I have just returned home from a 10 day trip to Burkina Faso, Africa. I saw hunger, disease, hope, joy, generosity. I felt hot, dusty, thirsty, loved, appreciated, encouraged, hospitality, inspired. I was filled with heart-breaking experiences that consumed my heart with compassion. I wish I could put it into one simple post and tell you what what all this means. But I cannot.
As we walked away from sharing all those dresses, I saw Dee Dee Sterling in the doorway of one of the pastor’s dorms. She had gone to congratulate some new parents on the birth of their twins. I could see that she had one of the babies in her arms, yet was waving me over. Vickie Van Nevel and I wandered over.
Dee Dee was holding one of the the twins, neither of which had eaten since birth – five days ago. The mother’s milk had not come in. We immediately prayed over these boys and their mother.
John Arnold our Engage Burkina missionary friend, someone from babies’ family, and another from our team, Jeff Smith, had gone into town in search of formula. Dee Dee had told John, “We cannot let these babies die.” Formula is not easy to find and in fact, needs a prescription in order to be purchased. They were able to get the Rx needed, find a pharmacy that was open late, and a team member willing to purchase the expensive formula. But they were told, “You’d be better off letting those babies die.”
While they were gone, Dee Dee, Vicki who happens to have a nursing background, and I waited with the mother. We offered her a drink of water thinking a nursing mom struggling to nurse needs hydration. But those around her would only let us give her one small cup.
Water. We knew the mother needed some.
Maybe the babies needed some too. Maybe that could give them some hydration to hold them off until John and the others got back. But when would they get back? Would they have formula? Would they have what was needed?
I ran back to our camp and got an orange bandana that I had brought with me. It belonged to my son, Colin, and at the last minute before leaving had asked if I could borrow one. It was still folded up, clean, in my backpack. The bandana was torn in half, wadded up a little, and we poured clean water on each piece. And offered it to the babies: one still in Dee Dee’s arms and one in the mom’s.
And they began to suck! They were thirsty! Oh, water.
We didn’t want to give them too much so that they would want to eat when the formula arrived. Where was that anyway? When would they get back?
I offered to hold the other baby. To give the mom a break. She placed him in my arms and gave me her chair. As I began to rock, this bundle that seemed more blanket than baby, I thought she’d want a nap! After all, they hadn’t slept much in five days as the babies cried through the nights. But when she stepped into their dorm, she picked up a broom and started to sweep. Then she started the fire to make dinner. There is no rest in Burkina Faso.
This little boy was the tiniest baby I’d ever held. His skin was laying on his bones, no meat or baby fat to be found anywhere. The chicken leg I ate the night before had more meat on it…and chickens in Africa are not like the chickens at home!
I was certain this baby was going to die in my arms.
We offered the two a little more water as we waited. And they eagerly sucked it up.
Water. It’s so vital to life.
Finally, as the sun began to go down, we saw two headlights pull around the bend and toward us. It was John and the others and they had with them: a box of formula, two bottles, and…some medicine to help the mother’s milk come in!
After showing the family how to wash the bottles, prepare the formula, and how to even use a bottle, the father had questions. Normal new dad questions! How do we know when to feed them? How much to we give them? When do we feed them again? Questions a mom would not have to worry about when nursing: you feed them when they’re hungry and you feed them until they stop. But a bottle was a new thing.
We sat down the mom and the grandma and handed them each a little boy. And handed them each a bottle of formula. They touched the nipple to the the babies’ lips.
And those little boys started eating immediately.
To gasps of joy!
We prayed over them all again and decided it was time to give their family some privacy. They had a long night ahead of them.
We weren’t certain how the babies would do, but we knew they had one more chance at life. At least for a night. As we walked away, we pondered what their night would be like, what morning would bring. And tried not to think about it, really, because we really were not sure.
We were to break camp and leave the Bible school in the morning. As we packed up, we wanted to stop by and see the family yet were afraid of what we’d find. But we stopped anyway.
We were greeted with smiles! The boys had eaten, slept, and were dressed in cute little baby outfits! They were bundled in on their mat and we were welcomed to come and see them! I greeted the mom with a, “Bonjour, Mama!” and she smiled a shy, quick, smile. The dad was not so shy about his smile.
Dee Dee knelt to pray for the babies and their family once again. Tears of joy were falling on everyone’s faces…even the grandma. As we left, John told us that Burkinabe women do not show emotion. So her tears were telling.
A miracle was taking place.
Dee Dee knelt over the boys and prayed for continued strength and health and that these babies would grow into healthy young men who grew up to follow Christ just like their daddy.
This is my favorite picture of the entire trip, Dee Dee praying over:
Manasseh and Ibrihim.
In a world where it can be easier to let someone die than take the time, energy, or even have the basics needs to help them, I now have a little orange bandana in my backpack that will always remind me that sharing clean water is something we are called to do.
Water. It’s seems like such a simple thing. Yet so not simple. It’s life.
PS. We learned later in the week that the mother’s milk had come in!!