Now that I've gotten my feet back under me, I wanted to share a few more stories from the trip to South Sudan. My role was to document with pictures all that was happening. I sat with patients waiting for surgery, talked with those who weren't able to have surgery for one reason or another, and tried to capture those whose sight had been restored.
The more people I talked to the more I realized that each person's story was hard in more ways than it was easy. A missionary who lives in South Sudan said if I really wanted to hear some things, there were four topics to ask about: the war, the famine, their children, and lastly, if they had ever seen a lion. Here is a sampling of the responses...
Deng'ng'ong' said his eyes started getting bad 3 years ago. He believed it was because his son was killed and no one had answered for it even up till now.
The next morning, when Deng'ng'ong' had his eye patch removed, he was absolutely beaming.
"The toughest lion to kill was one that came into the camp to kill a person, not a cow." Kiir went with 9 other men, tracked it down and killed it with spears.
"I've seen a lot of hard things in the war, but the worst thing above all of that is this blindness."
The following day her patch was removed and her eyesight was restored.
Patients are led cautiously and carefully to the clinic.
It was our goal that each person coming to the hospital would hear about the steadfast and saving love of Jesus Christ. Many had heard the gospel before, even if they didn't believe it. Many had not. Amuor (the woman in the center) said this was the first time she had heard the gospel. She knew children in her village that went to church, but thought it was a school just for children. After hearing about God's unconditional love she said, "The success of the surgery is because of the power of God alone. As soon as I go home, I will be going to church with the children."
Led in by the hand, but walking out on her own. For this we praise God!!
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.
Julie texted me last night that the team arrived safely in Tonj, South Sudan.
The flight was indeed crazy - troublesome logistics before they could leave Nairobi - taking TWO planes - followed by the worst turbulence my wife and fellow Tenwek-ers have ever experienced. Knowing how many flights they've taken over the years, that is indeed a statement. Five of the team utilized the vomit bags. Julie, who threw up for 9 months with each of our children, said it was the worst nausea and vomiting she's ever experienced. (yes, the photo was before takeoff) So a challenging start - but this is the first team we could send back to S Sudan in four years. The people really need so much there.
The operating room has been set up and they should have operated on several people by the time you read this. We pray that many receive their sight back this week. May Jesus provide for these neighbors of ours who have suffered so much. And may they experience the love of God through this team.
Julie will spend the week as the team photographer - taking the time to sit with people, hear their stories, share Jesus' love with them, and, when given permission, take their photo so that people like you can see whom you are helping. A local pastor will be her translator between Dinka and English. I pray God uses the two of them to love on many.
Thank you for enabling and encouraging us to be here in this region. It is such a privilege to serve.
The Tenwek Eye Team is going to South Sudan next week for a mission trip. I, Julie, will be traveling with them as the photographer/storyteller!!! We will leave next Sunday for Nairobi, and then Fly to Tonj, South Sudan on Monday where a New Zealand missionary family is serving. Some things to think and pray about as we prepare...
They have screened and scheduled 400 patients already in preparation. We are praying for strength, energy and health for the team.
They have passionate pastors who have been sharing the gospel and praying with patients during screening and will continue to do so during the cataract camp. We are praying for soft hearts.
They have limited bottle gas, which has to be imported from Kenya, so the sterilization will be done from boiling water over coal fires. We are praying for working equipment and enough water and coal for boiling.
We will have limited access to the internet, but will be able to text during certain hours. We would love prayer as we prepare, and each day as we are there. If you would like to be on a prayer team for this trip, please let us know. I will be sending daily updates, when it is possible. Send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to join this team lifting this trip up in prayer.
Pediatric eye patient at Tenwek. Posted with permission.
Guest author- Dr. Andrea Parker
Diana’s smile is amazing. I met Diana in August. But, it took until quite recently for me to see that smile.
Before I share Diana’s story, I want to briefly introduce some background on story-telling. In the past few years here at Tenwek, I have learned the difficulty in sharing someone’s story, especially with attention to the different contexts from which we come. I have found this to be true in sharing my own story but find it especially difficult in appropriately conveying another’s experiences. Especially when involving injustice, it can be difficult to fairly tell a story without worsening biases a reader may already have about the subject or topics of the story. Again, this can be a particularly challenging aspect of sharing a story that crosses cultures.
