Sitting on the tailgate of my old pickup, I was enjoying the warmth of the Virginia sun beating down on me as I chomped down on one of my favorite foods –– a hot dog. My phone buzzed and I was delighted to see a text from my good friend Wesley Imbuchi, headmaster of the Immanuel Christian School for the Deaf. I put my dog down on a napkin and tapped my phone. My delight turned to dread in an instant as I read his three-word message, "Naomi has died."
Earlier in the year, I had been in Kenya with a medical team who were conducting health evaluations on all of the children and staff at the school. One night, as we walked back to our housing, we passed the girl's dormitory. In the midst of the giggles and laughter of the girls, as they prepared for bed, a very distinctive cough could be heard. Our nurse, Becky Steele, said to me, "I need to see that child now." After a few minutes, we located a big-eyed beauty named Naomi. After a few minutes of listening, poking, and prodding Becky looked at me and said, "This little girl is in big trouble. She has an enlarged heart –– very enlarged."
We contacted Tenwick Mission Hospital in Bomet (about three hours drive away) and made an appointment for a doctor to see Naomi and another little girl with some serious issues. However, before we could get to the hospital, Naomi fell ill and had to be admitted to a local clinic. She was too sick to travel. We left Kenya never to see Naomi again. Her heart was too damaged for her to survive. Becky told me that even with medical intervention, Naomi would probably not survive. That was the fall of 2014 and Naomi died the last weekend in May 2015.
I sat on the tailgate of my pickup and wept. I wept as much out of frustration as it was sadness.
In June 2018 I was in Kenya with another medical team. We were doing health evaluations, running an eye clinic, and dedicating a brand new Academic center at the school. During the course of the week, my head nurse said to me, "We've got a little girl who is in a lot of trouble." As he explained to me that he was 99% sure she had an enlarged heart, my own heart sank.
I had heard those words before and we were unable to mount any effective intervention. I sent for little Winnie. I put my arms around her and prayed. I said, "Lord, if you will help me, I will move heaven and earth so we don't have to bury another child."
I instructed Headmaster Wesley to contact the Tenwick Hospital as soon as possible and told him that as soon as I got back to the states, I would turn over every rock to see if someone could help her. We left the next day for the states.
I had posted Winnie's situation on social media, asking for any information on some doctor, some clinic, some hospital that might be able to help –– even if we had to fly Winnie to the US. I had only been home a couple of days when I received a phone call from a very gracious woman in California who told me she knew of an organization that might be able to help. "Expect a phone call soon," she said. True to her word, my phone rang within five minutes. It was Rob Raylman from Gift of Life International. His organization provides treatment for children born with congenital heart defects in many countries around the globe. I told him we had made arrangements for Winnie to be seen at the Tenwick Mission Hospital and that the appointment was coming up soon.
That's when I saw a miracle begin to come into focus.
Rob told me, "That's perfect! We work closely with Tenwick. We know the staff well and they are very qualified. I will have the chief cardiologist there send me her test results and if we have to, we will fly in a surgical team to take care of it." I sat on the front porch of my house and wept. I did not weep from grief this time, but out of sheer joy and worship at the mere possibility that Winnie could be saved.
Long story short. Winnie was taken into surgery, issues were repaired and she is now a happy, healthy little girl with the promise of a long life ahead of her. Neither her family nor the school had to pay for her surgery and we are grateful to Rob Raylman, Gift of Life International, and our great God for Winnie's life.
This is one of my most treasured photographs. But, of course, I did not save Winnie's life. God did, and the gifted surgeons that gave of themselves for this great work. And of course, it doesn't have a lot to do with our current project on behalf of the Immanuel Christian School for the Deaf. It is, however, a story I felt you needed to hear to help you understand my passion for this ministry. Even though circumstances in my own life have necessitated me stepping back from an active role such as I carried for a number of years –– my passion for this school has not waned. Immanuel Christian School for the Deaf is not just educating children, they are rewriting futures.
The school is growing and this year they have added a program for hearing students as well and are in desperate need of new classroom space. Headmaster Wesley Imbuchi contacted me recently to see if I would add my voice to their appeals for funding for new classroom facilities to handle their burgeoning enrollment. I could not say no. We need to write fewer stories like Naomi's and more stories like Winnie's. Many of the children in this impoverished region of Kenya have little going for them other than the Immanuel School. I cannot travel to Kenya at this time, but I can make my voice heard around the world through the contacts I have made in fifty years of ministry.
Here is a link and I want you to do two things with it. First, read it and prayerfully consider whether you can help us in any way. Second, share this link to your email address book and on your social media. This is what I know: There are folks out there "somewhere" who can help us but they need to know about the need.