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The Child is Dead

This is difficult to read but another reminder why ABWE is working hard at raising up funds and people for a new hospital in the northern part of Togo.  I’m part of a team that is raising funds for this project and I’m going there in May with a group of men from GLBC to help move the building project along.

March 7, 2010

“Man knows not what a day may bring forth.”  If it’s not in the Bible, the truth expressed certainly is.  Esther and I were awakened by the phone at 2:30 on Monday morning.  I flicked on the light, looking at my watch as I stumbled to the dresser where the cell phone continued playing the little ditty they put on those things.  I was greeted with the words, “L’enfant est mort!” The child is dead!  Still trying to wake up, I replied rather groggily, “Quoi?” What? Followed by the question, “C’est qui?”  Who is this?  Felix, the young school teacher married a year ago, then gave me his name and let me know that the baby boy they had brought home from the hospital four days earlier, had died in the Mango hospital.  I told him I would be over right away, pulled my clothes on, and got into the car.

I was greeted by a scene of abject sorrow.  Death in Africa is not a private matter.  Day or night, neighbors and friends will gather to be with those walking through this dark valley, and there was a group of men standing in the courtyard, while several women sat in a room with the young mother, who was in shock and staring ahead seemingly without seeing anything.  How did a baby who appeared healthy a day earlier suddenly run a high fever?  It couldn’t be malaria, as he was just four days old.  As we talked I learned that his fever had spiked to over 104, and they took him into the hospital.  There was no doctor since it was the weekend, and even the head nurse left after seeing the baby and ordering an IV.  That left a few nurses aides, on weekend duty, and they proceeded to try and insert a needle for the IV.  That’s a difficult thing to do with a baby even for well-trained medical people, and while there was a lot of poking in hands and arms, they evidently never succeeded.  While they continued to try, Felix’s son passed into eternity.

In African culture, newborn babies don’t have funerals.  They are simply buried.  Felix and his wife attend the Assemblies of God church in Mango, and he had tried, without success, to contact their pastor.  I told him that I would go to the man’s house and see if we could bring him.  I might add, although it would seem evident, that in African culture, it is not considered impolite to wake someone in the middle of the night in the case of a death or other important event.  One of the men standing in the courtyard offered to go with me to show me the pastor’s house, and we got there at about 3:30.  After several soft taps on the steel gate, his wife came out, and informed us that her husband had gone to Dapaong for the night to be with a fellow pastor who was in a coma.  But she said we could contact a couple of the deacons in the church, and explained where we would find them.  Four o’clock found us tapping on another gate, while I looked around and saw a girl sweeping the yard.  They are early risers here in Mango.  We eventually located the two deacons, and returned to Felix’s house.  By this time the owner of the house had given his permission to bury the baby at his place, and a hole was being dug in a spot just outside the wall.  Eighteen inches was deemed deep enough, and they asked me to bring the baby out for burial.  “We sorrow not as others who have no hope,” but it is a sorrowful event to take a little baby, wrapped in a cloth, and place him in a hole in the ground.  He was a beautiful child, and he simply looked asleep. I thought for a moment that he might just wake up, and we would joyfully find that we had all been wrong.  I asked if they wanted to keep the pagne (cloth) in which the little body was wrapped, and Felix said, no.  The child would at least have the dignity of being clothed in his burial.  I prayed, and one of the men took the body from me and stooped down to place it in the shallow grave.  They put several pieces of broken pottery over the bundle, perhaps to keep most of the dirt from touching it, and also to protect it from the pigs or dogs that might try to dig it up.  They refilled the grave with dirt, and we all went inside.  It was still night, but morning was coming.

There is shock and grief, but God has been answering prayer and bringing comfort.  Felix’s wife is dragging her foot around, which leaves us wondering if some incompetent gave her an injection and damaged the sciatic nerve.  The midwife said no, but we have our suspicions.  She is recovering from the episiotomy they performed.  Felix called it a mini-cesarean, and we finally figured out what he meant.  His mother-in-law was coming to see the baby, and in good African fashion, they decided not to tell her that the baby had died, until she arrived in Mango.  So grandma came expecting the joy of a new grandchild, only to discover that she had come to grieve with her daughter.  Felix explained that he didn’t want to shock her over the phone.  I think they were also afraid that she wouldn’t spend the money to come if she knew that her grandchild had died.  His wife really needs her mother as she recovers from the ordeal of the difficult birth, the death of her firstborn, healing from the episiotomy, and hopefully, to get over the paralysis she is experiencing in her foot.  “Man knows not what a day may bring forth.”

We said goodbye to the team from Washington Heights in Dayton.  They were troopers, and we do appreciate all they to move the project along.  The elections on Thursday were peaceful.  One opposition candidate is crying voter fraud, but I think he is whistling in the wind.  From what we saw here in Mango, people were free to vote their conscience, and we did not see anything that looked like intimidation (the accusation of this particular candidate).  We do pray for continued peace, and to this point we haven’t heard of any violence, even in Lome, where it was most likely to happen.

Finally, we are at long last free to announce to the world at large, and in particular those who know Pastor Laré, and Akofa, Nogbedji’s daughter, that they are indeed engaged to be married!   Esther and I went to his church in Dapaong today, and Akofa came along, taught Sunday School to the children, and then served us lunch, very self-consciously, I might add, in Laré’s house.  Projected date for the wedding is sometime in May, after Esther and I return from Ryan (our Ryan) and Meredith’s (his fiancée) wedding, on April 24 in Virginia.

Yours in the joy of His service,

Tim & Esther Neufeld

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