During a recent screening in the Kurdish area of Iraq I had an interaction with a family that made me reflect on my faith in Providence.
A small team of us went to the Fountain of Love in Shoresh, Kurdistan Iraq to screen children for heart defects. Shoresh is village that was developed to be the new home for the widows and orphans that came to be as a result of the ethnic war against the Kurds. Fountain of Love is a community center that was the vision of Sami Dagher and opened in 2010. We were there to screen children in 2010 and returned this year at the request of local officials. During the 5 day screening we screened children with known heart defects as well as those that the parents had concerned because of the chemical weapons used against their family members.
There were many children with known heart defects to be screened to determine if they were eligible for surgical repair. As I was busy echoing a grandmother holding a bundled infant caught my eye. She was crying. I asked one of the nurses working with us to go and ask what was the problem. The grandmother just stated it had been a very long and trying day. It took almost fours to get the infant. Only then did I find out that this baby was only 21 days old. He was the first child of this young couple and the grandmother had come along to help. Today had been a very difficult day. Just this morning they were informed that their son had a very serious heart condition and were sent to us from Kirkuk for a more definitive diagnosis. As I was asking the family about the newborn, tears streamed down their faces. After examining the child and performing an echo, it was clear that the child had transposition of the great vessels which means the blue blood coming back from the body goes back to the body and the pink blood coming back from the lungs go right back to the lungs. Therefore, the body does not get the oxygen it needs. The infant seemed stable but there were a couple of things the family stated that had concerned me. The baby was not feeding as well as he had been a couple of days before and had vomited a couple of times; however, from everything I could see the cardiac circulation should be adequate for this child to be blue but stable. I explained that we would do everything we could to get their baby treated as soon as possible and I asked them to follow-up with the pediatric cardiologist in Kirkuk. Before they left, I asked if I could pray for their entire family. They eagerly agreed and we prayed. We all cried during that prayer.
Shortly after they left we were notified that a visiting team was in a hospital in Southern Iraq and that they were willing to evaluate the infant for possible surgical repair. We were all excited about the potential surgery for this little one. In my heart I was rejoicing as I thought about the witness of a prayer being so quickly answered for this family and what it might mean for eternity. In my mind, I was concerned about the surgery and the health of this child. We usually operate on these children during the first two weeks of life and he had been acting a little sick and I so much wanted this to be a victorious story.
The following day the family made the long journey to Southern Iraq. The distance is not so long but with numerous check-points the trip becomes very arduous. The family left early in the morning and the team at the hospital was waiting for the infant. I thought the infant would probably be operated on in the next day or two.
The next day was another full day of screening and as I was echoing another child,Nawzad, our trusted friend and translator handed me a phone and said it was the grandmother of the infant who we had seen the day before and that she was crying. As I said hello, the only word I heard through the crying was, “gone”. Between the accent and the crying I couldn’t understand anything else. I handed the phone back to Nawzad who has the bedside manner of a saint. As soon as he was on the phone it disconnected. Nawzad called back the family and was able to understand that the child had died 15 minutes after arriving at the hospital. He didn’t even have a chance to be fully evaluated. My heart sank, this was not the ending I had been hoping and praying for. This was not how I wanted to see victory. This was not the first time that I had had different ideas about how Providence should handle a situation. In the moment, trusting in Providence can be very difficult, especially when a child has just died. The bible says, “God’s ways are not man’s ways.” I find this to be incredibly true. In my mind I am able to come up with a game plan by which physical health is restored which leads to spiritual restoration and through all of this, God is glorified. That is what my plan for this family was. We just happened to be in a city very close to this family on a day their child had been diagnosed. We prayed and an answer seemed to come almost immediately that we had found an avenue to get care for this baby. The baby had made it to the hospital. Then the baby died and I find myself once again needing to find comfort in the way of Providence and not my way. I have watched Providence do miraculous work after the death of other children. But each time I wish there were another way. Or at least I wish I could have the end of the book to read. I would like to be able to reassure myself that eternity was secured for the family for a heavenly reunion with the infant who is now safely in the arms of God. Yet, if I had the end of the story it would not be faith. Therefore, I find myself trusting in a few simple truths. God is good. God’s ways are not my ways and He loves that family more than I do. As I recollect these simple truths I find comfort as I trust in Providence once again.
Providence: God conceived as the power sustaining and guiding human destiny.