I also need to say that Diana’s story is really difficult to share. It is unfair and full of injustices. I have done my best to share her story in a way that brings dignity and honors the image of God in all persons involved without cheapening or minimizing her trauma or that of those who have gone through similar experiences. Diana has eagerly given her full permission for this story to be shared and for the pictures that celebrate God’s work in her life and our participation in and witness to that work to be a part of the story. Telling this story is a collaborative effort. I have written the story from my perspective; Julie Ganey, whose role in this story through her work with Tabitha Ministry was incredible, took all the pictures. Together, we pray that the words and pictures convey the “beauty from ashes” that is this story.
Injuries are a huge part of what we see as doctors at Tenwek. In addition to accidental injuries, many injuries are intentionally-inflicted, perhaps due to land disputes or livestock ownership issues or in situations of domestic violence. Diana was admitted in August with severe head injuries, deep cuts through the skin and bone such that the brain was visible, as well as multiple other deep cuts and injuries to her back and arms and amputation of two of her fingers. These were violent injuries, clearly meant to do serious damage or cause death. Diana was brought in several hours after her injuries, and immediately taken to the operating room, where her wounds were washed out and repaired. Her physical wounds, that is.
Over the next several days, we began to see that as severe as Diana’s physical wounds were, equal in severity were the non-physical wounds. And those wounds cannot be sewn together and repaired in a few hours of time in an operating room. Diana struggled to eat. She was tearful. She would not make eye contact. She rarely spoke and relied on her sister to answer questions; I did not even realize she spoke English.
We began to hear parts of Diana’s story – she had been injured by a man, not her husband as she is not married. It was not the first time; she had old scars. She was scared. Over several days to weeks, we prayed for her on our team rounds, and we spent time with her later in the afternoons. We felt a deep desire for her to know her worth, both to us and to a God who loves her with an incomprehensibly immense love. We wanted her to know that she was deeply cherished. Our chaplains and social worker came and met with her, and over the course of those few weeks, she came to know the radical love of Jesus who cares so profoundly about each of us.
As we began to make plans for her discharge from the hospital, we had questions. Was it safe for her to return home? Did she have a community to support her? How could she better understand who Jesus is and how God can work in her life?
Throughout our few years here, Bob and I have seen numerous examples where the ideal person is available at a time when their particular, unique skill or expertise is needed. For instance, a patient with a complex vascular problem is here the one week of the year that we have a vascular surgeon available. In these times, we have become deeply grateful for and found a new appreciation in the way that God uses the Body of Christ – our various gifts, desires, enjoyments, strengths – for His glory. We have become keenly aware of our own small part in this picture. While most often I’ve seen this happen through medical providers, in this situation, God used Tabitha Ministry and some other missionary and Kenyan friends.
Tabitha Ministry (https://www.wgm.org/project/tabitha) is a ministry to Kenyan women in the area surrounding Tenwek Hospital. It started out of a home Bible study but has grown to a network of thousands of women learning the Bible and caring for one another. It was started by a missionary friend, Linda, and a Kenyan woman, Peris ROtich. As Diana was in the hospital, I reached out to Linda, Peris, and another friend who works with Tabitha, Julie, in hopes that they could meet with Diana so that perhaps she could be connected to a group of women from Tabitha, near her home, who might be able to provide continued support and encouragement. God used the Tabitha leaders in beautiful and wonderful ways to minister to Diana, and I began to hear more of Diana’s story through them.
Diana is one of eight daughters and no sons. Had she been born into a family with sons, likely her life would have been much different. If she had a brother, as her parents aged, they would have been cared for by a son and daughter-in-law. Instead, Diana was chosen to stay with her parents and care for them, both as a financial provider and for their daily needs. Diana is a teacher, and her home is on the same plot of land as her mother and father’s.
Diana is not allowed to marry. As an unmarried woman, Diana is vulnerable, lacking the protection a husband would afford her. And there are men in her community who take advantage of her vulnerability. She has three children with two fathers. A particular man in her community, the father of two of her children, periodically comes to her house to spend the night, and at least once prior to this story, he has abused her violently enough to leave scars.
One morning, as he prepared to leave the house, he suddenly turned violent, taking a machete and attacking her, even as she tried to run away. Leaving the house, she screamed for the neighbors before she collapsed, and he escaped. The neighbors came, and when they saw the severity of her injuries, they assumed she was dead; she scared them when she asked them to take her to the hospital. The first hospital they took her to saw how bad her injuries were and wouldn’t even allow her into the hospital, sending her instead on to Tenwek with a blanket to soak up some of the blood. Tenwek is an hour and a half of very bumpy dirt roads from her house. Diana said she didn’t even feel the trauma of the ride as she was unconscious.
