Six-year-old Samara pushes off the last leg of her trousers with difficulty as she sits on the floor between the legs of therapist Eva Nyoike, then raises her hands for the expectant triumphant hand-grab and cheer she receives each time she accomplishes a task.
Samara’s mother, Damaris Loewen-Rudgers, watches and exclaims, ‘Did you see that? She put her hands up first!’
It’s a tiny step, something they haven’t seen before. Earlier in the day at an equine-assisted therapeutic session at a local stable, Damaris noticed her daughter softly petting the smooth rump of the horse, also a first. Even the smallest improvements are worth celebrating.
A Brutal Year
When Daniel Loewen-Rudgers, a MAF Pilot in Kenya, and his wife Damaris, found out that their baby was not developing properly, the diagnosis was devastating. At week 35 their baby girl, Samara, was delivered by caesarean section and was found to be infected with high levels of rubella.
‘I didn’t read up on anything until two months later,’ Damaris says, accepting her doctor’s advise to take the time to simply enjoy and love their daughter. ‘Then I just wanted to break down and cry when I started reading about all the stuff you can get.’
Before she had reached the age of two, Samara’s surgeries included four eye operations, a heart catheter, open-heart surgery, an ear surgery, a Cochlear implant, and a feeding tube. After 15 months they finally returned home to Kenya. ‘Those 15 months were pretty brutal,’ Daniel says.
‘Every time the doctors did another test the news got worse and worse, downhill and downhill,’ Damaris remembers.
Three years on, in 2014, the family traveled to Germany for home assignment and further surgeries for Samara, including another major heart operation. ‘We’ve had the worst-case scenarios so often that we’re trying to be more realistic,’ Damaris says. ‘After the first heart surgery they said it would be 10 years to the next, and it was only four.’
2015 was the first with no emergencies for Samara, a heavenly ‘normal’. Daniel and Damaris learned to take life one day at a time and have gained new perspective on what it means to wait on the Lord.
‘We read through the Bible quickly and don’t think much about how long people like Abraham waited,’ Daniel explains. ‘It’s just a sentence in the Bible, but they stayed faithful through years and years with a lot of ups and downs. It’s about faithfulness without expecting anything. You come to a different understanding of what the sovereignty of God actually means and who He is.’
Although they may never have the answers they want, they have chosen to remain faithful to the omniscient God who holds their present and future in His hands.
Thriving in Kenya
The family are thrilled to report they have now found a special school for Samara in Nairobi, where she receives the care she needs. She has settled into the new environment very well and has made some great progress in her mobility.
In March 2017, it was discovered that Samara’s inner eye pressure was too high, which if left untreated could cause blindness. With the severity of the situation, Samara needed treatment in Germany, so in mid-April Damaris took the three children to Germany whilst Daniel remained in Kenya and South Sudan and Samara had her surgery. ‘These kind of interruptions put our day-to-day-life on hold for a while and take a lot of strength, energy and also flexibility to overcome.’
‘We have been learning over the past years not to over-focus on the challenges that lie ahead. Instead we are learning to focus on the present – enjoying the seasons of calm, routine and family life which God also blesses us with at many times. And to trust Him that for each hurdle that we encounter, God will pave the way and give us the strength to make it through.
A Calling and Home
Despite all the challenging circumstances, nothing has changed their resolve to continue with MAF in Kenya. Initially, Daniel and Damaris feared that Samara’s medical conditions would involve returning to Germany or Canada, but they found there was medical care available in Nairobi.
‘Every time we think there’s a reason why we’re going to have to quit, God opens something…. God didn’t make things easier for us, but He always showed us that our place is still here,’ Daniel reflects. ‘That was our comfort. We still get to do what we feel God had called us to do with MAF. For us, this is a life-time commitment until God tells us otherwise.’
Story by LuAnne Cadd. Photographs by LuAnne Cadd and Daniel and Damaris Loewen-Rudgers.