One evening in January 1990 we, David and Rhonda, received results that Rhonda was with child just four months into our marriage. We were so excited! We began calling family members to share the wondrous news. Rhonda began to grow a round little belly that active little feet would later dance across. We asked our midwife, Pamela Rox, about the heartbeat at each appointment, but it was inconsistent, which was okay because we truly wanted the baby’s sex to be a surprise, yet somehow toward the end of the pregnancy we felt she was a girl along with many people that knew us. We began praying and searching for names. During a Sunday morning service at First Baptist Church, Killeen, Texas while Jimmy our youth pastor was preaching in the latter part of Mark 5 he read Jesus’ words, “Talitha cumi” (which means, “Little girl, arise!”. I turned to David saying, “I think that is the name, Talitha!” We began praying about this new name. “How do we pronounce it?” “Ta lee tha?” “Tal i tha” “Could this be a name for a little girl?” God began to write this name on our hearts and Talitha /Ta lee tha/ would be the baby girl’s name. This brought a question to my heart: “What did this name mean to our little one? What was God going to do in her life? What kind of beautiful miracle would He perform?” We chose Caleb to be the baby boy’s name.
Sadaam Husein invaded Kawait toward the end of our pregnancy, which sent David, his division, along with the rest of the US troops into preparation. He was serving in the US Army at Fort Hood in the infantry and all the equipment had to be changed/painted from forest camouflage (Vietnam) to dessert camouflage. It took months and was a disguised blessing for it allowed David to not only be present for the beautiful delivery of our first daughter Talitha, but stay for the first 7 weeks of her life.
During his absence I began to plead with God to allow David to be home for all of Talitha’s first things. Talitha and I grew so close during her first months. It helped having a precious baby to care for while David was away. Talitha and I went everywhere together and spent every waking moment in each other’s arms. This war was predicted to be a slaughter upon the US troops and to take years to get the troops home. Discouraging times came, especially with the news, but I withdrew with God and He was faithful to encourage me and lift me up. I stopped listening to the news and idle talk and set my hope on God in whom I trusted. After seven months David returned home. His first day home Talitha took her first step, the next day she got her first tooth in. God was proven faithful and tenderhearted to listen to a young mother’s cry and care so deeply for the little longings in her heart. With this I thought my questions were answered. God wanted to perform little miracles in her life and that is why He chose “Talitha” to be her name.
She grew so beautifully with each year, as we were amazed at her contentment and obedience from the tiniest age. She trusted the Lord at a young age of five as we were eating dinner one night before we were to go to our Family Bible Study at the Jabours. Her heart was tender to God and tender to us and in time she wanted her little sissy Hannah to know her Jesus.
As our family grew Talitha became a vital part of our everyday routine. She loved preparing meals, reading to Anais, or taking care of darling Gabriel. She was a little mommy to Anais and Gabriel whom she adored, one that I very much appreciated.
It was a laborious journey for the girls to say good-bye to her family and friends in America as we prepared to leave for Uganda. Hannah had the easiest time as she was the most excited to leave for Uganda while still in the States. Talitha was so concerned for her elderly grandparents, first, that she would not see them again and secondly, that they would come to know and trust in Jesus personally. Change was hard on her, so this was a huge adjustment for her. David and I spent much time praying for all the children’s hearts through this transition. We saw God do such work in each of them before our departure.
Time came soon that Africa was home. The girls made instant deep friends with the nationals that worked at Matoke Inn, our agencies guest house in Kampala, where we stayed our first two months in Uganda. During free moments the girls would flock to Baifa, Barbara, or Pentelope’s side to assist with their responsibilities or just talk with them through their day.
Easter Day we moved to Jinja to another guest house and two months later we moved into our own home after 7 long months of living unsettled. We had only what we brought with us in the luggage, for it would be five more months before our container would arrive. We made friends fast with the local missionaries and began a long process of culture shock. The girls found their niches. Talitha had always been such a servant and held such deep concern and compassion for others, but we saw this magnified in Uganda toward all; missionaries, nationals, muzungu. Hannah grew such a tenderness of heart for the nationals.
