Lea, a long-time friend of Peter’s Wife, shared a wonderful story of love and motherhood in a country torn apart by civil war. I trust you will be as touched as I was by this story of Daudi and his mother.
Diane, Peter’s Wife editor
An especially vicious civil war enveloped Burundi from 1993-2000. Those who suffered the most time were the women, children, and elderly. The following is a true account of a remarkable band of women and a little boy whose life was cut short by a preventable condition. However short his life may have been, he showed all of us that life was a gift that was meant to be lived. There may be many heroes on earth that have received their accolades, this is a story about some unsung heroes.
I watched as children of all ages squeezed themselves into a rundown classroom that we used as a makeshift dining room; light made its way into the room through dingy windows. Mothers strained to watch their children file through the narrow doorway and find a place to sit on the floor. Most of these mothers had fled their homes, losing children, husbands and other family members in the violence of the war that had caused them to flee. It was almost as if they feared to let their children that remained out of their sight; this fear was almost tangible.
Witnessing the suffering of these people, these mothers and their children, motivated us, the ladies of our church, to find a way to share with them God’s Word, food and whatever else we could find to help alleviate their suffering.
War will cause people who otherwise would not have many associations with one another, to work together. This war had made these women and children refugees; the government had settled them temporarily in this school.
As was our custom, we taught the children a lesson on the love of God while preparing to serve a hot meal. The mothers helped us with organization and discipline as we set about the task of teaching and feeding the hungry children in the camp. These mothers always refused to eat until their children had eaten; this is the heart of a mother. We taught and fed 1,500 children on that day and every day for six years. The children filed into the classroom; we then taught them and fed them in groups of 200 until everyone had eaten. This was our life, this was our calling; we were all mothers.
One young mother caught my attention on this particular day. The cares of life had wearied her. Lines crossed her 24 year old face; I wondered how many sleepless nights she had experienced. She was caring for her child, Daudi, who was suffering with hydrocephalus (water on the brain). Mama Daudi (as she was known) and her son had become dear to me as well as many others in the camp. I often spent time visiting with her and her son during our feeding outreaches.
In the West, this child would have been easily treated and lived a normal life. In Central Africa where countries are at war, treatment was nowhere to be found. As an infant, Daudi had received treatment for this disorder; some Catholic sisters had found a way for him to have a shunt placed in his head to help drain the excess fluid. With the passing of time, the shunt needed replacing; but the doctors in the village he had come from had all either been killed in the violence or had fled to save their own lives.
On this day, she had come to the classroom to collect Daudi’s meal for him because his condition prevented him from joining the other children. Daudi was her only child who had survived the massacre in her village; he was all she had left in the world. During my visit, I noticed that his head had swollen a great deal since the last time I had seen him, only a few days prior. His head was well over double the size of what it should have been. Everyone knew that Daudi would, without a miracle, go on to be with the Lord – but we didn’t think or talk about that.
The pressure on his brain from the swelling had caused him to lose his sight four months earlier, his head was too swollen for him to even sit up, so he lay down on the ground on a blanket waiting for people to come and visit with him. He smiled and rocked his head from side to side, laughing and enjoying every moment he had a visitor – he was oblivious to the suffering that surrounded him. I can remember how amazed I was, thinking that in this setting Daudi’s blindness was actually a good thing. He was blind to the suffering that surrounded him, the suffering that was deeply etched into the face of his mother and every mother in the camp.
On one of my visits, I asked Daudi if he knew about Jesus, he replied, “Yesu ni mwokozi wangu, Mama amenifundisha upendo wake.” (translated – “Jesus is my Savior, my mother taught me about His love”). He went on to explain that Jesus was his good friend, there was no one else like Him who knew how to comfort him. Daudi told me that there was no reason to worry, if Jesus is your friend He is always there to care for you and that’s all you need.
A few days passed before I visited Daudi again. I entered the familiar, dark, odor-filled room, where Mama Daudi met me. She squeezed my hand tightly as I greeted her, tears flowing freely down her cheeks – words did not pass between us. Jesus was coming to get Daudi soon. This lady loved Jesus and served her little boy in the confines of a disease infested camp; singing to him, talking with him, not leaving his side except to collect his meal every day from our cooking pots outside. She told all of us how she saw Daudi as a gift from God, not a burden, and how her life, which to others may have seemed to be poor, had been made rich by one little boy.
Less than a week later, trepidation filled my heart as I entered the all-too-familiar room where Daudi along with his mother had spent many months. The room was silent, all eyes on me as I walked to the familiar spot where Daudi had laid. Mama Daudi greeted me with her familiar smile and handshake. Together we looked down on the empty spot where he laid no more.
The government, she explained, had his body buried quickly after his death. There was no time to inform me of his decease. Every mother in the room surrounded us as we talked about Daudi’s life and what it meant. Most of our words were feeble attempts at comfort, the only words that brought meaning to the whole situation were spoken by Mama Daudi, the woman who was herself grieving. She looked at all of us and said, “Being a mother is a gift. Daudi was a gift to me and now I have given him as a gift to God.”