A Weak Christian Who Knew a Strong Saviour

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
(2 Corinthians 12:9, ESV) 

The 2nd of September marks exactly one year since I lost a cousin, Hellen Kamponge at Wusakile Mine Hospital in Kitwe. In our Kaonde and Zambian tradition, Hellen was my younger sister. Her mother and my mother are  sisters, with my mother being the older one. News of her death reached us when my wife and I were in Harare, Zimbabwe attending the annual Sola 5 Conference. When one is far away from home, the last message you want to receive is the sad news of the passing on of someone very dear to you. It is easier to process the pain of loss when you are surrounded by other close family members with whom you can share the grief. 
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;

the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me. 
Helen's casket during the church service at the Riverside Congregation of the United Church of Zambia
Although Hellen's death brought a piercingly painful ache to our hearts, there was also something about her life and her death that was soothing and comforting to many of us who knew her closely and know the Saviour she believed in. 

Hellen was born with Sickle Cell Anaemia. This illness is an inherited blood disorder characterized primarily by chronic anaemia and periodic episodes of pain. The underlying problem involves haemoglobin, a component of red blood cells. Haemoglobin molecules in each red blood cell carry oxygen from the lungs to body organs and tissues and bring carbon dioxide back to the lungs. In Sickle Cell Anaemia, the haemoglobin is defective. After hemoglobin molecules give up their oxygen, some may cluster together and form long, rod-like structures. These structures cause red blood cells to become stiff and assume a sickle shape. Unlike normal red cells, which are usually smooth and donut-shaped, sickled red cells cannot squeeze through small blood vessels. Instead, they stack up and cause blockages that deprive organs and tissues of oxygen-carrying blood. This process produces periodic episodes of pain and ultimately can damage tissues and vital organs and lead to other serious medical problems. Normal red blood cells live about 120 days in the bloodstream, but sickled red cells die after about 10 to 20 days. Because they cannot be replaced fast enough, the blood is chronically short of red blood cells, a condition called anaemia. My late sister, Mildred, also had Sickle Cell Anaemia, and died in December 1989. 

Swift to its close ebbs life's little day;

earth's joys grow dim; it's glories pass away;
change and decay in all around I see.

O, Thou who changest not, abide with me.
Throughout her life, Hellen suffered periods of intense pain and was hospitalised countless number of times. Looking frail from the constant bouts of pain in her body, she refused to let her condition discolour her sweet demeanour. Hers was a long battle with the frailty of life and she fought that battle with enviable courage and faith. Like all of us, Hellen had her gloomy moments. She had fears, and sometimes she could not entirely succeed in concealing this fact from us. Occasionally, we could see this in the eerie silence that would suddenly descend upon her, forcing her to recoil, conversing with her soul, and with the Saviour she had come to know and love. But even when the dark clouds broke heavily upon her, she did not allow her emotions to be strangled by the cold hands of pain that tightly held her and pulled her into deeper waters. 
Hellen's parents laying wreaths on her grave

I need thy presence every passing hour.

What but thy grace can foil the tempter's power?

Who, like thyself, my guide and stay can be?

Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
The family tried to be very sensitive to her condition, but when she sensed that everyone was trying to be protective of her and to pull her back from the demanding chores that would drain her of the little strength she had, she would gracefully fight back with uncharacteristic energy, as if to say, “see, I can also do this, I can do it.” I often saw her hide her pain and step forward to do that which anyone in her condition wouldn’t dare do. A sense of duty and the desire to help the family in any way she could always compelled her to run difficulty errands in spite of their toll on her fragile body and health. She suffered much pain in her life, and much of it happened inside of her because she didn’t want those she loved to pity her all the time. I think that is the streak she must have inherited from our grandmother who died on her knees, praying. Hellen was a fighter, a very strong lady on the inside. 

I fear no foe, with thee at hand to bless;

ills have no weight, and tears not bitterness.

Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory?

I triumph still, if thou abide with me.

The last moments of her life on 2nd September, 2010 were witnessed by her sister Mrs. Mukubwe Banda. Mukubwe testifies that there was a confidence and a hope and a longing for heaven on Hellen's face. Her hand was seemingly clasping something she did not want to let go of. She knew she was about to be ushered into a better place, and did not want anything to delay that blissful departure. And so, quietly and peacefully, as her eyes closed, never to open again on this side of the world, a light shone through the gloom and pointed her to the skies, having gallantly fought the last battle.   

Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;

shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.

Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee;

in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

As I look back on her life, I see a weak Christian who knew a strong Saviour. She endured great suffering and faced death bravely. Real Christian character shines brightly when our vulnerability is greatest and our own power is exhausted. Then, as the apostle Paul puts it, God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. 

This time last year, our tears streamed down our cheeks and our voices choked with grief, but we celebrated a life that struggled and overcame. And by and by, we shall meet her on that beautiful shore.


  1. Thanks, Isaac, for this tribute. In 2006, I also lost a niece (Mwaba Kabole) who suffered from this medical condition. I recall a number of times when she underwent the intense pain that you are referring to in this blog. Her loving parents would set aside whatever they were doing in order to attend to her until her pain subsided. We sorely miss her now but are glad that she went to a place of perfect rest.

    The following year (2007) we lost a member at Kabwata Baptist Church (Gilmore Katebe) from the same illness. His sister, Irene, is still with us and she has the same inherited condition. As I was reading your post, I remembered her because she also has a very sweet disposition though physically weak. She too is a weak Christian who knows a strong Saviour!

    1. I came across this article because our friends have a sweet little girl with the condition and recalled that I knew someone called Irene Katebe way back in Grade 4who had a who had this condition. She was a good person. Well, I never knew her where she disappered to.I am sure Irene Conrad mentions is the one. I just know it is.I will come to kabwata just to say hello

  2. Your means of explaining the whole thing in this piece of writing is genuinely good, all can easily be aware of it, Thanks a lot.
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  3. I had another son O'Brien who had sickle cell anaemia. He passed on when he was only 3 years old, though not of the sickle cell but in a RTA. I remember whenever he was in a crisis I would even condition myself not to sleep that night. We were in hospital every month. My other son Vance, he is 15, also has it. We soldier on with the Lord's help..