Iowa congregation makes its mission helping family take care of septuplets Community volunteers aid McCaugheys by working in shifts, 7 days a week

March 24, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

CARLISLE, Iowa -- It might not take a village to raise a single child, but it almost certainly takes one to raise seven.

Just ask the folks in Carlisle, where the care and feeding of the McCaughey septuplets is a community enterprise.

About 60 volunteers -- whose efforts are coordinated by the Missionary Baptist Church that Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey attend -- rotate in the McCaughey home through four shifts a day, seven days a week.

The idea is to ensure that Kenneth, Joel, Brandon, Nathan, Kelsey, Natalie and Alexis get all the help they need, for as long as they need it.

"We're not so much a village as a family," said the Rev. Robert Brown, pastor of Missionary Baptist. "We are a body of believers and this is our mission right now."

It is a mission more direct, more personal and more intense than any other Brown has been involved in -- and he comes from a tradition of active ministry.

"It's not uncommon when babies are born to take in meals for two weeks, or when people have surgeries, to take in meals and help with child care," he said. "But this has loomed so much more. Everything is multiplied by seven. They need continuous care."

"They," in this case, includes not just the septuplets, but their parents and 2-year-old sister Mikayla.

In a time commonly portrayed as extraordinarily hostile to families, Missionary Baptist has mustered an impressive force to ensure the survival -- physical and emotional -- of all the McCaugheys.

Thus, diapers are changed. Babies are fed, washed and rocked. Mikayla is entertained. Mountains of dirty laundry vanish, only to reappear clean and neatly folded. And, once a week, Bobbi and Kenny McCaughey are kicked out of the house for a date.

"Bobbi and Kenny are a part of us and we love them dearly," said Brown. "We want to do everything to help them in the process of raising the children with extra arms."

The effort on behalf of the McCaugheys is especially poignant in light of the recent birth of septuplets in Saudi Arabia. But those babies remain in the hospital, not because they are too ill to go home, but because their parents -- who have six other children -- cannot care for the babies.

"This is so sad to us," said Brown. "It must be so hard for the mother."

In Iowa, it seems as if the whole town of Carlisle -- all 3,400 residents -- love the McCaugheys. Signs celebrating the babies' arrival still decorate store windows, and the local supermarket sells bumper stickers touting the town as the septuplets' home.

Most telling, though, is that there is no shortage of volunteers. "People put a lot of sacrifice into it," said Brown. "We have grandmothers, some college-age folks, guys, gals -- a real cross section."

So many people have volunteered that it takes three people to coordinate the schedules, he said.

Pub Date: 3/24/98

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