We’re not writing metaphorically. There is a new baby in our home. His name is Gabriel Mugisha. He was born on 12 March 2011 at 30 weeks into his gestation. At birth he weighed 1.3 kilos (2 pounds and 14 ounces.) He entered our home on Friday, 13 May 2011. At this point he weighed 1.6 kilos (3 pounds and 8 ounces.) This is the story.
For the last several years Christ’s Church in Rwanda leaders have been praying about how to engage Rwanda’s problem with Orphans and Vulnerable Children. With the results of genocide, HIV, and poverty there may be as many as 1,000,000 vulnerable children in Rwanda. Of this number there may be as many as 4,000 in institutional care.
J.I. Packer in his book, "Knowing God", writes, “Our understanding of Christianity cannot be better than our grasp of adoption. Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers.” He draws his thoughts from Scriptures such as:
“For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children…. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:14-16, 23; New International Version.)”
“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship (Galatians 4:4-6; New International Version.)”
“ For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will (Ephesians 1:4-5; New International Version.)”
Thus to our simple reasoning adoption of vulnerable children into families is the best God’s people have to offer. All of us who are part of God’s family were once orphans whom God adopted. Thus our spiritual journey prepares us for the earthly reality of adoption.
Ezekiel described God’s adoption of humanity with these words,
“On the day you were born, no one cared about you. Your umbilical cord was not cut, and you were never washed, rubbed with salt, and wrapped in cloth. No one had the slightest interest in you; no one pitied you or cared for you. On the day you were born, you were unwanted, dumped in a field and left to die.
But I came by and saw you there, helplessly kicking about in your own blood. As you lay there, I said, ‘Live!’ (Ezekiel 16:4-6; New Living Translation)”
When we were like an abandoned child, God looked upon us and said, “You are spoken for.” Thus CCR leaders have concluded our stand must be one of speaking for the most vulnerable and proclaiming with action they are our own children. From biblical conviction we step into the pragmatic world of mystery. We are called to the uncomfortable. We only know our instructions, but few details of the journey. We act much like a child obeying our parents without full understanding. Trust and obedience is the path of discovery.
Rwanda’s Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (MIGEPROF) has recently begun a policy of de-institutionalizing the care of orphans and vulnerable children. It is a challenging policy. The just of it is to do several things such as prevent children from falling into vulnerable situations, when they do fall into vulnerable situations get them quickly into a home like environment, and finding ways to get children who are in institutions into families. CCR concludes this agenda is one that displays the ultimate truths of God.
But how do we practically proceed? A messenger named Gabriel Mugisha will show us the way.
Roger and Faith Shaw are friends of ours at CCR. They are entrepreneurs, but also care givers to children. Faith was separated from her parents as a small child in Rwanda’s chaos of 1959. During the separation one of our region’s historical figures, Bishop Festo Kivengere provided care. The story lives on as Faith returns the care to many vulnerable children. On Monday, 9 May Faith asked Jana if CCR could provide a home for a child of whom she had become aware.
At this point, Jana and I decided we would be the first ones at CCR to open our home. We understood that the child was a healthy baby girl in the Rwamagana hospital who had been abandoned two months earlier. From our understanding the time had now come for the girl to leave the hospital, but there was no family willing to take the child.
Jana and I made a decision that we would open our home with the assumption that this child may live with us as our child for the rest of our lives. However, it is our hope that our home is a temporary stop in another family’s journey. We hope another will arise to become a permanent family for this child.
On the evening of Thursday, 12 May Jana made plans to go with Faith Shaw and Kellie Van Der Zag to the Rwamagana hospital. Our family realized there was the possibility that the baby may not have a name which would be required to fill out the proper documents. Our family decided on the name, “Malaika” which is Kinyarwanda / Kiswahili for “angel” or “God’s messenger.”
On Friday, 13 May Jana began the journey with Faith and Kellie to Rwamagana. On their way, I began thinking of the need for another name to communicate this child was “Spoken For.” I began trading messages with friends and came up with several possible names such as “Uwacu” meaning “Our Own,” “Uwatowe” meaning “Chosen One,” and “Iranzi” which means, “God knows.”
As a few friends and I were trading messages, Jana called with startling news. Our girl was a boy. She / he was not a full term healthy baby, but born prematurely. She got off the phone.
Another phone call came shortly. What should we name him? In the background I heard group consensus for “Mugisha” which means “A Blessed Boy.” I agreed. Then I quickly added “Gabriel,” “The Strong One of God” who explained to Daniel a visions of historic events (Daniel 8:15-27; 9:20-27), and announced to Mary the coming birth of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). Thus Gabriel Mugisha was named in a hurry and blessed to be a messenger of God’s people.
He came home and spent his first night with us. We all held him. Some of us had seen children this small in neo-natal intensive care units. None of us had held a child this small. His legs were as small in diameter as my thumb. Our two oldest children, Sophia and Caleb attended the KICS Prom that night, and visitors passed through our home. Gabriel was part of our community. I knew in my heart that I was at least Gabriel’s uncle for life.
Jana shared more of Gabriel’s story. He was born at 30 weeks gestation in a home in rural Rwanda. The following day a woman brought him to the Rwamagana Hospital. The hospital did not have formula and for a short season Gabriel was fed cow’s milk until the Rwamagana Mayor found formula. His ability to survive those first days and weeks testifies to his strength and God’s intentions.
Gabriel enjoyed being held by us. He is easy to comfort. Yet, on that first night he did not seem to hunger for human touch. We worried if he was eating enough. We worried about his health. Yet, we were at peace.
On Saturday morning, Dr. Nathalie Gikic, a CCR member and pediatrician came to check on Gabriel. She found he has a heart murmur, but it may just be part of being a new born and a valve will shortly close. Other than this Gabriel appears healthy. We will do more tests this Thursday, 19 May to find a wider diagnosis of Gabriel’s health.
On Saturday night, Gabriel turned a corner. He realized that he enjoyed human contact. He would only sleep if he was held. He was easy to comfort, but Gabriel chose to express his need for splaxna, the compassion of God shown through human touch. Those who receive splaxna are also the givers of it. Gabriel will be a messenger.
On Sunday, 15 May I spoke to both services at CCR of the 6th Commandment, “No Killing.” The best theologians teach that the Old Testament is a beautiful document that nurtures an extended family into nationhood. In the process the 6th Commandment is fleshed out to mean that we must build communities were children are nurtured and blessed (Leviticus 19:14-17). I told the story of Gabriel Mugisha and proclaimed his future.
I do not know the details. This is God’s. I do know that as long as I and Gabriel Mugisha live our lives will be entwined. I will be his mzee. I may be an uncle figure. I may be a father figure. If the Lord does not return and the Lord gives Gabriel and me life for another 25 to 30 years, Gabriel will meet a girl far more beautiful than he deserves. I will journey with him to meet her family. I will be introduced as his mzee and ponder what Gabriel Mugisha ever did to win the favor of such a beautiful girl. I will sacrifice all for his and her future. Gabriel Mugisha is Spoken For.