Being actively involved in the ministry of Goroka Baptist Bible College, we became very personally attached to each and every student. We were investing our lives not only in the concept of us being church planters, but in the growing of our national church planting partners who would carry the torch of the ministry even further than we, as non-nationals, ever could. This is not our parents’ mission field now. It is no longer a missionary papa figure, guiding the national children and leading the national church. We partner with our equally-equipped brothers and sisters in Christ, knowing that the ultimate end plan of action is for us to be led by them. We may be the starters, but they are the finishers. We may plant, but they come alongside us and water and nurture those seeds with us, and truly God has given the increase in our combined efforts.
Being someone that cares about and loves people with 100 percent of my heart, each and every student became more than an academic investment. They became children of our hearts as well. We were one big family inside of the campus borders. Through the years I have slowly become mama to many, as my love has nestled them in their times of need close to my heart under my warm mama wings, like a mama hen cuddling protectively her little chicks trying to comfort and protect them from danger.
One day will live in my mind for eternity. It was the very sad day that our dear friends, then students, and later coworkers in ministry, were facing a life- and ministry-changing emergency. They came to the door of our home in great distress that morning desperate for help. Our dear sister had become very suddenly and gravely ill. Her high fever caused her to become very confused. A debilitating virus had begun to attack her brain. Viral encephalitis was about to steal so much from these dear ones. We know God was in control even of this difficult experience. Though it was so very hard to understand and so very difficult to experience, we knew by faith it was ultimately for God’s glory. God was starting something bigger than we could at that time imagine. He was using the suffering of some of his precious children to bring about an amazing new open door that would impact thousands someday. God was giving an opportunity for this young couple, our dear students and now our family as well, to learn a new level of grace in suffering.
Completely debilitated as if she was covered by a massive cloud of confusion and agitation, this young mama was truly in need of help. It was so unlike her sweet quiet personality. Typically a loving and doting mother to her infant daughter, she suddenly became threatening and violent when her baby was near. Despite the many that misunderstood the cause of this drastic change of her mental status, thinking she had been filled and overcome with an evil spirit, her young husband stood lovingly by her side. He would not abandon his bride in this time of difficult distress. But he could not protect her from hurting herself at the same time he protected his baby girl from her out-of-control mama. He needed help.
God spoke to our hearts, asking us to take their precious baby girl into our home. This forever changed our family. It forever changed us. We learned the ministry of loving deeply, knowing that precious gift of a child was just for a short season. We were called into the ministry of foster love.
Caring for our sweet baby girl those many weeks, trying to minister to her hurting family as we did, was the start of a heart readiness God needed us to experience. Though tormented by episodes of irrational, out-of-control manic outbursts from that time onward until God finally called her to her heavenly reward just a few years back, our dear sister did slowly recover to the point of being able to mother her baby girl again.
That experience taught me that God alone could give me the ability to hold a baby in my heart knowing full well that I would eventually need to let them go again. That deep agonizing grief for me as I need to release a baby from my home, I learned, is mixed with utter and complete joy for them and their family being reunited. It is the ultimate bittersweet. It was the start of being able to lay my mama heart on the altar as a sacrifice for God’s glory. God knew this sweet pain would become my new normal. My heart would learn to hold intense love and grief, closely tied together by the string of God’s amazing grace.
Our sweet little girl’s transition back to her parents, and seeing God use them as faithful servants in the pastorate, gave us great joy over their many faithful years of ministry. Watching their family bind together and support a mom plagued with mental illness issues gave us great admiration for her godly husband and their kids. It was far from an easy path, to be sure. Yet, it gave us so much joy to know that we had a little part in helping them through just a small part of their journey as they faithfully followed God.
Our little girl has grown to become a lovely young woman now. Her daddy continues to serve God faithfully in the pastorate. The loss of her mama was bittersweet, I’m sure. They know her suffering is now ended and she is once more perfect. Their children saw the picture of true love that does not jump ship and abandon when the going gets rough. And that bond of love we had for our first precious baby of our heart, connecting us to them, will live on forever, too.
She was the first of what God knew would be many needy babies. Babies he would place, with purpose, into our home. We learned that we could survive the grief of loving for a short season while knowing the pain of giving back would be quickly upon us. It is a heart-rendering grief, which is not always a bad thing. It is a heart that is broken and is dependent upon God. Yes, this sweet baby girl was a delicate seed that started a garden of precious little ones who have grown over the years into a vast field in this mama’s heart.
She will always be my first baby love gift I will one day be able to place at the feet of Jesus.
Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from Lori Smith’s recent book, Church Planting- One Baby at a Time, now available in print and e-book editions on Amazon. Used with permission.