Ama traveled over 700 miles from the country of Mali to the country of Togo to see her family. She was a twenty three-year-old mother with a beautiful eight-month-old baby girl named Blessing.
This first-time mom had never seen her baby girl because she went blind in both eyes during pregnancy.
(In a culture where witchcraft is prevalent, pregnant women are often told not to drink water. Dehydration during pregnancy can either leave the mother or baby blind. We see this all too often in Togo.)
Ama thought that she went blind because someone put a curse on her. Curses are common, so this is the first thing that came to her mind. She didn’t know that she could have prevented her blindness by drinking water during her pregnancy.
Ama thought she was traveling to Togo just to see family. But God brought her to Togo for something bigger.
Her mother-in-law had just heard about Sight.org, so she drove three hours to bring Ama to us. Our doctor knew immediately that he could help her.
Ama became the first eye surgery patient of 2019.
Our staff was so excited for the first surgery that we all crowded around the operating room to watch. As Ama was lying on the table getting prepped, I noticed that every muscle in her body was shaking. I’m not talking about a little shake in her hands. Her legs shook, her arms shook, her stomach shook, even the muscles in her neck were shaking. She was scared to death.
I couldn’t just stand there watching. My heart broke for her and I had to do something. I asked the doctor if I could hold her hand and pray for her during surgery and he said, “Yes, anything you can do to keep her calm will be helpful!”
Our eye surgeries only last fifteen minutes, so I thought it would be pretty easy to sit with her for just that short time. I forgot that she had to be fully prepped before and cleaned after. I sat on a rolling stool as my arms and legs fell asleep. But it was all worth it. I prayed over Ama and held her hand. I could see the muscles in her body slowly calm down.
Soon, it was all over and the doctor proclaimed that her surgery went very well and she would be able to see the next day.
As Ama rested and recovered, I got to play with her beautiful daughter. I imagined what it would be like to not see my own children, to miss out on seeing their precious eyes and cute dimples.
Ama missed out on the first eight months of her daughter’s life.
She didn’t see Blessing’s tiny fingers and toes get bigger every day. This young mother didn’t get to watch her baby grow over the first several months. She never experienced looking into the eyes of her baby and completely melting with love.
I hurt for Ama.
I grieved that she missed out on so much with her baby. She missed out on so much joy that comes with being a mother.
But then, I rejoiced for her.
When our optometrist took the patches off her eyes, we all gathered around once more. We couldn’t wait for this sweet mother to see her beautiful baby for the first time.
To be honest, it wasn’t what we all expected. We wanted it to be like the movies. We wanted her to open her eyes and see her baby. We wanted her to cry with joy.
None of that happened.
When Ama opened her eyes, she was almost frozen. They handed her baby to her and she just sat there.
Maybe she was overwhelmed.
Maybe she was still groggy from the medicine.
Maybe she was in pain.
We don’t know.
Finally, after what seemed like forever, Ama picked up her baby’s foot and examined it. Her baby cried so she fed her. As she fed her, she looked into her eyes.
It wasn’t as dramatic as we expected.
It was real life.
She had just recovered from major surgery but she was still a mother with responsibilities. She just kept going as usual, taking care of her baby. She just did what she needed to do.
A few days later, we caught a few glimpses of her smiling and playing with her baby. Sweet little Blessing was all smiles, all the time. Could she tell a difference in her mom? Did she know that her mom was seeing her for the first time? Did she feel more connected to her mom?
One week earlier, Ama had no idea that her life was about to change. She didn’t know that she would be getting her sight back. She also didn’t know that a bunch of strangers would pray over her and tell her all about the One who brought her there. That is the whole reason Sight.org is in Togo, to point people to Jesus. To open the eyes of the blind both physically and spiritually.
We don’t know how Ama responded when she heard the good news of Jesus, but our team did not miss a chance to tell her about Him and pray over her. God brought her there for a reason and we all knew it.
This Mother’s Day, will you pray for Ama?
Pray for her heart.
Pray that she responds to God’s loving voice.
Pray that she will not ignore the fact that God chased after her.
Pray that she bonds even more with her baby now.
Pray that God transforms Ama in every way.
Dennis was one of the most stubborn and ornery three-year-olds.
Every time we saw him, he fussed and let out this cringeworthy cry. It was so annoying that it was endearing. We all just laughed when we heard him fussing because there was something about Dennis that we all loved. We all just wanted to try to make him smile.
Dennis had been blind since birth. He had thick cataracts that covered both eyes.
