Who am I to be part of this?

    Stephne Bowers holds Tesfanesh Brian deGuzman in a photo taken on Valentine's Day.

    Only a special kind of person could face death and disease, poverty and despair on a daily basis — and somehow remain both optimistic and sane.

    I’ve met one.

    Stephne Bowers is a South Africa-born former teacher who runs three orphanages currently operating in Ethiopia through Children’s Cross Connection, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that receives financial support from Christian World Adoption. She and her family have lived in the village of Sodo for three and a half years. Her husband,  Harry Bowers, is an Ohio-born optometrist who runs an eye clinic in the village. Their two children, Karmyn and Benjamin, both 13, are homeschooled. Beyond running the orphanages, Stephne’s work includes supervising a homebound program for more than 500 families whose children receive education, medical care and food so that they can remain in their family homes.

    I met Stephne, Harry and several other members of the CWA “family” last night at the home of Brian and Keri deGuzman. This Paradise Valley couple, parents to two young children born in Ethiopia, will soon travel to Addis Ababa to welcome two new babies to their hearts and their home. I will be going with them to document their journey.

    I knew I would eventually get a chance to meet Stephne when we make our trip. But this opportunity was unexpected, and came about when her family was forced to make an expensive trip to the States this month to fulfill procedures required by the Ethiopian government to extend their visas.

    They had been in Arizona just 27 hours when I arrived at the deGuzmans’ home. Despite the fog of jet lag that is inevitable after a journey across nine time zones, they were smiling and laughing, happy to be reunited with friends and colleagues.

    For Keri and Brian, Stephne represents their babies’ “first mother.” She has cared for all four deGuzman children during the critical early months of their development, providing lots of love and plenty of nutrient-packed formula to bolster their health.

    “You were the one who was there with them, loving them, holding them,” Keri said as she held Stephne’s hand and tears welled in both women’s eyes.

    For Stephne, the chance to see Jesmina and Musse, happy and thriving in their comfortable home, was “humbling and emotional.”

    “Who am I to be part of this?” she frequently asks herself. Her humility allows her to take no credit, for she knows that “God has me in his hands” and is guiding the unfolding of her life. Her strong faith is the reason this gentle, soft-spoken woman can do the work she does — caring for the most fragile of children, many near starvation; slowly nursing some back to health and sadly watching some lose the battle for life.

    I told her I had read her recent blog post about a 15-day-old premature infant for whom heroic efforts simply came too late. I asked her how she copes with the heartbreak.

    Grief is draining on her strength. Prayerful reflection has taught her that “if I grieve too long, I don’t have the resources to keep doing what I need to do,” she says. Many times, as she describes in her blog, she bears witness to a burial, returning home to find yet another baby in need waiting on her doorstep.