Talitha had been planning to be a veterinarian for years, until her time spent at Kiira Kids, a non-Christian international school. Talitha apprehensively committed to teach their Kindergarten class for one month thinking she would not like it. She put her heart into preparing for this class and planning such neat activities that would help them to relate to the readings she had selected. Her first day she came home so excited to be able to teach these three girls. It wasn’t long before she came to me saying, “Mummy, I don’t think I want to be a veterinarian any longer. God made the animals and I love them, but they are not eternal beings. I want to make a difference; I want to work with people. What can I do with people?” So we began to search together with the direction of God where she might fit. He so faithfully and quickly led her to the chiropractic/nutritionist field. We had seen in our short stay in Uganda what an incredible need there was for this. She began investigating requirements needed at Palmer University from where Rhonda’s granddaddy had graduated. We have educated ourselves in nutrition through the years, but while waiting for her next Algebra book to arrive, Talitha started her own nutrition study. Her plans as she could see would be to work with the young children of a tribe in Africa? Uganda? Maybe even open an orphanage?!
More immediate to her heart was opening a burn/sickness educational clinic in the village Lawanyama where David and I are working. There is so much sickness and so little understanding among the nationals. A little knowledge would make a huge impact in how the nationals deal with sickness, but of course it must be proceeded and met with prayer. God is the giver of true lasting knowledge. Talitha was so deeply burdened that she had plans to open her clinic in January 2007, but an extended rainy season delayed her getting started.
Since our girls were little they shared a deep desire to hear the voice of God. When Talitha and Hannah were little I painted the words of Jesus found in John 10 on their planter box in their bedroom which we read so often, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me… his sheep follow him because they know his voice.” They asked me often, “How can you tell when God speaks to you? How do you know His voice?”
“You will just know my darlings. It will not frighten you for it is not loud, it is still and quiet. He wants you to know His voice; He will not try to confuse you, but give you peace and direction when He speaks.” I encouraged them.
The Tuesday before Talitha contracted malaria, she stayed up all night praying, seeking the face of our Father. I awoke abruptly the next morning by a vibrant enthralled young lady jumping on my bed. “I heard God. Mummy, I really heard God.”
“What did He say?” I say trying to sit up.
“I stayed up all night last night to pray. God came and spoke to me last night and I felt him.” She explained oh so briefly and then had to hurry away to make the early journey to Kampala with David. I never had the opportunity to finish our conversation, but will hold forever to this precious memory I have of our born daughter’s cherished reaction to finally after long sought years hear her Father’s voice personally. Why only a few days before she got sick I don’t know. I am so curious for His words to her.
The last few months the question of Talitha’s name sake began to quietly rise in my mind. Not often, not loudly, just a pondering thought that was planted in my heart. The day Talitha was taken to heaven, I was looking through her Bible and found a small piece of paper that showed she had the same question? What does my name really mean for me? she wrote. She knew the literal meaning was “little girl/little lamb”, but somehow she thought there was a deeper interpretation.
Monday morning January 15, I knew why she was named Talitha. I found her on the bathroom floor where she had been most of the night throwing-up. God spoke to me and said, “This is why I named her Talitha.” She had been fighting a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) over the weekend. She threw-up a little once at midnight on Sunday while I was with her and shortly after we went to bed and I went to sleep for I had been up many nights of late and could not hold my eyes open. She had not the strength to hold herself up when I found her in the morning, which scared and shocked me after her improvement on Sunday. I ran to get David and we rushed her to a clinic in Jinja. I explained to Dr. Saleem she had a UTI, she had 5 quarts of water and fresh juice Sunday, and she had been dehydrated. They ran a blood test quickly returning with the results of 4+ malaria. David and I stood in shock. David had tested her numerous times and it never showed up-WHY??? They put her on antibiotics for the UTI and quinine for the malaria. This terrified us for we had seen all too often the results of quinine. Dr. Saleem reassured us that this was necessary for 4+ malaria. We continued to pray for Talitha and asked for prayer in every circle we knew, but had such confidence for God had spoken to me that morning that he was going to heal her. By Tuesday she had been given 3 bags of quinine and her malaria was down to a 2+. Yea God! Her blood pressure was stabilizing. Dr Saleem put her on a different medication, which I gave her before I left for the night to take care of the children at home, while David tenderly watched and cared for Talitha through the night. I struggled in leaving her for I wantied to be by her side every moment, but knew David could do a much better job caring for her in the night.
