Having Moses as part of the Tadema family hit an unforeseen glitch early on.
Moses was from the Ion tribe and Rits and Pearl were living with the Tiv tribe. The Tiv and Ion tribes had a history of strife and conflict. The tribes did not mix and tensions ran high between them. Rits and Pearl were hopeful that including an Ion baby would be an example to the Tiv people. It was not a smooth start. The Tiv people, who were learning about the love of Jesus, struggled as they watched a starving Ion baby join the loved missionary family. They were learning of an unconditional love that knew no barriers and stretched far, to all who sinned and fell short. They had heard the words of the missionaries that this Jesus was for all sinners and some had even accepted Jesus and chose to follow Him. Yet they couldn’t wrap their minds around the idea that the same Jesus could be for a Tiv person and an Ion person.
Rits and Pearl’s hired housekeeper was a Tiv boy named Akaa. He had recently declared his belief in Jesus and was seeking to follow Him. He drew the line with Moses. After watching the scene play out in front of him, he announced to Pearl that he would not be washing Moses’ diapers. He told her with great disdain, “His ancestors were cannibals and ate my ancestors. It is not right for me to wash his diapers. I quit!”
Pearl had been sitting with her children, reading the story of the Good Samaritan. The model from the gospels was perfect timing. She explained to Akaa that the Good Samaritan is like a Christian Tiv person and the hurt man is like an Ion person. Akaa’s face was still determined but he was listening. She gently explained, “Jesus wants us to help hurt people even if they don’t deserve it. That’s the Jesus way.”
There was a long pause.
Akaa finally found his words, “The Jesus way is very hard- very, very hard indeed.” He paused again and Pearl watched the internal struggle as he reached his own conclusions. “See you tomorrow, then.”
Rits recalls coming back from a four-day trip some time later and nearly had to rub his eyes to make sure he could see the scene in front of him correctly. Moses was perched on Akaa’s lap while he fed Moses a bottle. Rits marveled at the miracle before his eyes. Only the power of a compassionate Jesus could transform a heart, working amidst language barriers and cultural differences, through the presence of a baby. What had looked like a glitch was being used by the Lord to soften the Tiv people and give a deeper understanding of who this Jesus was that the Tademas proclaimed. It was the beautiful faith in action; the beautiful way God was building the Tadema family and using them to demonstrate the love of Jesus.
It eventually became clear that the Tademas would have to return to the States. Rits had battled malaria and barely come out on top. They were very seriously advised to visit their family doctor in the States and regroup. They were unsure what the next steps would be, but knew they would need to go home for a length of time.
The Tademas unanimously wanted to make Moses an official Tadema. They hadn’t needed to take any legal action while living in the bush, but knowing they would be leaving Nigeria was the opportunity to act on their desire.
Rits and Pearl officially asked to adopt Moses. They sent a runner to his tribe asking for his father’s signature and the signature of the compound chief. It seemed to be a minor legal hurdle because they knew the tribe had no interest in Moses and still refused to accept him as their own. Anticipating an official adoption, they waited with full hearts for news.
The runner returned instead with heartbreaking news. Moses’ tribe refused to sign. The runner explained: the Ions believed that Moses’ brown skin would make him a slave in America. Rits and Pearl were told, “It is better that he die in the tall grass than go to America and become a slave.”
They pleaded and begged, trying to explain their intent and hope for Moses’ life. They insisted that slavery had been abolished. They tried to communicate that adoption would make him legally their son, with rights to their name and inheritance, as much as their biological children. It was to no avail.
Rits and Pearl knew their time in Nigeria was ending. They knew there was no way to change Ion belief and take Moses. They prayed, but no miracle came in the way they had hoped.
Ultimately the only option was to leave Moses, bringing him to an orphanage to be raised. The entire family was heartbroken as they prepared to say their goodbyes. They chose to believe if returning to America was the best thing for their family, God also had a plan that was best for Moses. It was easier to say than to accept in their hearts. While all the goodbyes were difficult, it was the goodbye to the son they had hoped was forever that was the hardest.
The height of pain and grief came when it was time to get him settled at the orphanage and drop Moses off. Pearl knew that Moses, even as a toddler, could sense the change as they entrusted him to people at the orphanage. After kisses, cuddles, and prayers, she had to force herself to hurry to the missionary plane without looking back.
One of the widows who had become friends with the Tadema family had prayed over the Tademas before they left Nigeria. She prayed, “Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. When we asunder part it gives us inward pain, but we shall still be joined in heart and hope to meet again.” They boarded the plane while hoping in the back of their minds that the separation with Moses would not be permanent, and believing their hearts were indeed tied.
Pearl settled into the plane surrounded by her biological children, knowing that a piece of her was remaining in the country where she had somehow fit in and made herself at home, while still sticking out as a tall blonde foreigner. The plane took flight, and they watched the land they loved disappear from view.
Unfortunately, when returning stateside Rits learned the damage to his pancreas due to starvation in Holland during World War II had been further damaged by malaria in Nigeria. The doctor informed him another trip to Africa was too risky. It seemed the choice was now out of their hands. They would make their permanent home in America. They were left with prayers over Moses, and faith that the Jesus who was His true Father, would pursue him, love him, and grow him even in their absence.
Rits and Pearl were forced to reconcile that they might not ever know what came of Moses. As their chapter in Africa ended, Pearl prayed and surrendered her little boy to the Lord, as well as surrendering the idea that they might ever return to Africa to live.
To be continued...but I won't make you wait as long as the Tademas waited for their conclusion....
Just throwing myself out there a bit...