By David Hough, a doctor who works with the World Medical Mission through the Post-Residency Program at Tansen Mission Hospital in Nepal
While serving with the Post-Residency Program in Nepal, my recent interactions with some kittens got me thinking some pretty deep thoughts. I have been thinking about making choices even if I know I won’t like the outcomes, if I know it will make me uncomfortable, if I know it may change the way I think about some things, and if I know it may even change the way I live my life.
When a litter of kittens was abandoned on the Tansen Mission Hospital Compound, we were the ones to take in the remaining one of the litter and care for it. Cats are generally not considered pets here in Nepal, and no one else was willing to step in to save it from a certain end. I had to de-flea it through a series of baths and picking the bugs out with my fingernails, although I’ve since figured out tweezers work much better. As it wasn’t house trained, we had to clean up after it, sometimes from the floor but usually our furniture. So, two weeks later, when another litter of 1-week-old kittens showed up on our porch without a mother, I was not amused. Had word gotten out in the cat or Nepali community that this was now a kitty friendly household?
The kittens arrived in a sickly state. One could hardly stand, and the other two had some kind of conjunctivitis that made them look not so cuddly. What were we to do? We had not asked for the cats, but here they were on our porch. One thing was clear from the beginning; one cat was more than enough for our family, and no more cats would be allowed in our house.
One option was to feed them since they were so sickly and starving, but then they would stay for the food. Another option was to put them in a box and drop them off in a nearby field. The optimistic self could hope either the mother found them or another kindhearted family would take them in. The realistic self knew that there were too many wild dogs roaming around for them to make it more than a couple of hours. What was better? Watching them die on our porch or simply not knowing if they were dead or alive?
We couldn’t decide what to do, so we decided on a compromise; we would let the kittens stay within the protection of our fenced yard, but we would not feed them. We would leave that job to their mother, who for the time being was nowhere to be found.
By the following night, the mother still had not turned up, and the weakest kitten was dead. My wife had seen it’s dire state earlier that day and tried to feed it, but it was already too week to feed. I buried it in the vegetable garden. Though the kittens were not ours, and we had not asked for them, I felt this death now made the remaining two our responsibility. It was clear no one was coming for them and the mother could not be counted on. So I took half an hour to clean the goop out of the remaining kittens’ eyes, feed them, and make them a bed outside.
Would it Have Been Better Not to Know?
The next day a large cat showed up that defended the kittens from an intruder dog that had gotten into our yard. Perhaps the mother had come back! That night the kittens were gone; I assumed they were with the mother. We were relieved. This was probably the best-case scenario.
That’s what I thought until the next day when we found a single kitten from the same litter by our front door. The mother and sibling were nowhere to be found. That night I washed the flea-ridden kitten and did the same again the following day. I fed it and remade the bed on our porch. This cat and our first adoption, Mao, were getting on quite well, playing together and even napping together. Mao’s friend would be our friend, it seemed.
The next morning I went out to feed the kitten and found a spot of blood outside of his bed. We had not heard a scuffle the night before, but we were sure this was the blood of our new neighbor kitten. Soon after, in the grass, I found what remained of the kitten. I was glad I had found it and not my wife or kids.
My wife was more upset than I was. She did not want the cat. She had put up with it for my sake, but in the process had come to like it, and now it was violently taken away from us by a dog that had somehow made it into our yard. What should we have done? If we put the cats in a box and dropped them off, we would have stayed distant and even held onto a slim chance that they were still alive. But by keeping the cats nearby, feeding and grooming them, we had grown to like them. And by keeping them in our yard, it was now very clear what had happened. There were now two kittens buried in our vegetable garden. What would have been the better of two hard choices? Was it better to get involved and get hurt, or would it have been better to simply not know?
I thought about America where the typical daily hardships revolve around traffic jams, keeping up with the mortgage in a large home, and poor restaurant service. We usually don’t think about kids who are dying of dehydration and treatable infections. We don’t realize that the average Nepali lives on $3 a day or that much of the world lives on less than that. We don’t realize that mothers and babies die because they cannot get to the hospital. We are not aware that tens of thousands of woman are trafficked from Nepal to India and are then exploited for someone else’s profit.
I thought about the American church, where we convince ourselves we are religiously persecuted because the Christian songs are under-represented in the annual holiday pageant. How much do we know about the truly persecuted Church? Do we think about our brothers and sisters who are jailed and killed for loving Jesus? Do we think of the families in Nepal that often disown their children if they decide to become Christians?
It would be easier and hurt less to take all of these facts, all of the suffering people around the world, all those souls headed for hell, and put them in a box. It would be easier to put all of these problems somewhere else and hold on hope that someone else will notice and do something about it. It would be easier to not get involved because it’s messy. When you care about it all, you get too close, and caring often hurts. You end up having to pick up messes that you never asked for.
Here in Nepal I have watched people die of treatable illnesses, I’ve held babies as they took their last breathes, and I’ve even buried some kittens in my vegetable garden. These are messes that I did not ask for, but I got involved in them all the same. Choosing to put these things in a box and hope for some other outcome or that something else is done isn’t a option once you’ve see the faces of hopelessness and heard the cries of mothers for their dead children. I think of Jesus and the choices He made to be born in barn and suffer a brutal death for people like me. How many times have I caused Christ pain because he got involved in my life and didn’t just hope something else would happen?
Thank you to those of you who have opened the box with us and dared to see the physical and spiritual suffering that encompasses the day-to-day lives of much of this world. Thank you to those who have dared to care despite the hurt it can cause. This is not an easy path, but I think those who choose to know and to see what really is happening in this world are those with courage and those who are doing God’s work.