By Joni Byker, Deputy Country Director
Remember, as a child, the anticipation of opening your Christmas presents? Oh the excitement and mystery of what could possibly be under the shiny wrapping paper! Growing up with three siblings, my Mom loved to keep our anticipation growing by not putting anyone’s names on the gifts under the tree. I had no idea which one was mine. Was it the small one in the back? The odd shaped one? Or… the HUGE one everyone wanted?!
In a similar way, we have had some amazing anticipation moments this year in Liberia. For a while there, it was hard for me to imagine that life could possibly return to “normal” after the trauma and devastation of Ebola. There was very little joy during Ebola and a whole lot of heartbreak and grief. There are still so many hurting individuals and families grieving the gaping holes their loved ones left behind. To be honest, I didn’t expect to see joy in Liberia for quite a while. But I can tell you, it is slowly coming back into this country and in beautiful ways!
One of those ways was through ELWA Hospital. This year we were able to complete the construction of a new hospital, almost doubling the capacity of the old facility. We started construction in 2012, and turned the facility over to SIM/ELWA in October of 2016. Talk about anticipation! This was a huge project for our office, and to see the final details of the hospital come together those last few months, as well as the growing anticipation of what this gift was going to bring for the people of Liberia, it was like wrapping a massive present!
Last week we had the privilege of hosting the first Samaritan’s Purse Cleft Lip and Palate Program in Liberia at the new ELWA Hospital. Being able to have the opportunity to work within the hospital, along with our partners SIM and ELWA as we transformed lives through the cleft lip program, it was like opening a gift! Over 60 men, women and children from all over Liberia came to ELWA Hospital to be screened for surgery. The medical team, consisting of Samaritan’s Purse medical staff and ELWA Hospital staff, completed an incredible 39 surgeries in five days. Lips and lives were being transformed right before my eyes! I was able to spend a day in the operating room, watching the team use their gifts and talents as they took such good care of our patients. My favorite moments were the anticipation of seeing the reaction of their families when they were out of surgery. Smiles. Hugs. Dancing! Oh what a beautiful gift it was.
But the giving was not over.
Of the 39 surgeries, several of the patients were young children, many of whom deal with teasing and laughter on a daily basis because of their deformity. These were children who were born “different” and were reminded of that fact each day. So before they left for their homes and communities with their new lips, we sent them off with one more gift… an Operation Christmas Child shoebox! Shoeboxes filled with school supplies, toothbrushes, hygiene items and so many toys! It was the perfect way to end their stay with us, providing us another opportunity to share about the greatest gift of all—better than the gift of a new hospital, better than the gift of a new lip—Jesus himself!
Because of Jesus, there is beauty in Liberia again. There is joy returning to the people of Liberia again. I honestly didn’t know if I would see it when I returned. But this year I have seen the joy of Christ shine through some of the darkest of circumstances. Sometimes He shines through a beautiful new hospital. Sometimes through a new lip, and sometimes He shines through a simple shoebox gift.