Around 5:30 AM Wednesday morning, Talitha slipped into a coma. David courageously revived her and ran to get the nurses. He then called to inform me that we needed to transport her to International Hospital of Kampala (IHK) by ambulance, the medical helicopter was in Sudan. I rushed with the girls to the clinic. It took much time to get everything prepared for her, but in time David and I were seated in the ambulance with our precious Talitha on the gurney as the girls and friends looked on in prayer. She had a seizure as we were waiting to leave. It terrified us all. David and I put our fingers in her mouth to keep her from biting her tongue as we yelled for a piece of wood, which came much later. She seemed to come out of her seizures easily as we stroked her forehead speaking tenderly to her telling her, “Close your eyes baby, just relax. Mommy and Daddy are right here darling.” Dr. Saleem and Nurse Alonyo rode with us beside Talitha; Daddy was at her head while I was at her side. It was the most horrible journey of our lives, but through song and prayer and many tears and through His grace we finally made it to IHK, but a concrete rolling truck obstructed the way of the hospital entrance. In fury I said, “Open the back and let’s just push or carry her up the hill.” This thought echoed through the vehicle from others as well. The driver decided to try another route to the back where we finally made it. Many Africa Inland Mission friends were waiting for us. We rushed her to ER where we could not stay and watch and shortly found that she had cerebral malaria. Our thoughts raced, “She was improving. She was supposed to come home today at 10 AM. How did this happen?” Our hearts sake! “Our baby has cerebral malaria.” We stood and pondered some time with the team. We needed to walk and move our nervous bodies for the hospital staff wouldn’t let us be with her. I found a quiet place and dropped in prayer. God soothed my fears and His Spirit brought unspeakable comfort and peace and reaffirmed what He told me Monday morning.
After we finally got to go into the room with Talitha, the nurse came to tell us we had visitors. Two men, an American missionary accompanied by a national, came to pray for us. After a time of introductions to the team and some conversation, he anointed David and I with oil and prayed over us. He then shared a passage he had been lead to in Luke 8 finishing with verse 50. “Do not be afraid, just believe and you will see her healed.” I asked if he knew our daughter’s name and he said no. I shared her name and what God had shared with me Monday morning. This encouraged us greatly and confirmed God’s word to us.
Talitha was in need of blood so David bravely gave his blood. I say bravely because I have never known David to even consider giving blood; needles terrify him.
The rest of the afternoon I spent by Talitha’s side. Watching over her, making sure she was getting good care, loving her as I caressed her hand and foot. I had to be near her; I had to touch her, but touch her gently I must for even the softest touch brought pain and she needed absolute brain rest for her brain to heal. Her hands and feet seemed to be the only area I could touch without bringing pain. The nurses were asking me to leave, but I pleaded with them convincing them I would not disturb her. “I’ll just sit at her feet! She’s my baby!” I begged.
The question came for me to decide if I should go home to Jinja to be with the children who had been without me so much this week or stay by Talitha’s side. David would be there and knowing I would return either way abruptly in the early morning, David thought it best for Gabriel’s sake for me to return home. It was a grueling decision and I did not want to leave her side, but I trusted her into God’s and Daddy’s care and received a ride with Christa Kyomya. Before I left I asked God to replace Talitha’s nurses here that were responsible over ICU, to others that would be gentle and have compassion and tenderness for her. David called me once I returned home with the great news that God answered our prayers in letting our friend Rose Clark, head over the nurses, come to visit, which changed the attitudes of the nurses completely and even brought new lovely compassionate nurses.