As the women from Tabitha talked to Diana, they were able to share personal experiences and situations and encourage her in her newfound faith. They spent hours over several days with her acknowledging her trauma, allowing her to talk and process the situation, and hearing her fears. They prayed, shared scripture, and sang songs with Diana before her discharge. And they arranged for Diana to have women visit her at her home through a Tabitha group nearer to her. I am so very grateful for the time these women spent pouring into the life of another woman.
A little over a week ago, Julie, Peris, and I had the opportunity, along with several women from Tabitha who joined us at various points on the journey, to visit Diana in her home. We met her parents and children and had a beautiful time of hearing Diana’s story. She related that in that moment as she was escaping, as she was fearing for her life, she just cried out to God, that he would forgive her and forgive this man. Hearing her say that reminded me of Christ on the cross. She said she had heard about Jesus all her life but had never known him until she was in the hospital.
Diana and her family told us of the many ways in which God intervened on her behalf that day and the way He has changed her life since. Her family was supposed to be away, yet their plans had changed, and they were around. In this very remote area, a car just happened to be passing by the neighbor’s house, and the driver offered to drive her to the hospital for no charge. When they arrived at Tenwek, Diana’s mother was told that she would need a blood transfusion and also given an estimate of the cost of the hospitalization and surgery. She was overwhelmed wondering where she would find family to donate blood and money to pay. She happened to run into another relative who was at the hospital for an unrelated reason, and that relative organized family members to donate blood and contribute to the cost of her care. She talked about God’s work in her life including the way that He has miraculously taken away her fear, her nightmares, her anger and her bitterness and her shame. We shared chai (Kenyan tea) and songs and prayer and hugs.
I will not pretend to understand why these things happen or why sometimes evil seems to prevail in this world or give easy answers. Nor do I want to naively overlook or simplify the trauma that she or others have experienced. But, I do know that God’s work in Diana’s life is obvious. Her smile is not one of naivete or ignorance or denial. Her smile is that of someone who knows the love of God in a real way.
Diana is in the middle with the blue head scarf, her 4 year old son in the front center. The rest are Tabitha bible study leaders, friends, neighbors and relatives.
If you are interested in buying gifts this year that go a bit further, here are some of the options in our neck of the woods.
First of all, THANK YOU to those who prayed for us on our trip as a family to Samburu. We really felt covered in prayer each step as we traveled so far from our home here.
We recently traveled to visit a patient of Mike’s in her home village about 200 miles away. Semenai was born with a cleft lip and was believed to be cursed. Charles, a pastor, heard about her and arranged to take her to Tenwek where Mike did her surgery. After she returned from Tenwek and her lip was repaired, she was accepted again by her family and the community. We were able visit them in their own space, on their turf. It was a long, long trip, but it was so worth it. More on that in a minute. We wanted to share about our hosts, the missionaries who invited us to go on this trip in the first place, Charles and Agnes Sigei.
(Above: Charles, Vanessa age 4, Agnes, and Travis age 1.)
Charles and Agnes are two Kenyan missionaries who are actually from the Tenwek area, but have moved up to Maralal in Samburu with their two children. They have a daughter Vanessa who is 6 months younger than Caleb, and a son, Travis who was ‘one year and two days’ old when we met them. They are the ones who found Semenai and invited us up to visit the community for a celebration. They have been living there in this breathtaking, but scorching land, for five years trying to tell people about Jesus, trying to help with education projects and literacy programs. They have put in five hard, but rewarding, years trying to make relationships and gain trust, with their kids, in a land of no water. As a mom, I was in awe of their commitment and sacrifice.
Agnes told me that the morning we were supposed to arrive there, they had been without water for two weeks. TWO WEEKS! When the water is really low and there has been no rain, sometimes they call a company to truck water in and fill their rain tank. There was a problem with the phones and the company had not been answering their calls for two weeks. Earlier that very morning, when we were bouncing along the road on our way, the water truck pulled up to their house with water for their tank. She said they had been praying so hard that they would have water for us when we came. FOR US?!?!? What about YOUR children?!?! Such humbling self sacrifice.
Charles and Agnes were so gracious and appreciative of our visit. But we were so inspired and encouraged by their commitment and sacrifice for Jesus’ sake. Sitting and visiting with them and hearing stories about the trials and struggles, the victories and progress, was the highlight of the trip for us. Some of the things they talked about were hard to hear, the hardships people in that area still live with. Some things were so easy to relate to, being away from family when they are sick and concerns about their kids’ education. Yes and yes. We were together.
