Rev. Cheryl Allen didn’t tear down a wall; she just created a small hole in it. As a result, about 720 abandoned babies have been rescued through the “Door of Hope.”
Rev. Cheryl Allen didn’t tear down a wall; she just created a small hole in it.
As a result, about 720 abandoned babies have been rescued through the “Door of Hope.”
When Allen was senior pastor of Berea Baptist Church, which is in one of the roughest, highest crime neighborhoods in Johannesburg, South Africa, she came face to face with a crisis. Babies were being abandoned every day—put in garbage cans, tossed down manhole covers or placed in toilets.
There were all sorts of explanations: The mothers were HIV-infected. The babies were HIV-infected. The mothers were so poor they couldn’t buy food for themselves, much less the babies.
The babies came from homes in which their fathers abused both them and their mothers. Sometimes, the only option was for the mothers to sell their babies into prostitution. In short, there seemed to be no hope.
“But they trusted the church,” said Allen. “Our church leaders met and decided we had to do something. We asked God what we could do for the inner city.”
The Door of Hope was born with the realization that mothers who abandoned their children wanted anonymity.
A hole was created in the wall of the church on the model of a night depository in a business. The small hole connected to a stainless steel bin that was padded and protected for babies. Mothers that were abandoning babies could do so through the hole, tripping a sensor that alerted trained staff in a nursery. The babies, most of them HIV-positive, would be given food, medical care and eventually put up for adoption.
Because of various regulations involving adoption of babies exposed to HIV, most of the babies have been adopted by those in Scandinavian countries, primarily Holland.
“We are literally changing the face of Holland,” said Allen, who last week was given the Brooks Hays Christian Citizenship Award by Second Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark.
One of the mandates of Door of Hope, which Allen hopes will eventually become an international program, is that babies must be adopted by Christian families. Careful records are kept of the time of arrival of the abandoned babies and the clothes they were wearing. The birth mother has 60 days to change her mind.
Door of Hope averages receiving 50 newborns a month and now operates three baby houses. The organization goes through 3,000 diapers a month and 5,600 bottles of formula. The staffers are paid, which also helps the high unemployment rate in her community.
“We’re making a difference, one child at a time,” said Allen.
Door of Hope has a partnership with the Touch Life Centre at Troyeville Baptist Church in Johannesburg, where Allen currently serves as senior pastor. Babies who are not immediately adopted are transferred to an orphanage, where they are raised according to Christian principles. Allen has arrangements with various businesses and charities in the area for food and clothing.
Once, a man donated two tons of food to the organization.
“I had no idea how much two tons of food was until we started unloading it,” Allen said. “But when you trust God, he provides in most unusual ways. If you honor God as a king who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, then I figure he can kill a few to provide for us. It’s just important to learn to trust God like that.”
There are not always success stories. Some babies are too sick with AIDS or hunger to be saved.
“The mothers abandoned them because they had no hope themselves and wanted to give their babies some hope,” Allen said. “I remember one note we had attached to an abandoned baby. It said, ‘I love you very much. We are on the streets. We have no future. I want to give you a chance at life.'”
Allen said a major part of the AIDS problem resulted from apartheid.
“The men would be taken out of town to the mines for 11 months or so at a time. It was hard to go that long without sex. And various women and prostitutes came to the towns. The women were infected with HIV and the babies became infected. We’ve found 60 percent of pure, faithful wives became HIV-positive when the men returned.”
There’s risk in this endeavor, and Allen almost paid a severe price.
One day, she had babies in both arms and one clinging to her leg. In trying to protect one of the HIV-infected babies clinging to her hip, she was bitten to the bone by a frightened, hurting child. She had two hours in which to start receiving strong medication. Fortunately, there’s always a doctor in the house with a medicine pack.
She had to take the medication for about a month and “by the second week, I was sick as a dog,” she said. “By the second and third week, pains were everywhere. It affects your nervous system. Sometimes, you want to die.”
Upon recovery, she saw the silver lining. “That helped me really understand what people have to go through when they are taking these drugs,” she said. “When the people are thinking they can’t take one more pill, I can tell them and encourage them by my experience to not stop.”
Every day, she loves the babies.
“I tell my kids I love them, but Jesus loves them more than I do,” she said. “They ask, ‘How can anyone love me more than pastor?’ They love me but I think they see Jesus in me. I’m actually not very lovable.”
Her reward is the happy faces of children, the hopeful faces.
“I remember we took in an 18-month-old girl whose mother was a drug addict who had sold her countless times to be exploited to pay for her drug addiction,” said Allen. “She had to have major surgery because of the abuse. Then, at three years old at church she came to me singing, ‘Here I am to worship. Here am I to bow down …'”
Allen’s sermon delivered at Second Baptist Church was about loving “the least of these.” She has the scars and the joy to show how it’s done.
David McCollum, a member of Second Baptist Church, Little Rock, is a columnist for the Log Cabin Democrat in Conway, Ark.