Where Love and Suffering Meet
By Jeanelle Reider
Jamie Dimon often wonders what Baby Grace’s life is like now.
As is true of many children born in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Baby Grace was thrust into tragic circumstances at birth. Her mother, faced with the prospect of raising a child whose father was not her husband, abandoned Baby Grace the moment she was born.
By God’s mercy, MAF staff found the tiny infant—placenta still attached—lying helpless in a field near their airstrip.
And this is where Baby Grace’s story first intersected with Jamie’s.
Jamie and her pilot husband, Chad, headed to the DRC over five years ago to serve with MAF. They knew it wouldn’t be easy. As Jamie said, “Suffering is common, expected, in Congo.”
There is a mission hospital in Nyankunde, the village where the Dimons were assigned. Many of the patients are newborns whose mothers have died during childbirth. A few infants have been abandoned because of their HIV/AIDS status. More recently, escalating conflicts in the region have caused an influx of newborns whose mothers have been killed in the violence.
Jamie is a registered nurse with a background in pediatric intensive care. She wondered: was God forging a way for her to bring healing and hope into the suffering?
These precious babies have one thing in common: malnutrition. Even if a friend or family member can be found to care for them, infant formula is beyond the means of most Congolese families.
A few months before the Dimons moved to Nyankunde, Anna La Rochelle, a nurse practitioner from another missions group who had started an orphan formula program at the hospital, invited Jamie to assume leadership of the program. Seeing this as a God-given opportunity, Jamie agreed.
With the help of Mama Sunday, a Ugandan nurse who worked in the Nyankunde hospital’s ICU and maternity ward, and Dr. Lindsey Cooper, a pediatrician who ran the malnutrition center at the hospital, the program thrived. Babies were placed with caregivers, and for the first year of their lives, infant formula was purchased and delivered regularly. Homes were visited to ensure the infants were growing and well cared for. Over the years, some 100 babies were given a chance at life.
And, one day, a baby girl was found abandoned near the MAF airstrip.
For the first few weeks, nurses cared for the little girl in the maternity ward. They gave her the name “Grace.” Jamie and fellow MAF missionary Sheryl Strietzel often visited the baby and at times brought her into their homes. Eventually, Baby Grace was placed with her maternal grandmother and sustained through the orphan formula program.
A distressing disruption
In April 2021, the rat-a-tat of guns and the angry shouts of military and militia filled the air. Over 35,000 people in Nyankunde and nearby villages fled into the forest. Mama Sunday, Anna La Rochelle, and Lindsey Cooper also were forced to evacuate. MAF staff—including Chad, Jamie, and their four young children—relocated to nearby towns.
At the time of this writing, no one had been able to return.
Nor did anyone know what had happened to Baby Grace and many of the other infants. Jamie and the others trust that they are still in the care of families who love them, safe from harm. They hold onto hope that one day they may see them again.
In the meantime, MAF continues ministry flights from the town of Bunia. And Mama Sunday and MAF missionary Donna Jacobsson make sure that formula is delivered to the seven babies whose whereabouts are known.
Just being faithful
Life stories are rarely tied up in neat little bows. The Congolese people know it, MAF staff know it, and chances are you know it too.
Still, the loose ends can be excruciating.
When Jamie tried to describe the suffering, she faltered. “There are just no words … the fact that we’ve been able to make a little bit of a difference—I mean, it’s just a drop in the bucket, but it’s something.”
For such a time as this, Jamie and her co-laborers stepped into their broken world and loved as Jesus would. When you support MAF, you, too, are reaching into the lives of hurting men, women, and children and showing them there is a Father who cares for them.
This story appeared in the summer 2021 edition of FlightWatch. Read the full issue here:
Wow, what a ministry to these beautiful Congolese babies! Praise God for all the work MAF is doing in Nyankunde, Bunia and around the country. Thanks so much. May God keep you all safe, well and strong in Himself.