It was night time and the air in the tent had cooled off considerably. Everyone had quieted down and were talking softly among themselves, reading Bibles, or sleeping. One man in the corner was singing a hymn very quietly that had gone on for quite some time.
"Michelle," my patient called out, "can you help me please?"
I stopped what I was doing and approached his bed, thinking he needed his pain medication.
"Please, can you help me understand this?" He was speaking in English and pointing to a passage in a Bible that was also in English. This particular young man had been enrolled in school for many years and proudly spoke both "higher" and "lower" English fairly well. I know this because he once explained to me that "maybe" was lower English but "perhaps," was higher. I was impressed.
"I am reading this and I need to understand," he said. "Ok, shoot," I responded.
“Speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean," he read.
Oh boy I thought.
"What is conceives?" he asked, "does it mean have a baby?"
"Yes, it means have a baby."
"And... menstruation? How is that?"
Words failed me. "It means..." I stalled for a minute, "well it means..."
"Is it like when a lady has her bleeding?"
"Yes. Exactly." I began to get suspicious of his need for my tutorial, but his question wasn't about feminine body functions.
"Ok... then it says a woman will be unclean for seven days if she has a baby and it is a boy. And she is unclean for seven days if she has her bleeding."
"Ok. 'If she bears a female child she shall be be unclean for two weeks.'" He looked at me. This isn't my favorite part of Leviticus* so I just nodded, waiting.
"If a lady has her bleeding or a boy baby she is unclean for one week and a girl baby she is unclean for two weeks, so what is unclean?"
"Oh wow. Ok... well the Jewish people had a lot of rules for things," I stopped, wondering how far in over my head I was about to get. "And there were rules about when you could and couldn't enter a temple. Having a baby is one, touching a dead body is another."
He stared at me, not blankly, but waiting for more explanation.
Guessing his question I said, "Temple for the Jewish people is like going to church for Christians."
"So if a lady has a baby she can't go to church? If she is unmarried?"
I had no idea where the last part came from. "No, I said, "whether or not she is married. She has to stay away for a certain amount of time. Then there are things you have to do to get clean again. Rituals."
"But we don't do that here," he said, his brow furrowing. "We don't say that."
Realizing I was about to deliver the most diverse theology lesson he may have ever heard, I tried to chose my words sensitively, "It's a different religion. Jesus was Jewish. When Jesus came, some people started a new religion. That's where Christians came from. They don't follow all the same rules of the Jewish people."
For good measure I added,"We have the New Testament."
He looked relieved. "Ok. Because I was surprised to read that. We don't do that here."
He was just worried that they weren't following the Bible as closely as they could be. I shook my head in wonderment. Across the tent, the hymn continued.
* I do not have a favorite part of Leviticus.