Their Lips Shall Praise You

May 18, 2021 • Liberia
Emmanuel has a hard time not looking at his miraculously new lip after cleft lip surgery at ELWA.
Emmanuel has a hard time not looking at his miraculously new lip after cleft lip surgery at ELWA.

Cleft lip and palate surgeries give renewed hope to Liberian families.

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Esther* had just given birth, yet she was being forced from her home and village with her newborn son James. Her father had looked on with anger at the deformed face of his grandson. He sent them both away from the village to save his family from the disgrace that would come upon them.

Nurse Beth Thompson and nurse anesthesist Tim Musick gently transport a young patient after surgery.

Nurse Beth Thompson and nurse anesthesist Tim Musick gently transport a young patient after surgery.

“When I delivered with him, they used to laugh at him, so I dropped from school. They said this baby was not human,” Esther said, recalling with pain the chiding she and her child received when people saw James’s misshapen lip. Gums and teeth were continually exposed, and simple things like chewing were a daily challenge. It was as if a curse had descended on this mother and son.

To be born with a cleft lip in Liberia is to be born into a tragic life of scorn. In certain remote villages, a superstitious midwife might even kill such a child to, in turn, kill the evil spirit inside. This is why a simple corrective procedure performed by Samaritan’s Purse surgeons can make a life feel brand new.

Our experienced team of medical personnel performed 28 surgeries in late April at ELWA Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia.

Surgeon Jewel Greywoode, left, and nurse Alison Herbert were part of the surgical team that performed 28 surgeries in April.

Surgeon Jewel Greywoode, left, and nurse Alison Herbert were part of the surgical team that performed 28 surgeries during one week in April.

The many stories are tragic regarding what life is like living with a cleft lip or palate in Liberia. But there are also plenty of stories like Esther’s and James’s that show how compassionate medical care provided by skilled doctors and nurses in Jesus’ Name can help profoundly change lives.

As James emerged from surgery and was given back to Esther with a swollen but now-mended lip, the young mother rejoiced.

“I’d like to study to be a nurse after seeing how they helped me and my son,” Esther said. “I want to help people, too.”

From Curse to Blessing

Hawa echoed Esther’s experience of pain and transformation.

Surgeon Jewel Greywoode examines a young patient's lip and palate.

Surgeon Jewel Greywoode examines a young patient’s lip and palate.

“They said he wasn’t human,” she said of her son Emmanuel, the first child in her village to be born with a cleft lip. “They’d say, ‘Come and see the baby without a lip. Look at his ugly mouth.’ We have had plenty of challenges.”

Such traumatizing experiences are all too common in Liberia’s small, rural villages where children born with cleft lip and palate are viewed as cursed. They and their families often become outcasts, and children are often scorned by their own families.

In this way, the imagined curse and the imagined evil become real. Superstitious family and neighbors become the very curse and evil they had feared. In turn, the baby is ridiculed and expelled by the very people who should love and protect it.

Praise God that Hawa’s family rose above their community and continued to love and care for the delightful young Emmanuel and to fight for solutions to his condition. Hawa’s sister heard about the then upcoming work of Samaritan’s Purse at ELWA and told Hawa.

Emmanuel and mother Hawa say goodbye as they say hello to a new life without the shame experienced because of a cleft lip.

Emmanuel and mother Hawa say goodbye as they say hello to a new life without the shame experienced because of a cleft lip.

When Emmanuel was accepted to receive the surgery, it was an answer to many prayers over half a decade. And when Hawa saw Emmanuel after the hour-long procedure that reconstructed his lip, she wept and praised God.

“I was ashamed in my community. When I gave birth, they told me not to breastfeed my child because he was cursed,” Hawa recounts. “I praise God for what He has done in my life and the life of my son. I praise God for sending you to us to do this work. You have given us back our lives.”

In the days following the surgery, Emmanuel was already on the mend and as joyful as ever playing on the hospital grounds in his oversized T-shirt with a yellow toy car given to him by hospital staff. He was only half aware of the new road his life had just taken. His mother though was overwhelmed with gratitude.

“Today I am thankful to God for Samaritan’s Purse,” Emmanuel said. “I want to say thank you all so much for taking your time to come here and make us look like we were not looking before.”

Medical Care to the Glory of God

Since 2011, Samaritan’s Purse has provided more than 900 cleft lip/palate surgeries across several countries: South Sudan, Liberia, Bolivia, Guatemala, and Myanmar. We also work through a partner project in Nepal.

The surgeons and nurses caring for these cleft lip/palate patients do their work in Jesus' Name as an expression of God's love.

The surgeons and nurses caring for these cleft lip/palate patients do their work in Jesus’ Name as an expression of God’s love.

Beth Thompson, medical programs specialist-cleft and cataract teams, says the degree to which these patients are marginalized is shocking and eye-opening.

“Many of the kids don’t want to go to school. They don’t want to go out. They’ve been teased and mocked their whole life,” she said. “It’s hard to comprehend.”

But it’s also a unique opportunity for the Gospel to touch the lives of people who are hurting physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Helping others through medicine is a great blessing, said Tim Musick, nurse anesthesist during the cleft surgeries. “We meet the physical need, and it gives us opportunities to help meet spiritual needs and plant seeds for the Gospel.”

Nurse anesthesist Tim Musick says he does this important work so that these hurting families can know the love of God through Jesus Christ.

These doctors and nurses do this important work so that hurting families can know the love of God through Jesus Christ.

*Names changed for security reasons.

SUPPORT
Samaritan’s Purse sends specialized teams to places such as South Sudan and Bolivia to provide outpatient surgery for hundreds of patients. Your gift of $250 will enable us to cover the cost of this life-changing procedure so we can show these boys and girls how precious they are in the eyes of God.
Mend a Cleft Lip Samaritan’s Purse sends specialized teams to places such as South Sudan and Bolivia to provide outpatient surgery for hundreds of patients. Your gift of $250 will enable us to cover the cost of this life-changing procedure so we can show these boys and girls how precious they are in the eyes of God.

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