And this will be a sign for you, ...'

And this will be a sign for you, ...'

November 30, 2000
Written by Staff Reports

Farley Maxwell/United Mission to Nepal photo.
"You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger.' (Luke 2:12)

Amy's sixth birthday has finally arrived.

As is our habit in Zululand, South Africa, where my husband and I serve as missionary pastors, we are already dressed, though it is only 5 a.m., and are gathered on our bed giving gifts to Amy.

Someone knocks at the door. I rise and open our front door. Two church members, Khanisiwe Mhlongo and Philisiwe Nene, emerge from the winter darkness.

"A baby is being born!" they report, eyes wide with excitement.

Being up and dressed, we are ready to provide a ride to the hospital nine kilometers away. We pile into the car, Amy and her 3-year-old brother, Mandla, too.

Stopping beside the home, we wait while the women go to fetch the mother-to-be, whom we don't know. Amy taps my shoulder. "She's calling you."

We hear Philisiwe shouting, "The baby's coming out!"

Telling Amy and Mandla to wait in the car, I scurry up the slope, through the wire fence and into the candle-lit room.

The baby's head is just crowning.

Luckily for us and the woman in labor, we are not alone. Gogo (grandmother) Mhlongo takes charge, calling for towels and water. As I hand her a towel, the baby's head emerges, quickly followed by two slippery shoulders. The baby is out. Is it alive? There seems to be a lot of blood.

In the still darkness I think of that birth so long ago that we celebrate so "sterilely" each Christmas.

We forget that the conditions of Jesus' birth were more like this, in a poorly lighted, crowded room with a dung floor, than like our high-tech hospitals or home birthings. The candle flickers in a cold breeze that blows in through the single window. The stars fade with the dawn.

I cringe when I see the piece of broken bottle Gogo will use to cut the cord. I murmur a prayer as she ties strings to the cord and saws until it is severed.

The new mother's name is Ncane (CHAH-nay ? "little one"). Ncane's hopes and expectations for her child should be the same as ours for Amy and Mandla. But they aren't. That must be changed.

Life is a miracle. We, as Christians, are called to preserve it and enrich it, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

How do we respond to the needs of our sisters and brothers like Ncane and her child? A food parcel and a blanket can help.

But God has called us to bring news of a new creation and to work for it, to share the bounty of this world with ALL of God's children. To cry for justice and bring it into fruition. To overturn the powers in the world and in ourselves that keep this mother, and so many others like her, poor.

The stillness seems to go on and on. Then—a cry! Life!

Smiles emerge all around. We're exhilarated to have witnessed such a miracle of creation. Grateful that this wee one has managed, so far, to overcome all the obstacles to life.

I fetch Amy and Mandla from the car. "Is the baby born?" Amy asks eagerly. "Why didn't you call me?" Her disappointment is mixed with pride to be sharing her birthday with this newborn.

As we wrap the baby boy in a towel and place him on his mother's breast, I think of swaddling clothes. Mother and child rest. Outside in the rosy morning light we share a prayer of thanksgiving.

Then we go home to remember, and to finish celebrating Amy's birthday.

The Revs. Ana and Tod Gobledale served as missionaries in southern Africa from 1984 to 2000. They now live in Cleveland, where Ana Gobledale serves on the Common Global Ministries Board staff of the UCC and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). To learn more about the Common Global Ministries Board, visit its website

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