Christmas at the Bottom of a Well
My babies were so little when we left for Africa—Robin was three and Donnie only 18 months. We had just completed the adoption process for Donnie before leaving the States. Now he was “official,”and our hearts were complete with a beautiful little daughter and one adorable son.
Our young family was full of excitement and apprehension. I was going to be a global worker in Africa, a calling of God I had felt since childhood! But as a young mother, I worried over my children. My heart’s desire was to raise them to love the rich adventure of the global worker life without the resentments I had seen in some children. But Burkina Faso was not a metropolis, and Donnie was a curious toddler who poked and picked up everything. No fear of man—or bug, or snake, or scorpion! How could I keep them safe? How would all the days and the years ahead come together for us—for my babies?
When Donnie was three he experienced a “defining moment”in his little life. It was quite a momentfor us all, but none, save God Himself, knew how far reaching it would be. For me it deepened my understanding of God’s promise that He works good in “all things,” not just isolated “adult” incidents. He works too in a child’s life for their long-range good—a fact that has washed over me in confidence and comfort year after year.
Although we worked in the capital city of Ouagadougou, we also helped a small village church about two hours north. We came to love the Boulsa church and its pastor. Donnie and the pastor’s son were the same age, and they loved to play in the dirt, chase the goats, throw sun baked “turds” and wrestle. At the end of the day they were both the color of red West African dirt, but we could tell them apart by Bruno’s wonderful brown eyes versus Donnie’s grey-green eyes, dancing with mischief.
When we decided to spend Christmas in Boulsa you would have thought we had promised to take the children to Disneyland! Christmas Eve was a Sunday that year, and we all got up early to prepare for the trip into the “bush.” The kids helped us pack the car with filtered water, our guitar, and blankets for an afternoon rest. Off we went, following the deep ruts in a dirt road for two and a half hours, arriving just in time for the morning service.
Pastor Dimidou’s wife had prepared a big guinea fowl dinner, cooked in peanut gravy and served over rice, with marketplace bread and plenty of warm orange soda. We always felt very humbled at the sacrifice that was made just because we were eating with them. Though I feared the kids might ‘turn their nose up’ at something offered to them to eat, I needn’t have worried—they loved African food better than mine!
As we gathered for supper before the evening Christmas program, the African night was black and thick with the smell of cook fires, spiced food, dust and animals. The men were talking, the children playing, and we women were cooking by the fire. Suddenly there was a sound of splashing water. There was a pause in our chatter, and the pastor’s wife screamed, “A child is in the well!” As we adults scrambled over stools and pots toward the well thirty feet away, young Pastor Moise immediately climbed over the rocky sides of the well, working his way down toward the bottom. The well was about 48 inches across, with sides of sharp, jagged, latterite rock. With his back to one side, knees bent and feet bracing against the other side, he inched his way down…down.
Somewhere between the stools and the well I realized I did not see my son. When I reached the two foot lip of the well, a light was aimed into the black hole. There, at the bottom, 25 feet down, was the tiny, pale face of my three year old son. The flashlights didn’t shed enough light to see much except that his tiny face was tilted back and barely out of the water. Was he conscious? Was he standing on the bottom, or floating?
That is a moment in life when you are thankful you know God so well that you don’t have to verbalize your prayers! God was such a friend that small whispers of the heart were all that was needed. We knew He was there. We could feel Him.
The Africans’ danger cry, much like an Indian war-hoop, brought hundreds of people to Pastor Dimidou’s yard. I could hear the whispers: “Ya nasarda biiga—it is the white man’s child.” Other children had fallen and crushed their pelvic bones, never to walk again. Some wore scars where the skin was peeled from arms, legs, cheek and scalp as they bounced from side to side…falling…falling.
Then I heard a thin little voice cry out, “Mommy!” When Pastor Moise reached the bottom of the well, he pulled Donnie up out of the water, up between his legs bracing against the sides of the well. Like a monkey, Donnie hugged the pastor’s neck and chest as he began the ascent back up to the top.
When he fell into my grasp, Donnie began to cry. With lantern lights held high we searched every inch of his body and head for cuts, bruises, or broken limbs. We worked every joint. There were only wet leaves stuck to his small head, and morsels of mud on his cheeks. There was not a scratch on him! He was perfect and whole.
It was quite a miracle! But God’s purposes were not complete. He did not stop “working good.” As the village people left, they spoke quickly and in hushed tones at the impressive display of God’s power which they had seen. Among them were animists and Muslims. The chief of this village was one of the five most powerful chiefs in the nation and was himself a Muslim. He had been kind to the Christians of Boulsa but would never respond to their efforts to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. We knew, however, that the news of what the God of the Christians had done would spread.
It was no surprise that the church was filled to capacity. Within 30 minutes the entire village knew the “nasarda biiga” had fallen 25 feet into the well without so much as a skinned knee. We walked to the front where a special bench was reserved for our family. The church had written an entire “Passion Play” African style, and they had borrowed old quilts from the Catholic nuns and strung them on a rope for a first class theatrical curtain. It was going to be a wonderful evening.
Suddenly the crowd fell silent. As we turned to see what had happened, row by row people fell to their knees, off the benches, like a falling line of dominoes, until at the back we saw…the Chief and his entire entourage, standing in the doorway of a Christian church!
He was impressive. Standing 6 foot 6 inches, his robes were heavily embroidered in threads of real gold. Six others—his “court,” historians and assistants—followed him, trying to anticipate his every move. The Chief glanced about and walked immediately to us. He flashed a big smile at Donnie and picked him up, turning him right and left as if to personally examine a miracle.
We were shocked. The Chief had acknowledged a miracle of God and entered a Christian church—and, after a respectful conversation, he did not leave. He and his company walked across the aisle, sat on the front bench, and with the rest of the congregation watched an African passion play—the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ, birth to resurrection!
The Christmas that God saved Don’s life never left Don’s memory. It shaped his thoughts and concept of God, giving him complete confidence that God had a plan for his life, for his good. God’s care and purpose began when he was just a tiny little guy. Don’s adolescent and young adult life was a constant and severe struggle. He grew to be a very handsome young man, but throughout his life he fought with severe bipolar disorder and borderline schizophrenia; illnesses connected with his genetic birth parents. At 17 he was diagnosed with a life threatening disease, and at 26 he went home to be with the Lord.
My husband and I knew early in Don’s life that God did not give Donnie to us, but He instead gave our family to him…to surround him with the love of God and the secure safety of God’s grace and relationship. And it worked! At the finish of his race, Don knew that God was the “Someone” to whom he could entrust his life, his soul. Through deep pain and hurt he was confident that God had ordered his steps and made it all “good.”
I knew from that Christmas in Boulsa that I need not fear. God would watch and care for the son we loved so dearly…the son He returned to us that dark Christmas night in Africa.