The Great Tiny Baby Rescue
The Great Tiny Baby Rescue
The babies come in all sizes.
They arrive at the rescue center weighing anywhere from 1.5 to 36 pounds. Some are new-borns, some are 19 years old. Technically, then, they aren't all babies. But technicalities weigh little in matters of life and death. All the children brought here are helpless and need critical care—or they will die. Of the 1,200 children treated at the center last year, 85 did die.
I have traveled here with World Help, a faith-based humanitarian group located near my home in Virginia. World Help partners with ministries worldwide, bringing to impoverished communities a bit of America's bounty. One of World Help's more than 100 partners is Hope of Life here in Zacapa, a flat, fertile valley nestled next to the Rio Grande de Zacapa in eastern Guatemala.
Rescuing babies has brought me here.
The fragile, dying babies that surround me remind me of other babies I tried to rescue, years ago, in America, at the crisis pregnancy center. And at the abortion clinics. And even the ones I could not bear. I could not see or hear or hold those babies. But these I can. And I do.
Crossing to Hope
The ministry began in 1987, when Carlos Vargas made a sickbed bargain with God.
Born and raised in the Guatemalan village of Llano Verde, as a teenager Vargas left for the United States, where he became a successful businessman. But he was forced to return to Llano Verde when an unknown illness crippled him, threatening to keep him in the village the rest of his life. Moved one day by an elderly beggar, Vargas gave the man money and promised God that if he could get out of bed, he would spend his life serving the poor.
Both God and Vargas kept their word. Vargas recovered, and he soon built a home for the elderly. It became one of the first buildings of a ministry that has burgeoned into a 3,000-acre campus—almost 5 square miles—that serves Guatemala's most vulnerable citizens from crib to wheelchair. Beyond home base, Hope of Life serves outlying communities by sponsoring children, building wells and new homes, running feeding centers, leading schools, and more. Partnering with World Help, American companies provide surplus goods in a makeshift store where villagers shop using tickets given by Hope of Life based on family size. Missions teams—which descend upon the campus every week—distribute new shoes to surrounding villages. The ambulance used to transport rescued children was donated by a church in Virginia.
Operation Baby Rescue, a partner program with World Help, is only the beginning of Hope of Life's ministry. "While rescuing babies is a priority, we are investing in the rest of their lives and in their communities," explains Noel Yeatts, vice president of World Help. "It doesn't end with baby rescue. We are doing multiple things to break the cycle of death and despair."
Today, one of the rescued "babies" who just arrived is 13-year-old Noë, who rests in his father's arms. They are accompanied by six more sick children and five family members—each toting a few possessions in small plastic bags. They have walked for hours from a remote mountain village, arriving at the bank of El Motagua River. They are met by World Help and Hope of Life staff. Rugged oarsmen ferry them to the other side, where an ambulance awaits.
Noë's father bears his son up the steep grassy bank toward the ambulance. His dark face is set grimly, his eyes lit with fear. Many indigenous Maya mountain dwellers suspect Western Christians of wanting to trade the children in the country's thriving human trafficking scene—or worse. Some families, believing shamans' promises to heal their sick children, have only seen their loved ones deteriorate. Between fear and empty promises, Noë suffers— from cerebral palsy, pneumonia, and severe malnutrition. His father finally lifts his son's limp-limbed body into the ambulance. Medical personnel lay Noë gently on a bench next to me, as I take into my own arms Rosalia, another child who has crossed the river today.