By Nancy Rempel
Mrs. Mahsud squeezed her 15-year-old daughter Razwana’s arm like a vise as they hurried out of the mission hospital. February temperatures in northern Pakistan had dipped to near-freezing, but their brows were wet with sweat.
The delicious smell of beef kababs wafted on the air as the pair threaded their way through the crowds of Al Marjan market. Bundled in several layers of woolen clothing, they kept their eyes down, imagining everyone knew their secret.
A tsunami of emotions and thoughts frothed inside Mrs. Mahsud as they scrambled home. How had they all missed it? Her unmarried daughter was 36 weeks pregnant, and she had to find out through a foreign infidel nurse? Mrs. Mahsud had spat out Razwana’s future to nurse Anitra. “She will go home to her grave.” In the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, unwed pregnant girls are dead women walking.
Anitra’s words, like a life raft in a storm, had trailed behind them as Mrs. Mahsud had marched her daughter out of the examination room, “Wait… can help… delivery here… complete secrecy.”
Razwana’s maternal aunt, Surat Jan, slid the chain off the inside of her door to admit her sister and niece. She studied their faces and pushed them into a private room. Cloistered there, the three of them did what Muslim women do best. They schemed a way to survive.
For two weeks, amidst lies and excuses, Mrs. Mahsud—paralyzed between maternal instinct and family honor—kept the rest of the family in the dark about the pregnancy and the rape that had caused it.
With the birth imminent and Razwana’s blood pressure at dangerous levels, Surat Jan grabbed her niece and made a run for the life raft at the mission hospital.
Nurse Anitra spotted Razwana and her aunt in the patient lineup and ushered them into a private room. Any of the locals could have identified them. Maybe already had.
Razwana was malnourished and terrified, too exhausted to protest the prayers of the Pakistani nurses who had gathered in her room—prayers in the name of Jesus.
After two days of deliberation and waiting, Anitra induced Razwana’s labor. Things progressed well during the first stage of labor then ground to a halt. The baby was stalled in the birth canal. Anitra carefully eased the baby’s head out with forceps, then guided the body into the world. The tiny boy cried out quietly as if he, too, sensed the danger.
Razwana never looked at her baby. Tears welling up in her dark eyes slid down her cheeks when she turned her head away. While Anitra repaired Razwana’s minor injuries from the delivery, nurses whisked the baby off to a secret location.
Hospital staff prepared legal forms reflecting the family’s wishes to put the baby up for adoption.
A staff member took Razwana’s right hand and rolled her index finger on an ink pad before pressing it on the line marked “Mother of Baby.” As the fingerprint dried on the form, Razwana and Surat Jan slipped out of the hospital compound, afraid to breathe. This drama had just begun.
“And looking at them, Jesus said to them, ‘With people, this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (Matt 19:26 NASB).
PART T WO
On February 21,1992, Dr. Luke scribbled out a note between surgeries. He stapled it, sealed it in a Bach Christian Hospital envelope, and gave it to his colleague, Naz. After a journey on rugged roads, Naz would deliver the envelope with its explosive contents 12 hours later.
As Naz began his journey, 15-year-old Razwana was on her own journey. Through a crowded bazaar, she crept home from Bach Hospital with her aunty, Surat Jan. She cuddled a woolen shawl around her to cover her pain and shame. A full-term baby had just been pulled out of her by forceps—a baby conceived through rape.
Blood from the placental site in her womb was soaking through the cotton wool pad under her baggy pants. She felt the wetness and shortened her steps. Strips of cloth, bound around her to conceal her swollen breasts, restricted her breathing. Thirsty and dazed from blood loss, she stumbled and grabbed for her aunt’s arm.
The plan concocted by Razwana’s mother and aunt to survive the dishonor of the pregnancy was a masterpiece of deceit. They would blame the girl’s ill health and hospital stay on high blood pressure and a urinary tract infection. Her mother would conceal bloody pads in plastic bags and carry them to Surat Jan’s for burning. Despite her wretched condition, Razwana would do her house chores so that things appeared normal.
