So often we think of missions as something big, something glamorous. Evangelists in front of a great assembly. A large team gathered for drama and street preaching. Constructing a new church building. A tribal group receiving their first copy of the New Testament in their own language. Missions is also a way of life. It is a position of the heart seeing the world, not as it would like to be seen, but how it really is with its lostness and its bondage to Satan and his lies. It is living out the gospel day to day in a way that will allow Christ to shine in every relationship in every moment. Yes, missions is great events, but it is also rubbing shoulders with others through thick and thin, being real and open about our faith. Then God can use even the basics of life to help build His kingdom—things that we would not have thought to put in strategic planning and ministry goals.
We are serving in a country where the abortion rate exceeds the birth rate, and abortion is the norm here when any defects are involved. My story shows how God can use everyday life, even against this stronghold of Satan.
“Why didn’t you take care of this ‘problem’ 10 weeks ago? Weren’t you told to terminate this pregnancy?” the gynecologist asked after completing the ultrasound and finding the baby in a sideways position.
I looked him straight in the eye and replied, “We are Christians, and we wanted the baby to live as long as it was able and as long as God wanted.”
He did not seem to really understand but at least got on with the business of inducing labor now that the baby’s heart had stopped. It was a statement I would have to repeat many times that weekend during the long process of a pre-term delivery.
We learned back at the end of August at the 13-week ultrasound that the baby had two major birth defects—an open abdominal wall and upper skull bones missing—and would not be able to live outside of the womb. It was a shock, of course, because the 9-week report had been so positive. Our gynecologist then thankfully knew us well enough to respect our wishes to not have an abortion and to let the baby live as long as it was able. We explained to him that God is the author and giver of life, and that it is under His authority that life goes on. Others were not so supportive. One doctor said that its life had ‘no meaning.’ Even close friends tried to talk us into ‘inducing labor’ in the sixth month (a late-term abortion!), since the baby would not live after birth anyway.
Over and over I had to explain that the baby was not suffering and had as much of a right to live as a baby without defects. In fact, this baby had a very rich environment because of all the violin and piano practice he heard and all the stories and songs he heard in our family interactions. I remember one Sunday in particular early in the pregnancy that just when we began singing praise choruses he started kicking around. It was such a bitter-sweet moment—one of the many times when the joy of life and the grief of loss crossed paths.
One of the keys that has helped us through this process has been continually focusing on God and His character, and on how He can use this for His glory. Keeping Him and eternity in view keeps the challenges of life in the proper perspective. Another key has been keeping open communication with Him and pouring our hearts out to Him in the times of greatest pain and sorrow. I remember several evenings when the emotional pain was so great that I felt like I almost could not breathe. I had to stop and audibly pray and tell God everything that I was hurting for—the severity of the defects, watching things grow worse with each ultrasound, the strain of monitoring the presence of life each day knowing that it could end at any moment.
During those times of grief the Lord’s presence was so close and so real, and He often brought to mind passages of Scripture learned long ago which proved to be a great comfort now. Dwelling on the questions Why? and Why us? is something we have avoided. It seems that such questions, when mulled upon, only sow the seeds of bitterness. It has been much better to mull on the questions of What can I learn? How can I know Him better? How can He use this in others’ lives?
Through the long weekend as they induced labor I saw God work in miraculous ways both in our own situation and in the doors that opened to share about the Lord with others. The hospital in Hainburg near our home was short-staffed, so the gynecologist ended up sending me to the big general hospital in Vienna. The ambulance driver wanted to practice his English with me, so during the long ride we talked. I prayed that it would not be wasted time, and somehow God worked it out for me to share with him amidst all the glitz and glamour of Vienna in December the real meaning of Christmas—that Christ came as Savior to live and die so that we could have new life through believing in Him. He promised as we parted to think life over, and that he would not forget what we had talked about.
Over and over each doctor and nurse was curious: Why let the pregnancy go on so far? Why no abortion? Why would we want another? Every 12 hours a new crew of doctors and nurses would check in, so each new group wanted to hear our story.
There was the head doctor who respected our situation and did everything to try to turn the baby to avoid a C-section (miraculously, he turned on his own at the last possible moment). There was the young doctor who was so kind when he helped us check in and who made sure that I could leave the hospital as soon as possible after the delivery. There was the nurse Maria Theresa who wanted to know what we did for a living. There was the nurse from Bratislava who was so pleased to speak Slovak with us. There was the anesthesiologist who shared that her mother was fighting cancer.
