The second day he was at home with me I wondered if he would actually comprehend a conversation about his name. At 18 months old, he only spoke two words at the time and neither of them were English.
The babies' home he'd been in since birth (in South Africa, where I lived) spoke Afrikaans, so he was not accustomed to hearing English.
I decided to pick a light-hearted moment in the midst of his giggles and just call him by his new name, not knowing how he'd respond.
I waited till his back was turned from me and called him. "Jericho," I said. He immediately swung around and looked at me. Like it was entirely normal.
I couldn't believe it! I just looked at him with a smile on my face and then he smiled, too. From then on, his name was Jericho.
Jericho Elijah Bhekisizwe
Two years later I finally got full custody of Judah (pictured) at age 4 1/2. Two months after he came to stay for forever, I held him on my lap and told him that sometimes when kids are adopted, they get a new name. I asked him how he felt about that. In his tiny little voice that had only one volume, LOUD, he exclaimed, "NO. My name is Sibahle and I like my name!" Well, that was the end of that!
Maybe I wouldn't change his name after all.
The next day Jericho, who was almost 4, said to Sibahle, "I got a new name." A conversation ensued, first between the two of them, and then amongst all three of us about how Jericho got a new name to start a new chapter of his life.
For the next four days the phrase, "new and special name" permeated our conversations. We talked about Abraham (and then Jericho again), Sarah (and Jericho again), Paul (and, yep, Jericho AGAIN)... They all got a "new and special name."
I could see his wheels were turning because he kept bringing it up. He kept asking me about these new and special names and the people that got them.
Finally, as I was putting them both to bed on the fourth day, Judah said in his itty bitty minion voice at its 4000 decibals, "When do I get a new and special name?!"
Ahhhhh... my heart soared. I had prayed for weeks before he finally came to stay, and asked the Lord to name Him. He had.
So... the following day I told him about the Lion of Judah. And I told him about how Jesus, the Son of God, came from the tribe of Judah, a tribe not know to be the biggest or strongest; but the tribe God chose.
I told him what a miracle he is, how special and remarkable of a boy he is. How he had already overcome so many things to be the boy he is today.
I had had unofficial partial custody of this precious boy since he was 19 months old and at death's door. He stayed with me for 2-3 days a week (while living in a babies' home) so that I could take care of all of his extensive medical needs and appointments.
I was told by the physical therapist he would never walk and probably never crawl. I was told by the speech therapist that he would likely never speak more than two word phrases and that they would probably never be spontaneous, only echoing someone else. I was repeatedly told he was not likely to live to see his third birthday.
I had worked with severely autistic children for years prior to moving to South Africa, so I began to do the same work with him at home that I had done with those children, which had been under the direction of speech, physical, and occupational therapists. So, in the 2-3 days he was with me every week, we did therapy. We turned speech therapy into games that turned into fits of giggles.
Together we found ways to turn painful and frustrating physical therapy exercises into fun excerpts of our days together waiting hours upon hours at the local hospital for his care. It would be a couple years before those exercises were not physically painful for him, and I marveled at the ways he persevered through pain and frustration. It seemed as though the hunger for connection somehow outweighed the physical discomfort and he continued push through.
The fortitude of this child was unlike anything I'd seen before in all the years I had worked with children. To this day he is the single most resilient human being I have ever encountered.
And he survived. More than just survived.
By the time I finally got full custody at 4 1/2 he had just started walking, and had just started speaking in short sentences. He had defied all the odds and, like the the tribe of Judah, could be seen from the outside to have been the least likely to rise to great influence. And yet that is exactly what I foresaw.
It is not hard to see, then, why I gave him the Zulu middle name, "Manqoba," which means "One who conquers in hopeless situations."
This is the backdrop on which Judah got his "new and special name." Once he received it, he loved it.
Judah Manqoba Madiba
Now, 4 1/2 years later, It is a critical juncture, a new chapter, a new beginning, and God is giving all three of us a "new and special name."