We could have been in an apartment in any “Western” country–running water, 24-hour electricity, ceiling fan–but we were in Kampala, Uganda, the “Pearl of Africa.” After an uncomplicated delivery with our first son in the United States, we felt confident enough with this second pregnancy to opt for a home birth with midwives in Uganda. Not where we actually live, far in the north near the borders of Sudan and Congo, but rather in the capital city with nearby access to modern medical facilities and an international airport, if need be. The home, then, was a studio apartment borrowed from some fellow global workers.
Thankfully it was another straightforward delivery. Noah was brought into a candle-lit world fragranced with essential oils while soft worship music played in the background. A German and British midwife team took care of all the clamping, weighing and measuring, while John took photos and rang everyone at home. I just laid there feeling immensely relieved, but shaking with the adrenaline still coursing through my veins.
When the British midwife asked me if I wanted to keep the placenta, I jokingly replied, “Sure, I’ll just slap it into my scrapbook!”
“Seriously,” she said, “I have a friend who took a blank sheet of paper and laid the placenta on it for a minute and then left the paper to dry and put it in her baby book.” Can I blame it on post-partum shock, or momentary lapse of sanity, that I did exactly as she suggested and now have a placenta blot paper in my baby book?
One of the interesting things about having babies is that it provides an endless forum for people to share beliefs and experiences of child rearing. On Noah’s second day in the world, he broke out in a normal case of baby acne. Our babysitter, a young Ugandan woman, said, “For us, when a baby develops those spots, we believe the mother is eating too much salt.” Later, when I tried to burp Noah by setting him on my knee, leaning him forward against my hand and patting him on the back, another Ugandan friend (a mother of seven) cried, “What are you doing? Are you trying to break the baby?!” Here in Uganda, mothers nurse their babies to sleep, and do not try to “bring up the wind.”
After we had returned to our home in the north, some Hindu friends came over to see the baby. As is our custom, I kicked off my sandals before entering the sitting room. When they saw me walking barefoot on the concrete floor, they grew alarmed and began instructing me to keep my shoes on; otherwise the cold would enter my body and make me sick. I dismissed this idea as superstition, and tried to explain the intricacies of viruses, but when I came down with a bad head and chest cold a week later, they admonished me and said, “See, we told you so!”
One of these same ladies, Shiva, was also pregnant and gave birth about six weeks later. When I visited her, she told me they are not allowed to eat anything for five days after delivering except a dry mixture of chopped cashews, almonds, raisins, brown sugar and ginger powder. Although packed with protein, it is hardly a feast, but my credibility had already been damaged over the barefoot episode, so I was in no position to bring nutritional advice.
During a recent visit to southern Sudan, a British global worker family living in a small town told of a time they had taken their baby boy with them to the local food market. An old woman approached them, spat on the baby’s head and rubbed the spittle into his hair. The parents carefully concealed their repulsion, but were quick to return to their car and wash the boy’s head. Later they learned this is a common practice believed to invoke a blessing on the child. The family appreciated the motive, but now, whenever they go to the market, they make sure the children wear sun hats.
Besides being interesting conversations, discussing traditions and beliefs can help us understand people from other cultures better, and connect with them at a heart-to-heart level. We become fellow parents struggling to raise our children the best we know how. Occasionally we may be able to share aspects of our faith in the course of a conversation.
Shiva’s husband, Nazer, was asking me about the name of our new son, Noah. “Isn’t he from the Bible?” he asked. I was surprised that he knew, but pleased to have this opportunity to share some biblical truths. So I told them the story about Noah and the ark, and they listened and said, “Yes, that is a good name.” Then they explained to me the meaning of their daughter’s name, which also has religious significance in Hinduism.
A few weeks later, Shiva was telling me that mothers and their babies are not allowed to go out of the house for forty days after the birth.
“Why forty?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “That’s just the way it always is.”
“That’s interesting,” I commented, “because forty is a special number for us in our Bible. Remember the story I told you about Noah and the flood? Well, that flood came from forty days and nights of rain. Also, when Jesus was just about to start His ministry, He went into the desert for forty days to fast and pray.”
“Yes, I think it is a religious number,” she agreed, and we left it at that.
Little by little, however, we are laying the common ground on which to build our friendship. In time I believe God will provide more opportunities to share His word with Shiva, Nazer, and others like them. Jesus said we are the light of the world, and these small glimmers play a part in the task of going into the world and making disciples of all nations.
When I stop to think about it, I find it difficult to imagine my Hindu friends giving up their religion, so deeply embedded in their family traditions and way of life, to embrace Christianity. Yet I know God has wonderful plans and purposes for them, and no matter where they are spiritually in their lives right now, He desires to come into a personal relationship with them.
As our children grow, they will naturally provoke more discussions on child rearing through which to share God’s plan for families and the love of His father heart for each of us. After all, God Himself came as a helpless babe into the world, not as the son of a powerful ruler whose life none can emulate, but as the son of a humble carpenter who shared our joys and sorrows. He knows best how to raise up godly children who will make a positive impact on this world He created.
In our discussions, let us keep pointing the way back to our Heavenly Father, so those who do not know Him might come to realize that they are also children of the Father of all fathers. “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:15-16). How I long to sit with my Indian friends as brothers and sisters in Christ! Then our conversations will turn into praises as we give glory to God for the children He has given us.