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Life Brokers

by Douglas Briggs on July 7, 2006 in Articles

"And he put the wood in order, and cut the bullock in pieces, and laid him on the wood and said, ‘Fill four barrels with water, and pour it on the burnt sacrifice, and on the wood.’ And he said, ‘Do it a second time’ And they did it a second time. And he said, ‘Do it the third time.’ And they did it the third time" (1 Kings 18:33, 34).

Today, my growing financial burden eased…by tragedy. Wu Fafang will not have surgery. His tumor is inoperable.
After returning late in the night from a long trip out to the Asian countryside to bring back a woman with suspected recurrent breast cancer, I began the morning with Wu Fafang’s dad and the neurosurgeon.
"Well, who can say whether he will live just one or two years, right?" the father asked with tears in his eyes.
It will be more likely a matter of months. Wu Fafang, who is from the Buyi tribe, has a large tumor of the cerebellum that is very advanced because of a disease that has infested the hospitals in the counties all over this region. He has had the tumor for four months, but came to the clinic just two weeks ago because one of my dearest Buyi friends, Wu Xingcui, asked me to see a relative with headaches.
On my only day in the clinic in the whole month of March, in walked Wu Fafang’s father with Wu Fafang on his back. The mother came alongside with the CT scans to show what was obvious, and obviously a surgical problem. The family had spent all it had borrowing, selling everything, and more borrowing. They had spent more than surgery would have cost on bogus treatments in their home area where such surgery is unavailable.
Finally, when all the money was gone, the family was told that surgery was the only hope but that it was only available in some major city. So the family has watched as the boy has gone from mild headaches and sluggish walking to horrendous headaches and inability to stand or even sit up straight.
That’s when Wu Xingcui intervened. She asked me on a Monday, the first week in March, if I could see a relative with a headache. I told her to have them come in April. She brought them Wednesday.
"It is really a bad headache!" she said apologetically.
I was in the middle of telling a woman with Lupus-related kidney disease to escape from a local hospital where they were holding her unnecessarily. I felt hard-pressed because this woman would require no simple treatment at our clinic in Kunming. I worried that I was biting off more than I could swallow with her, and Wu Fafang’s family arrived.
"How long has he been having headaches?" I asked.
"Four months."
"Well, surely he can wait another ten minutes," I said with some annoyance in my voice.
Then the tiny Buyi mother handed me the CT, and I could barely keep myself from weeping. I ran out to look the sweet, fourteen-year-old boy in the face.
"He is our only child," The parents said as they wept.
Whereas most Buyi couples manage to have three or four kids by migrating out of the government’s watch, Wu Fafang’s parents had held, for whatever reason, to the one-child law. And now their one child was in peril.
That day the negotiations to operate on Wu Fafang that I loathe, but must endure, followed. We have to ask the surgeon if he can do the procedure, if he has an empty bed on his ward, and . . . how much will it cost?
The cost of a life is the great variable. Theologically, the cost of a life is the blood of the Son of God to pay the penalty of the sin of that life however short. Emotionally, the cost of a life is the extreme to which parents can completely pour out all they have. But medically, the cost (in my clinic’s history) has been anywhere from twenty dollars to ten thousand.
Such cost has conditioned me to think in local terms. The average farmer makes about one hundred fifty dollars per year. He saves just a small portion once the new seed is bought and the plough repaired, and a year of feeding his family repeated.
Four thousand dollars for open-heart surgery, for example, on a four-year-child with a congenital heart disease seems inexpensive to Americans, but to a poor farmer it may as well be four million. He is helpless to raise such funds. Those who have tried have sold the house, the cow, and the tractor if they were fortunate enough to have such a thing.
One man who had come to our clinic with heart disease was offered a free pacemaker, but he declined it.
"I cannot accept such a thing. It is worth more than my life. I cannot repay."


I work out the details with the neurosurgeon concerning Wu Fafang. I will take money that had been intended for four girls with bone cancer. I had twenty thousand RMB (two thousand five hundred dollars) set aside for each. Figuring that a couple of them would need only about ten thousand RMB (one thousand two hundred fifty dollars), I decided to dip into the funds.
I fear that the neurosurgeon will say the surgery for Wu Fafang will be fifty thousand RMB (six thousand two hundred dollars); I am relieved and excited that he asks for twenty thousand RMB.
Two days later, Wu Fafang receives a shunt to relieve the pressure on his brain while we carefully, yet slowly, plan the surgery.
Two weeks pass.
We now have spent twenty thousand RMB, but have not performed surgery. During a recent trip, I am told by phone that the surgeons are asking fifty thousand RMB (my original fear) to do the surgery.
What about the girls? What about the woman with cancer who I just brought back from the countryside? I wonder. Chemo, radiation, surgeries, nutritional support, more CT scans…. In the meantime, I receive a request to see a child who is well functioning but has a head that is swelling from hydrocephalus at seven months. He will need immediate attention to halt the progress of the disease.
Fifteen to twenty thousand RMB shall be the likely price given by the surgeon. Can I trust him? All these patients with their symptoms and tragic mistreatment in hospitals or by relatives run through my mind as I ride in a van winding through Kunming’s roads one night. Money is the biggest factor in their recovery.
Yet God has provided. We have not refused people because we needed more funds. Despite this, I am inclined to count the cost. I fear when I should not. Caring for people is tainted with an impersonal side that involves a real currency.
Still the cost must be counted. As the farmer looks to the skies for rain, so we look to the flow of resources. I often wonder how many times Elijah had seen God answer him before he was bold enough to stand before the prophets of Baal.
Pour on the water! Our God answers!
Where is this kind of faith in me? As believers we count the cost of building the castle. The Lord asks us to go forth into a world and at the same time says, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (John 15:18).

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