Saturday, April 24, 2010


I didn't know how one life could contain so much heartbreak.

He was born with deformed hands.  His left hand has a normal thumb and one finger.   His right hand has a thumb and 3 fused fingers.  Somehow, he seems to be able to handle things and do basic sorts of work.

Although raised in the church, he had never asked Jesus into his life.  He followed a life of crime.

By about 2 years ago, he was married and had 3 children.  As the only son in his family, he had inherited a large piece of land, and felt pretty well set.

Then one rainy night, he was walking along a familiar path near a river with his 4 year-old son on his shoulders.  He was depending on his knowledge of the route, along with the dim moonlight of an overcast night.  What he didn't know, and couldn't see, was that there was a place where the heavy rains had washed a section of the path into the stream.  He stepped off into the washed-out section and fell and tumbled into the river.  He grasped his son's leg with his left hand, but his arm struck a stone, which loosened his grip.  They both plunged into the cold, rain-swollen water.  He was disoriented at first--perhaps he also struck his head in the fall.  In the swirling water he heard a voice saying, "give your life to Jesus."  The words were repeated 2 times.  There in the blackness, he gave his life to Jesus.  Quickly his mind cleared, and he was able to lunge to the surface of the water.

Apa called his son's name, and thrashed around in the water trying to find his son, but to no avail.  It was not until 3 days later that the little boy's body was found, some distance downstream.

Sometime after this, his wife's family came and took her away from Apa.  He had not paid any bride price at the time of the marriage, and because he couldn't work for wages (no one would hire him because of his had deformities), and because he didn't have any brothers or other close relatives to help him, he had not been able to pay, and her family had allowed him to postpone payment.  But now their patience was at an end.  Besides, they accused him of killing his son.  If they were serious about this accusation, I don't know why they didn't try to take the other children away from him, but they didn't.

He was recently able to get a job as a security guard at the hospital, and thing were looking up.  He assumed that if he could save up some money to pay bride price, he would get his wife back.  A friend even offered a generous gift to help with the bride price.  But then it became obvious that she did not want to come back to him.  There were rumors that she had moved in with another man.  Then she went to his employer with false accusations that lead to the loss of his job.

A few weeks ago, it became obvious that some of Apa's cousins were determined to take his land away from him.  His coffee gardens were about his only source of income.  Because there were many male cousins to divide their family's land, they didn't have much for each one of them.  They told Apa that they wanted the land.  However, Apa's mother was living on the land, and she had enough influence in the tribe to make it difficult for them.

Last week, Apa's relatives accused his mother of using sorcery to cause the death of another relative.  In many deaths, especially ones that aren't understood, it is assumed that sorcery is involved.  It is culturally acceptable to take revenge on sorcerers, and the sorcerer's family has no right of counter revenge.  It therefore becomes convenient to bring an accusation of sorcery against someone whom one wants to hurt or kill.  So the cousins accused Apa's mother of sorcery.  They found her in the market, with Apa's 2 children.  They attacked her and killed her.

They apparently intended to kill the children as well.  The little girl was left on the ground unconscious, and assumed dead.  The little boy got lost in the crowd, and was rescued by a female relative, who hid him under her coat.  The murderers carried the body of Apa's mother away, and buried her in a location that is unknown to Apa, to deny him of the ability to hold a proper funeral and burial for her.  After the murderers left, someone noted that the little girl was still breathing, and she was brought to the hospital, where she recovered.  Both children are now safe with other relatives.

Finally, the relatives have burned Apa's house, along with all his possessions.  The items he mentioned specifically that were lost were his Bibles.

He came to the house Sunday afternoon, along with Simon and Esther, mutual friends.  We had known bits and pieces of his story, but not many of the details.  Obviously, most of what has happened to Apa can't be fixed, but we are going to try to help with a few things.  Judy had a new Bible which had not yet started "feeling like mine", and she gave it to him.  I know someone who can talk to his former boss to see if there is a possibility of getting the job back, and I have shared the story with him.  Apa has been given a little cash to help with immediate expenses.  Most of all, we are requesting your prayers for him.

