27 November 2014

A Special Birth on Thanksgiving Day - Thursday, November 25, 2004

My mud hut

A 10-year old story from my archives on this, another Thanksgiving

“The man or woman who is ready for God and His work is the one who carries off the prize when the summons comes. Readiness for God means that we are ready to do the tiniest little thing or the great big thing, it makes no difference. We have no choice in what we want to do; whatever God’s program may be, we are there, ready.

Are you prepared to abandon entirely and let go? Abandon means to refuse the luxury of asking any questions. When you do get through to abandonment to God, you will be the most surprised and delighted creature on earth.”  
-          Oswald Chambers

When I arrived for another stay at my mud hut, I was as happy to see Charles and the boys again as they were to see me. The language barrier prevents me from communicating too well with the boys but as I pedaled onto the compound, their huge grins spoke volumes. Charles’ wife had been bed-ridden for much of her pregnancy; I hadn’t even laid eyes on her before this trip to Matunda. When I met Agnes, I liked her immediately.

A few days later, when I left to return to Nairobi, she said, “Now Deb, who is going to be with me when this baby comes? It should come any day now. This pregnancy has had me ill the entire time. I fear giving birth alone.” I reassured her she’d be just fine.

Secretly, I wished I could be with her when that moment came. Almost three weeks later - on November 21st - I saw Margaret. Just back from Matunda, she responded negatively when I asked, “Is there a baby yet?” I was surprised, but held out hope that maybe I could share in the event after all. I was to travel to Matunda the following day.

After spending the night in Eldoret, I purchased paint and food items at Matunda market, and headed on my way. Cycling the last few hundred meters in the rain, I wondered if I’d find a new baby on the compound.

Jeremiah, a young pastor friend from Nairobi arrived, as he and I had previously arranged. We visited over peanut butter and jam sandwiches, carrots, and chai. Before he left - and at their request - he prayed for Charles and Agnes and especially for the baby. Agnes was quite concerned, confident it was two weeks overdue.

As I gave Jeremiah a push towards Matunda, the sun had just set in the western sky. Just above the eastern horizon, a full moon rose. All around us, for an entire 360 degrees, the sky was absolutely stunning with pink clouds. What a sight!

Tony, Pope, Jim, and Adu

The next day, I loaned Charles my bike and gave them 200/= for a boda boda  (bicycle taxi) so they could go to a clinic to see about the baby. That evening, Charles and Agnes reported that the nurse at the clinic had concurred - the baby should come any time.

It rained heavy for two hours at night. At midnight, I awoke to voices. Rousing myself out of bed, and peeking out the window, I saw Charles and Agnes praying and singing.

Realizing it was time, I threw on my sweatshirt and joined them. Throughout the night, Agnes laid on a gunnysack on the cold crumbling cement floor, leaning against an old rolled-up foam mattress. She was indeed in labor. Mary John, a neighbor who lives just down the hill, was also present. At their request I retrieved a razor blade from my house. Charles woke the boys and got them settled in the other tiny house on the compound. As he did so, Agnes laughed, “If they hear my groans and noises, they’ll mimic me for a week!”

Throughout the next few hours, and in between the incessant rain showers, I brought my lantern and small tin lamp, as well as my flask of leftover chai for Agnes. Charles tried to light maize cobs. They weren’t dry enough from the recent harvest; the ensuing smoke made it difficult for Agnes to breathe. He opened the windows to let the smoke out but the cool night air made Agnes cold. I brought my jiko (small cooker) and charcoal; eventually the house warmed. 

In between contractions we engaged in lively conversation. We told stories, we laughed. During their narrations, every ten minutes or so, Agnes would disengage in the conversation and endure a contraction. They told us of her difficult pregnancy that had caused her much pain and suffering. She was in and out of clinics and the hospital and very weak and bed-ridden for most of the pregnancy.  

Charles added, “You know - God’s ways are not human’s ways. Sister Deb, it was God that sent you to be our friend. People can say one thing, but God has higher ways. God is power.” Charles, only educated to fifth grade, talks in broken and halting English. All the same, I find him quite eloquent.

Circumcision revelers (across the river in the Mawe Tatu area) serenaded us through the night. It continued to rain off and on. When we grew tired and the conversation waned,  Agnes pleaded, “Charles, tell us more stories to entertain us.”

Crickets counted the passing minutes. My back grew stiff and sore from sitting on a bench. Mary sat on a small box on the floor. In between doing whatever needed to be done, Charles laid down on the mattress on the floor.

Strong, and enduring the pain and discomfort like a real trooper, Agnes got weary. “Will this baby ever come?” My phone indicated the time was 3:07am. Mary suggested we find a vehicle to take her to a clinic. Agnes confided to me she saw no need to go to a clinic. “Now, what for? Where will we find one? Anyway, I still have hope.”

Instead, a decision was reached to summon a midwife in the neighborhood. One had already refused because of the unavailability of gloves. Charles headed out to find another one. I loaned them my torch (flashlight). The contractions were now five minutes apart; Agnes pushed with each one. “This is too much work,” she asserted. Mary and I occasionally helped her walk around the house. Having admired her spirited courage all night, it was apparent to me that she was plum worn out.

An hour passed; still no baby. Agnes soldiered on; it was an agonizing wait. Roosters, in their morning ritual, announced the approaching dawn. When Charles finally came back, he informed us the second midwife had also refused to assist without gloves and without being paid in advance. Agnes was disappointed, proclaiming that was a silly reason not to help someone in need.

A few minutes later, after another couple of strong pushes with no baby, she stood up, noticeably frustrated and exhausted. Wrapping her blanket around her shoulders she announced, “I’m walking to the midwife down the hill here - even if I die at her door!”

