I was not accustomed to things of the miraculous nature before her.
She introduced me to a side of Jesus I didn’t grow up knowing first hand. I had heard about this side of Him in the Word, just hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. Touched it with my hands.
An African woman who made her way through the Ugandan crowd of sick, desperate, curious souls, kept her eyes fixed fiercely ahead of her, going from prayer line to prayer line without hesitation. Each line she moved to her eyes remained the same.
She carried with her an emaciated child, eighteen months old, maybe older, it was too hard to tell. The little girl was what I remembered seeing when I was young, flipping through “help the world and save the children” magazine pages of starving Ethiopians with flies covering their faces, bones protruding, vacant eyes bulging along with their bloated bellies. (Those images don’t leave you.) The child’s eyes were terrified but she was too sick to cry, too sick to hold her head up on her rail thin neck. Giving in to her mother’s urgent quest, she was despondent, making her way toward lifeless. She was dying, that was certain. The mama carried her in haste, unwavering in her approach as she stepped up to each line with a team member from the States, waiting to pray. This was in the early days of my evangelical, humanitarian travels. I was new at world travel and evangelism, and on this my first time in Africa, was there to film for an organization comprised of traveling band members that were teaming with an evangelist. When it came to praying over the gathered crowd that night, I sat my camera down someplace safe enough, and ventured into the sea of dark skin speckled with a few Mzungu/white folk. I was willing to pray over people along with the rest of the team, but simultaneously felt completely inadequate to do so. It overwhelmed my senses—that initial exposure to a land that feels to me like a second homeland now. Back then I barely knew how to pray for myself let alone a nation I had never been to. Nevertheless, there I was, joining the rest. The dark night pressed in on the edges of the enormous field as red African dust mingled with blinding spot lights, which created a deep reddish brown hue that gave an other-worldly look to the setting. Hundreds of people weren’t leaving the event until they were prayed for. Such a beautiful sight that thrilled my spirit. And then there she was, the mama, quite suddenly standing before me. And I froze. There in her arms was her skeleton child, with her fading, grayish skin stretched tight, sunken over bone, scabbing at the corners; her dehydrated lips that wouldn’t move, the tinge of terror in her dim eyes. The smell of death that emanated from her engulfed her as if to consume her right there. Since then I have encountered death several times and have discovered that the smell of decay is not always a signal. There are times death is undetectable by our natural senses, yet tingles the spiritual fibers of our being. And that moment reeked of it. I had no idea what to pray for even though the obvious was before me.
Now, some might say, “Well, that’s just Africa. Kids are dying all over the place there.” There is much I could say in response to that empty statement. And yes, that was my first international encounter with such a graphic need. But in that moment that was before me, with that determined mama and her tiny treasure, I felt the gravity of God’s heart and it utterly overwhelmed me. And nothing else mattered.
I quickly looked around for someone, anyone to pray with me. Anyone to bear witness with me. I saw the guitarist of the band, Jim, also frozen, compulsively staring at the child from ten feet away. He must have seen something in that moment as I did—sacred, unyielding.
“Jim, can you pray with me over this baby?” My voice sounded ridiculous and failing. Jim nodded and slowly moved toward us. Another man who stood close by joined the prayer and we laid hands on the mother and her dying child. I don’t remember what we prayed. I don’t even think I knew how to articulate anything in that moment as words sounded feeble. I wanted to weep. I wanted to take that baby and run to the nearest hospital. Instead, I touched the tiny arm as big around as my thumb, the malnourished, frightened face that hadn’t consumed food in days. My touch felt heavy on the child. Like an anvil. When we were done, I looked into the mother’s eyes that flashed so brightly. She smiled, grateful, determined, and moved on to the next line. And I stood there. I wondered if the mother realized her daughter could possibly pass that night, even on the way back to their home. I wondered if this was her last effort, her final hope. I felt as though I had nothing. Like my pockets were empty and I didn’t know what faith was.
When the band and team climbed into the Matatu after the event, I sat behind Jim. I could see him still pondering what he had seen that night. I could see the mark of the mama’s fierce impact still on him. Possibly because it was still on me.
“Wow. Um, that child we prayed over tonight…oh my word, that was unreal.” I had nothing but blabber to say and he picked it up graciously. “Yeah, I have seen her in the prayer lines each night since we started the event. She doesn’t give up.” We both went quiet, nothing to say beyond that. Jim sat sideways in his seat and looked down at his hands. I looked out the window. Those mama’s eyes.
A couple days passed, I didn’t see the mother or her child at the nightly events, but the crowd continued to be increasingly enormous and ever full of people who needed healing and salvation. I still held the tiny child’s prayer close to my heart; the impact of that moment burned on my soul. Was she dead? Had the mother given up hope?
On the last night of the event I was up on the stage filming the crowd as per usual. The sea of people was extraordinary that night and the band and team had stepped down to pray for the mass. Then, through the viewfinder, I spotted a woman rushing through the crowd toward me, waving a little to try and get my attention. I stood there filming her, taken a bit off guard by the fact that out of hundreds of people, this woman was locked on me.
I slowly walked to the edge of the stage, still filming. Suddenly, unexpectedly, she shoved the child she carried up into my arms. I fumbled my camera as I sat it down. The worried little face looked frantically around as I had no choice but to hoist the child up into my arms, per the request of the insistent mother. After doing so, I faced the child to coo and calm and simply assumed the mother must have wanted a blessing on her child from the camera gal, for no specific reason. The child was precious, thin as many of the children there, but alert, and looked around desperately for her mother, who was standing beneath me on the ground, beaming.
And there they were—those fierce eyes I knew. It was the mama. It was the baby girl.
My mind had seconds to put it all together. Hadn’t it only been two days or so since I saw her last? How could this baby hold her head up when she could barely keep her eyes open but days ago? Her skin was normal. Her cheeks were full, eyes bright, limbs filled out; the harrowing stench of death that was upon that little human was gone. I could feel my insides shaking. Tears burned my eyes. The mama smiled a relaxed, content smile, and took her precious child back into her arms without saying a word to me. Not one word. She just wanted me to hold the miracle she had me and others pray for. She wanted me to hold the miracle—her precious child.
The mama then turned and disappeared into the crowd; the swarm engulfed her and the dust rose and the lights burned in the darkness of the deep African night. And there I was. This time dumbfounded not by the grotesque nature of this sinful world and what death has done to us. Not by a mother who appeared to have delusional faith. I was overwhelmed by praising Jesus for something He did that took me by surprise. And why would that take me by surprise if I was praying for it? Well, that’s easy: oh ye of little faith.
I grew up knowing God, but the miraculous nature part of Him, so foreign to my mind, was now walking through the crowd in front of me and had rendered me speechless.
Our God is amazing. You can reason your mind through so many things in this life. But I beg you, make room for the miraculous. For He is in the business of doing what only He can do. I got to hold a miracle in my hands years and years ago. I hold that miracle in my heart to this day as a reminder that Jesus heals, raises the dead, changes a life, saves. Not figuratively. Literally.
After that, it was as if the miracualous nature of the Lord was happening all around me; as though everywhere I looked, even back on my life, I could see it vividly. The Great Healer works forward and backward, healing all sorts of wounds, inside and out and all around. Miraculously, as He did a couple thousand years ago, and still does today.
May you be overwhelmed by the gravity of the Lord’s healing heart.
May you have fierce faith and take hold of a Godly miracle with your own hands.