Love in the midst of tragedy

A review of "Cilemo" by Robert Ian Greidanus.

The parents of 16-year-old Miriam have no income. She enters a relationship with an older man so she will be provided for. She becomes pregnant, but her relationship has given her more than daily provision. It has also given her HIV/AIDs. In order to not pass the virus onto her child, she does not nurse the baby; neither can she afford formula, so she feeds the baby an inexpensive substitute that does not have enough nutritional value. At 10 months old, the baby weighs a mere 10 lbs.

This scenario, and others like it, play out in the Cilemo memoir, written by Dr. Rob Greidanus, of his experiences in Kenya and Namibia as a medical doctor with African Inland Mission (AIM), a Christian organization serving hard-to-reach areas of Africa with the gospel. From June until December 2005 Rob and family served in Kenya as they awaited the work permit for Namibia. In 2006 Ndokotora Rob, as he was known, went with his family to Namibia where he worked in the Rundu State Hospital serving as an obstetrician, pediatrician, and surgeon. Later, he relocated to Windhoek where he mentored Namibian doctors in training and worked as AIM Field Director until he returned to Canada in 2012.

Throughout the memoir, there are the “why” questions, and, in particular, the frustration of not being able to change men’s attitudes. The HIV/AIDS issue is front and centre in Namibia, which has the highest incidence of the disease in the world, where men see it as their inalienable right to have unprotected sex with many women.

Women and their babies are often victims. Rob writes:

“In this culture it is very common for men to have many sexual partners… the women seem almost powerless to do anything about it… Hearing stories like this time and time again has been really wearing me down lately. I am trying hard not to develop bitterness towards the men of this culture but at times trying to get them to change their ways seems like an exercise in futility. However, it is never without hope, so I will keep trying to educate and counsel where I can. I keep praying for transformation in this culture, especially for the men …”

During these years, Rob regularly wrote to his family and supporting community, sharing both his medical as well as his family experiences. In fact, his memoir uses two different fonts, one for each set of experiences. Reading anecdotes of Rob’s medical work is an emotional and sometimes overwhelming experience. There are stories of child neglect, sexual abuse, the scourge of HIV/AIDS and other injustices. There are the “why” questions. But there are also many stories of God’s provisions, grace, and miracles, giving hope in what seems to be hopeless situations. And, through it all, family life remains adventurous and happy. Rob’s wife Alisa is a strong support and faith is their anchor. Their family motto ‘Act Justly, Love Mercy, and Walk Humbly’ (Micah 6:8) keeps them grounded.

“Cilemo” (pronounced as “Chee-lem-o) is the Luchazi word for “love.” The perfect title for this book. The reflections were not intended to be published, but, when he returned to Canada, he was encouraged to publish them. The testimony of the power of grace and love and hope – and incredible faith – are equally overwhelming to read as are the sometimes tragic anecdotes.

I won’t tell you one of the family’s biggest joys so to avoid spoiler alert. But it’s wonderful.

Take a walk through this humble testimony to the power of grace and faith.

Cilemo is available at www.shop.kingsu.ca or through Pagemaster https://pagemasterpublishing.ca/category/books/


  • Louisa Bruinsma

    Louisa is a retired high school English teacher teaching ESL (now via ZOOM) in Edmonton, with students from all over the world who teach her so much about living, loving and learning.

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