This story was written by a doctor who lived and worked in South Africa. I could not find his name, but from personal experience, such as Dr. Paul Osteen, many of them do this labor of love. As the story goes…

One night he worked hard to help a mother in the labor ward; but in spite of all he could do, she died leaving behind a tiny premature baby and a crying two-year-old daughter. It also proved difficult for the medical team to keep the baby alive, as they possessed no incubator. And besides, they didn’t have the electricity needed to constantly run an incubator. The small medical center also provided no special feeding facilities.

Although they were serving on the equator, nights often grew chilly with treacherous drafts of cold air. One student-midwife went to get the box they kept for such babies and the cotton wool that the baby needed to be wrapped in. Another went to stoke up the fire and fill a hot water bottle.

The midwife came back shortly in distress to tell us that in filling the bottle, it burst (rubber perishes easily in tropical climates). “And,” she exclaimed, “That was our last hot water bottle!” There’s an old saying in the West, that it is no good crying over spilled milk. But in Central Africa, it might be considered fruitless crying over burst hot water bottles. They do not grow on trees, and there are no drugstores down winding forest pathways.

So this doctor told the midwife to put the baby as safely near to the fire as she could and to sleep between the baby and the door to protect it from the chilling, cold drafts of air that blew in. He told her, “Your job will be to keep the baby warm.”

The following day at noon, as the doctor did most days, he went to have prayers with any of the orphanage children who chose to gather with him. He gave the youngsters various suggestions of things to pray about and told them about the tiny baby. He explained their problem in trying to keep the tiny baby warm enough, mentioning the hot water bottle, and that the baby could so easily die if it got chills. He also told them of the two-year-old sister, crying because her mother died unexpectedly.

During prayer time, as they went from child-to-child who prayed giving their request to God, one ten-year-old girl, named Ruth, prayed with the usual blunt conciseness of the African children. “Please, God” she prayed, “send us a hot water bottle. It’ll be no good tomorrow, God, as the baby will be dead so please send it this afternoon.”

The doctor gasped inwardly at the audacity of the girl’s prayer when she added, “And while You’re about it, would You please send a doll for the little girl so she’ll know You really love her?” As often with children’s prayers, an adult is put on the spot as to what to say. Could he honestly say, “Amen.” He was doubtful that God could do such a thing, even for an innocent believer like Ruth.

So he took the middle lane and told here, “Oh, yes, God can do anything and everything, the Bible tells us so. But sometimes there are limits, aren’t there?” He knew that the only way God could answer this particular prayer would be having a parcel containing these items miraculously sent from his homeland in time for it to arrive that day. He started living in Africa some four years ago, and I never ever received a package from home. And besides, if someone did send a package, who would think of putting in a hot water bottle or a baby doll, seeing his practice was in a facility on the equator!

Halfway through the afternoon, while he was teaching in the nurses’ training school, a message was sent to tell him that there was a car just pulled up at his front door. By the time he reached his house, the car was gone, but there, on the veranda stood a large package. He felt tears well up in his eyes. He didn’t want to open the box alone, so I sent for the orphanage children to come help him.

Together they pulled off the string, carefully undoing each knot. They folded the paper, taking care not to accidentally tear it. Excitement was mounting. Some thirty or forty pairs of eyes were focused on this large cardboard box. Excitement mounted as the time drew near to open this mysterious package.

As the flaps came up revealing its contents, on top he saw some brightly colored, knitted jerseys folded neatly. Eyes sparkled as he lifted them out of the box and passed them out. Then came knitted bandages for their leprosy patients. This was followed by a box of mixed raisins and small currant-like fruit called “sultanas,” used to make fresh batches of buns. Oh my, that would provide something wonderful for the weekend.!

Then, as he put his hand in the box again, he felt something that made him gasp. Could this really be what he thought it might be? He slowly took hold of it and slowly pulled it out – yes! A brand-new, rubber hot water bottle! Little Ruthie screamed with joy. And that’s when it hit him! He didn’t have enough faith to ask God to send it; he really didn’t think it would possible, let alone probable.

As he looked up he saw little Ruth in the front row of the children with a big grin on her face. She rushed forward, crying out, “If God could send the bottle, He must have sent the doll too!” So she started rummaging around at the bottom of the box. That’s when her little mouth fell open as she pulled out a small, beautifully dressed doll. Her eyes sparkled with joy. She never doubted it would come! Looking up at the doctor, she asked: “Can I go with you and give this doll to that little girl so she’ll know that Jesus really loves her?”

After examining the mailing label and a letter inside, the doctor found out that this package was in transit for five whole months. It was packed up by his former Sunday school class whose leader said God told him, and obeyed, to make sure there was a hot water bottle put in the box for shipment. Yes, a hot water bottle to the equator. And one of the girls in his Sunday school class brought a doll for any little African girl to enjoy – five months before ten-year-old Ruth’s prayer for God to get it to them that afternoon. This truly proved what God told the prophet, Isaiah, “Before they call, I will answer.”1

What a lesson this is for us who often pray in desperation, not anticipation. It’s not so much that we don’t believe God can answer, but we’re not sure He will answer right away. Just remember, any answer to prayer does not depend solely on our ability to pray but in God’s ability to answer. – Dr. Robert R Seyda

1 Isaiah 65:24

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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