The long game involved snaring for Razwana, a husband inexperienced in sex—one who would be oblivious to her lack of virginity. Her Muslim groom would not see her before the wedding, so Razwana’s depression and neurotic behavior would be unknown to him. Her terror at the prospect of sex was irrelevant. A son, a second one, would solve all their problems.
On the Karakoram Highway, 325 miles away from the drama in Razwana’s home, my husband and I were in the Thal Desert trying to communicate God to Pakistanis in a language not our own.
After five years of marriage and a long season of infertility, Don and I opened our hearts to the idea of adoption. We had added our names to lists at a couple of Christian hospitals in Pakistan—lists of those wanting to adopt babies.
When our screen door slammed shut on the chilly evening of February 22, 1992, we were about to learn how good and generous God is.
Don walked into the front room, locked eyes with me, and pressed a small envelope into my hand. It was unopened. “This just came with Naz from Bach.”
Standing together in our living room, we opened the envelope and eased the staple off the letter. Hunched over the small note written by Dr. Luke one day earlier in anticipation of a birth, we read, “Baby due in the next few days…they say they will not keep it…available to you…Can you care for it?”
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” (Gen 50:20 NASB).
On February 24, 1992, veteran missionaries Dave and Synnove Mitchell answered the door of their home in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city. This was an intervention.
Two days earlier, in Layyah, a voice in northern Pakistan crackled on the other end of the phone, “Baby boy born at 4:45 p.m.”
Still clutching Dr. Luke’s note, I had leaned into the receiver and asserted myself as a mother. “His name is Christopher.”
The following day, after a nine-hour drive to Islamabad, Don and I trudged into the Mothercare baby store. Snapping up an array of baby items, we shuffled back to the Jeep with our bags.
We left the parched capital the next day and drove three hours on spiraling roads amidst terraced hillsides, closer and closer to our baby. I studied the faces of the locals we passed on the roadside, wondering if Christopher would look like them.
Like newlyweds, we did not know what we were getting ourselves into when Mrs. Cutherell placed Christopher into Don’s arms at Bach Christian Hospital. Unlike newlyweds, there would be no honeymoon.
Cloistered in the Cutherells’ bathroom that evening, no one was happy. Not the howling baby. Not Don, white and faint from the sight of blood. And not me, all thumbs. Urine-soaked bandages from Christopher’s recent circumcision had to be changed, and well, we were his parents. We passed the night listening to baby sounds.
We began the 327-mile trek back to our desert home the following day. Blankets wound around Christopher’s tiny body were like bumpers in the large car seat. His head bobbed along in time to the bumpy, curvy roads. My body swirled backward and forward as if on a swivel, checking on our son.
Just 75 miles into the trip, Christopher was the only one who had it together. Our minds worked overtime. Were we keeping the circumcision wound clean enough? Would Christopher’s staph infection respond to the medicine? Were we mixing his milk formula correctly? Was he wet Was he cold? Who did we think we were?
Finally, when we realized that our drinking water supply would never last the journey, the last of our brave efforts at parenting deflated like a balloon. In 1992 you could not buy bottled drinking water in Pakistan. You sterilized your own or went without.
Like three mismatched china cups in a hurricane, we huddled on the Mitchell’s doorstep and rang the doorbell. Dave and Synnove welcomed our bedraggled family inside and delivered us—from ourselves.
When we loaded our four-and-a-half-day-old baby into the Jeep to resume our journey the next day, we were standing. Standing on the shoulders of ordinary people who did brave things. Fragile people in the hands of God. Fragile, like a fingerprint.
“But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;” (1 Cor 1:27)
Nancy and her husband, Don, served as missionaries in Pakistan and India for many years before relocating to Canada in 2017. They continue to share Christ with Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs in Kelowna, B.C.