Back in my New York days, I was an EMT. Interning in different hospital emergency rooms prior to your certification is a requirement of training. On one of my assigned hospital shifts that serviced the inner city region, EMTs rushed in a 5 year old little boy suffering from a gun shot wound straight through his left hand. Let’s call him Chris. Chris was at a friend’s house where the boys were playing when they came across the homeowner’s gun. I don’t know the specifics, but essentially the friend raised the gun to “play shoot” him, the little boy raised his hand to say stop, and the loaded gun fired. Luckily for Chris, his hand is the only thing the bullet found.
Since he was at a friend’s house, his parents hadn’t been located and notified yet. So as the emergency room crew rushed to start work on Chris’ hand, the most helpful thing I could do was talk to Chris and try to calm him down. As you can imagine, parentless, scared, 5 year old gun shot victims in pain don’t like to hold still for doctors and nurses. As I held his good hand on the right, I asked him what his name was, where he went to school and a myriad of other small talk questions, but it wasn’t doing the job to sufficiently distract him from the doctors trying to work on his left. Chris was already hyperventilating as it was, and every time he would see the needle heading for his hand, he would freak out more and pull his arm away. If you didn’t know, 5 year old little boys who are hopped up on adrenaline are REALLY STRONG.
As I frantically searched my brain for material that could possibly be captivating to a 5 year old, I remembered the movie I had just seen the weekend before. In fact I remember rolling my eyes to my boyfriend as I agreed to the movie selection. It was the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (we’re talking the original one here folks, circa 1990). I remember thinking what a waste of brain space, time and money. It turned out to be more entertaining than I had anticipated but I was still embarrassed to admit I went to see it.
“Chris, did you see the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie?” It was as if a switch flipped. He turned his head away from his injured hand towards me, his eyes took on a completely different kind of excitement and he answered with a resounding “YEAH!”
“Which one was your favorite turtle? I liked Donatello the best.” And that was it. For the next hour Chris held my hand and we excitedly chatted about pizza obsessed turtles who practiced ninja moves with a rat sensei while the doctors attempted to reassemble his mangled palm. (There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.)
I was able to find a point of connection with him until his parents arrived to take over. Guys, I was pre-med. I cannot tell you the endless hours of studying calculus, chemistry, and physics that I thought would be so important that I haven’t used one iota in my lifetime. I would have never guessed that my knowledge of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would prove to be so valuable. I want you to remember that the next time you are having a conversation with someone about a topic that you think is ridiculous or boring. There is no such thing as useless information! You never know when you can pull that tidbit of information out to save the day!
Emmanuel, which means “God is with us”, is our sponsor child from Compassion. He is exactly 2 days younger than Zach, which was how we selected him back in 2012 when he was 11. That makes him 15 years old now and in the 9th grade. We were looking for a child close in age to our own, and I’m not gonna lie, who we thought would make an ideal pen pal. He lives with his mother on the plains of Chamwino near Dodoma, Tanzania. That is an 8 hour drive from Kilimanjaro National Park.
The homes there are typically made of clay walls, tin roofs and dirt floors. The primary language is Chigogo. I have no idea how to speak Chigogo! I didn’t even know such a language existed prior to Emmanuel. I can barely speak Spanish and I took 5 years of it in school.
We get the privilege of meeting Emmanuel on our Cause Trek while we are working at the Compassion Assisted Child Development Center near Kilimanjaro. They will be sending him on that 8 hour drive to meet us with a translator. I have no idea how he feels about that. Is he excited? Is he terrified? Most likely he has never been that far from home. I don’t even know if he has ever ridden in a vehicle before. (Note to self: ask these questions next letter.) I wish we were able to meet him at his home so he would be more comfortable. I wish we would be able to meet his mother.
I’m not sure yet how much time we’ll get together. We’ve been praying over this child for years now. We just received an updated picture this month and I was thrilled to see him taller and looking more like a young man opposed to a child, although still not smiling. I’ve been told that its normal NOT to smile for pictures there. How great it will be to see this kid smile and get a picture of it! And to be able to hug him!
Then I thought about immediately after that initial exciting moment and a slight twinge of panic set in. What would I say? What would we talk about? I really want him to connect with us, to feel at ease and to have a special bonding moment but what could I possibly find as a point of connection when our lives are sooooo radically different? I’m pretty sure the TMNT aren’t going to work this time.
I’m just going to pray about it and hope that God guides me just like he did with a nonsensical movie about turtles fighting crime.
I have a feeling I will learn a lot from Emmanuel. Even though I don’t speak Chigogo.
To sponsor a child through Compassion go to compassion.com