I reminded her that the woman had declined to help earlier. “When she sees my condition, now how can she refuse?” Mary asked her how she would make it with no vehicle. “I’ll just go pole pole (slowly). This baby has delayed too long!”

Charles grabbed the torch; he and Mary assisted Agnes on each side. Knowing Agnes was exhausted - and a bit stunned by her decision - I stood transfixed in the doorway. They’d gone a mere ten steps when Agnes moaned, squatted, and let out a scream.

The next sound in the still dark night was the cry of a baby!

Immediately I scooped the crying infant off of the cold wet grass. As I warmed him in my arms, he stopped crying. Charles supported his wife; Mary ran for the lantern. “Deb, there’s still something in there,” moaned Agnes. I told her the placenta hadn’t come out yet. Getting her back into the house was awkward, as the baby and I had to walk very close to her because the umbilical cord was still attached.

She moaned again and Charles lowered her. As I simultaneously squatted down alongside her, a big squirt of blood landed on my foot. Mary placed a gunnysack underneath to catch the placenta, which quickly followed. Charles then led Agnes into the house. I followed with the baby in my arms.

Once inside, Mary fumbled around nervously trying to tie the cord. I helped as best I could by holding back his curled up legs. Having completed its 9-month task, the cord was already cold to the touch. Mary was ready to cut it when I noticed she hadn’t tied the thread nearly tight enough. Eventually she completed the task of retying it; I resumed my seat on the bench. We discussed what should be done with the afterbirth. With his jembe (hoe) Charles buried it.

I couldn’t take my eyes off the child in my arms. I had the unreservedly incredible privilege of holding him for the first full hour of his life. Content and with a full head of curly black hair, he was simply beautiful. With eyes bright and alert, he looked around at his new environment.

Agnes and I marveled at the way things had developed. I checked my phone; he’d been born at 4:30am. I informed her that he looked just like Charles. Too tired to really care, she was simply relieved it was over. 

Charles continued to praise God about the course of the last couple of days. “You know, God’s a power! His ways are not like humans. People can give advice but God’s ways are higher. God’s a miracle. Look at this baby. God is a miracle.” His eyes sparkled; he laughed with joy.

“Deb, it’s for you to name this child,” declared Agnes. “If it had been a girl she was to be called Deb. But I’m not prepared to name a boy. It seems God only wants me to have boys.”

Hesitating for a moment, I considered what name to choose. Suddenly Charles asked, “Sister, what is your father’s name? I think you must have the same character as your father. You’re so kind. I want my son to have that same character.”

“My Dad’s name is Duane. Yes, he is a very kind man.”

“Then that’s the name of this boy - Duane,” proclaimed Agnes. Regardless of never having heard of the foreign-sounding name, they accepted it immediately and practiced pronouncing it.

As we continued to muse over the child’s birth, I told them today was Thanksgiving in America. I explained it’s a day set aside to give thanks to God for all our blessings.

"Duane not only has an American name, he was born on an American holiday!"

Charles insisted that I pray and give thanks to God. As I offered thanksgiving to God for the miracle I still held in my arms, emotion flooded over me; I was barely able to hold back my tears.

As the night came to a close, Charles gave Mary a push home. I sat next to where Agnes lay on the floor and laid Duane by her side. I brought the tin lamp close so she could see him for the first time. “Agnes, here take a look at your son.” Together we marveled at him.

I left to head to my own house. The sun had just come up over the horizon revealing a thick fog across the valley. It was beautiful - the dawn of a new day. 

A few hours later, Charles invited me to join them for the simple lunch he’d prepared. While we ate, we reminisced and rejoiced, repeatedly praising God.

“Deb, I didn’t know I could ever have a neighbor from abroad,” stated Charles proudly with his typical big grin revealing two large dimples. “You are not only my neighbor, you’re my friend. And now this child has a name from America. There’s no other Duane in Kenya. This child is special. God is a miracle. God is power.” Turning to Isaiah 55:8, 9 in his Bible, he read aloud -

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

If truth be told, he had quoted those verses so many times throughout the night. It seemed to be the theme of Duane’s birth. As he now read the passage directly from God’s Word, tears once again welled up in my eyes.

Indeed, God’s ways are so incredibly remarkable. What an amazing two days it’d been!

While we ate, I took advantage of the opportunity to hold Duane again. Agnes announced that I was to also choose Duane’s second name. Suspecting I may be given that honor I’d already given it some thought. I conveyed to them I thought it should be Jeremiah, after my pastor friend. In my eyes, he’d played a very pivotal role in the unfolding story. Charles and Agnes readily agreed - Duane Jeremiah. We had fun repeating it.

All afternoon, as the intermittent rain showers continued, I continued to give God the glory. What a memorable Thanksgiving this had turned out to be!

Agnes and Charles with Duane, a few weeks after his birth

current picture of Duane

As Oswald Chambers says in the opening quote -

I had been ready. I didn’t ask questions. I had simply made myself available for the tiniest little thing that needed to be done. I abandoned myself to God and to His program.


Anonymous said...

Having heard this story many times, I couldn't hold back the tears. As I have been praying for Duane for ten years, I know God has something special for him. I rejoice that I can help him with his school fees. This is Thanksgiving Day in America. I will be sharing dinner at Anna's, a friend from Kenya!! Love, Mom

deb said...

Mom, it is a pretty amazing story, isn't it and a great tribute to Dad. Thanks for faithfully praying for Duane and for sponsoring him in school. It's great you and Anna were together again this Thanksgiving. I love you!