What if you could save a person’s life, but decide not to because of your beliefs? I think about this question a lot. My wonderful and amazing friend Tim died tragically because of his family’s belief. He was the second born in a family of three brothers and two sisters, all devoted Jehovah’s Witnesses, who lived according to the principles of their faith. May his soul rest in peace!
Tim was a very hardworking young man, bright and energetic, always top of the class. We played sports together, football, basketball, and volleyball. I was proud of Tim and I still am proud of him. My community was blessed to have him.
Tim was loved and respected. He was never involved in a quarrel. I often met him at the borehole drawing water, he would pump water for old men, pregnant women, whoever needed help, and ensure they got water before he would. You’ll agree that few young men will do that: pump water for others before themselves.
I loved watching him play football. Oh yes, he was very good at almost any sport. I think you know it is not easy for someone to play two different sports very well. Tim was great at football and basketball. He always smiled when he played, that’s how much he loved these games. He was made captain of the teams because of how friendly and respectful he was to his fellow players. Everybody agreed he was the best Burundian sportsman in my community.
Joy never lasts long. One moment I was watching Tim playing at the defense post. He came face to face with James, a striker who accidentally kicked Tim in the abdomen. He fell instantly; everyone including us watching thought it was nothing serious, until the seconds become minutes, and Tim was still down.
Then panic arose. His teammates rushed him to the Dzaleka Health Clinic. The doctors saw he was severely injured, and immediately transferred him to Mtengo Wantenga Hospital in Mponela. Tim needed a blood transfusion but the doctor was soon faced with a dilemma. Tim’s parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and they made it clear that they didn’t want their son to receive blood transfusion.
The medical team did their best to persuade his parents, but blood transfusions were against their religion. Tim’s parents refused to compromise their faith, even if it meant risking their son’s life. Tim’s father was constantly at the hospital to ensure that the doctor didn’t give his son blood transfusion. What a pity it was for the young man Tim!
It is shameful that none of his friends knew what was happening at the hospital. His family did not allow anyone to visit. Tim’s condition worsened. The doctors tried their best to stabilize him, but without a blood transfusion his body couldn’t heal. Tim’s parents remained by his bedside, waiting for a miracle. Hours went by, and it became clear that Tim was not going to make it. It did not take long for the doctor to see Tim’s death. It was heartbreaking. This death could have been avoided if Tim had been given the medical treatment he needed, but Tim’s parents remained steadfast in their belief that they had done the right thing. They believed Tim was in a better place now, and that one day they will one day reunite.
The entire community got very angry hearing of the tragedy. I was outraged as well. Tim’s life had been needlessly cut short, and the community of Dzaleka questioned the Jehovah’s Witnesses stance on blood transfusion. It sparked a debate about religious freedom and the right to medical treatment. Many argued that parents should never refuse life-saving medical treatment for their children. Others, mostly Jehovah’s Witnesses, defended Tim’s parents’ right to practice their religious beliefs.
Tim’s football club wept for the loss of their player. James especially cried like a young baby, as he felt responsible. At the funeral, the players carried the coffin to the graveyard. All the camp’s nationalities were present. His football team placed his jersey on his coffin as a sign of respect and love. The tragedy of Tim’s death continues to be a painful story in our society.
Tim’s parents continued to draw comfort from their faith, but Tim’s elder brother Jean changed. He renounced his faith and joined the Anglican church. Tim’s parents never questioned the decision they made that cost their son’s life.
16 June, 2023