|Miracle in the Congo saves infant’s life|
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,
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 Wood has been smiling since the day he came home, says Carrie Wood. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Wood family.
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
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
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
“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
Loma appealed to his bishop, the Rev. David Yemba, who encouraged him to intervene to save the child.
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.
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
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,”
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
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.
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.
“Nowadays in our country, life has become very difficult. This is an
opportunity for some children to have parents who can care for them,”
Under the guidance of the Lisanga orphanage, the Lomas are currently
fostering two more infants who will soon be adopted by a family in
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
The Wood family relaxes at home. From left are Haven, Carrie, Brian and
Grace. A UMNS photo courtesy of the Wood family.
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,”
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.
“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
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 email@example.com.
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