Rev. Bonnie Carenen is a former Week of Compassion Intern now working with Church World Service in Indonesia.
I named a child.
We were rained in on Saturday in the town of Sikakap, the main city where aid distribution and tsunami response is carrying on after the Oct. 25 earthquake and tsunami in the Mentawai Islands. The sea was too rough for the boats, and the roads were too muddy for aid vehicles to pass through, even CWS’ motorcycles. We spent the afternoon in the makeshift hospital into which the local Protestant church had been converted. The matron explained that more than 100 patients and their families had been treated there. Fortunately, many of them had recovered and found other places to stay. One infant who was treated, Baby Emmanuel, was described as a miracle baby: both his parents had died, but rescue workers found him two days later--still alive.
One young woman and her family were still at the hospital, living on rolled-out mats on the cement floor of the church building. She had given birth at the hospital two months prematurely, just three days after the tsunami. Her husband and home were lost in the earthquake and tsunami. That was almost a month ago, and her baby still didn’t have a name. The infant was seriously jaundiced, and was hospitalized in Padang, the nearest big city with a hospital, that is more than a twelve hour boat ride from the Mentawai islands. The mother was severely traumatized and lost in her grief.
The mother hadn’t named the child partly because there wasn’t yet an opportunity for a baptism, and partly because, as a new widow and first time mother to a seriously ill baby, she was completely overwhelmed. When the mother’s friend found out I came from the church, she asked me to name the child.
Was she serious?! I said, “I can’t name the baby unless the mother says it is okay.” Meanwhile, the mother sat whittling her toenails with a sharp knife. Translating into the local language, the friend asked if it was alright, and the mother gave a short shrug, and said that was fine. The baby was a girl.
Holding the child, I thought about the importance of a person’s name. And what an honor it is to have been asked, as a pastor, to christen the child. I asked the child who she wanted to be, who she already was, and what blessings she would be for the world.
And it came to me. Amelia.
She will be Amelia because it means “to make better.” My deep hope is that her calling and her gift may be to make things better for her mother and family and community, after the unimaginable loss they have endured. And within that, she may find her strength.
And, according to the local tradition, she needed a middle name. I held Amelia for a long time, discerning what her middle name would be. I considered many of my favorite women from the Bible and from my own life. I thought about this child born in the church building after the family’s life and community were rocked apart and carried away in a wave. And I thought about Advent as the season of Expectation, and the waiting and wanting of the whole world to achieve the joy of the world as God created it to be. The next day would be the beginning of the second week of Advent, commonly marked by the theme of Joy. “Joy will come in the morning”(Psalm 30).
Amelia’s middle name will be Joy: anticipation, expectation, and ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise.
I pray that she will make the difficult times that her mom will endure in the next weeks and months better, and that circumstances in her own life will improve. Meanwhile, Joy, which I explained is “holy happiness” that comes from God, is in their midst, like the miracle of the child Emmanuel.