There was the nurse-midwife on duty the day of the delivery who was amazingly compassionate. She cried with us when we first held our little baby, whom we named Christopher (Christ-bearer). She was comforted by our words that God is good, but that hard things are part of being in a sinful, fallen world. We shared with her that God had not deserted us nor was He punishing us, but that He was rather helping us through. Defects happen, and they can happen to anyone.
“I am very religious,” she said; we did not have time to go deeper. We were on a tight schedule, with just four hours to hold Christopher—to say good-bye and cry and pray and reflect together on the little life that touched ours so deeply. Later we sent the midwife some literature to explain the gospel clearly; she is so close to the truth but doing good things to get to God.
Then there was the lady in the other bed in the recovery room. I saw tears in her eyes when the nurse with whom I had just shared my whole situation left. At that point I was barely able to walk because of the epidural, but I felt prompted to go over to her and ask her what was wrong. She was expecting a baby with similar defects as ours that could not live outside the womb and was scheduled for an abortion the next day. My heart ached for the pain and grieving of loss she was experiencing and for her decision to cut life short, but this was the time to comfort, not confront. I read Psalm 139:13-16 to her, about how God knows each person even in the womb and that no life is a wasted life. Next I read Romans 8:28, about how God can work some good in her situation as she looks to Him, and then II Corinthians 1:3-4 that tells us God is a God of comfort who hears us and bears the burdens we give to Him. When I shared that Christ had died for her sins and that she needed to believe and receive the gift of eternal life to really know His peace and comfort, she said she had done so. Later, when I said good-bye as I was walking out of the room to go home, she said, “Thank you. You have no idea how much your words have meant to me.” I knew they were not my words—they were the WORD.
How could one little life, just 31 weeks long, touch ours so deeply and have so much meaning? Because God is good, faithful, and true. He can work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We would not trade the four hours in the delivery room with little Christopher for anything.
As my husband and I held Christopher and said good-bye, the tears streamed down both of our cheeks. He was dressed in the cutest doll clothes; they softened his lifeless form. I wrapped his tiny little fingers around mine and said, “He has taught us so much, mainly unconditional love.”
“Yes,” my husband agreed, “we have learned to love someone who can never love us back this side of eternity. We have loved when it hurts, when others do not agree, but it has been worth it.”
“Trust,” he said next. “We have learned to trust God for an outcome that we have placed totally in His hands. We could do nothing to fix this baby, only watch it develop poorly and pray for it to live as long as it was able and that it would not suffer in death.”
I responded, “Yes, and we have learned to grieve and receive comfort from the Lord. I see how II Corinthians 1:3-4 is so true and have felt God’s hand of comfort with me when the valley of the shadow of death seemed too deep and too dark.”
I think now we know how to comfort others better. Several have avoided us in our grief, which has been very painful. We now know to ask and listen when others are hurting even if we do not know what to say.
Next I added, “Truth—we have learned to stand for the truth even when there is a price personally and physically.” The truth is so freeing. We have been able to do what is right according to the Word. Satan’s lies are so subtle, especially the lie concerning the unborn. The baby was not suffering, he was not in harm and could do no harm, and he had a rich life while it lasted.
As the nurse gave us one final look at him before taking him down to pathology, my husband leaned over to me and whispered, “Life is precious. It is a gift; it is nothing to be taken for granted. Life is something to be celebrated for what it is, not something to be terminated as quickly as possible, and God has been so good to give us a glimpse of this little life as He took him to heaven.”
The trip back home, crying with and comforting the other children there, reinforcing their faith, helping them to see God’s goodness in everything that had happened—it was all anti-climactic compared to that parting time in the delivery room. Even the little funeral with the sweet casket, the children’s hand-written notes to put in it, the wreath they had made, and the fresh snow to remind us of the brightness of heaven all seemed like a shadow.
Those four hours to say good-bye to a little person only 27 cm long will impact my life forever. He was not a ‘problem’ to get rid of at 13 weeks gestation. His life had meaning and purpose, and it is written indelibly on my heart, the heart of my husband, and the hearts of our children, all for God’s glory.