Kind deeds are frequently spontaneous life-giving events that bring joy to recipient and giver. Beyond that, generosity’s impact often reaches far beyond the recipient and the donor to include those who witness the charitable acts.
I help organize trips to Cuba for the Sarasota, Fla., chapter of Mennonite Economic Development Associates. Because the U.S. restricts almost all trade with Cuba, we often carry over-the-counter medications and other supplies that are readily available to us but difficult to get in Cuba.
In March, I packed aspirin, infant cough syrup, vitamins and adult diapers. A few days before our departure, I received an email from a friend in Havana with the following message: “And then here is a heartbreaking issue. There is a young person with cancer/leukemia and due to the [trade] embargo Cubans don’t have access to the supplies needed for treatment. We were hoping that perhaps the delegation could help in this matter.”
She went on to list the needed items: “a catheter Port-A-Cath, needles for the catheter and Mochitas punción lumbar TROCAR PL(LP).” The last item was not translated into English because the nonmedical people in Cuba did not know what they were.
Not being a medical professional, I doubted that I’d be able to comply with the request. At the very least, I could forward the email to the 22 people traveling. Almost immediately I received a reply from Joanne Brenneman Speigle, a radiologist from Telford, Pa.: “I am getting a kit for a Port-A-Cath for a pediatric patient and the needles necessary. I think that the third thing is a lumbar puncture needle. Could you see if anyone can clarify that?”
After some back and forth with the folks in Havana, we agreed such needles were what they needed.
When I met Speigle at the airport in Havana for the first time, she told me the requested items were used by specialists, and her medical office includes specialists who have ready access to the requested catheter and needles. I had a sense of God’s presence that we had the appropriate medical professional in our group who could fulfill this request. On the way from the airport to the center where we stayed, we received word that the family of the patient would be meeting us to receive the supplies.
Our group gathered in a meeting room and was introduced to the boy’s father and his grandparents. The father, an air traffic controller, told us about his 5-year-old son, Samuel, who was being treated for leukemia and whose chance for survival would be greatly increased with the necessary supplies for treatment. What we brought was part of the hoped-for solution.
It was an emotional time for all of us to hear this father’s story and see the pain on their faces, but they were extremely grateful for this gift from Speigle. We all participated in this joyful occasion, ending with prayers for Samuel and his family. Several days later, the father and other family members returned with drawings from Samuel for Speigle and the news that the medical items were exactly what was needed. Additional treatment would begin in several weeks. There was a sense of optimism in the air.
When I spoke to Speigle later, I mentioned my hesitancy in reaching out to travelers with the request, knowing such supplies would be difficult to get. Yet she answered immediately, “It was a God thing.”
Indeed it was, and that’s what generosity often is. A God thing.
JB Miller lives in Sarasota, Fla., and attends Covenant Mennonite Fellowship.