Beliefnet
In the summer of 1968, between my junior and senior years inmedical school, [my wife] Nancy (a nurse) and I worked in a small rural hospitalin the village of Tomohon, in the northernmost tip of Indonesia.We went through a fellowship program, then administered bythe Association of American Medical Colleges, designed to exposeAmerican medical students to dire medical needs in rural foreignsettings. We had to arrange for an American doctor to serve as oursponsor, and we went to Indonesia because we knew a medical missionary,Dr. Philip Anderson, working in that location.

While driving us into the mountain village of Tomohon for thefirst time, Dr. Anderson joked that he had a little Indonesian childpicked out for us. We laughed because nothing could have beenmore improbable; I faced several more years of training, and wewere neither emotionally nor financially ready to start a family.

I soon met the little eighteen-month-old boy Dr. Anderson had inmind, because he was still in the "pediatric ward" (meaning woodenslats on a cement floor) after being left at the hospital by a "familyfriend." He had some minor problems that needed attention but wasbasically in good health. After several weeks of getting to know himduring my hospital work, I impulsively decided to take him with meto a birthday party for one of the Indonesian nurses. Nancy had beenworking in another part of the hospital, so that evening she met himfor the first time. After the party we decided to take the toddler backto our quarters and give him a bath. (He was quite dirty because heran around the hospital compound without clothes most of thetime.) When the time came for him to go back to the hospital, wedecided he should at least spend the night with us; I would take himback with me in the morning. We had a wonderful evening playingwith him.

The next morning over breakfast, we looked at each other and immediatelydecided we should adopt this totally lovable young boy sohe wouldn't have to go into the orphanage when he was releasedfrom the hospital. From that moment on he was our son just assurely as if he had been born to us.

There is more to the story. After Nolden had been living with usfor several weeks, a teenage girl showed up one day to check up onhim, and we quickly learned that she was his mother. She told ushow the father had left her when Nolden was born, how she hadraised him for the first eighteen months of his life as long as shecould breast-feed him, and how she had brought him back to thefather when she could no longer afford to take care of him. The father,posing as a family friend, had brought him to the hospital. Allthe while our hearts were pounding in fear that she would now wanthim back.

We explained to the young mother what had happened and howmuch we wanted to adopt the boy and take him back to Americawith us. To her great credit, in our eyes, she readily agreed that thiswould be the best plan for him since she was in no position to raisea child. And so we were allowed to keep this great gift that had so unexpectedly come into our lives.

I could go on and on about the events that followed-the enormousdifficulties we encountered in trying to get U.S. ImmigrationService approval for bringing him back with us, the very real threatof having to leave Nancy behind to take care of him when I returnedto medical school, the immigration officer in Alaska who allowedhim into the country even though his status was not fully legal andso on. But the bottom line is that we returned to medical school inthe fall with a young son who has turned out to be one of the greatjoys in our life. As I write this, Nolden is in his mid-thirties, a graduateof the Rhode Island School of Design, a freelance furniture designer,and married to a young woman who is also adopted. A few years ago they welcomed their first child-our first grandchild!

I tell this story to raise the very complicated and profound questionof whether or not it's possible and wise to believe in "providence"-the idea that the God responsible for the creation of this universemight also "arrange" or "direct" human affairs in everyday ways. Inthis context, is there any reason to believe that somehow God "arranged"that we would meet and adopt Nolden?

In retrospect it's often startling to see how events in our lives thatat the time appeared to be totally disconnected seem to have stunning-even spooky-connections. For example, in the case of ourson's adoption, Nancy and I could conceivably trace a line from theseemingly chance events of being raised in the same church denomination (though geographically separated by a thousand miles),meeting in Chicago because of that connection (she in nurses' trainingat the hospital sponsored by our church, I attending their seminary),falling in love and getting married, my surprising decision toattend medical school, which led to the fellowship program, placingus in Indonesia because we knew a doctor who would sponsor us, arrivingjust at the time Nolden had been abandoned at the hospital.What a stretch, you might say! And I would agree, from the point ofview that sees all of life as a series of entirely accidental and unrelatedevents. But what about a perspective that views life as a seriesof choices which, when made according to a set of principles basedon maximizing the love of God and neighbor, may over time increasethe possibility of ending up with a more fulfilling life? I knowthat also sounds like a stretch. But as I look back on my own life andchoices, I can discern that kind of providential principle in my lifeand in the lives of others I know well. Put another way, the many individualchoices we make along the way start to build up in a collectivedirection that can ultimately make a dramatic difference, dependingon those individual choices.
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