Faith and COVID-19
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LANCASTER, Texas — “Amazing Grace” welcomed Samuel Souder to his first church service.
Derek and Della Souder softly mouthed the words of the beloved hymn as they changed their newborn’s diaper and soothed his tears.
Through the nursery glass echoed the sweet sound of the Cold Springs Church of Christ praising God.
Della lost her eyesight during a lengthy battle with COVID-19, so the famous lyric “was blind, but now I see” presents a certain irony. Still, the 34-year-old mother has no doubt amazing grace has led her through “many dangers, toils and snares.”
Samuel — 7 pounds, 14 ounces and 21 inches long — arrived a few weeks before the recent Sunday morning assembly. His Sept. 21 birth blessed a Christian family that had endured two years of tribulation before the unexpected pregnancy.
“This was not planned at all,” Della said with a chuckle. “In July last year, we gave the baby bed away. We donated everything, even all the infant toys. And then in February, we found out we were having a baby.”
For the Souders, who also have an 8-year-old son, Ely, Samuel was a miracle to remind them of the goodness of God.
The family’s home congregation, with deep roots dating back to 1845 in this community about 15 miles south of Dallas, shared in their joy.
“Blessings come out of tragedies for sure,” Della said.
“Blessings come out of tragedies for sure.”
Two and a half years before Samuel’s birth, a severe winter storm crippled Texas’ energy grid, leaving millions without power.
When the Souders’ pipes froze, they headed to the home of Derek’s parents, Suel and Patty Hilton.
“And while we were there, I got really sick,” Della said.
That was in February 2021 as the recorded COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. surpassed 500,000. After testing positive for the coronavirus, the third-grade teacher was hospitalized, intubated, hooked up to a respirator and later kept alive by an ECMO machine.
At times, her family feared they might lose her.
Della’s mother, Leslie Barker, a fellow member of the Cold Springs church, recalled receiving a 2 a.m. call from the hospital.
“They said, ‘Your daughter’s bleeding internally, and we can’t stop it, and we want to know if it’s OK to give her blood,’” said Barker, 59. “I said, ‘Yes, whatever you need to do to save her.’”
After hanging up, Leslie’s voice trembled as she turned to Della’s father, Roy Barker.
“I told him, ‘I think we’re losing our little girl,’” Leslie said. “He said, ‘I know. We just need to pray.’ And we just started praying. … And I called everybody I could think of and said, ‘Please pray for Della.’”
Della survived COVID-19. But just barely.
After 84 days in the hospital, she returned home in May 2021. But after so much time in bed, she had to learn to walk again. And the illness had robbed her of the ability to see.
“I did go through the stages of grief with my eyes: Why? Why me? What did I do wrong?” Della said of her blindness. “But I’ve also seen the strength that God has given me through all of this.”
“I did go through the stages of grief with my eyes: Why? Why me? What did I do wrong? But I’ve also seen the strength that God has given me through all of this.”
Her husband, 41, works as a diesel mechanic. They exchanged wedding vows 13 years ago. He tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time as his wife but never experienced any symptoms.
While Della likes to talk, Derek has a reputation as a man of strong convictions but few words.
“My faith has grown … after dealing with all of this,” he said, “just kind of seeing what you can go through and be put through.”
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Della’s loved ones — including her parents, in-laws, husband and brother, Nathan — devoted themselves to her recovery.
“A nurse came to the house one time, but physical therapy never came,” Della said. “So by God’s grace, he gave my family wisdom to help me learn how to walk again.”
But within a few months, the caregiver role was reversed as Della’s parents tested positive for COVID-19.
With Della still in a wheelchair, Roy and Leslie ended up hospitalized and fighting for their lives.
“We could go see my mom because she got cleared of COVID,” Della said. “But my daddy, he was in a quarantine room, and we were not able to see him at all.”
They could talk to him on the phone on the other side of the glass. But they couldn’t touch him or hug him.
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Roy did not survive.
He died Aug. 24, 2021. He was 61.
Despite losing her husband, Leslie said she trusts in God.
“I know that Roy is happy and at peace now,” she said before Samuel’s birth. “He’s not hurting or worried about stuff. … And I know that he’s already met Samuel. So everything is good. God has taken care of us.”
At first, Della’s fellow Christians worried her ordeal might cause her to question God.
Her battle with COVID-19, her father’s death, her blindness — all were major blows.
“When Della came back to church, I was thinking I would find a broken woman and someone who was ready to turn her back on God,” said Mark Hancock, a former missionary to Japan who has served as Cold Springs’ minister since 2010.
Said Mayumi Hancock, Mark’s wife: “Before she got ill, she was a faithful member — she always came to church and all that — but she was very emotional.”
Rather than weaken her faith, though, Della’s rocky road fortified it, the Hancocks said.
“A person I thought was so fragile had actually become a warrior in some ways,” Mark said. “I was amazed how God had used that experience to strengthen her.”
Once home from the hospital, Della began a telephone Bible study group.
“I wanted to know: What does God expect from me as a woman, as a wife, as a mother and as a child of his?” she said of her motivation. “So my first member is sitting right here: I called Momma, and I was like, ‘Do you want to do this with me?’ And then I got some other people on.”
“I wanted to know: What does God expect from me as a woman, as a wife, as a mother and as a child of his?”
Della gives God all the credit for her physical and spiritual progress.
Despite her blindness, she said she does “everything I did previously, except drive a car.”
“I mean, it might be altered a little bit,” she said of her new lifestyle. “For instance, whenever you cook, say you’re cooking chicken, you can look and see if it’s done. I use a thermometer that talks to me.”
Moreover, she chops vegetables. Operates a sewing machine. And mows her back yard (recalling the layout between the fence helps guide her as she pushes the mower).
She even got behind the wheel of a golf cart and maneuvered it between trees (with her father-in-law beside her and giving directions).
Della has not returned to teaching but hopes to become a vocational rehabilitation counselor to “help people get back to their lives like I have.”
She sees an eye specialist and has not given up hope that God might restore her vision.
For now, she said, “I do the same things everybody else can do and everything I was doing before. But it’s not me. It’s God and his grace and his mercy. That’s why I’m even still here. That’s why any of us are still here, honestly.”
When Della learned she was pregnant, she asked God to help her name the baby.
She wanted a name that would glorify the Lord.
While studying the Old Testament, she believes she found it.
1 Samuel 1 describes how Hannah asked God to bless her with a son, whom she promised to give “to the Lord for all the days of his life.” Hannah named her baby Samuel, saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”
“I was lying there listening to it, and I came to Hannah,” Della said. “And when I heard her story and the baby’s name and what it meant, I just had this feeling come over me. I was like, that’s my baby’s name. His name is Samuel.”
Eli — the priest to whom Hannah presents Samuel — has the same name as Derek and Della’s son Ely.
But Della said she just liked the name Ely.
She didn’t realize the biblical nature of their older son’s name until later.
“So yeah, I’ve got an Ely and a Samuel right out of 1 Samuel,” she said with a laugh.
Della prays that her story — her family’s story — will inspire others faced with difficult journeys.
“Don’t give up on God,” she said. “He will never leave you, never forsake you. You might go through trials, tribulations, but he will be there holding your hand the whole way.”
BOBBY ROSS JR. is Editor-in-Chief of The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].
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