As the crowd filtered slowly out of Catholic mass on a warm October Sunday morning in Naivasha, Kenya, a quiet mother found a place on the side lawn to sit and think and grieve. No one else understood the painful tension that now gripped her loving heart. She had reached a hard-fought conclusion. The baby in her arms, so dear a possession to her for the last 14 months, would be better raised by others. His thinning hair and underweight body told a story of struggle to anyone who stole a peek whenever she uncovered him briefly. Although she could not bear to face the truth, the finality of a lab test, she somehow knew already that she had passed on her illness to him on that bittersweet day when he came to life. He would die without proper nutrition and medicine, and her own health was already fading. There was a children’s home called Mji wa Neema (Grace Village) on site at this Catholic church. They would know what to do with him, though they did not take babies normally.
She watched him carefully one last time, studying his small eyes as they flickered like dark emeralds before closing as he settled against her warm chest. He had become part of her for the moment again, able to coexist in a painful world because she embraced him. Would he have another mother? Would he survive the countless difficulties around them without her? Her questions were mercifully interrupted by the arrival of another mother, also seeking a place to sit outside while her baby napped. As the two moms struck up a conversation, a kindred spirit developed, and she noticed the relative health of the mother and baby she now shared space with. A quickening of her senses came next, and she knew it was time. “I would like to make an offering.” she said, “Will you watch my baby for me?” Receiving a nod of approval, she gently laid her precious one on the grass, turned and entered the church through the front entrance. According to others still there that day, she left through the back exit to avoid detection and perhaps to keep from ever seeing her boy again, lest she change her mind.
Father Mwangi, the Catholic priest serving this church, handled this unique sadaki (offering) with compassion and provision. The sweet baby boy was bathed, clothed, and given milk, all at the expense of this kind man, who watched over him like a father for 3 days. He notified the police, who contacted Mr. Njagi of the Children’s Dept. in Naivasha, and thus began the process of locating a home. In the interim, Father Mwangi took him to Naivasha General Hospital for HIV screening, and the test confirmed suspicions that he was indeed HIV+. Medications and multivitamins further fortified the baby’s defenses and justified his mother’s selfless decision, one undoubtedly made after grieving and prayer in the priest’s very own sanctuary.
By the third day, Flo and the Naomi’s Village vehicle arrived at the church, having been granted care of the baby boy by Njagi. Given the name Robbie Amani (first name after me, second name means “peace” in Swahili), he landed in a giant celebration of warmth and affection on a separate lawn 30 minutes away at NV. Let’s just say his mother’s fearful questions were stilled forever on that day. Robbie belongs with us now.
Halfway around the globe, in a conference room at a Christ-worshipping, servant church in Longview, TX called, of all things, New Beginnings, Julie and I sat telling the stories of NV to pastors and new friends. My WhatsApp dinged, I looked down, and there were the photos of Robbie’s arrival, sent by one of our staff just afterwards. Next came a video, and all talking stopped for a moment as we just let the world spin and peered at a screen, watching a baby find his new beginnings. For those who do not know God, He can be so specific sometimes that He leaves His children speechless. This was one of those moments for me, though its full significance did not come until I arrived back in Kenya a few weeks later to hear the details above. I have now also held Robbie, felt his skin against mine, and I already know something of the sacrifice his mother made to leave.
I hope to see Robbie’s mother on those distant shores one day, all of her troubles gone, and thank her for this offering. Until then I pledge to help raise her boy with my whole heart, like my own. She would have done the same, no doubt, if given the chance.
For Robbie’s Mother
By Bob Mendonsa
Nov. 11, 2014