She never set out to be named princess of Samoa. Then again, neither did she think she'd fix meals for hundreds of thousands of hungry people, help a "miracle baby" survive and thrive despite severe deformities, or awaken countless people's appreciation for the sanctity of life.
But today Kristin Taylor can look back on all these accomplishments — and more — and see in them not her own giftedness, but God's mysterious providence.
The story of Taylor and Baby Miracle — or Preshie (precious), as she's also known — begins in 1995, when the gospel singer-songwriter performed at a youth conference in Western Samoa. While there, she witnessed grinding poverty and was especially affected by the sight of crippled children hobbling about unaided.
After returning to her home in Riverview, Fla., she enlisted her children to help collect wheelchairs, crutches and walkers. Thorn Ministries was born.
"I thought, 'The Blessed Mother would have removed the crown of thorns from Jesus,'" explains Taylor of the name she picked. "We are to remove the thorns on every person we meet if we look at them through Our Lady's eyes."
Thorn is also an acronym for Thankfully Helping Others' Real Needs.
The 1,000 wheelchairs Taylor sent to Samoa in three years made such a difference in so many lives that, in 1998, the king of Samoa made her a royal daughter and gifted her with the title Susuga To'oa (princess of Samoa). The following day, the late Cardinal Pio Taofinu'u blessed Thorn Ministries as a lay apostolate.
"The title isn't meant to elevate you," says Taylor of her status as princess. "It's meant for you to be a servant of the poor." The titled person is accorded great respect by all Samoans who then listen, trust and help.
Taylor hit a new high on Sept. 1, 2007, when Baby Miracle was born. She had multiple deformities, including spina bifida, cleft palate, incomplete skull, and missing fingers and toes. She was not expected to survive a single day.
Closed Hearts Open
To date, Baby Miracle has survived seven surgeries, every one a miracle in Taylor's estimation. During each operation, she and her helpers have prayed before the Blessed Sacrament in the hospital chapel. Now back in Samoa, Preshie is fed through a tube.
"People think these children don't have a purpose," says Taylor, "but Preshie has touched more lives in a year than most people do in a lifetime." She describes how people now come running toward them when she and Carol Paul-AhChong, Thorn's director in Samoa, bring Baby Miracle to villages.
Instead of being repulsed, people see a precious child. Explains Taylor, "The Holy Spirit opened the hearts of the people, and they are responding. Baby Miracle has given hope."
Indeed. For a time, Baby Miracle was cruelly ridiculed on the Internet. Now Taylor sees children molded with new mindsets about babies like Preshie. They feel blessed when they're permitted to touch and kiss her. They respect Princess Taylor and offer to help when they get older.
From that first Samoan visit, spiritual beauty was the objective. Dr. Brian Thatcher, founder of the Eucharistic Apostles of Divine Mercy, went on the same trip. As Taylor continued helping, "she also would evangelize through her actions," says Thatcher. "What the people saw was a person reaching out and giving out of love and caring for people. It was a formation and reshaping of the thought process, that love is really helping relieve the misery of others. She's been a tremendous example to the people of how the Lord loves us unconditionally."
Taylor credits God for preparing her for this work. The first of her own four biological and eight adopted children was born with spina bifida and dislocated legs. Doctors said Mariah would never sit or walk and was severely brain damaged.
"In the hospital with Mariah, we were told not to let her live. She was going to devastate us, and her life would be a hardship for us," says Taylor, who with husband, David, was active in charismatic prayer groups. But "we saw an angel, not a problem."
Today Mariah, who went through 18 surgeries, is the 27-year-old mother of a 4-year-old son.
"Without that devotion to the Holy Spirit, we would have listened to the medical advice," says Taylor. "I had a choice to be angry or hopeful. Instead of being depressed, I did something about it. That's the whole premise behind the whole Thorn ministry" — and the message she constantly tells people during her many speaking engagements.
Similarly, to teach her children not to be selfish, Taylor took them one Thanksgiving to feed homeless people in Tampa, Fla. When the children saw suffering humanity, they insisted on returning.
The weekly meals continue to grow. "It's definitely divine Providence," she explains. "How else do you feed 300,000 meals with $20,000 since Thanksgiving 1997?"
There's never been an organized food plan. People just show up to help her. Now six Thorn groups feed the hungry at sites around the county.
"Divine Providence sees us through," says Taylor. "You have to be willing to step out and look like the fool you are for Jesus. (Otherwise) how could the Lord take a little American girl, throw her on a Polynesian island, and make her a princess to help those children?"
Staff writer Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.