Hannah, Anais, Gabriel along with Grace Root and I ate when I returned home, for I wanted to go to bed early that night. Try as I did I felled to sleep. There was something in the air that did not allow for it. My prayer partner, Jacqui Latham, called to tell me she heard the news about Talitha. We had not been able to get calls through to her or her husband Tim for weeks. She committed to pray, for they were hosting a prayer meeting at their house presently. Later, she called to tell of a man, who did not know us, that prayed through the same passage about Jarius and his daughter. Tim had been praying through her name “Talitha”. This seemed to confirm a second time that God was going to heal her.
Finally, I placed my head upon my pillow, but this night was dark and anxiety hung above me all night. When I say darkness, I do not mean the absent of physical light, but more the present of spiritual darkness. I tossed and turned and fought and struggled. I called and text David through out the night for any updates. Sometime in the night her oxygen level went down to 91% and I hurried David to get help and see why it was not above 95. I cried to God in my despair for Talitha and begging rest upon myself that I might be some good for her in the morning. The darkness was too thick. My words cannot describe my experience of this night, but it reminds me of Christian’s long treacherous journey he made alone through the dark demon filled forest in Pilgrim’s Progress.
6:30 AM came and as I could not sleep even a moment and I thought it an appropriate time that I would not disturb Talitha, I text David with no reply. I called and heard Marsali’s soft voice, “Hi Rhonda. Would you like to talk to David.” David took the phone.
“How is Talitha, David?” I said frantically.
“Is Bev and Jess there Rhon?”
“Why would Bev and Jess be at my house at this hour?” I demanded.
Turning to Marsali David asked, “Do I tell her this way?” “Rhon, Talitha died five minutes ago. Our baby’s dead.” He cried in agony.
Silence enveloped us.
We spoke some necessary words and I said I would bring all the children and then hung up. My emotions had not come yet. I set my self to the task and after a few minutes fell on my face on the bathroom floor crying to God to bring her back. I picked myself up and called David. “David, what are you believing for?”
“I believe God wants to raise her to life.”
“Praise God, I am standing with you babe and I will call those around us to do the same.” I responded.
Hanging up I saw Bev and Jess walking down our hallway. They embraced me in love and I said, “Jess I don’t know how you believe on this, but David and I believe God can raise the dead and believe He wants to raise Talitha. If you can stand with us then stand in faith, if not then go home and do not pray. We will not be offended or hurt.”
They said they could stand with us, as many of our other friends committed as well one by one.
I called, Doug Stride, the fellow missionary in Kampala that visited and prayed with us the prior day that he might stand with David and me in prayer and encourage David through this time.
David says after Talitha died one of his first thoughts was to raise her to life. He began to pray over her in full faith expecting her to come to life. He says it shocked him to look up and not find her sitting up. He continued for hours. Steve Wolcott encouraged and prayed with David. He called for her resurrection again and again standing in faith.
“I do not want any work done here at our home today; give yourselves over to prayer and fasting only. David and I believe that God’s will is to raise Talitha to life today. If you can stand with us in faith then we praise God, if not go home and do not pray. We will not be offended, but we want prayers of faith.” I shared with William, our gardener, to share with all the guys that work for us. He confirmed he believed God could raise her to life.
It took an unreal amount of time to get things ready, get the vehicles, and get to IHK. The staff at the hospital and David had to make the choice to prepare her body while I was still on my way with the children, but I reasoned “God is a worker of miracles. If He raised Lazarus after 4 days, He can raise Talitha.”
We arrived and I took the children the back way that was trailed with dear missionary friends from AIM leading the way to David. When I saw him, my emotions flooded out-grief, agony, despair, sadness beyond measure. His countenance was empty and broken and exhausted. I asked, “Can we go pray?”
