Tuesday, January 29, 2013


It has been 3 and a half weeks since we returned from Kenya.  Most of that time has been spent getting my house, life and kids back in order.  Some of that time has been spent retelling some of our experiences to our friends and family.  A lot of that time has been spent sleeping.

The large majority of the conversations, with those that have been interested, have ended with my story of Blair.  Blair was a young albino boy that we had the privilege to meet toward the end of our time in Africa.  Blair was the icing on my cake, the cherry on top of my sundae, and the story that brings me to tears every time I retell it.

I have really struggled with how to tell this story.  I have struggled with what the take-home-message of this story should be--to me and to all of you.  I have batted around ideas, the sequence of events, the "meaning" behind the meaning, and the idea that maybe it shouldn't even be "out there" in cyber space at all.  I fear for this young boy's life.  I am concerned that my telling of this story in such a public way will put him in harm's way.  I am worried that I have perhaps not "gleaned" what God wanted me to glean out of this experience.

As I am writing this, I am realizing that all of the words I have been using to describe my feelings are not fruits of the spirit.  "Fear, concern, worry", etc.  So, I have decided to just tell the story as best I can and rely on God to do the rest.  Relying on my own words, this may not go so well.  However, there is an amazing story here to tell and my prayer is that you will allow God to speak into you what He wants you to hear--not what Vanessa has decided is important.

So, here we go. . . . .

It was the next-to-the-last day of work for us in Kenya.  Our team assembled at the end of the day for our nightly "decompression" session and retelling of the events of the day.  (Our group was actually 3 groups in one, so it was a great treat every night to hear what the other 2 teams had done, seen, and experienced during the day).  This particular night was spent talking about a young albino boy our construction and children's teams had encountered.  My friend, Michael, seemed to be the one most touched by this young boy and was on a mission to get us all involved with ways to help him.  He retold the experience of sitting out in a large field with literally hundreds and hundreds of children for a sort of makeshift vacation bible school. 

Anyway, it seems that this boy was out in this field, under the direct mid-afternoon sun (about 3:00 p.m.) with no shade, no sunscreen, and no protection for his non-pigmented eyes.  Michael retold the story of this young boy being sunburned, with lips bleeding, and squinting (in obvious discomfort), under the intense sunlight of the afternoon.  He was so touched by the sight of this boy that he returned to our team requesting we donate any chapstick and sunscreen that we could spare.  He appealed to me for some sunglasses and whatever else I thought might be helpful.  Michael's intention was to gather these supplies and head back to the school the following day and give them to this young boy.

As the conversation continued, the pastor that we were working with asked us if we had noticed the lack of albinos in Kenya.  I have to be honest, I hadn't really paid attention, as the disorder is really not something that I come in contact with much, even in the US.  He went on to relate how albinos are an "endangered species" in Kenya because of the mysticism and lore perpetuated by the local witch doctors.  The general belief in Africa is that the tissue of albinos has some sort of mystical and/or healing properties to it.  Therefore these individuals are victims of human trafficking within many part of Africa.

While I was touched by this story, my natural inclination is to not believe everything I hear.  No, everything you read on the Internet is not true--that's why I am intimately familiar with Snopes!  However, on my return to the States, I did research it a bit.  Seems it is a very true story.  You can read about it here, if you are a natural cynic, too. 

So, we gathered all our remaining sunscreen and chapstick.  I dug through the few remaining pairs of sunglasses in an attempt to find one that would fit a 10 year old boy.  And, we placed all the items in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag for delivery the next day.

Fast forward to the next morning:  our teams split into our usual 3 teams and went our merry ways.  Michael was armed with his bag of supplies and the rest of us were moving on into the last lap of a very long and exhausting race.  My team, the eye clinic, boarded our little Matatu bound for our final mud-hut clinic of the trip.  We arrived, set up, and began what would be the most frustrating and personally humbling experience of my trip.

About an hour into our clinic, all 4 batteries housed in my hand-held equipment died.  I had recharged them all night long, yet they somehow just stopped working--all at once!!!

Since my battery powered handles are like my own little personal "lie detectors", this was quite a blow to my entire method of examination.  There's just no getting around the results of a quick and accurate retinoscopy.  It has been my most valuable piece of equipment--both in the States, and here in Kenya.  Simply put, I was dead in the water!

So, here I am in this little mud hut with no running water, no electricity, no juice in my lie detectors, and about 200 people in line anticipating an eye exam. My exams were infinitely harder, but we somehow managed to muddle through (once Dave talked me out of just packing up and moving out for the day). 

