I recently received the honor of having a baby girl named after me. She’s the daughter of A*, one of the national pastors’ wives I know here. This a significant thing in West African culture and therefore could easily be a source of pride for me (in my flesh!). However, the circumstances surrounding the baby’s birth clearly point to the big and many ways God is at work here, ways that stretch far beyond the tiny role He asks me and others to play. It’s all ultimately for His name’s sake.
It all started while I was in my first research site. I was staying with another pastor and his wife M*, with whom I was working to do the literacy research. Since I was relatively close to where A lives (about an hour’s drive), I arranged to go visit her one day when no one was available to interview. Hiring a driver and a vehicle was the quickest and safest transportation option, which meant there would be room for M to come along. She was happy to do so, since she’d never been to A’s village and didn’t know her very well. I’ve discovered this is the norm; though these pastors’ wives are part of the same denomination, living even an hour apart prevents them from seeing each other very often. Their very limited finances leave little for the non-urgent, such as travel to visit a fellow pastor’s wife. Their dependence on public transportation makes a visit even an hour away at least a whole day’s affair. Their everyday activities related to caring for the home and their children keep them busy. And their culture – which can negatively portray a woman who’s away from her home and out and about too much for non-essential matters – probably discourages it. So, M saw coming along with me to A’s village as a unique opportunity not to be missed. I’m guessing she also felt a bit obligated to accompany me since I was her guest, and she wouldn’t want me to travel by myself if it could be helped.
So, I called Pastor MD*, A’s husband, to make sure they were still in the same village. I’d visited them twice before, but it had been over a year since the last time. I hadn’t seen them either since then. I know a couple of the pastors and their wives better than others, but MD and A are among ones I know less. On the phone, Pastor MD said that yes, they were still in the same village. He also informed me that A was pregnant and asked me to pray for her. At her last appointment, the doctors had said that the baby wasn’t in the right position and they’d probably have to do a C-section. He was audibly worried about such a prospect. Though I as an American am used to hearing of births by C-section and would not have much reason to worry in the US with the health care to which I have access, the possibility of any surgery here is a scary thing and with reason. I’m guessing it’s also costlier.
Besides the slightly worrying news related to A’s pregnancy, MD also revealed to me that if the baby was a girl, they intended to name her after me! I was caught off guard by that, especially since I don’t feel like I even know them that well. I knew of the common practice here of naming one’s child after someone; in Wolof that person and the child named after him or her are called turondoos (“namesakes”). The role of adult turondoo is significant; that person can almost become a third parent figure. There are also certain obligations of helping to care for the child turondoo as one is able. As the child turondoo grows older, he or she would be expected to visit the adult namesake. In this way, the turondoo tradition can be a way of solidifying relationships.
I’ve since learned that the selection of a turondoo for one’s baby is made carefully. In Wolof there’s a saying that cautions parents that if they choose a turondoo with good character, their child will end up having seven times that good character. But if they choose a turondoo with bad character, their child will end up having seven times that bad character.
But this story is about so much more than turondoo practice here in West Africa. It’s about God’s delighting in answering His children’s prayers and seeing their faith in Him strengthened. And it’s about one of those rare times when God allows us to catch a glimpse of all that He’s doing, and when we are humbled to realize how short-sighted we are in the face of God’s great purposes.
After getting off the phone with Pastor MD, I filled in M and we made plans to go visit them. M said it was even more important now that we go so we could pray with A.
We went a few days later and found a very pregnant, weary-looking A and an almost equally weary-looking Pastor MD. After exchanging the normal greetings and small talk, M inquired after A’s condition. They’re all Serer-Sine and so were talking amongst themselves, occasionally switching into Wolof or translating for me so that I was following the gist. M went on to recount her own most recent pregnancy, when the doctors had told her the same thing – that she’d need a C-section. She shared that God in His power who controls everything, worked things out so that as she was at the clinic awaiting the surgery, there on the clinic bed, her baby was born naturally. “When God puts His hand on you, nothing can stop Him,” she told MD and A. “We will pray that the baby will come on its own without surgery, that God will do what’s best. We will leave it in His hands.”
Well, I’d had no idea that M could speak from personal experience to A’s situation. I had figured it would do A good to have not just me but M visit as well, since she would be able to speak to her and pray with her in their language (I don’t speak Serer-Sine). But it turned out that God had orchestrated not just for a fellow Serer-sine to go with me, but more specifically a woman who could encourage and pray for A from personal experience. I had figured that while I was in the area for research, that I’d “kill two birds with one stone” and visit MD and A. But it turned out that God had orchestrated the timing perfectly so that both M and I would visit A in her last couple weeks of a worrying pregnancy.
And the story gets even better.
As a Western-minded Christian, when push comes to shove, I’m ashamed to admit that I can put more faith in science and medicine than in the God who chooses to use those things – or not – to accomplish His purposes. Several years in West Africa haven’t changed that Western inclination yet! So, as I listened to M talk and pray about the baby coming naturally and not needing to have a C-section, in my mind I was thinking, “Well sure we can pray about it. But after all, C-sections are sometimes needed, and if that’s what the doctors are saying, can we really expect a different outcome?” Still I was more than happy to simply follow M’s lead, listen to her pray for A in Serer-sine, and otherwise observe, learn, and participate as I could.
A week after our visit, I called to see if there was any baby update. MD reported that there was no news, just that the doctors had written A prescriptions for post-C-section medications.
Then, a few days later, I saw several missed calls from MD and then a text message announcing the news of their baby’s birth. I immediately called him back and got the full scoop: he happily reported that God had answered our prayers, the baby had come naturally with no need for surgery! And it was a girl.
Well for the next hour after receiving the news, M and I sat and talked and smiled in a happy, surreal state. We marveled at God’s answered prayers once again. And that I have a turondoo! M filled me in on my obligations in this new role. It would start with buying some baby clothes and supplies and taking them to the parents whenever I could visit them again.
The following Sunday in church, M shared the story with the other local Christians as a testimony of God’s answer to prayer. As I listened to her say that this was part of why God had brought me there for the research, that it could have been different if I’d chosen to visit A by myself but that instead we’d chosen to go together; as I watched the other Christians listen and respond in praise and marvel at the story of answered prayer – in that moment, I felt like I was catching just a tiny glimpse of all that God is up to. It was only then that I realized the divine orchestration of timing and personnel. It was only then that I realized how the encouragement of this specific answer to prayer would continue and grow in a ripple effect as others heard about it. It’s all ultimately for His name’s sake. The praise could only go to God, and His children could only be strengthened in their faith.
And this child (yours truly) chief among them whose faith was strengthened!
Introducing Kyria Adama Diouf, a.k.a. “Kyria bu ndaw” (Wolof for “Little Kyria”).
*This country is a sensitive location. To protect the identities of national Christians, I don’t include their full names.