"An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." (Matthew 2:13)
Shortly thereafter, Herod gave the order for all of the baby boys in Bethlehem to be killed.
It is a tragedy when any baby dies, let alone thousands dying needlessly. Such unimaginable sorrow.
Yet in the USA, over 23,000 babies die each year before reaching their first birthdays. Globally, it is over four million per year. Like so many other issues, infant mortality disproportionately affects babies living in poverty and babies of color, with Black babies being twice as likely to die as their white counterparts. But it's preventable.
Like Jesus, too many of our babies face "no room in the inn." Like the holy family, families today must overcome the many effects of homelessness and instability. Housing insecurity is one of the leading causes of infant mortality. During pregnancy and after birth, families face serious economic and systemic issues that force them to leave their homes. Even with stable housing, here isn't always safe bedding for infants, who are supposed to sleep Alone, on their Backs, in a Crib.
No swaddling clothes. No mangers.
Stress is sometimes self-managed with cigarette smoke, which is dangerous for babies both in utero and after birth. Clean air is further compromised by increased proximity to power plants and other forms of pollution. And access to early, affordable healthcare itself is a major factor. Pregnant parents might not have to ride a donkey, but many must ride a city bus across town to visit their prenatal doctor.
In the face of these issues, UM Church for All People is working hard to ensure that every baby in our community reaches its first birthday. We have a full-time staff person committed to the work of engaging families with babies and infants. We host First Birthday parties to celebrate the lives of our children and to connect them to support systems and vital information. We partners with Moms2B to help shepherd high-risk pregnancies. We've launched CareHome, with the managed care company CareSource, to provide affordable stable housing for families through their child's first birthday. We deliver cribs and diapers. And we do it all through strategic partnerships that bring resources together to help our babies thrive.
Facing systemic and state-sanctioned oppression, Jesus needed divine intervention to reach safety. What is the next decree from the Herods of our modern world that will threaten the lives of our children? And likewise, what is the Egypt for today's children? Where can they go for refuge?
What if we as communities of faith provide that refuge?
What if churches could be that safe space to help babies thrive?
Mary and Joseph managed to protect Jesus and help him thrive past his first birthday.
What might we do to help our babies today?
If you would like more information about how local churches can help reduce infant mortality in their community, contact Community Development for All People at 614-445-7342 or office[at]4allpeople.net