April 2, 2024

“I Will Be Handsome”

The miraculous story of a future pastor

Sikhululekile Daco

What an ugly baby!” she exclaimed at the sight of her newborn. She was not being mean or unkind when she said this. These were simply the first thoughts Matthew Djim’s mother had when she was handed her baby at his birth. She could tell something was not quite right. Three days after his birth the doctors told her that Matthew had Down syndrome.

Down syndrome in Matthew’s native Indonesia has a prevalence of 0.12 percent.1 Globally, 3,000 to 5,000 children are born with the condition every year.2 The most common and best known chromosomal disorder in humans, Down syndrome is caused by an extra partial or whole copy of chromosome 21. It is “the most common cause of intellectual disability. . . and gives rise to multiple complications as part of the syndrome.”3

An Incredible Request

When Matthew was born, it seemed he could neither hear nor speak. Then the doctors discovered that he had a congenital heart disease in which there was a hole in his heart about 0.5 millimeters in diameter. Matthew’s mother fell into depression. The diagnosis had been unexpected, so she had not had time to prepare herself, or her family, for its implications. She had two other children to care for. And there were no therapy options for individuals with Down syndrome in the city where she lived. All these factors coalesced to lead her to make an incredible request of her sister-in-law, Arlaine.

Arlaine lived in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, where many resources could be found for those living with Down syndrome. Matthew’s mother ventured to ask her to take over care of the now-4-month-old baby. Without skipping a beat, Arlaine agreed. She loved all her nephews and jumped at the opportunity to help! It was only after the arrangement had been settled that she paused to reflect on the fact that she, single and in her early 20s, who had never been a mother, was now to care for a baby. Moreover, this baby had a condition she knew nothing about!

She read everything about Down syndrome that she could get her hands on, but all she found was discouragement. So she turned to the Spirit of Prophecy. Perhaps Ellen White had counsel she could rely on. She came upon the statement “There is nothing more calculated to energize the mind and strengthen the intellect than the study of the Word of God. No other book is so potent to elevate the thoughts, to give vigor to the faculties, as the broad, ennobling truths of the Bible.”4 In a normal child, she thought, this would apply. But what of a child with Down syndrome? She felt that she had nothing to lose in trusting what the Spirit of Prophecy said.

Miracles Still Happen

In addition to the therapies Matthew was receiving, Arlaine applied all the health principles she learned from the writings of Ellen White, and implemented a regimented exposure to the Word of God. Every morning, beginning when he was just 4 months old, she began reading Scripture to him. For three months she would read the same chapter every day and sing the same hymn, then she would move on to the next chapter and hymn. In spite of his initial poor prognosis, when he was 1 year old Matthew began to vocalize. The sounds imitated the cadence of the Bible chapter reading. Moreover, in answer to the many prayers in his behalf, the 0.5-millimeter hole in his heart had simply vanished by the time of his 18-month checkup.

Arlaine remembers one the first conversations she had with Matthew. She had been singing the hymn “It May Be at Morn” when he chimed in, “When I get to heaven, I will not have Down syndrome. I will be handsome.” It was at once heartwarming and heart-wrenching. Then he continued: “And I want you to be there!” From a 4-month-old unresponsive to stimuli to a spiritually aware 2-year-old making an appeal to his beloved aunt—it was a testament to the power of God’s Word. To this day, Matthew’s favorite Bible topic is the second coming of Jesus. He likes to stand at the entrance to his aunt’s house, looking out into the horizon, waiting for Jesus to come.

At his local church Matthew is the loudest singer, praising God unashamedly with his discordant voice. His favorite song is “We Have This Hope.” From the age of 4 he has wanted to be a pastor, so each Sabbath, to practice for his goal, he stands next to the church pastor to greet guests and church members alike. His greeting service has become invaluable, as he has an impeccable memory for names and faces, so guests always feel at home. He will also be the first to pray with anyone expressing a need for God’s intervention.

Matthew is 18 now, with one year of high school remaining, and he is excited about attending college to prepare for pastoral ministry. For all his virtues, he’s not the picture of perfection. Left alone with his math homework, he will very quickly revert to reading his Bible instead of doing his math. It’s a good problem to have, but one of his present challenges nonetheless.

For Arlaine’s part, she feels privileged to learn from Matthew. Heaven, for him, is not just a doctrine, but a reality—as it should be for us all. Quoting 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, Arlaine says her prayer is for Matthew to be a witness for the Lord and testify of God’s love and power. “If a child with Down syndrome like Matthew can witness, not in his own strength but because of God who works through him, everybody can do it.”

1 Yulia Ariani, Purnomo Soeharso, Damayanti R. Sjarif, “Genetics and Genomic Medicine in Indonesia,” Molecular Genetics & Genomic Medicine, Mar. 29, 2017, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/mgg3.284#:~:text=Down%20syndrome%20is%20a%20common,Down%20syndrome%20in%20the%20country, accessed Feb. 22, 2024.

2 https://www.un.org/en/observances/down-syndrome-day#:~:text=Background,born%20with%20this%20chromosome%20disorder, accessed Feb. 22, 2024.

3 Sanaa Benhaourech, Abdenasser Drighil, and Ayoub El Hammiri, “Congenital Heart Disease and Down Syndrome: Various Aspects of a Confirmed Association,” Cardiovascular Journal of Africa, September-October 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5370349, accessed Feb. 22, 2024.

4 Ellen G. White, Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1913), p. 460.