Monday, February 22, 2010

A Baby's Cry in Africa

We pulled into Taiba about 4:30 in the afternoon. There is no easy way to get there. As we made our way over a road that often required us to drive off-road just to make it there I couldn’t help but think of correspondence between missionary doctor Stanley Livingston in Africa and some potential helpers back in England. They asked, “Dr. Livingston, is there a good road to where you are?” And Livingston replied, “I don’t want people who will come only if there is a good road; I want people who will come if there is no road.” If you look at a map of Senegal, it shows a highway from Dakar all the way to just north of Taiba (which is a mile or so off the road). But what looks good on a map doesn’t always translate into reality. There was a road all right, but only in the loosest definition of the word. Still, we made it.

And our Taiba friends were there to meet us. They are warm, wonderful, hospitable people. They helped us set up our tents in the small sandy courtyard of the clinic in which we’d be doing our work. They brought us food. And they shared some news: the population of Taiba had increased by one about an hour before we arrived. A new baby had been born right there at the clinic. And you know what else? That very night a second new baby was born at the clinic—a real population explosion before our very ears. This clinic is a rather dilapidated, open-air facility. The baby was born not twenty feet from our tents so we heard all the usual sounds associated with birth—a mother’s groans and a baby’s cry. That was baby number two.

And there would be one more—born on our last night at the clinic. The mother came in just as we were bedding down for the night. And this birth was more difficult than the one on our first night there. Mom had a hard time—groans and a scream or two. Whoever chose the word labor to describe this experience chose wisely. The lady labored. And we labored with her. This went on for a few hours until one last hybrid scream/groan … and then a baby’s cry. And this baby cried for awhile. I got out of my tent about four in the morning to make my bladder flatter—you've got to drink a lot of water in the desert, you know. The mid-wife was coming out of the room as I passed. She smiled at me and said, “Deux-heure trente-cinq.” She was telling me the time of the birth: 2:35 in the morning. I looked in the open door to the clinic room and there was the new grandmother mopping up the blood off the mattress upon which her daughter-in-law had given birth. She smiled at me. I smiled at her and put my hands together in a congratulatory gesture. She didn’t speak French; she spoke Wolof. I couldn’t communicate with her except by gesture. But she understood my gesture and, with bloody rags in hand, smiled all the more broadly. And in the background the baby cried again.

I stretched my legs a bit before I climbed back into my tent, but I was too wide-awake to sleep. Mom was trying to nurse the baby, and the baby was still crying now and then. A light sleeper finds sleep elusive in such conditions. But that was okay with me. It gave me time to think and reflect on our trip. And while there is much I could say, I want to focus on that baby’s cry in Africa.

Upon reflection, three births in our five days in Taiba became more than a census figure for me. I believe those births to be a prophetic sign that God is at work in Taiba, that God will one day bring new birth to Taiba—not the birth that comes from the love of a husband and wife, but the birth that comes from above; the kind of birth about which Jesus spoke when he told Nicodemus (at night, by the way) that if he wanted to enter the kingdom of God he must be born again.

This was our second trip to this village. We have worked with their immigrants in Paris once and now two times in Taiba. We are building relationships. In our time with them in Paris last September they told us that our friendship was becoming more like family—as if we had the same mother and the same father. And this time in Taiba they allowed us to show the Jesus film twice and to show an evangelistic film twice as well. We were able to pray with most of the 1000 or so we treated in our medical, dental, and eyeglass clinics. We were able to exalt Jesus in new ways. And in that same conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus also said these words: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” We lifted Him up as high as we could this time around. And I believe with all my heart that in God’s good time in days and months and years to come, many, many of them will find eternal life in Jesus.

A baby’s cry in Africa—three babies to be exact. And those births on the first and the last nights of our stay become a kind of parenthesis of hope around our efforts there. There was a groan and a cry and there was blood. It reminds me of another baby’s cry in Bethlehem—a baby born to save us from our sins. It reminds me of a cross and a groan and a cry and much blood. And it reminds me that while God often speaks and works in unusual ways, He continues to be busy about His purpose of seeking and saving the lost. I believe that’s what He’s up to in Taiba these days, and I can’t wait to see it come to pass.

Hmm. A baby cries in Africa … and I can’t help but smile.


  1. Thank you John -- brings a smile to me as well.

  2. I could visualize the scene, through your gift for word pictures we all get to go!
    I am so inspired at how God uses you to live a full, vibrant life of humility to touch the world. Thanks, Jeanette

  3. John, thank you for sharing this beautiful story and for connecting the babies so clearly to Jesus. Your words stir His Spirit within me to love and pray for the people of Senegal.

  4. Wonderful, the way God works. Signs of His grace and His coming kingdom even in a remote village in Senegal. Bless you for going and thanks for sharing.

  5. When I attempt to write I am afflicted with expressive aphasia, so I have a keen appreciation for your ability to paint word pictures. Thank you for making the time to inspire us by writing about your experiences on the mission field. I can hardly wait to hear the report tonight!

  6. This is truly inspiring to me. I've never done anything like this in my life. I pray that God will use me more and more and that I too can work in missions one day. I am thinking about studying a second language this summer. What would you recommend pastor ? I am going to order a study kit from Rosetta to take to Shreveport where I will be working for the next 3 months. I am excited. I love reading your stories. They give me great hope. :)~:)~:)