THE MINISTRY OF BABY JOSHUA
When Mike and Jennifer Stukey learned their fourth child had been conceived, it was a time of joy and happiness. God had revealed to Jennifer, over a year before she became pregnant, that if she was willing, he would be blessing.
Jennifer explains that pregnancy has always been very hard on her body, so she was hesitant when Mike said he really wanted a fourth child. But with the certainty of God’s promise in her heart, she became willing.
One could easily imagine the questions that flood a mother’s mind with a promise like that. How would God use her son to be a blessing — a minister, missionary, or maybe an evangelist? Perhaps God would use him as He used Samuel in the Bible or in a healing ministry?
“The pregnancy was going well, but we decided to have a prenatal test done,” says Jennifer, 35, who is the assistant dean of graduate studies at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. “We were preparing to go on a month-long vacation and I didn’t want to be traveling if it should be determined that I had a high-risk pregnancy, possibly requiring bed rest.”
When Mike and Jennifer later met with the doctor, instead of giving permission to take the vacation, the doctor’s words were grim. Their baby had been diagnosed with trisomy 18 — a chromosomal error with no known cure. The doctor did not expect the baby to survive the pregnancy.
Trisomy 18 is a type of Down syndrome — the lower the number, the more severe it is. According to Webmd.com, with trisomy 18, a baby has three copies of chromosome 18, which causes many of the baby’s organs to develop in an abnormal way. Most babies with trisomy 18 are female.
“I asked the doctor, who is a Spirit-filled Christian, ‘It’s a boy, isn’t it?’” Jennifer recalls. “He was surprised I knew and told me they had confirmed it was a boy.”
When Jennifer shared with the doctor what she felt the Lord had spoken into her heart, the doctor agreed to stand with them in prayer for a creative miracle.
“For three weeks we wept and prayed,” Jennifer says. “We thought initially that there was no way God could make our baby a blessing in a casket, so we believed for that creative miracle.”
After three weeks, they returned for another check-up. Jennifer had a mother’s sense that something was wrong earlier in the day — she was right. The doctor could not find a heartbeat. He did additional tests, all which confirmed the diagnosis of death.
That night, May 23, 2019, Baby Joshua was born. He was only 2 ½ inches tall and weighed a mere 9.5 grams — about one-third of an ounce.
“I had a cascade of emotions, but still had an unshakeable belief that the word God had spoken into my heart would come to pass,” Jennifer says.
A researcher by nature, Jennifer had explored the internet on how to handle Baby Joshua’s body and she found some seemingly unusual advice — to place the baby in saline solution.
“I didn’t like the idea and it went against my parenting instincts to put my baby in a jar of saline water–I didn’t want to remember him that way,” Jennifer admits. “But everyone recommended it, and he actually looked much more natural in the water.”
With the children born to them, Mike and Jennifer had always done their own artistic photography sessions with them as babies. They decided to do the same with Baby Joshua as a personal form of healing.
As the couple began the photography process that evening, Jennifer says the creative ideas just kept coming, and the session went nearly until dawn. Through the macro lens of the camera they could see so many of Baby Joshua’s features clearly. Look! His feet, his hands, his toes, his fingers . . . his smile.
Yes, the couple confirms, Baby Joshua entered heaven with what appears to be a smile on his face!
“What you have to understand,” Mike explains, “for us this became part of the healing process — this is my son. Part of healing is spending time with your son, your family — I will have these memories forever.”
Mike has a long history in all kinds of technology, from sound systems to photography to IT. His profession is helping churches set up and/or effectively use their sound equipment and other technologies.
Through careful effort, the Stukeys, who have been married for 12 years, were able to get prints of Baby Joshua’s hands and feet. They also saw the telltale signs of the doctor’s diagnosis of trisomy 18 — a broader-than-normal nose potentially indicating a lack of nasal bone and clenched hands.
Following hours of photography, including using ultraviolet lighting to reveal minute details, the Stukeys produced a loving tribute to Baby Joshua. They shared how during the time spent with him, a bond was created through blowing kisses to him, speaking to him, and simply admiring him.
“It was seeing beauty rise from ashes,” says Jennifer, who recognizes she is still grieving, but healing. “We didn’t expect to really see the video ever again, unless we wanted to — but we now just really feel strongly the Lord inspired us to do this.”
The video features loving words and original images of Baby Joshua set to soft music, unexpectedly captured others’ attention. And now the Stukey’s believe that one of the purposes the video serves is to provide a point of healing for other parents who have experienced a miscarriage. However, they do caution that it could also be a trigger for those women whose emotions are still fragile.
In addition to providing a healing to mothers who have miscarried, Jennifer shares another prayer for the video.
“My biggest desire of my heart is for one day to see a baby that Joshua inspired a mom not to abort,” she says. “I would cry tears of joy for that.”
Mike admits that they originally had no intentions of posting the video, but seeing how it helped women who privately viewed the video, led them to do it. “We’re in shock,” he says. “God’s Word is showing up not in a way we expect it to show up.”
The Stukeys say that they did not add any details to the images of Baby Joshua, but did tweak exposures in order to reveal finer details.
A secondary purpose for posting the video has also come to light for the couple — to help other couples process their grief in a similar way.
“I’m working on tutorials for parents who have miscarried,” Jennifer says. “Basically making the how-tos — such as creating the saline preservation and taking beautiful pictures — more accessible for women who need that information in the future.”
The Stukeys held a private ceremony for Baby Joshua at their home, allowing time for their children, Aryanna, 9; Micah, 6; and Lillie, 2, to express their grief, write a letter to Joshua, and give a small gift to be placed with their baby brother to allow them an opportunity to begin their own healing process.
As the couple reflects on Baby Joshua and the ministry his video will be, hopefully to thousands of hurting and questioning people, Mike summarized his son’s life.
“This is not about death, it’s about life through Christ,” he states. “Joshua is in a better place, we believe that — he was born into heaven . . . this is Joshua’s ministry now.”