(by Mike Blanding, father of Mateo)
I’ve never liked the idea of being vulnerable.
Never let them see you sweat. Strive in private, thrive in public. Don’t play games you can’t win. Keep a stiff upper lip. And always, always, always protect your personal brand. These are rules that I’ve lived by my whole life. Well… up until March, 2020, that is.
We never intended to go through this painful experience so publicly. When Mateo was first admitted to the ICU I told exactly five people. I had no intention to tell anyone else. I shot off a quick text: “Mateo is in the ICU” it simply read “please pray.”
Instantly, my friend Josh responded, “do you want me to spread the word and ask others to pray?” he kindly offered. “Nope. I think we’re good. Thanks though.” I decidedly declined. Little did I know that Josh’s wife Nani had sent a similar message to my wife Joanna. Her reply was entirely different. “Yes, please!” said Joanna “the more people praying for us, the better!”
And so it began. Word started to spread that Mateo was in the ICU fighting for his life and people started to pray. Noticing that we were struggling to keep everyone consistently informed, our dear friend Pearl stepped in immediately to help us manage the communication. She set up multiple group chats made up of concerned friends and family and kept them all up-to-date on Mateo’s condition and our specific daily prayer requests.
After a few days of this, Joanna suggested to me that we should join the group chats and update people directly. “It’s just not fair for Pearl to play the role of messenger” she said. I disagreed “if Pearl wanted us in the group chats, she would have added us” I countered “she’s probably trying to spare us from having to answer questions from dozens of people.” But after a bit more ‘encouragement’ from Joanna, I eventually conceded. When we finally joined the group chats we discovered that we were not simply dealing with dozens of people, but rather there were hundreds of people already praying expectantly for Mateo’s miracle and waiting with bated breath for an encouraging update. Many of these people then passed the messages along to their own contacts.
From that point, we knew that there was no turning back. Mateo’s battle would be a very public one, for better or for worse. Before we knew it, we were getting texts, calls, emails, and voice notes from friends and family all around the world.
“My mom’s church in south Africa prayed for Mateo this morning”
“My dad’s bible study group in Sydney, Australia will be praying for Mateo tonight”
“My parents are on a volunteer trip to Myanmar, their group is praying for Mateo too”
“Our church in Pennsylvania is praying for Mateo”
“Our church in the Philippines is praying for Mateo”
“Our church in Florida is praying for Mateo”
“Our church in New York is praying for Mateo”
“Our leadership team in Brisbane, Australia met and prayed for Mateo”
“The global HQ of our NGO in Washington D.C. just met and prayed for Mateo”
There were literally thousands of people across the globe who were praying for our little baby boy. Most of them were people we’ve never met, and likely never will. And, to me, the most confounding thing about it was that each person seemed so deeply invested in Mateo’s battle. As if this weren’t just some random baby in a far-off country, but as if this were their own personal fight. As if they themselves had skin in the game. It became very clear to us that God was up to something using Mateo’s story.
Days in the ICU were long and nights were even longer, but every hour we felt like we were going to battle with an army of prayer warriors surrounding us on all sides. During Mateo’s most critical days, people started a prayer chain. Without any prompting from Joanna or myself, people signed up for 30-minute slots and took turns praying around the clock. There were also regular group video prayer sessions happening twice a day. For an entire week, not a minute went by without someone, somewhere praying for Mateo. And somehow, knowing that our burden was being shared, made it feel so much lighter. We felt like we had permission to sleep because an army of people were sleepless; we felt like we had permission to rest because an army of people were restless; and we felt like we had permission to experience a time of peace because an army of people were experiencing a time of war.
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” – Galations 6:2
And every night, people would gather in the outdoor courtyard of the hospital to pray for Mateo. After long days of what seemed like endless bad news from doctors, Joanna and I would go downstairs to the courtyard and be refilled, refreshed, renewed, recharged, and replenished with enough faith to face another day with hope.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11
We never intended to go through this painful experience so publicly. But throughout Mateo’s battle and even after his passing, God has been showing us how he can take our vulnerability and our pain and make it beautiful.
Every day, stories have been surfacing from all around the world about the impact that Mateo’s battle has had on people: a story of a friend who has never asked God for anything in her life, but cried out to God and prayed for the first time for Mateo’s healing; a story of a husband and wife who prayed together for the first time in their marriage; a story of another child in the same hospital who experienced miraculous breakthrough in her healing journey as we were praying in the hospital courtyard; and countless stories of friends and family who have reignited their relationship with their Heavenly Father after years of feeling distant.
While these stories do not bring back our Mateo, and they do not take away the pain of losing him, they do give us comfort to know that God did do something miraculous with Mateo’s seven-month life. It wasn’t the miracle that we had been praying for, but it’s the miracle that God chose. So it’s the miracle that we will rejoice in. And while Mateo’s earthly life may be over, Mighty Mateo’s miracle is not over. God is still moving through Mateo’s story. And He will redeem every wound and every scar.
The #MightyMateo Legacy lives on.
Our little Mateo was highly involved in our efforts to fight online sex trafficking of children in the Philippines during his seven months of life. We believe that he'd love for us to continue this legacy.
#MightyMateo's parents document their journey through grief towards healing.