Clares in Uganda

Tom and Verity Clare Link Letter no.5 October 2020

Dear friends,

“I’m sorry, but it’s not good news,” I said softly to Victor, the older brother of 11-year-old Eric lying on the bed behind him. “I suspect your brother has cancer.”

When you work in medicine, there are certain moments in your career that leave a mark. These encounters are like permanent tattoos etched onto your skin, often accompanied by significant pain.

In this moment, sitting in a dark concrete room with these brothers, a new tattoo was beginning its inscription, but this time there was hope to avoid the pain….

In-charge, Gilbert, at Eric’s health centre (Yivu Abea) receiving handwashing stations in July.

Victor looked about 18 years old, a strong young man in his prime. But even as he gently placed his sick brother on the bed, the great weight on his shoulders remained. When his voice came, it was thin and broken, on the verge of tears as he glanced periodically over his shoulder at his younger brother.

He explained to me everything that had happened since March, when Eric was completely well. He had first become fatigued, declining the chance to run around and play football. Over the course of the next five months, they attended multiple health centres and hospitals, as Eric’s health continued to worsen, with neck and tummy pains while his eyes became increasingly prominent.

The football pitch next to Eric’s health centre where he would play.

After his last stay in the local hospital – which cost the family all their remaining savings – he was discharged, with advice that the doctors could find nothing wrong.

Two weeks later, by which time Eric was unable to stand, they heard rumour of a doctor visiting their local health centre for a small fee and so here they were.

Reading through the medical notes, it was clear that the doctors had been concerned about lymphoma – a blood cancer that is one of the more common cancers in children – but Victor was clear that no one had mentioned any possible cause to them before.

I examined Eric as he lay on his side on the couch, quietly whimpering in pain. He had enlarged glands and a mass in his tummy, consistent with advanced cancer. His eyes were protruding forward unnaturally, but more striking even than this was the great fear and desperation in his eyes when he looked at me. It caught me off guard and I came close to breaking down in tears myself there and then by the bedside.

The drug shelves in the health centre stores.

Yet even as I sat back down and heard myself say “cancer” – the word reverberating around the room as it always does – I knew that there was hope…. Lymphoma in children is a curable cancer, even in the advanced stages, with most children making a full recovery with the right treatment. I explained to Victor and to their mother that although he was very unwell, there was still hope.

The family were completely out of money, but that night Verity and I prayed for God’s mercy and provision. An unexpected donor appeared the next morning, even though we hadn’t told them about the situation, and we knew that God had answered our prayers, stepping in on Eric’s behalf.

I wrote a referral to the national cancer centre and arranged the transport for three days later – the earliest day the family could travel to Kampala. I felt a growing excitement as we took our own long drive to the Kampala immigration offices the next day – that feeling when you know God is moving right in front of your eyes. I imagined playing football with Eric in a year’s time, praising God together for his goodness and miraculous healing.

At 3am that night, after settling one of our boys, I checked my phone on the way back to bed. There was a message from the health centre – “I wanted to inform you about the child with lymphoma. He has passed away.”

I felt my soul wrench inside me.

Then the tears did come. Along with many questions….

How can this be? Everything was in place – you were supposed to cure him, you even provided the money…. How could you take his life away?

Why couldn’t he have come to my clinic last month? Why would you draw us in so close when you knew it would all end in pain? Why give us hope when you knew there was none?

A month later and my questions about Eric remain unanswered. I know the answers may never come in this life. There is so much here that I don’t know and so much I don’t understand. But there are some things that I do know:

  • God has been around for long enough to handle my questions  “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” – Job 38:4
  • He suffers with us and he suffers for us  “Surely He has borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows… by his wounds we are healed” – Isaiah 53:5
  • One day, he will restore all things – somehow when creation is renewed, God will restore to Eric and his family all that was taken, and we will worship God together for his goodness and healing.

Sadly, Eric’s story is not just a one-off – stories like this have been a feature of our short time in this tiny corner of Uganda and local people are constantly dealing with the reality of suffering all around them. We continue to look to God for strength and mercy as we stand with people through their suffering, while clinging to the great hope we have in Jesus.

Tom delivering infection control training for health centre staff.

I know I’m not special in bearing these tattoos – we all carry our own with us daily. Let me encourage you, when your own tattoo pains flare, to share the pain with him, to shout out your questions before his throne, but to choose also to trust in the hope of his all-encompassing restoration through Christ.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3–4

For a wider update on our lives in Arua, Uganda, see

Blessings in Christ,             

Tom, Verity, Ezra, Eli, Simeon and Joel

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