Friday, April 1, 2011


I met Johnny two years ago on my first visit to a local AIDS Hospice House here in Iquitos called Casa Hogar - Algo Bello Para Dios, which roughly means "Home -Something Beautiful for God." At that time Johnny was HIV-positive, but had not yet developed full-blown AIDS. I do not know how Johnny contracted the deadly virus, and I didn't ask, because it was none of my business; all I know is that he had to be good medicine for the patients because he had a brilliant smile that brought light to a dark place. Johnny was a very young man, in his 20's, and appeared healthy, but he knew what the future held for him. For that reason he came to the hospice every day to help attend to those who were suffering and facing imminent death. He knew that one day, sooner than he would like, he would need that same care, and so he gave what he knew he would want to receive were it him lying in one of those beds: a smile, a kind word, a ministry of presence, in addition to help with bathing, dressing, and eating. Living in a city where access to antiretroviral medications is virtually non-existent, and being so poor that he couldn't afford them anyway, Johnny's fate was sealed. But he didn't let that stop him from loving and being loved, from helping and being helped.

I looked forward to my visits to the hospice because I knew I would see my buddy. Though I took the time to sit and chat with all the patients, I always spent a little extra time with Johnny. It made me happy to be around him. How ironic.

Throughout the two years that I knew him, I watched Johnny's health begin to deteriorate. I watched him move from being a volunteer worker at the hospice, to a patient in one of the beds. I saw his physical body change from that of a healthy young man, to a skeleton with skin. The one thing that never changed, however, was that contagious smile. The last time I saw Johnny was in December and he was bedridden, in constant pain, unable to swallow and therefore couldn't eat, and unable to talk, with his only sounds being grunts or moans. When I walked into his room, in spite of his suffering, his face lit up with that signature gigantic grin. Though he couldn't answer me, I talked to him anyway. I told him I knew he was in pain, and watched as he shook his head yes while the tears rolled out of his eyes down the side of his face. I prayed for him, told him I was going to the U.S. to be with my family for Christmas, but that I would see him when I got back to Iquitos. As I walked out that day, I knew in my heart that he wouldn't be there when I returned.

On my first visit to the hospice in 2011, I learned that Johnny slipped into eternity on New Year's Eve. Man, do I miss him. I was over there just this week and had the privilege of not only talking with the patients, but also presenting each one with a new mattress, a sheet, a pillow, a towel, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a bar of bath soap, and a package of laundry detergent. (A huge thank you to Betty Fleming's Sunday School class at Fountain Inn Presbyterian Church for their donation that enabled the purchase of these items for the AIDS patients!) It was a happy time of being able to give and enjoy watching them receive, but, for me, there was an emptiness. There will always be a gaping hole that Johnny left when he passed away.

The caskets lined up in a row along a wall down one of the halls in the hospice house are a poignant reminder that life is fleeting. It reminds me of the urgency of our call as Christians to spread the Gospel. And it has caused me to wrestle with the questions: "What exactly am I doing to really witness to others and share Jesus with them?;" "Can I do more?;" "Did I love my family, my friends, my enemies today in the way I should?;" "Will I have regrets if they are not here tomorrow?;" and "Will I be greeted with the phrase, 'Well done good and faithful servant' if I should be called home today?" If I'm honest, I'm not totally thrilled with some of my answers to these questions, which poses the ultimate question, "What am I going to do about it?"

Adios, Johnny. My life would be less today if I had never met you. You are missed. 

Recommended Reading

  • The Bible
  • Serving with Eyes Wide Open - Doing Short Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence - David A. Livermore
  • Cross-Cultural Servanthood - Serving the World in Christlike Humility - Duane Elmer
  • Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) - Robert D. Lupton
  • When Helping Hurts-Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor...and Yourself - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Shadow of the Almighty - Elizabeth Elliot
  • Messy Spirituality - Michael Yaconelli
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • Peace Child - Don Richardson
  • If God Should Choose - Kristen Stagg
  • In the Presence of My Enemies - Gracia Burnham
  • Inside Afghanistan - John Weaver
  • Same Kind of Different as Me - Ron Hall and Denver Moore
  • Through Gates of Splendor - Elizabeth Elliot
  • End of the Spear - Steve Saint