“I have. It’s over. She’s dead!”
The girls and I still had so much hope, we had to go pray over her. I felt as though I was entering Jarius’ home; mourners filled the area. Rebecca Fulks held limp Gabriel in her arms as the girls and David and I went in to pray over Taltiha. We again called for her life quietly and Talitha remained. Somehow I knew this was His answer, which left me in such confusion. Why did He confirm the scripture twice; why had He directed us to believe for her healing if He was not going to heal her?
Our family went back to the waiting room and I asked if the Lathams and Rebecca Fulks could come to pray with us in a quiet corner. We fell on the floor in despair calling to God for answers to our confusion. We all prayed, including the girls, and then waited. God does not give us confusion, He gives us direction. No answers came immediately.
Lots of decisions had to be made and finally we had to leave our sweet baby Talitha in the morgue as we returned home to Jinja to await our flight to Dallas. Emptiness and loneliness oozed from our souls, our minds. Numbness overcame us. David drove us home as we remained speechless. Questions began to fill my mind. As each question came I asked it of God, not expecting a response, just a question that must be asked. “This is just disgusting God. This is a tragedy. I have heard so often that You bring beauty out of tragedy and death. How can you ever bring any beauty out of the horrible slaughter of our baby Talitha?” We arrived home and agonizing mourning followed everywhere we went. William and the guys were distraught.
We entered our home and proceeded through the day the have to’s pulling ourselves through each moment. Grief without comfort overcame most moments. Questions, tears, cries of agony and anguish. Finally in the late afternoon, I needed to talk it out. I dragged myself to Rebecca’s gate across the street and found Fracis, their gardener, at the bottom of the drive. Fracis had recently lost his baby boy about four weeks earlier. We had been so burdened for him and his wife Josefine. Anguish filled my soul for this brother as I now understood his pain. We stood holding each other crying and grieving for one another and our own loss at the same time. It was at that moment that I began to understand the Ugandans’ pain, their everyday struggle to survive. After hours of grappling with all the questions and emotions in my mind with Rebecca, Kathy Bisset came to encourage me with strong words of faith and later the Latham’s came to bring the reflections of the day.
Maybe God meant that He would raise Talitha up to heaven, Tim Latham thought aloud.
I did not like that thought, but went home thinking deeply on it all night. God shared with me that He didn’t raise her to this imperfect, material, partial life that we have here on earth, but He raised her to complete life, whole and perfect where nothing is lacking. The next morning God reconfirmed to me that He did heal Talitha, but it was a perfect healing. Through the next few days God began to answer question after question; His peace began to enter our hearts little by little. God shared with me that He named Talitha before she was born knowing who she would be and who she would put her hope in. He knew she would rise to new life and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
We are amazed and absolutely blessed that God allowed us to parent such a beautiful child, a young girl always searching for ways to touch and bless others’ lives. Talitha loved her family incredibly and poured herself out for us. She lavished treasures on us continually, was a second mommy to the other children, a great help, friend, and daughter to David and me. She became my best friend and David’s traveling companion. She loved God and loved people. She was always willing to spend her time in serving others: missionaries, nationals, friends, MK’s, muzungus. She was even wanting to give her kidney for Angela, a dear national friend who Talitha worships God next to in heaven now. When she was young she wanted to become a missionary to China. Later, that changed to Alaska and the Native American Indians. Of late her heart had moved to Africa. Looking back I see a child of the Lord, our precious daughter, whose incredible love for her Father drew her to be open to go anywhere to reach the people with the news that Jesus is the Son of God and is alive and loves them and desires deeply to save them from their sin and reconcile them to the Father and give them eternal life.
We know in confidence that Talitha immediately went to the presence of God in heaven. “To be out of the body is to be in the presence of the Lord.” We pray that her life will be a seed planted to bear much fruit.