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Miracle in the Congo saves infant’s life


Brian and Carrie Wood relax at their Cypress, Texas, home with their
10-month-old son, Haven. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Wood family.

By Lilla Marigza*
August 17, 2009 | NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS)

He was born on a rural road in the Democratic Republic of Congo to a woman fleeing the violence of a civil war that took her husband’s life. When his mother died shortly afterward, his life, too, became expendable.

 
Haven Wood has been smiling since the day he came home, says Carrie Wood. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Wood family.
 

Today, 10-month-old Haven Innocent Wood’s big, brown eyes light up the living room in the Houston suburb where he is growing up under the care of his adoptive family. He loves to cuddle and has a new favorite food: bites of baked potato loaded with butter, cheese and sour cream. He pops excitedly up and down in his jumper seat while his 2-year-old sister, Grace, playfully runs circles around him.

Haven’s story, the tale of an infant seemingly marked for death transported village by village, country by country, over thousands of miles to safety, is the story of several people, including a United Methodist pastor and his wife, who refused to walk by a helpless person lying on the side of the road.

It is the story of the Good Samaritans.

A troubled start

Goma, in the Eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo, is known for misery of biblical proportions. The area has been plagued by volcanic eruptions, outbreaks of deadly disease and genocide. As fighting among rebels escalated in late 2008, a young, pregnant Ammaye Osomba was running for her life from the violence that killed her husband, Armand.

Osomba, who suffered from tuberculosis, traveled for two months and gave birth to her baby in the road as she fled. Villagers carried the weak, sick woman and her infant named Innocent in a hammock to the next village, where residents of that village continued the transport to the edge of the next village.

The woman and her child were carried more than 30 miles to the United Methodist Wembo Nyama Mission. Osomba was admitted to a hospital where she died.

Haven’s story also almost ended there.

Saving one child

Some 1,250 miles away, a United Methodist pastor, the Rev. Louis Loma Otshudi, received a disturbing phone call from an acquaintance at Wembo Nyama.

“In that particular village… as she had no relatives… some of the people were saying, ‘She’s dead. Let’s bury her with her own baby,” he recalled.


The Wood family visits with the Rev.
Louis Loma Otshudi (second from left)
at Belmont United Methodist Church
in Nashville, Tenn. A UMNS photo
courtesy of the Wood family.  

Loma appealed to his bishop, the Rev. David Yemba, who encouraged him to intervene to save the child.

The pastor e-mailed an attorney in the United States to see if someone would be willing to adopt Innocent. Jilma Meneses, a United Methodist who operates Our Family Adoptions, found a home for the baby within two days.

The family Meneses found in Texas wired money so the baby could be airlifted from Wembo Nyama to Kinshasa where Rev. Loma and his wife, Josephine, agreed to foster the baby, who required constant care. “He was very, very weak and near death. But the Loma family saved that baby’s life,” Meneses recalled.

The Lomas and their own nine children nursed the infant, who was malnourished and sick with malaria, back to health.

“My wife and I are passionate to do such a job because our parents died when we were really young. Children, babies who are living a miserable life is really our challenge. This is our concern and our priority,” Loma said.

Adoption help

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is a country of 5 million orphans of disease and war, but bureaucratic obstacles and corruption make the adoption process difficult. Relief agencies also are reluctant to endorse international adoption because it takes children away from their homelands.


Louis Loma Otshudi (right), director
of communications for the Central
Congo Area, and family pose for a
portrait. A UMNS photo courtesy of
Rev. Louis Loma Otshudi.

Josephine and Louis Loma support the work of Our Family Adoptions because they see life with an American family as the best possible solution for some children who have no family left.

“Nowadays in our country, life has become very difficult. This is an opportunity for some children to have parents who can care for them,” Loma said.

Under the guidance of the Lisanga orphanage, the Lomas are currently fostering two more infants who will soon be adopted by a family in Indiana.

Meneses became involved after spending time in an orphanage in the Congo through a United Methodist mission trip. She adopted a daughter from the orphanage and now volunteers her time to help other U.S. families.

With a staff of one, Meneses has facilitated 17 adoptions in the last six years and has 11 more pending. In the Congo, a network of United Methodists cares for the children and helps adoptive families complete the adoption process through the local courts and embassy. United Methodist Volunteers in Mission teams and the Pacific Northwest Conference provide support.

The final step is finding couples like Carrie and Brian Wood.

Texas hospitality

The Woods adopted Grace from China and decided it was time for her to have a sister. With wait times as long as four years for an adoption from China, the Woods made inquires about adopting from Africa where the process takes closer to one year.


The Wood family relaxes at home. From left are Haven, Carrie, Brian and Grace. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Wood family.

“Jilma (Meneses) called and said there’s a boy,” Carrie Wood said. “We had to pray on it because we didn’t have any boy clothes to hand down. We didn’t have any boy toys. It was a change of mindset, but we knew this was who was placed in our path.”

With no medical records to know if Innocent had HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis and not even a picture to see the child’s face, the Woods started the process of bringing their son home. A year of red tape was navigated in just three months, and in May, Brian flew to the Congo to meet his new baby boy.

Brian was struck by the poverty around him.

“I saw a man reach into an open sewer, a ditch full of human waste, and pull out a discarded bag of water to drink it, he was so desperate,” Brian remembered.

And then there were the children.

Everywhere he went that week, he saw children in the streets wearing worn clothes with holes in them, selling Kleenex and waffles. “I asked why they weren’t in school,” recalled Brian. “I was told they could not afford to. They didn’t have families. They were homeless.”

Home for good

Today, Haven Wood is thriving and determined to stay on the heels of his sister, his constant companion.

Carrie, Brian and Grace decided to name the child Haven Innocent.

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 “When he was taken out of the war, his mother provided him safe haven,” said Carrie. “And then the United Methodist missionaries provided him safe haven while he was there in the middle of nowhere. Pastor Loma’s family provided him safe haven. And then we brought him here, and he is home for good.”

Carrie said her son has been smiling and affectionate since the day he came home. This joy and ability to bond doesn’t always come easily for orphans.

She is grateful to the Loma family for treating Haven as one of their own. “You can tell Haven has had love from the moment he was born.”

And that intense love goes both ways.

“He’s is a miracle,” Carrie Wood said. “He truly is.”

Anyone wanting to donate to Our Family Adoptions can contact the Pacific Northwest Annual (regional) Conference Advance Special: Our Family Adoptions 389.

*Marigza is a freelance producer and writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5458 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

United Methodist Orphanage in Jamaa Letu, DRC

Pacific Northwest Conference

Advance: Kamina Orphanage

Advance: Kindu Orphanage Improvements

Advance: Mount Sinai Center for Sustaining Orphans and Street Children in Likasi

Advance: Orphanage Improvement and Expansion

Children, Youth and Family Services

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