I am SO happy to be back home at Tenwek after our trip!! Thank you to all who prayed us through. It was hard, but so, so rewarding. Before I share a little about it, I have to stop and give HUGE credit to Mike for staying home and homeschooling and doing life at home so I could go and do this!!! He was so encouraging and supportive!! Love you, Mike!!
This trip to South Sudan has been an answered prayer for me. When Mike and I were at Tenwek from 2006-2008, we tried to go to Sudan but it was just not stable enough to travel then. I’ve wanted to see this country, and these people, since then. So, when the Roberts asked me to go on this cataract surgery trip and as the photographer, I was SO EXCITED (read excited in a white knuckle, butterflies in my stomach kind of way).
There are so many things I could say about the trip: the missionaries who live here full time with their children, the most strikingly beautiful faces, the hundreds of patients, the shrieking and dancing when eye patches were removed and sight was restored, the HEAT, oh the heat, the testimonies from patients, the incredible loss written on faces from 20 years of war, and famine, the redemption and hope people claimed because of God….all of it. There are pages to be written. (And hundreds of photos taken). You know when someone comes back from a trip and they want to show you HOURS of photos that you really weren’t that interested to see…..I don’t want to be THAT person. So, I’ll share one story here.
A woman named Rose came into the clinic for cataract surgery. I asked her if she could tell me her story. She readily agreed. She had had leprosy, but couldn’t get to treatment right away because it was too dangerous to travel during the war at that time. So she stayed home without anything. She eventually snuck out of her village to go to the Catholic Mission and was treated and recovered. Her missing fingers and toes were a powerful narrative.
She bore 14 children before her husband was killed. Of the fourteen children, only two were still living. Four had been kidnapped and another two had been shot in front of her. Then she showed me her own scars from the same incident. Her face was solemn as she recounted so many painful memories from the years of conflict.
Her foot had been amputated and healed over. I wondered if it was from the leprosy. She pointed to her left leg and said that cattle rustlers came a few years ago and stole her cows that were providing her with milk. And when she chased them, they shot her. In the foot. That’s why it’s not there anymore. And as if all that wasn’t enough for one person to carry, she was almost completely blind from cataracts.
Then, the most shocking part of the story, is when she started talking about her faith in God. I told her that so many people in Kenya and the US were praying for her and that her surgery would be a success. And she responded.
“We are all God’s children and He is the one responsible for each of our lives. I am really so sure that God is faithful. If it wasn’t for God, I never would have survived any of these things in my life. I surely would have died.” Sometimes I get to share the gospel. Other times I get to hear the gospel.
When I had gone in to talk to Rose, she had just had her surgery but she still wasn’t sure if she would be able to see. She willingly shared her story with me and we talked for a long time. Then the next morning it was time to take off all the patient’s eyepatches to see if their surgeries were a success. There were about 90 waiting the following morning. It was a bit chaotic to say the least. When a lot of patients realized they could see again, they would throw down their walking sticks and jump up singing and dancing. The BEST thing. The very best thing.
In all the chaos I kept looking for Rose to see if she could see again. But I couldn’t find her. I got a little panicky. Where was she? She was missing this. I took a bunch of pictures of patients but still couldn’t see her. After people started filing out and going home, a woman I hadn’t seen before came up and started talking to me. I didn’t know what she wanted, so I looked for an interpreter to find out. IT WAS ROSE!!!!! She could see again!! She was so completely transformed that after talking to her for such a long time the day before, I still didn’t know it was her. God’s mercy and grace. We treat, Jesus heals.
One of the coolest parts of clinic is watching patients being led in by family members but walking out on their own. Dignity restored.
Mike (pediatric surgeon) and Julie (nurse/mother to two) living in Kenya, East Africa