"My Trusty Gavel" by Brian Turner / CC BY 2.0

A Missionary on Trial

Apr 8, 2020

By Ariel Levy

In the summer of 2013, Ziria Namutamba heard that there was a missionary health facility a few hours from her village, in southeastern Uganda, where a white doctor was treating children. She decided to go there with her grandson Twalali Kifabi, who was unwell. At three, he weighed as much as an average four-month-old. His head looked massive above his emaciated limbs; his abdomen and feet were swollen like water balloons. All over his tiny body, patches of darkened skin were peeling off. At a rural clinic six months earlier, he had been diagnosed as having malnutrition, but the family couldn’t afford the foods that were recommended. Twalali was his mother’s sixth child, and she was pregnant again—too far along to accompany him to the missionary facility, which was called Serving His Children.

“We were received by a white woman, later known to me as ‘aunt Renee,’ ” Namutamba attested in an affidavit, which she signed with her thumbprint, in 2019. At Serving His Children, Namutamba “saw the same woman inject something on the late Twalali’s head, she connected tubes and wires from baby Twalali to a machine.” Days later, while Namutamba was doing laundry in the clinic’s courtyard, she overheard another woman saying, “What a pity her child has died.” Soon, the person called Aunt Renée “came downstairs holding Twalali’s lifeless body, wrapped in white clothes.”

Twalali was one of more than a hundred babies who died at Serving His Children between 2010 and 2015. The facility began not as a registered health clinic but as the home of Renée Bach—who was not a doctor but a homeschooled missionary, and who had arrived in Uganda at the age of nineteen and started an N.G.O. with money raised through her church in Bedford, Virginia. She’d felt called to Africa to help the needy, and she believed that it was Jesus’ will for her to treat malnourished children. Bach told their stories on a blog that she started. “I hooked the baby up to oxygen and got to work,” she wrote in 2011. “I took her temperature, started an IV, checked her blood sugar, tested for malaria, and looked at her HB count.”

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