It would be easy to look at how Judah’s life began and wonder how the Lord would ever be glorified in such a devastating circumstance. Unfortunately, I spent quite some time asking this question. I’ve had him for just two weeks, but Judah’s story starts long before his grandmother handed him to me one Wednesday morning. It is a story already filled with such tragedy and sadness, but as I look over the last 14 days I also see a story of a God who is willing to leave his flock of 99 sheep in order to save the one who is missing.
I have had the privilege of witnessing (and photographing) a number of births back in Florida; each time I am overwhelmed by the abundant joy and boundless hope of a new life. But when I think of how Judah’s life began, my stomach ties itself into knots. His family tells of his mother’s last hours and I know that I cannot truly comprehend the words they are saying. She was unable to stay in the hospital after her C-section because the family could not pay and so they took her home immediately after giving birth. The only option they had when she continued to bleed was hoping that it would stop on its own. I have been to her house and it haunts me as I picture her bleeding out on the dirt floor. When it was clear she was dying, her family put her failing body into a wheelbarrow and tried to push her up one of the steepest hills I have ever walked on so that they could find a taxi on the main road. It was too late by the time they made it to the hospital. After she was pronounced dead, they put her body back into the wheelbarrow and pushed her home for the burial.
After she died, Judah, along with his two siblings, was left with their grandmother and aunt. It is unclear how long they had him; we still don’t even know which day he was born. One of the few things we do know that the family did not have the means to provide any food other than coconut water for Judah.
On September 17th, four days after arriving in Liberia, a friend was telling me of a woman who just died after giving birth. As she was talking, all I could think about was a reoccurring dream I had in the time before I came to Africa, a dream I had only shared with three people. So many details were unclear but it only took a few seconds for me to know the Holy Spirit was speaking to me. I didn’t know how it was going to unfold, especially because this child still had family, but less than 12 hours later they were sitting at our table talking about handing over their child to me. As I sat there with a mother who had just lost her daughter and knew she couldn’t provide for her grandson, I felt my heart as it both broke for this family and felt an overwhelming peace in knowing God had orchestrated this meeting.
I wish that everything got better the day that I began caring for Judah, but it didn’t. Although he was finally drinking milk, he wasn’t gaining any weight. He has spent five of the 14 days I‘ve had him in the hospital being treated for malnutrition and multiple infections from the water he was being fed. The doctors have run many tests and found more than one serious issue. I have been told multiple times that Judah would have died if he had stayed where he was. There is much that could be discouraging and yet I hold this little boy in my arms and see hope where there was no hope. I see a baby who has had to fight far too much in his short life but has come out victorious.
In the time that I have had Judah, I have often asked myself if I would be content if the sole reason God brought me to Liberia was to care for Judah. I look at him and think that I couldn’t possibly love him any more than I already do, but I also look around and see how many Judah’s there are in this country and I want to do more. I had planned on spending my days here in classrooms with tens of children, but suddenly my days became occupied with a newborn before I could even start teaching. Each day there are people who come to the house begging for money. There are children who walk hours back and forth to school with empty stomachs, and parents who can’t provide more than a tin room for their family to live in. I look around and see a world that is stuck decades in the past, still waiting for clean water to drink. But as I think about all of the things I wish I could do, I also think about the story of the lost sheep. I wonder if the shepherd who left the 99 sheep in order to find the one that is missing ever questioned if it was worth it; I don’t think he did. I think he put all that he had into bringing back the one sheep that went astray because he understood that that sheep would die otherwise. Over and over again I have asked the Lord what His will is for me and He responds with just three words: “Feed my sheep.” When I am overwhelmed and anxiety begins eating at me, still He says, “Feed my sheep.” When I travel across the world to serve His people and wonder why I am here, He says, “Feed my sheep.” When I have Judah in my arms and I am on my knees asking God what to do with this precious boy, He says, “Feed my sheep.” His words are always the same. And so that is what I will choose to do today. I don’t know what will happen in three months or next year; I don’t know how to answer people’s questions about my intentions with Judah, or whether I will adopt him one day. When I feel lost and unqualified for such a task as caring for this little boy, I will trust that the Lord knew what He was doing when He gave me those simple instructions. And when I have no idea what the future holds, today I will choose to trust in Him and feed His sheep.
Judah is still in the hospital and has quite a long road ahead of him as he fights some serious infections. If you would like to donate to help with his costs, you can do so at https://www.gofundme.com/f/1rctqid61c
Thank you so much in advance!