Would you pray for them and their family when you think of them? They are working with a people group that is mostly illiterate, untrusting of outsiders, and very isolated even from other tribes in Kenya. We asked them what their biggest concerns were. Two that they mentioned were 1) to get the God Project going- a literacy program for training young men so they won’t be so isolated, and 2) to get the Jesus film in the Samburu language since so many there still can’t read. We are continuing to pray for them and their work there.
Above left: Vanessa. Above right: Travis
Below: Semenai standing with her dad.
After arriving at Charles and Agnes’ house, we continued another two hard hours in the car to the home of Semenai, Mike’s patient. It was quite an experience for all of us. We traveled with the surgical resident, Kiniga, who had helped Mike with the case. Even having grown up in Kenya, he was having as much culture shock as some of us were.
Semenai’s family welcomed us wholeheartedly, and sacrificially fed us chai. Chairs were brought in from a neighbor so we would have somewhere to sit while we visited. We were able to talk to them about Jesus. We were able to see Charles’ love and concern for them. There were speeches of gratitude and gratefulness. And in the end, the family wanted to say thank with a gift. So they gave us a goat, which the kids named Nutmeg and who complained the two hour drive back to Charles’ place.
There is so much to say about the trip. It’s hard to put into words. I hope the photos give a more complete picture of the experience. Thank you again for praying for us. Please keep praying for the family and community that we visited that the love of Jesus would continue to speak to them and take root in their hearts.
This little girl was a patient of Mike's last week. A three year old little girl from Samburu who had a cleft lip that Mike and our team just repaired. At the age of three. Mama, about 18-ish the nurse guessed because she didn't know how old she was, became a christian about a month ago. A local Kenyan missionary and pastor who used to work at Tenwek visited her and showed interest in her child who was said and believed to be cursed.
The pastor said she wasn't cursed, and that there was a doc at Tenwek who could fix and fund this operation, just bring the girl. So she did. And she was beautiful! (Unfortunately, she took a face plant on the ward the day before and so had a bit of blood there for the pic.)
How a newborn could survive without adequate nutrition in a very remote area is purely God's grace. We are so encouraged ourselves when we get to play a small role in showing Jesus' love and tender care to others. It reminds us of His love for and care for us. When we have stories like these to tell of God's faithfulness, these are good days.
"Yet I am confident I will see the Lord's goodness while I am here in the land of the living." Psalm 27:13
Thank you to all who support us being here to help such children and families as this. It was our team's finances that paid for her care. Asante sana!
*As always, photos taken and used with mom's signed permission. While it would show the transformation better to share a picture before surgery, we feel it best to leave that out. Perhaps we'll get the chance in the future to update her photo without the bloody lip from falling while playing!
WAIT THERE'S MORE!!!!!!!
Will you pray with us? We heard from the pastor and his family that this mama and her child returned back to their village. People are so excited and are now open to him and his family. They have invited us to come to a celebration in the community there next week. We are praying that word of crazy white people (that's us) coming will draw a crowd, so that this pastor who has been working so hard will be able to share about Jesus' love. Will you pray with us that hearts will be made ready?
It will be an adventure!! The surgical resident that did the surgery with Mike is also coming with us which we are very excited about. It will take about two days to get there. We are bringing tents and sleeping bags. And we hear that once the tarmac ends there's still another 'bumpy' 70 miles to go. Three of the four of us get carsick on a regular basis. Would you pray with us for safety and that we miraculously wouldn't get carsick.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this since the first time I went out in the village. I couldn’t, and still can’t, quite figure out how to put into words this exchange that happens every time we go out. It's beautiful and convicting all at the same time.
Here near Tenwek, when you go out to visit someone in their home, where it seems hospitality is not practiced, but perfected, there is always something that you are offered. Chai. Bread. Maybe mandazis or beans and rice. Always given generously and joyfully. It’s often a sacrificial gift. But even more than that is the hand washing.
This handwashing. This act of gracious service. It gets me every time. Water is collected in a pitcher, often warmed up over a fire so it's not shockingly cold. And then as we sit in a woman’s home, comfortably on her couch or chairs, she goes around to each visitor and pours this prepared water over our hands so that we will be ready to receive whatever has been prepared for us to eat.
“So God created human beings in his own image.” Genesis 1:27
One of the advantages of living in another culture is being able to see and appreciate the differences. And more than that, to see the different aspects of Christ that He implants in each.
Mike (pediatric surgeon) and Julie (nurse/mother to two) living in Kenya, East Africa