Peter Shaw, Editor of Tear Times, reflects on how a trip to Peru with Tearfund shaped his prayer life and helped him to be even more thankful to God – even in the difficult times.
For more than three years my wife and I struggled to have a baby. It was one of the most painful and challenging times of our lives, and our faith. We saw doctors, specialists, and received support from friends and church leaders. The official, medical reason was, ‘unexplained infertility’.
According to IVF specialists CREATE Fertility, ‘...unexplained infertility occurs when standard fertility testing such as scans, tubal patency tests and semen analysis have failed to show a cause of the infertility.’
Two incidents stand out from the time of the diagnosis, which was 12 years ago. The first was a consultation with a doctor who looked at the unexplained results, and said, ‘Just relax.’ Stress is often viewed as contributing to infertility, but it’s not very helpful advice during one of the most stressful times in your life…
The other was the pastor at our church. As well as being the church leader he was also a senior medical doctor. He told us that we had to pray, we had to look to God. But he also told us we may have to accept that we may never have children. And that God will be with us in that too.
That was tough. So, we chose to ask God for a ‘miracle’, while accepting that this may not happen. But we knew we needed God with us, no matter what.
Birth of a miracle
In the midst of all this, I went to visit the outskirts of Lima, Peru, with Tearfund in 2010. It was a very poor neighbourhood made up mostly of rural migrants – desperate families coming to the city for work. We were a small team making a film for Tearfund’s Christmas appeal. While we were there, one of our translators was hurt in an accident and needed treatment at the local clinic.
As trip leader, I said I would go with her, alongside a member of staff from the local Tearfund partner we were visiting. I wasn’t allowed to go with the translator and partner to her appointment, and there was no waiting room at the clinic.
The hospital staff asked me to wait on a bench outside. Behind me was a curtained-off row of beds from which I could hear screams and moans. Occasionally, a nurse would rush through the curtains giving me a glimpse inside…
Pulling back the curtain
It was a maternity ward. But remove from your mind the image of a sanitised UK hospital with technical equipment, privacy, plenty of staff and anxious fathers with camera gear ready to record the special moment.
This was bed-to-bed, mothers-to-be lying on top, ripe and ready to give birth. As well as the agonising cries, many of them would roll off or get out of bed – persuaded to go back by the caring (but hugely overworked) medical staff.
And I remember thinking how absurd it was. There was me, desperate for a baby next to perhaps 30 women all about to give birth. And I did pray. One of those rambling, ‘I don’t know what you are up to God, but I’d like to know…,’ prayers. (The translator was fine after treatment, by the way.)
Born in Peru
Just over a year later, thanks to IVF, we did have a baby. Our wonderful boy, who is now nine years old. But through the treatment and care that led to his birth, I never stopped being thankful for all the amazing medical facilities and the wonderful staff that we enjoyed.
That encounter in Peru changed my prayers. It opened my eyes to see beyond my troubles and choose, even in the hardest times, to be thankful. But also to ask the question of why I should enjoy such privilege when so many across the world have nothing. Since then, I’ve visited communities where the clinic, beds and medical staff in Peru would be a luxury.
Encounters like being outside that maternity ward have made me more determined to call for justice and an end to the inequality and outrage of poverty.
Prayer is often like that. It’s a tension between feeling worried, determined, scared, outraged, helpless…it’s hard sometimes, but it shouldn’t stop us praying for breakthrough while accepting that God is in control. And asking him to change us, as well as our situations.
We cry out to you for mothers and families across the world for whom childbirth is a time of fear. Be with them and take care of mothers and unborn babies.
Please also move in the hearts of people in power to give more support and funding to make childbirth safer. Help Tearfund and our partners reach vulnerable mothers to offer support so that children are born healthy.
We also pray for couples who are living with the grief of not being able to have children. Please be with them, and surround them with people who will journey with them.
Thank you, Father, for the miracle of birth. And for giving your one-and-only son to be born and live amongst us. May we live our lives and seek justice for all those living in poverty, following his lead.