whether this is an opportunity to show love for your wife and kids, and choose a better environment for all of them, by moving.
Case two: a friend of a friend, a lady I had never met, wrote an eloquent letter of desperation, then came to visit. My friend confirmed that though she teaches at a primary school, she's rarely paid, and that this lady's husband does not care for her because of his alcohol problem. The woman was concerned because her 1 year old had been ill three times recently. She is not from Bundibugyo, and she believes people are against her as an outsider. Her only recourse in the marriage, really, is to turn to her male relatives to put pressure on her husband's family (they are both from another district). Her presumably ill child looked fine to me, perky and cute and babbling and walking. Medical advice? A small gift to help her with transport to go to her relatives, the only people who could really solve her problems.
Case three: Another young woman who has come here to work, her tall thin frame and deeply black skin marking her as a Northerner and clear outsider. Almost as soon as she arrived, she fell ill. At first it seemed like a typical dysentery one might encounter in a new place, then possibly malaria or typhoid . . but as it dragged on into the second week, with lots of nausea and abdominal pain, we thought again of ulcers. These have a bacterial component, but the stress which she feels here clearly contributes to the acid environment of her stomach in which bacteria can grow. She is far from her family in an insular culture that excludes foreigners (even those from within Uganda), a sincere Christian trying to work in a corrupt health system, and a quiet woman trying to supervise recalcitrant staff. Medical advice? Treat ulcers, but connect with other young women, offer friendship and food, and bring two ladies home after church to pray for her, who also welcomed her and thanked her for returning.
In all of these cases there were physical symptoms of illness, but a pill would not reverse the underlying social and spiritual and emotional discord. Wholeness takes a listening ear, better language skills, more time, persistence in relationship. Wholeness demands more of the healer. More than we have to give. Trusting that in our weakness God's power comes.