In the late 1990s, Lori Smith discovered a new way to minister to her Papua New Guinea neighbors, by welcoming into her own home the desperately ill babies who were brought to her clinic and nursing them back to health outside of her regular clinic hours. Her selfless care had a lasting impact on the community. Now, the doctors, nurses and staff at the local hospital immediately respond to Lori and her patients’ needs, because they know she is the white woman who loves their babies like her own. Over the past 23 years, Lori and her husband Bill have “adopted” a total of 39 children, successfully nursing all but a few of them back to health and returning them to their families to continue their care. Lori has deeply loved every one of the babies she has cared for—but certain ones have captured a special place in Lori’s heart. One of these little ones was Daniel.
I nearly fainted when he walked into the church that Easter Sunday. It was the first time I had seen Daniel’s father since the child’s death and I was in the middle of sharing the story of God’s Easter grace.
The suffering and death of Daniel, while we were in the U.S. for our son and daughter-in-law’s wedding, was truly one of the most painful and difficult trials I have endured in three decades of ministry. We had custody of precious Daniel in our family and home for about a year. His mother, my friend, died giving this little boy life. I had loved her, and him, dearly.
After he was with us, Daniel’s family allowed him to suffer dehydration and starvation. We begged his father and stepmom to release him to a Christian home so he could be loved and nurtured—knowing they did not care for him or take him for medical treatment when he was sick. But the tribal fighting that rules in Kenemaro kept him as a male child bound to his clan, and his father refused to let him go.
Half a world away, I had no idea that Daniel’s life was being snuffed out. When I heard the news, I was devastated. My precious child was wasted, for naught.
But God was working out a plan that was unthinkable to me. After Daniel’s death, his sisters began to come to our church. They were hurting. Daniel was the gift their mommy left them when she died. But they were too young to protect and care for Daniel when he was so very sick. Losing Daniel was like losing their mommy all over again.
Then their stepmom began coming with them. She sat eagerly fascinated with God’s Word being taught in my Sunday School class.
Honestly, I had to ask God to help me hug her each week. It was hard to love her—she had let my baby die.
But I could see open doors of love beginning to penetrate this family. And when Daniel’s father came to church that Sunday, I began to fully understand the grace God had for these people. He graciously transferred His love into my angry heart. He gave me the grace to embrace and forgive this man, who abused Daniel’s mother and allowed “my” baby to suffer.
God giving us the chance to love Daniel’s family and reach out into the community that had allowed this tragedy has been extremely hard, and yet extremely effective.
Through Daniel’s death, we were able to show love and grace to people who understand only retaliation, as we demonstrate a greater love within us that God also demonstrated on our behalf.