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HNGR Interns on the Field

Posted May 15, 2018 by HNGR
Tags: HIV/AIDS India Palliative Care

My community during my HNGR internship was a palliative care clinic in a large south Asian city that offers holistic, life-prolonging medical care and builds community with people infected with and affected by HIV/AIDS. The staff has the privilege of working alongside people in their community that face intense discrimination, stigma, and poverty. I particularly loved getting to know the women who came to this clinic, specifically widows and transgender women, who taught me to find hope and healing within the context of death. This time of building community together with these women showed that it is essential to embody Christ’s example by living and seeking healing and wholeness alongside people who experience systematic discrimination and oppression. New life in Christ can be found when, together, we hope in the resurrection and wait on the Lord who is reconciling all things.

Widows in my host context face incredible struggles, not just from the loss of a life partner, or the stress of financial instability, but also intense stigmatization since they are often seen as responsible for their husbands’ deaths. Many widows in my community have been turned out of their homes by their in-laws and are shut out from society. Often, they find themselves weeping like Hagar in the dust where they resist entropic forces in order to survive and reclaim their dignity.

Another group of women that I had the privilege of hearing stories from and learning alongside were transgender women. Many trans women in my community face incredible discrimination, violence, and abuse due to their gender identity as women. While trans women in the U.S. continue to be 4.3 times more likely to be murdered than cisgender American women1, trans women in my host country are subject to unique of dangers and prejudices. They are ostracized and face internal and external conflict over discordant gender and sex identities, and are often met with disgust for their trans identity.

These struggles are compounded by stigma from an HIV-positive status that causes many of these women to be excluded and shamed. This isolation from discrimination and chronic abuse leads the women I know to long for a community that encourages honesty and vulnerability. The staff at the clinic is committed to fostering a community where these women can learn about their own worth and reclaim their dignity. Together, the staff and patients build trusting relationships with each other and work towards not only physical well-being, but also mental, spiritual, and relational healing. Even in the context of death and chronic illness, the women in my community taught me that Christ’s inclusive love reaches to the most marginalized. In the face of incredible loss, my friends at the clinic demonstrate that Christ, not death, has the final word. These women maintained hope in the promise that all things will be reconciled to God and that all things will be made new.

I am certain that Christ himself, if he had spent his earthly life in my host city, would have sat right down among the trans women gathered for their monthly support group meeting to be their companion and advocate. I believe that the Spirit was clearly working during these meetings when the women and I had opportunities to share stories and validate each other’s experiences of pain and heartbreak. These moments of simple presence with each other were modeled after Christ’s willingness to ask questions and listen to people who are often silenced. Times of sharing and vulnerability like these gave us opportunities to validate each others’ experiences and be reminded that there is power in remembering and naming experiences of abuse. These times helped me to grow in my understanding of Christ as a “man of suffering and familiar with pain” (Isaiah 53:3). Christ not only understands each of our experiences of exclusion and sorrow, but calls us to be present with each other in moments of vulnerability and offer deep compassion with those who suffer.

The effects of structural discrimination and stigma in my host city manifest themselves slowly; similarly, healing and reconciliation are slow and deliberate processes. Our brokenness and pain are so deep that only the blood of Christ will be able to heal our wounds. The extent of our brokenness and the realities of abusive relationships necessitate lament — crying out to God in hope that Christ the Liberator is capable of making all things new. Lament reminds us that Christ did not promise ease and comfort, but quite the opposite: he promised embodied solidarity with our brokenness and physical suffering, as well as true hope in a new creation. Times of collective prayer and fasting in lament drew me closer into community with women who were facing the suffering of death. These times together began to teach me about that deep hope that comes along with faith in a God who listens, who understands our pain, and is reconciling all things. We are reminded of this hope when we choose to stand together with and walk alongside people facing discrimination and marginalization and together wait on the Lord.  

In the midst of slow violence, death, and shattered lives, it can be hard to grasp the hope of new life, and the fact that we were made for peace. We have a responsibility to live in solidarity with those who suffer and to engage in places of deep pain where the Spirit is at work, healing our wounded souls. At the clinic, I learned each day how to live out Christ’s teachings about building community through sacrificial service: simply sitting together in homes, asking about people’s stories and sharing in their struggles. The staff taught me that it is necessary to fully rely on God’s provision in every aspect of life so that the clinic’s life-prolonging work is sustained. Most importantly, my friends pointed me toward Christ, who welcomes the abused bodies of the women at the clinic into his own broken and resurrected body. In that sacred place alone we will find true healing and wholeness. We broken and resilient women meet Christ in our communities where we have hope in the face of suffering and death. It is here that we can rejoice in our God who listens, who bled for us, and who is making all things new.

1: “Addressing Anti-transgender Violence: Exploring Realities, Challenges, and Solutions for Policymakers and Community Advocates.” 2017. Human Rights Campaign and Trans People of Color Coalition.

 

--By Laura Pax ('17)