The first day I met you, you were so scared of everything around you. You were so shy that when I would say something to you via the translator, you didn’t want to respond or even make eye contact. You and your family had just fled for your lives from the place you knew as home. I can imagine your confusion. I can imagine you thinking: “Who is this strange American girl and why is she talking to me? Why do I have to talk to her? What is going to happen to me here?” You must have had so many questions running through your head.
Somehow, you had broken your elbow and come for treatment at Memorial Christian Hospital where I was volunteering. You had to have it elevated 24/7 and you hated that.
I sat next to you on your bed and took my stethoscope off my shoulders, motioning that I was going to put it to your chest. I listened to your heart beat and smiled. “Thump, thump…” Your heart was beating fast, signalling your anxiety and apprehension.
You had so much fear in your eyes. I wanted so badly to tell you that everything was going to be okay, to put you at peace. But I couldn’t. So I handed you my stethoscope and put the ear piece in your ears, placing the diaphragm on my chest so you could hear my heartbeat.
It was like magic. The muscles on your face softened, and I could almost see a smile surface. Your eyes told me that you were unsure and also intrigued. You had never heard a heartbeat before, or touched a stethoscope.
So then I put the stethoscope to your heart. It was the first time I saw you smile. Your eyes told me everything. You turned your gaze toward me with a smile on your face and I could feel your guard come down. Taking your hand, I placed the chest piece back on my heart, and then back to your heart. “Thump, thump…thump thump…” We laughed.
I could tell you understood the oneness between us, the sound of our hearts both beating the same. Even though I couldn’t speak your language, even though I was from a different country than you, and even though we followed a different religion. We both had the same beating hearts. We were part of each other. God had made us both human.
After that moment, every day I would braid your hair and let you wear my stethoscope. We would take turns listening to each other’s heartbeat. I couldn’t speak to you in your language, but I could let you feel me through my heartbeat. On my last day in South Asia, as we said goodbye, we listened to our hearts beating, one final time.
The honest truth is that I will probably never see you again, Sakera. But I hope you are laughing and playing—even though you don’t have a home and only have a small tent in the refugee camp.
I know you miss your home and you are grieving family members who died. I know you don’t fully understand everything that happened to you or what is happening in this world. You were too young to experience such violence.
But your heart is still beating, and love pumps through you. I thank you for sharing your love with me and I pray that you come to know Christ’s love for you. He knows every hair on your head, and every beat of your heart.
Malia Barshaw is a Registered Nurse at Stanford Healthcare, California. She met Sakera while volunteering at Memorial Christian Hospital in South Asia, serving the refugees who flooded into the hospital following last August’s explosive Rohingya crisis.
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