Near the Virunga Forest in Eastern Congo….
I was visiting one of our Christian hospitals on the other side of the Virunga National Park in Eastern Congo early last year. The park, once home to silverback gorillas and other animals had been aggressively hunted by rebel soldiers with machine guns during the last 4 years of war…making sightings of animals a rare event. It was not silverbacks I was on the lookout for though; there are still stories of rebel attacks and abductions on these roads, and I was happy to reach our destination late one afternoon in March 2003.
When I arrived at the hospital I was brought to the maternity ward, the scene of a large commotion earlier that week. A woman had died in the night during childbirth, leaving behind an apparently healthy baby boy. Her husband had blamed the newborn child for his wife's death, one of a long series of tragedies that had befallen his family in recent months. He reportedly told the nurses he would have nothing to do with the baby, stating that if he took it…"he would throw it in the forest on his way home."
And so it happened, that I beheld a newborn boy on the edge of the national forest, in one of the more dangerous and unsettled parts of the world, without a family. "Why don't you take the child home Doctor?" the nurses on duty asked me. "Surely you can support another mouth to feed." ‘Taking this child home' occupied much of my waking moments those next two days, as I worked with doctors and nurses and staff trying to resolve a myriad of problems far more complex than the future of one baby boy. Still the child's fate was foremost on my mind the entire time. I knew that without a mother the infant's chance of survival was small. Babies whose mothers die in childbirth have a very high mortality rate their first year of life in any part of Congo. It is estimated that less than half of such children survive past their first birthday; and what would be the fate of "Bébé Hôpital" (Hospital Baby) as the nurses had named him?
I thought of calling Ann, halfway across the African continent in the capital city of Kinshasa …but I had no way of contacting her either by radio or phone. I had flown in a week earlier on a United Nations flight and could likely take the child back on the same plane…but would have to bribe my way through immigration officials on the other end.
The child's father had left without signing any documents; only stating "he could not bear to look upon the child". He could change his mind, couldn't he, and come back that afternoon….or the child's grandparents next week? "What right did I have to flee with this child who was not my own?" I asked myself. And if I did take him home what would I say … "Hi honey, look who I brought home." If we raised the baby in our family, surely we would bond with him. He would call me "Dad" and Ann, "Mom"….and he would be our son. But legally adopting children and being able to leave Congo with them is nearly impossible. It would be a diplomatic feat wrought with years of legal challenges at best. Congo does not readily adopt out its children. We would be emotionally and physically tied to Congo for years not willing to leave for the sake of this child.
In the end ‘taking the child away' did not seem like the right decision and I looked for interim solutions. Finding another to nurse him would be difficult as most lactating mothers are already malnourished and have little enough for their own babies. Powdered milk or even milk producing animals do not exist locally. In the end I made some meager provisions with the staff on duty, prayed that they would do the best they could, and departed with a very heavy heart…and debated turning back multiple times during the long flight back to Kinshasa.
Return eight months later…
I returned to Rwanguba hospital last week while in Eastern Congo on a support visit and foremost on my mind was the fate of this child. "Where is ‘Bébé Hôpital" I asked the nurses on duty as I arrived. "Who, they asked. They didn't remember! I recounted the story. "Oh Josiah!" they said, "He's at the Doctor's house."
Dr. Mutuka is a young Congolese doctor, who I had met during my last visit. He had recently gradated from a Christian medical school, and had volunteered to assume the post of medical director in an area where many health professionals had fled. It would be a tall job for even one with experience, and I wondered how this young man, without an internship or postgraduate training would do. It wasn't even clear how he would support himself, but he seemed dedicated. "Did he take the baby in?" I asked myself…. a young single man who aside from the care of an infant had a 150-bed hospital on his shoulders?
He did. Dr. Mutuka was just coming out of surgery and accompanied me to his house. He had hired a local village girl to care for the child during the day. He and the boy shared the same bed and had meals together. They spent every non-working hour together. The girl brought the child in from his nap and his eyes brightened at the sight of his father, home during the middle of the day… "Papa!" the child exclaimed, reaching out for Dr. Mutuka. During our one-hour conversation, the child never left his father's side.
"God has given me a son in the midst of tragedy" said Dr Mutuka, "and brought joy to our lives". "Perhaps one day soon" he smiled, "he will give me a wife to complete our family."
Knowing the faithfulness of God...I suspect he will…and Josiah, born in the most hostile part of the world, to a dying mother and angered father, will have a family far beyond conventional expectations. Thank you God for allowing me to make the right decision in March 2003...and trust You for the care of this precious and dear child!