Two hours into my now REALLY primitive eye clinic, I look out the doorway of the hut and see this middle-school aged white kid standing in the crowd.  He was moderately sunburned.  His lips were scabbed over, and he had a fairly significant nystagmus that I could see from 30 feet away.  I called Dave over and told him that we had an albino boy in the crowd and that I was curious if it was the same one Michael had been telling us about.  Nobody on our team knew if it was the same boy, but I made the decision that it didn't really matter.  This boy was here, in my line, needing my services, and by the power vested in me we were going to help him, doggonit!

So, I took another stab at my defunct handles.  I realized that I could get about 2-3 seconds of light out of each one before they completely died.  Dave and I formulated a plan.  I had 2 handles and 4 batteries.  I could scope for 3 seconds at a time switching handles and/or batteries in between.  I told Dave, "If I could just get 10 seconds of battery, I think I can come up with a prescription."  So, armed with a plan, our little albino patient perfectly positioned behind the phoropter, I began the most important and quickest retinoscopy of my entire career.  God, in his faithfulness, provided me the 10 seconds I had begged Him for.  My husband was as precise as a NASCAR pit crew swapping out handles, and we managed to get 'er done!

Now, I want all of you to imagine the whole picture:  10 year old albino kid in Kenya being forced to survive in the sun AT THE EQUATOR, without sunscreen, chapstick, or sunglasses.  He and his family living in fear of human trafficking and possible dismemberment and death at every turn.  His vision is already decreased due to the albinism and nystagmus, and now I find that the poor kid is a    -6.00?!? What?  Really, God?  Are you kidding me?  How much does this poor kid have to endure?  I mean, we are talking trials in life that would give Job a run for his money!  (For those of you not familiar with ophthalmic optics--which I would imagine is most of you--the focal point for someone that is a -6.00 is somewhere around 8 inches from your nose.  That means his whole world is only clear from his nose to 8 inches.  Imagine living life where everything that is farther than 8 inches from your nose is blurry).

Armed with the knowledge that this kid needs some serious minus correction, Dave and I start pouring over bags of donated prescription glasses.  Keep in mind, this is our very last day of clinics and we have picked over most of the decent frames and prescriptions that we had brought.  I managed to find a pair of clear glasses that were surprisingly close to his prescription and actually fit his face.  I handed them to Dave.  Dave put the glasses on this kid and handed him the near acuity chart that we had brought with us.  (We had printed some acuity charts in English and Swahili with scripture passages in various sized fonts). 

As I am still digging through bags (trying to find every single pair of glasses I had left in his prescription) I hear this sweet little voice start reading in his British-filled English, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God".  As the tears flooded my eyes, I grabbed another pair of glasses (this time a bifocal) and handed them to Dave.  Dave put this pair on him and he read the next passage on the page, "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life". 

At this the tears came.  As I sat there in that dark, tiny, mud hut in Africa it hit me:  God sent his son to this earth to live as a man and die as a criminal on a cross in the sun with no sunscreen, water, chapstick, or sunglasses in order that I might experience eternal life with Him in heaven.  He did it for me. He did it for you. He did it for all the crazy people that would eventually denounce him and spit in his face. And, He did it for sweet Blair.  He knew that Blair would be born in unbearable conditions and be forced to live in fear and pain.  However, He also knew that He would be there to help Blair through the pain.  Blair doesn't know any different way of life than what he as always lived.  But, he knows that the God of the universe is there with him.  God has not left Blair's side and I am comforted to know that whatever the outcome, He will be there with Blair every step of the way.

Do I feel guilty for being born into such a cake-walk of a life?  Yes.  Does it make me sad that I don't recognize God's grace and provision more?  Yes.  Am I now forever impacted to stop complaining and give God thanks for the grace that He has bestowed on me?  You betcha!

So, my take-home message to myself is this:  God didn't need me to go to Africa to help Blair or the other 899 people that I came in contact with.  God is the God of the universe.  He doesn't need me to do anything in order for His plan to be fulfilled.  However, I am thankful that God chose me to be a part of His awesome plan.  I feel blessed and fortunate to have been able to walk alongside God in such a spectacular way. 

I will never be the same.  My heart's desire is that someday soon, while I'm still existing on this blue sphere of His, God will allow me to have a front row seat to another amazing concert in this orchestra he calls "life".

I hope you have the opportunity, very soon, to walk alongside God.  I hope you recognize the invitation when you see it.  But, most of all, I hope that you acknowledge, and use, the lines of communication that are always available between you and THE Creator of the universe. 

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