Remembering Karen . . .
I first met Karen [KA-rin] over two years ago. She came to us with her mom, and 3 younger siblings. They were in need of food for their family. My first impression of Karen was that of a pure and gentle heart with a warm smile (the name Karen originated in the Greek and means pure). Karen and her family came each week from then on, to meet us for a bag of bread. When we prayed with Karen she would often weep as she prayed out. The Lord was so evident on this young girl. As the months went on I noticed that it appeared as if Karen was pregnant. With my little Spanish, and unsure of how to question a then 14 year old if she was with child, I waited a few more weeks until her showing became obvious.
In Mexico, things are very different as I have noted many times, and children do not usually continue school beyond 8th grade. Families cannot afford the costs as they increase beyond grade school. Also children are needed to go to work for income to help with the family household. So it is not unusual for many teens to become involved with one another and begin a family of their own. I was not sure if this was the case with Karen. But I could not shake my concern that she was 14 and might be pregnant, and that her mom was often altered in one way or another by either drug or alcohol influence. As we do with many who we encounter each week, we consistently ministered and provided for this family.
Eventually, Karen gave birth to a beautiful little girl who now accompanied them to the families’ weekly pilgrimage for a bag of bread from the ‘whetto’s’ (Mexican slang word for white folk). A few months went by and, once again, I was concerned that Karen’s abdomen was growing again. Still unsure about asking her such a private question, I waited a couple of weeks before I could no longer go without knowing. After asking, she and her mom quickly responded – “no not pregnant – something’s wrong!”. Knowing the family would not have any money to have Karen checked by a doctor, like so many in Tijuana, I began asking medical professionals I knew, about possible problems Karen could be experiencing. Specifically, if there could be a complication from her pregnancy – having delivered, of course, her baby at home. I was advised about a couple of possibilities, but was unable to find someone who could come and examine Karen directly. Eventually Karen was seen by a doctor who diagnosed her with a tumor that was growing rapidly in her uterus. Unable to pay for a surgical procedure, she was sent home. This is, unfortunately, a case scenario often heard over and over again in Mexico. As Karen’s stomach grew much to the capacity of the days she was pregnant, she was weakened and unable to come to the street outreach for food. We learned where her family lived (quite far actually, if traveled by foot), and informed them that we would be happy to bring food to their home.
One night, Karen was particularly weak, with the tumor stealing all her nutrition. We scooped her up out of her bed and carried her to the hospital ourselves. The scene at Tijuana General Hospital was unlike anything I had ever experienced. Sick people were lying on the sidewalks outside the hospital gates, awaiting acts of kindness or in hopes of a miracle for their physical needs. They are not permitted to enter the gates if it is known that they have no money for attending their needs. The guards opened the gates upon seeing our truck pull up (common treatment toward Americans who are believed/known to have money), driven by whetto’s. Karen’s friend walked her inside as we watched, preparing to return to the outreach to dispense bread to those awaiting us. That was the last time we saw Karen.
We saw her mom once more, when she informed us that she had to move, as the garage where they were living was being turned over to someone who could pay more, and she herself had decided to enter a rehab. We did not see Karen that night. But her mom told us that she had only been given a nutrition boost that night in the hospital, and was released again. We lost touch with the family for weeks until this past month. Karen’s mom came to the streets to tell us that Karen had died. I quickly remembered my thoughts as Karen was escorted into the hospital. “She is going to die if she does not get help”. My thoughts now became, “Karen died because she could not afford help”.
Though many needs in TJ are similar and often great, I never want to personally be this close to a situation where I can’t offer greater help. This situation, and others, is eye opening discoveries particularly with our present health coverage concerns in this country. We are contemplating a way to create a fund where specific funds/grants can be raised where needs in Tijuana such as these can be addressed. Please join us in prayer for clarity, to ensure that the “Karen Fund” will never be in vain.
“He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God.”