Grace...the Greatest Gift

As the air ambulance landed on the tarmac in Paris, France, I was placed on a gurney and rushed to a major hospital in downtown Paris. The icy February air bit at my cheeks, so different from the balmy warm air of Bokoro, Chad, where I’d been just a few days earlier. Betsy, my “miracle baby,” born after we waited seven years and through two pregnancy losses, was in the arms of our missionary friend Agathe—a midwife as well as a French citizen. Her presence and caretaking was God’s blessing for the flight and for the next 24 hours as the hospital didn’t allow me to have my infant daughter with me on the maternity ward.

An ultrasound was done, and the physician matter-of-factly told me, “There is very little hope for this pregnancy. The baby’s size is only second percentile for what she should be at her gestational age of 26 weeks, and there is so little amniotic fluid. If she is to be born now, you cannot expect that she will live. This just isn’t a healthy pregnancy.” (I’d been sick with malaria in November as well.) Three days before, I’d been working to prepare our home in Bokoro for our guests from Triumph LB Church (Moorhead, MN and West Fargo, ND), pushing myself through a terrible headache, weakness, and dizziness. I ignored the symptoms, but I couldn’t ignore the regular contractions that tightened around my abdomen and radiated painfully into my back.

The rarely-utilized airstrip in Bokoro was quickly prepared as the small MAF plane came to fly me out for medical care in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. The French doctor there diagnosed me with malaria, amoebic dysentery, and strep throat. No wonder my body had gone into premature labor! By God’s provision, she had access to medication that slowed down the contractions, but she insisted I needed to be airlifted out of the country for further treatment.

The visiting team from Triumph jumped into action. Along with our LBIM missionaries on the ground in N’Djamena, Pastor Jeff Seaver and the others mobilized prayer for this unborn baby and our family in crisis, as well as taking a trip out to Bokoro to pick up some necessities for the family, and to close up our place for the foreseeable future.
Back in Paris, I felt overwhelming peace. Another pregnancy so soon had been an unexpected surprise after waiting so long for Betsy; I had been amazed to realize God was blessing me with two in two years! Now, recognizing that it might actually be taken away, I felt resigned to his will and his purpose. I was so thankful for my restored faith and for the community of believers upholding us in prayer. I was able to pray, “not my will, Lord, but yours be done!” Two years earlier I’d been struggling with doubt and dark discouragement. It was the last year of our first term in Chad, and we had suffered many losses and set-backs during that time. But God had remained faithful to me despite my faithlessness and had given me a fully restored faith by the time Betsy was born. Now, in this moment of crisis, I knew I could rest on his unfailing love.

When I was stabilized enough to travel, the Paris medical team cleared me for the overseas flight as long as I flew first class to be able to stay fully reclined. By this time my husband and our two older children, Lucas and Hans, had joined me. After a brief stay with “friends of a friend” in the missionary community, we were all booked on a flight back to Fargo. Once there, I was immediately admitted to the hospital and told to prepare myself, that this delivery would most likely be premature and by C-section. But something miraculous happened. Every time they did an ultrasound, the amniotic fluid had increased, and the baby was showing growth. They discharged me after a few days, telling me I must absolutely stay on complete bed rest and that every few days I must come back for another ultrasound because I was still likely to deliver prematurely. Again, the prayers of many were answered, and little by little the baby continued to grow and somehow thrive!

That baby, who just 11 weeks earlier was so compromised and clinging to life inside of me, was—by the grace of God—born full-term and full size. She grew to be the tallest of the women in our family, and recently competed in the state championship race for high school cross-country. She excels in every way. Every year on her birthday, I tell her the story of her perilous beginning and miraculous birth. It is good to recount what God has done for us, with thankfulness.  

Three months after her birth we were back in Bokoro, arranging for a “naming ceremony.” The mats were laid out, large platters of food prepared for all our guests, and hot sweet “chai” distributed to welcome each one. Before my women friends and I distributed the platters of food, Marcos stood and held up little Kathryn Grace for all the gathered Arabic-speaking neighbors and Bilala friends to see. With the words of his testimony, he glorified God and shared that she is called “Naima” (the Chadian Arabic word for “grace”) because her birth was a gift from God that we neither expected nor deserved. Likewise, he explained, God had sent his own son, “Isa al-Masih” (the Chadian Arabic word for Jesus Christ) to be our substitute and take the punishment we deserved by dying on the cross. He is our grace… the greatest gift we could never earn on our own merit!
Now I know that this story could have easily ended with the loss of my precious girl. I have stories of loss and grief as well that I could share, for our God is glorified just as much when we experience loss. It is in his faithfulness that we can have hope and show others that same comfort that we received. The beauty of being his children is that we can trust in both his sovereignty as well as his goodness. We can rest in his love, knowing that because we are clothed in Christ, we are wrapped in his love, and each and every one of us is his “beloved.”  

God is indeed doing a new thing in us. He has us on his mission, whether that is in Bokoro,  or Paris, or Fergus Falls, Minnesota; wherever he leads us! Today you may feel weak. You may feel tiny and insignificant, just clinging to a chia-seed of faith. That’s okay. Although this world is broken and we experience the consequences of sin and suffering, we also get to share the beautiful promises of God! The book of Revelation tells us that one day, “They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (21:3-5). Our sovereign, omnipotent, holy God promises, “... I will be their God and they will be my children” (21:7).

God is the author of life, and he is also the author of faith. He does the work in us and through us if we are willing to look to him to sustain us and wait on him to act. He can bring forth life in the least expected ways and cause it to flourish, just like the desert rose blooming in dry season in the Sahel region of Chad.

Kirsten Holzner is a former missionary to Chad, alongside her husband Marcos and four children (2001-2012), and currently a  student at Lutheran Brethren Seminary and a part-time Parish Nurse at Good Shepherd Lutheran Brethren Church in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.

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