“It is estimated that as many as 60 million girls are missing from the Indian population due to female abortion, neglect and infanticide.”
“Was the baby a boy or a girl?” mumbled the pair of nurses huddled in the corner of the hospital recovery room. “It was another girl. Shh—she’s waking up.”
I could barely make out what the ladies were saying as they whispered in Tamil (the local language) while I was recovering from the effects of a general anesthesia. I had just been wheeled out of the operating room, where they had performed an emergency caesarean section to deliver my third child. Even though the world was spinning around me, it wasn’t hard to catch their sympathetic tone as they expressed sadness at the thought of my having a third daughter.
My name is Sarah Emmanuel. I am a global worker living and serving Jesus in Chennai, India, with my husband, Christo, and my three daughters (Eva, 7; Simona, 5; and Rhema, 2). We have been living in this amazing and adventure-filled country for the past nine years. In that time we have seen God do awesome things as we have witnessed our church plant multiply from three people to over 350 members. We have also founded a number of other city-reaching ministries such as the Life Centre, which holistically reaches the needy with education, training programs, and physical care, as well as the VisionLed International Leadership Development Centre.
I love living in India and am constantly amazed by the wonderful people and their culture here. Children show great respect for their elders; modesty and appropriate dress and behaviour are the norm. Hospitality is seen from the poorest family to those with great possessions, and people are generally very sacrificial and community minded. I always remind myself how happy I am for my children to grow up here.
However, by the time I delivered my second daughter, I began to realize that having girls is not such a joyous event here. Viewed as a burden to families as girls grow and need to be married, most families rigorously pray for a boy when they are pregnant and end up mourning when it is a girl. In fact, it is estimated that as many as 60 million girls are missing from the Indian population due to female abortion, neglect and infanticide. As I cradled my sweet little baby girl—the second one in our family—and was overwhelmed with love and affection for our princess, I started receiving phone calls from people expressing their condolences.
Up until this point, I was unaware of this negative sentiment buried deeply in the culture, but now that I had experienced it firsthand, I was angry. Angry when people on the roadside—complete strangers—showed their disappointment when they saw me with my two girls, and angry when church and family members said they would pray for a boy “next time.” There was no corner in the deepest part of my being that regretted having another girl, nor could I comprehend anyone else feeling that way.
However, instead of letting the anger overwhelm me, I asked the Lord if He would help me through the avalanche of emotions. Slowly, the frustration became both an empathy for marginalized women and a burning fire to see this mindset changed. As I prayed with the ladies in our church, I began to ask the Lord not only to meet their needs but to raise up an army of Esthers and Deborahs—women who changed nations. As a congregation, some of our most committed, influential members are women—individuals who never waver in their attendance at intercession meetings and who share the gospel with entire neighbourhoods.
By the third time I was pregnant, it was no surprise to me when almost everyone I met prophesied that we would have a boy or let me know they were praying for us to have a boy. And it didn’t bother me this time because I knew that every child is planned and given by the hand of God. During my pregnancy, a dear sister in the church had given birth to their first child. Even though they were rigorously praying for a boy, and in faith had chosen only male names, she had given birth to a girl by C-section (which is viewed almost as a “double curse”—having to pay for an expensive surgery with the outcome as a girl). Devastated, no name was given to the child for weeks, and the family did not celebrate or give sweets to their family members and church, as is the custom when a child is born. It was heartbreaking to witness a baby being brought into the world this way.
The day had come for me to meet my own mystery baby. In India, gender-determining ultrasounds are illegal due to the high prevalence of families who will abort female babies. But Christo and I were well prepared. Months earlier we had sat together trying to determine names. We had chosen a name for a boy but were having a hard time agreeing on one for a girl. As we sat in silence and in deep thought, suddenly Christo said, “What about Rhema?” It was in that moment (and with goosebumps) that I knew our baby would be a little girl named Rhema.
As I was awakening from the emergency C-section, I overheard the nurses commenting on the “sad” news of my little girl. However, in the next hours as I had a chance to hold her, my heart melted as I thanked Jesus for my third princess. She was beautiful, unique and, most important, was handcrafted and given by God Himself. I was completely immune to the sympathetic stares and misplaced condolences as I soaked in this amazing moment.
After leaving the hospital, Christo and I planned to celebrate the birth of our daughter with our congregation on the following Sunday. Contrary to the expectations of the people, we joyfully handed out sweets and happily showed off our little girl. As we took Rhema onstage to publicly announce her birth and have the people pray for her, my husband gave a powerful message exposing the curse put on the daughters of India through this demeaning mindset. He then gave an emotional invitation for parents to bring their daughters (from infants to young adults) and bless them publicly. Parents and children alike were weeping, receiving emotional healing, hope and freedom in the Lord.
As amazing and powerful as those moments were, we continue to live out each day testifying to the culture that every human being is lovingly formed and delivered by the hand of God. We believe that Jesus is moving powerfully among women and will surely use our three precious daughters in His amazing plan. As we reflect on the Christmas season again this year, we are reminded of God’s perfect gift, wrapped up in baby Jesus. It reminds us all that “every child is a gift.”
Sarah and Christo Emmanuel are PAOC global workers in Chennai, India, and help lead Living God Church.