While I was in the hospital receiving treatment for malaria, the nurses told me the story of what happened Friday night after I passed out. They said four nurses had put me onto a golf cart and driven me to the hospital. Someone wheeled a gurney outside, they lifted me onto the gurney, and then rolled me down the hallway to the room where the doctor and other nurses were waiting for me.
I don’t remember much of anything until Saturday morning, when I woke up in a hospital bed, feeling clammy and achey and nauseated, watching IV fluids and malaria medicine drip into my I.V.
In most of the hospital wards here, there’s a TV/VCR unit on the wall that shows either the JESUS film, a dramatazation of the life of Jesus translated into the peoples’ local language, or Bible cartoons in French. I don’t know how much of the JESUS film makes sense to the people here — I’m not sure if they understand where Israel is, or that the story happened 2,000 years ago — but they really seem to like the resurrection scene. And when the film ends, they ask the nurses if they can watch it again.
In the hospital room where I stayed, there was no TV. I had no podcasts downloaded onto my phone. My head ached too much to read a book. So I just laid there in bed, feeling small and depleted. For the first time in many years, I wished someone would pull a chair up to my bed and tell me a story.
When no one came to entertain me, I said, “Well, God, maybe you can tell me a story.”
But God didn’t say anything.
My nurse on Saturday afternoon was Wade, a large, gregarious American man in his 50’s with a giant mustache, who used to be a firefighter before he went to nursing school.
He was laughing to himself as he changed my bottle of I.V. fluids and inspected the tubing.
“I don’t think maintenance guys are very happy with me,” he said quietly, shaking his head.
“What?” I asked him, unsure if he was talking to himself under his breath or if he was talking to me.
“I said I don’t think maintenance is happy with me,” he repeated, louder.
“Why not?” I asked, wondering what he’d done now — he was full of humorous stories that usually involved him breaking something or getting into some kind of trouble.
“Cuz I broke down the door,” he said, pointing down the hallway to the door where the gurney had come out to get me the night before.
“Why did you break down a door?” I asked.
“Well, I saw the nurses coming with you last night, and I saw how pasty you looked and I was really worried about you. I couldn’t figure out how to undo the latch in the screen door, so….” he shrugged and his belly started shaking as he chuckled. “I just broke it down.”
He finished what he was doing and went to leave, calling over his shoulder as he winked and closed the door, “I broke down the door to get to you, kid.”
“Thanks,” I said, as loudly as my hoarse voice would allow.
That afternoon, I thought about the patients who come to the Hospital of Hope, hearing the story of Jesus for the first time. The theology, dogma, religion and religious traditions we’ve created around the Bible (especially in America) can make Christianity seem so complicated and unintelligible (not to mention unattractive).
But at the heart of it is the simple good news, which, after all, is what the word ‘gospel’ means.
“For God so loved the world…”
As I laid in that hospital bed, I thought of how sick I was feeling, and how far away home seemed. I had asked God to tell me a story, and instead, he’d sent Wade to tell me about breaking the door.
But maybe that’s exactly the story I needed to hear in that moment.
Maybe that’s all the story I’ll ever need to hear.
For a long time to come, whenever I hear John 3:16, “For God so loved the world….” or whenever I think of what I learned in Africa, or whenever I try to explain to anyone what’s at the heart of my faith, I’ll think about the gospel — the simple good news — as God the Father, a jovial man with a handlebar mustache, shaking his head and smiling with a chuckle that makes his belly shake.
“I was worried about you,” God says to the world, with laughter in his voice and love in his eyes. “So….I broke down the door to get to you, kid.”
I broke down the door to get to you.