There is a place in Senegal called Baby House that is run by Franciscan nuns who care for babies 0-18 months of age. We are partnering with the Baby House while we are in Dakar, giving us the opportunity to go serve with them and support their mission while we're here. I was thrilled to sign up and go cuddle babies for a day!
When we arrived at the Baby House, we were given the option to be with babies 0-6 months old or 6-18 months. I quickly chose the little littles and went to the 0-6 month room. As we made our way across a beautiful courtyard with manicured gardens and trees I was surprised by the beauty and the tangible peace I felt in this place right in the middle of the city.
We climbed the stairs and arrived at the nursery where we were instructed to wash our hands. It was so clean in this tiled room and the peace permeated the space. After drying our hands, we walked down an aisle with what looked like stable stalls on either side that were lined with rows of cribs and bouncy seats. We paused to take our shoes off and put on freshly laundered smocks.
We opened the low baby gate in front of us and entered into a circular room with windows on all sides, opened wide to let the warm breeze blow through. I looked down and all over the matted, linen lined floor were babies! Peaceful, quiet, mostly sleeping babies! I counted 27 and couldn't believe what I was seeing. It was like a glimpse of heaven to me where all my baby dreams were coming true. One started to fuss ever so slightly, but I was the first on the scene to scoop up that tiny bundle. He couldn't have been quite a month old and I rocked and shushed and bounced that little one just like I had done for years with my own tiny babies.
I just couldn't wrap my head around how clean, calm and peaceful this room was. It was like God had commanded his angels to cover these abandoned or orphaned babies and they were whispering gentle words of love over each one. "You are precious." "You are such a beautiful baby." "Everything is ok, it's alright." Maybe God was using me as one of His angels this day as these words came out of my mouth. He so loves His children, all of His children, especially the orphans.
This little boy, whom I later learned was named Mohammed, was quiet in my arms and when another tiny voice began to cry and I knelt down, Mohammed began to whimper too! When I stood back up, he stopped. Oh, so you're one of those! I remember that game of "I'll only stop crying if you're standing up." Honestly, today I was happy to play his little game and give him my undivided attention.
I noticed that none of the babies had wrist bands on. How did the loving volunteers know their names? How did they keep them all straight? Soon the women began to pick up the babies one by one and take them away. It was time to put them all in their cribs while bottles were prepared. A lady approached me and in French told me that he went in the first crib in the last aisle. I walked down and when I arrived at his crib is saw a tag with his name and #18 on it. The quiet place was quiet no more! As if their little bodies had been trained, they knew they were about to be fed and the cries of "me first," began. We were told that if a baby was crying, pick them up first and return to the round room. Sweet Mohammed didn't cry when I laid him down, he was happy to wait and let someone else eat first. So I went to find a more impatient baby!
Tiny Fatou was rather loud, so I picked her up and returned to the round room that was now clear of all mats, pillows and sheets. Several chairs were arranged neatly around the room with a cart of baby bottles in the center. I noticed Fatou was #30 so I approached the bottle cart and each bottle had a hand hammered brass ring around it with a brass tag hanging down, numbers stamped on each one. I grabbed #30, a bib and burp cloth and sat down to feed this tiny belly. The Mercy Ships volunteers along with the women who worked at the Baby House all sat in this circle with their babies cradled in their arms and the room fell silent as little mouths sucked down the warm formula.
I couldn't stop gushing about the brass rings on the bottles. I so wished I could take a picture of the brass rings! They seemed like a symbol of wealth, an extravagant adornment for babies of families of influence hundreds of years ago. My imagination got carried away and I pictured royal babies in long lace gown being fed by uniformed nannies holding bottles with brass rings around them, tags stamped with royal initials. Those rings grabbed my attention as something so beautiful, meaningful and in a way unnecessary. They could have just slapped masking tape on the bottles and written the numbers with Sharpies. They could have just made a bunch of bottles and said - "grab one, it doesn't matter, they're all the same!"
But isn't it fitting that the children of the King should have beautiful brass rings around their bottles? These royal babies deserved this special accessory that identified them individually, specifically. Not any old bottle would do, but one made specifically for each baby. Some were smaller, some bigger, some contained different types of formula, each one was made specially for each baby and marked with a brass stamp, denoting it's ownership.
"And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession - to the praise of his glory." Ephesians 1:13,14
"In ancient times a seal or signet was an instrument, often metal or stone, with an engraved pattern or design on it. It would be pressed into a softer material, usually wax or clay leaving an imprint like a stamp." Every king or ruler had their own seal, and if it were stamped on a document, it authenticated that document and proved who it belonged to. In the same way, those who believe in Jesus are marked, stamped with a seal, showing that we belong to God.
I finished feeding Fatou and carried her back to her crib. I laid her down, eyes now heavy as her fully belly started to induce sleep. I held her tiny hand and prayed over her. "You are a daughter of the King Fatou. God has great purpose for your life and you are loved. May you grow up to know that purpose and know the God who created you and loves you. You belong to Him."
**Sadly we are not allowed to take any photographs of babies or brass rings! So I hope you can close your eyes and imagine this blessed place. I went again the other day where there were 33 babies in the 0-6 month old group and another 30 in 6-18 months. The Baby House can hold up to 80 babies. After they are 18 months old, they are sent to other childrens' homes.