I’m sitting in the family waiting area of the Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) at the University of Iowa Hospital. Every two hours family members can visit their patient for 15 minutes and this is where we all wait. There are 32 beds in the SICU and today 28 of those beds are occupied and as a result the waiting area is full.
When I came back from lunch, I sat down at a table where there’s a convenient Ethernet connection as well as power outlet. I set up the laptop and checked email but before I could even read the first message a man and woman approached and asked if they could join me.
They said, “When you were here earlier with your son we got the impression you are a pastor. Are we right?”
I said, “Yes, but I’m not really here in that capacity; my Mom is in the SICU.”
“Well,” the man said, “we would like to ask some questions. Is that OK?”
“I’ll do my best.”
They introduced themselves as a brother (Bakr) and sister (Rihana). Their 68 yr old father is in SICU with complications following what should’ve been routine surgery for appendicitis. However, when they opened him up the surgeons found he was full of cancer. They removed as much of the malignancy as possible, but while they were still in the operating room, the father had a major heart attack. Now he is on a ventilator and the kidneys are not working.
Their parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1972 from Morrocco. The mother died some years ago as a result of breast cancer. Although their parents claimed to be Muslim, their adult children have never practiced that religion or any other. Bakr said to me, “My religion has been wealth and success.” Until now he has felt no need for a god of any kind. His sister, Rihana, nodded in silent agreement – the same is true for her as well.
Now they are faced with a crises that’s too big for them to handle on their own: After 3 days on the ventilator without any improvement; little or no brain activity on the EEG, and failing kidneys, the medical establishment wants to know how long to continue.
We talked about the origin of life; why we are born in the first place; and what death is like. They asked some intense questions about “the afterlife,” paradise, and evil. Through their grief and confusion there were several times when I know the words “connected” and the Holy Spirit impressed them with truth.
We talked about all the options they face but I didn’t give them any answers about what they should do. They have to make those decisions on their own. I did give them the name of a church in Cedar Rapids (their home) where I’m sure they’ll be treated with respect and where I know the truth of God is held high.
We spent about 40 min talking and when the call came that visitors were allowed in the “bay” where their father is, they thanked me and left. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again but the Seed has been planted.
It’s interesting to watch the people in this waiting area. Some sit in silence, not moving from one position for long periods of time. Others, like me, spend time on their laptops and cell phones. There are some families where they are obviously reminiscing; laughing one moment and shedding tears the next. Two different family groups, at opposite ends of the area, are playing cards and/or working on crossword puzzles.
I wonder how many of them sense a need to connect with God? More than that, I wonder how many of these people, like Bakr and Rihana, don’t have any idea what God is like, how much His loves them, and that only through Him can both life and death have meaning.
What you do, how you live, has the potential to impact people around you who are just like Bakr and Rihana. Don’t give up.