Philip & Sara Matheny
Last week, we met a baby who had lost his mother at birth just seventeen days before he arrived with us in Banfora. An aunt and uncle had kept him alive by feeding him mashed corn and millet dissolved in water. As a tiny newborn, he was obviously not going to last much longer on this diet. We had the joy of watching Dramane teach the couple how to make formula, how to use a bottle, and watched him guzzle his first real meal since birth.
But that isn’t all. We met another rescued baby who had been abandoned in a latrine, a grandmother caring for her grandchild who she found in an abandoned house with his mother’s body, a five-month-old who lost his mom to malaria five days prior, and a man wearing a black turban who thanked us exuberantly (although his wife had died) because his baby is still alive.
We also met two twins being raised by an aunt after their mother died following their birth (when all the family thought she was simply resting), and a grandfather who came to get formula for his grandchild after the mother died of malaria and the father hung himself in his grief. In our two days in Banfora, we heard story after story of tragedy, and yet in the grief there was joy and often smiles because the tragedy had been stopped short.
The babies are alive! They are all receiving formula through our Formula Distribution Ministry while being cared for by their own extended family.
When we share these stories (and there are many more to tell), we do not want to leave the impression that all of Burkina is living in desperation. This is a country full of hard workers, big smiles, and extreme generosity.
What we find is that our work puts us in direct contact with the small segment of the population experiencing a family crisis who live in the rural (and often poorest) areas of this already-impoverished country. As the Word says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted,” and we get to experience this watching Him work in Banfora.
During last week’s visit to Banfora, the Lord answered our prayer: “May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us- yes, establish the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:16-17).
At first glance, you might say our neighbors live in poverty. They sleep on straw mats rather than beds, haul water inside by the bucketful every day, wash their clothes by hand and go without fans or refrigeration because of the cost of electricity.
But we don’t see them as poor.
Our neighbors are the ones we sat with after the loss of their sons, the bride who asked us to drive her to her wedding reception, and the proud parents we were honored to drive home from the hospital with their newborn.
They are the ones with whom we exchange ‘Merry Christmas’ and ‘Good Ramadan,’ the children we share Bible stories with, the men who invite us to drink tea under the mango tree, and the tailor who made aprons and ties for us to give as gifts (though he didn’t know what they were).
They are the barber who insisted he knew how to cut our kind of hair when really he didn’t (but then eagerly learned), and the joyful Christian sister who wouldn’t let us pay her when she helped clean the house before we moved in.
They are not defined by what they don’t have. They are employees at the sugarcane factory, farmers in their fields, midwives and nurses at the hospital, teachers in a classroom, and a vegetable seller with a roadside stand.
They know exactly how much our baby cries at night (and talk to us about it after a bad night). They called to check on us every day when we made an emergency medical trip to the capital. And, yes, they also live on an average of only $3 a day, which leaves little buffer when sickness hits or the rains don’t come for the fields. From our neighbors I have seen that life is hard, but it is still very full of life.
I hope the neighborhood is better for having let us be a part of it. I can guarantee we are better for being included. Please continue to pray for the babies in our Formula Distribution Ministry and the families caring for them.
Thank you again for asking us to be a part of this publication!