Late note:  Apa may be getting his job back.  His wife, who works at the hospital will probably be reprimanded for lying to the security company and getting him fired, and if he doesn't get the gob back, she will probably be fired.  A tiny shred of justice in this painful situation.

Sunday, April 11, 2010


I have written before about my work with kids affected by Congenital Talipes Equinovarus, commonly known as clubfoot.  This is Alfie.  He has clubfoot, but you wouldn't know it now.  He is four years old, much older than what is commonly considered to be treatable by non-surgical methods.  Until the day that these photos were taken, he had never stood using the soles of his feet.  Because of the birth defect, his feet were turned under so severely that he had learned to walk on what would ordinarily be the tops of his feet.
He comes from a remote part of the Southern Highlands Province of PNG.  His dad used all the money he had to bring Alfie to Kudjip, because he heard that there was someone here who could help his son.  However, he came not knowing that the treatment process takes many weeks.  He did not have anywhere to stay, and very little money for food.  Certainly, traveling back and forth every week was out of the question.  He was hoping that Alfie would be admitted to the hospital, or perhaps the problem could be corrected in a short time.

At the time they first came, our TB ward had only a few patients, and they all had been on treatment for a long time, so that they were not contagious.  I asked our hospital administrator, and received permission to allow Alfie and his dad to stay there for as long as it would take to complete his treatment.  As it turned out, on the first day they were here, they met someone they knew (probably a relative or an in-law) from back home, who now lives about an hour's walk from the hospital, and who invited them to stay there.

So treatment of Alfie's clubfoot began.  Many children his age are afraid of white people, are afraid of doctors, and afraid of loud machines.  Yet week after week Alfie would lay calmly on the treatment table while this white doctor would cut his casts off with a power cast saw, and would cooperate as I stretched the tight ligaments in his feet and placed them in new casts.  I was excited to see how quickly his feet responded to the treatment.  The callouses that had formed on the tops of his feet from walking on them were starting to soften.  After just 5 weeks the feet were turned right-side-up, and were ready for a minor operation to lengthen his Achilles' tendons, so his feet wouldn't point down.

The final stage in the treatment process is to wear a splint to maintain the position of the feet.  They wear it full-time for a few weeks, then at night for months or a few years if possible afterward.  I have managed to build my own splints.  They don't look high-tech, but they are quite functional.  I usually
use baby shoes that come from the US, which I attach to a piece of plywood with up-turned ends.  But Alfie is much bigger than most of the kids I treat.  None of the shoes in my stock are nearly big enough for him.  So, in the two weeks after his tendon-lengthening operation, I managed to get into Mount Hagen to shop for some shoes.  I found exactly 1 pair that were his size, stout and stiff, as I need for the splints.

So last week Alfie came for his final visit.  I removed the casts that had been on his feet for the two weeks after the tendon operation.  My heart was pounding as I picked him up off the treatment table and gave him a big hug.  Then I knelt down and gently lowered him to the floor.  I knew that after 7 weeks in casts his legs would be too weak to hold him up, so I held onto him as I lowered his feet to the floor.  (I'm crying now, as I try to type this!) With me supporting his weight, Alfie stood on the soles of his feet for the first time in his life!
I assembled the splint, using the shoes that I'd bought in Mount Hagen.  These were the first shoes that Alfie had ever worn!  At this stage I ordinarily ask the parents to bring the child back after 2 weeks, then every few weeks so I can check the feet, and repair or replace broken or outgrown splints.  This time I knew that it would be very hard for Alfie's dad to bring him back.  I instructed him as best I could, and encouraged him to come back after a few weeks if at all possible.  Then I prayed with this dedicated dad and patient calm little boy, and said "good-bye".  I hope I can see them again.