It was a typical clinic day. Patients were lined up waiting for medical care. Nothing that morning was out of the ordinary. Sick, miserable people with fevers, coughs, vomiting, and diarrhea all waited for their turn to be loved on and cared for at our clinic gate.
One little man was so patient and quiet that when they brought him in a woven net bag (bilum), I truly thought it was empty inside. To my total surprise, when I peeked in, there was a tiny, weak, emaciated little baby boy.
His mommy was a young teen girl with needs much greater than a young girl should be burdened to carry. Her mama had died, and then, in her time of loss and grief, she was drawn into a wrong relationship. Getting pregnant by a man that did not want her as his wife was definitely not the help that she needed. She was devastated. Her family was angry with the shame and burden her wrong actions brought upon them. Added to her agony, she was now also very sick with TB, and her body was fighting for her life against this formidable bacterial enemy. When he was born, her baby suffered also as her own young and emaciated body could not feed his. They both needed help desperately.
I got the teen mom admitted to the hospital and on treatment for her TB. A TB ward is not exactly the safest environment for a newborn who was already emaciated. I know it would take much time and healing for his young mommy to be strong enough to care for him. So, while she healed, I cared for the tiny boy with no name.
His mom asked me to name him for her, so I choose a special name. Isaac, the promised son of Abraham. I have always admired the gentle and obedient nature of Abraham’s young son. He demonstrated that nature in his willingness to be bound, and even killed if his father wished, as a sacrifice to God. Abraham was willing to make that unspeakable sacrifice of what was most precious to him, but Isaac also was willing to allow his own life to be sacrificed as well. I could see this gentle, loving spirit in our little man even from the start. He guzzled down bottles as fast as we could make them, but he never complained in between feeding times. He was just the sweetest little guy. Never demanding, only patiently taking life as it was handed to him. My heart was forever lost as I enveloped him deeply within.
We all fell in love with this sweet baby. In time he grew and flourished enveloped in our love. It never ceases to amaze me, though, how fast nine to 12 months creeps up on us. That is the time frame that we know is best for transitioning babies to a forever home. Beyond that point, stranger anxiety sets in, and the babies are fearful of new people and situations. Before that time, they cannot sustain their life with solid foods well. They need to be able to live without a bottle. I do not usually put bottles in the village unless there are absolutely no alternatives. Many of our national families live in villages with dirt floors, woven mat walls, and dried kunai grass thatched roofs. They wash and get cooking and drinking water from the same river, often distant from their home. With obvious difficulty to follow good hygiene in a situation like that, and with clean water being difficult at best, using baby bottles for feeds in the village is often a recipe for disaster.
The dreaded day approached that we had planned with his mother’s family to return our little man to them near the village, high at the peak of the mountain. Tearful goodbyes tore at my heart as I knew such a young mom would need family support, and we saw little of that for this orphaned young mom.
My concerns proved to be right. A few weeks after our painful goodbyes, placing him in the arms of his aunty, we found out that her family wanted to get compensation from the biological father for giving this burden to them. The way compensation works is that the one giving the money usually gets the child. A male child in the clan is highly prized in a tribal village society. Strength of the family line, they often feel, is in the number of their male members. So my sweet boy was shifted once more to the home of his biological dad’s sister, a woman who had not been able to have children of her own. We quickly found out that there was a reason God did not bless her with kids. She was so focused on gambling and drinking and having her “good ole time” in life that she neglected my baby. He was so compliant and easy going she just basically ignored his needs, as he never fussed or made himself bothersome. He grew thinner and weaker each passing week.
My heart was just torn at the thought of his abuse from neglect. It was so disturbing to me that I became almost obsessed with the burden my heart carried for him. Every night I would spend hours praying, pleading with God to intervene. Every day my heart was heavy with concern for his well-being. I could not sleep, and eating was getting difficult as the anxiety became overwhelming.
Finally, the reality of my sin of worry hit me right between the eyes. I was reading Philippians chapter four in my devotions. I use that passage continually in my clinic ministry helping my patients learn to deal with life stresses in healthy ways by utilizing prayer and giving the issue over to God. God lovingly reminded me to get back to “Mary mode” and position myself at Jesus’ feet, trusting him and meditating on his truth rather than being “Miss Martha” freaking out about my circumstances, spinning me out of control.
I have learned, and continue to learn, that God is orchestrating a story much larger than just me and my life. I am just a sentence in the encyclopedia of his eternal plan. I had to give my burden to him and trust he had the best solution for my beloved baby.
The freedom that comes from surrender is an overwhelming peace that blankets our souls. It is the cold refreshing drink of water for our parched and burning throat of life. Stepping out of the picture and returning the paintbrush to God, my heart regained peace and God began to show me his amazing portrait as it was skillfully and beautifully unfolding for my baby.
As I waited and prayed, his aunty began to become weary with the mundane work of motherhood. Indeed, a little baby cramped her style. I cannot begin to express the joy when one morning she returned him to my care! Maybe the fact that Child Welfare also reminded their family that child abuse and neglect are punishable by prison time helped facilitate their decision to relinquish custody as well.
But now what, God? I had a couple in mind that I thought would make great parents for him and provide a solid and secure home where he would be safe and loved. God slammed that door closed, thankfully, as he saw them years down the track when they would turn away from God and leave their Christianity faster than a snake sheds his skin. That would have been disastrous!
Once again God did his thing. A local pastor and his wife—our dear friends and longtime national coworkers—approached us. They had a wonderful family, and their passion for Christ is explosive. They opened their hearts and home to my baby boy. It was an amazing plan indeed. Growing up in the home of a godly pastor with great siblings was a perfect place for the baby of my heart. The reality of my baby living literally in the village next door to me was like a loving bonus hug from God, too.
What a joy to be able to watch my baby grow up. Seeing his physical growth and watching him literally flourish in the loving atmosphere of his new family is a continual reminder that God loves my babies even more than I do.
Recently I was given an especially amazing gift. My sweet boy also began his new life in Christ. Our prayer is that God will not only bring each baby’s family to Christ, but that one day they too would hear the gospel and receive Jesus as their personal Savior as well. There is no greater joy than knowing my children, of body or heart, walk in truth!
Yes indeed, the twisted path came full circle in the most amazing way. To God be the glory for great things he does in lives simply and fully turned over to his plan.
Editor’s Note: This article is adapted from chapter six in Lori Smith’s book, Church Planting- One Baby at a Time, now available in print and e-book editions on Amazon. Used with permission.