He didn’t trust anyone but his dad. He stayed glued to his dad all day. If his dad moved, he moved. If his dad stood up, Dennis stood up. If anyone besides his dad tried to get near him, he screamed.
Our medical team first saw Dennis a year ago, but they knew he would have to wait until we scheduled children’s surgeries.
Eye surgeries for children are more complicated than eye surgeries for adults. When we operate on adults, it only takes fifteen minutes and they are awake for the entire procedure. When we operate on children, it takes two hours and they have to be put under full anesthesia. Because of that, we have to schedule all the children at the same time and make special preparations.
Dennis had waited for a year for his surgery, and his time was finally here.
Dennis and his father arrived five days early since they lived far away. They did not stay in a hotel. They slept on the hard ground, outside, every night in 100-degree weather. They claimed a spot right by the showers, so every night I walked past them to get my shower. They both seemed to be sleeping so peacefully.
I will never forget the picture I saw one night as I walked by. Dennis’ father was lying flat on his back while Dennis laid face down on his chest. They were both sound asleep, on the edge of a concrete step. Never once did his father complain. Never once did he ask for better accommodations.
I stared at them every night, thinking about how their life was so different from mine.
I imagined what it would look like for me in the United States if my son was blind and waiting for his eye surgery. We would be staying in a hotel with air conditioning, running water, and a comfy bed. We would show up at the hospital a few hours before the procedure and wait in soft chairs. My son wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast because of the anesthesia, but we would entertain him with toys or some sort of screen. We would know exactly what time surgery would start. We would make life as easy as possible for our son.
Surgery day came and we could hear Dennis crying from a mile away. He wasn’t allowed to eat breakfast because he would be having anesthesia. He waited with four other children, who were also fussy and hungry. No one knew who would go first. They all just waited for their name to be called. Dennis wasn’t entertained with toys. He didn’t have air conditioning. He didn’t have a comfy chair. He and his dad sat on a wooden bench for hours, waiting, hungry.
Of course, we Americans couldn’t stand it anymore. We had to entertain this child in some way, because that is how we take care of kids right? We entertain them.
Todd broke out his guitar. For the first time in hours, Dennis stopped crying. For the first time all week, Dennis became unglued from his father and found his way to the guitar. He got so close to the guitar strings, Todd could barely strum. Dennis pressed his ear on the wood so he could feel every vibration.
Then Ezekiel brought out a second guitar. Dennis was in heaven. He walked back and forth between the two guitars. He couldn’t move fast enough. He wanted to hear them both at the same time. I think he would have sandwiched his head between the two guitars if he were able. Nothing made him happier than those guitars.
Todd played and sang “Break Every Chain” over Dennis. The whole world stopped at that moment. The presence of Jesus was so strong as he sang. Dennis, this three-year-old who hadn’t stopped crying for days, was now calm and happy. He was drawn to the music. The Lord was soothing him with his song of hope and love. We will never forget that moment.
From then on, Dennis thought those guitars were his. He sat in Ezekiel’s lap and hugged the guitar. It was his.
Hours later, Dennis’ name was finally called. The nurse carried him into the operating room screaming and flailing. He was a strong little thing. None of us could hold him still.
As they laid him on the table, we heard the bad news. One of the machines needed for children’s surgery was not working. It needed an oxygen tank and the oxygen had run out.
We wouldn’t be able to get more oxygen until Monday, and this was Friday.
We were all completely heartbroken for Dennis and his father.
Again, I imagined how I would respond if that were my son. I would have been livid. I probably would have yelled at someone out of frustration. Had I just sat on a hard bench with my son in 100-degree weather for hours for nothing? Had I endured my son’s hungry cry for nothing? Had I come all this way for nothing?
Dennis’ father reacted very differently. He heard the news with grace and patience. Dennis and his father went on with life as usual. They held hands and walked to the market to find food. No big deal. They just had to wait three more days. They just had to sleep on the ground three more nights. No big deal.
After a full week of seeing Dennis and his father every day, we all grew quite fond of them. And Dennis got used to us. He no longer ran away from us screaming. He even walked all the way across the courtyard all by himself when he heard a group of us singing and playing guitar.
Todd figured out one day that Dennis liked the feeling of Todd’s arm. Most Africans do not have hair on their arms. Todd’s arm was quite hairy. This was a new experience for Dennis. How fun it was for him to touch those hairy arms.
Todd was winning Dennis over with his guitar and his hairy arms.
Monday finally came. Today, surely Dennis would get his surgery. He skipped breakfast again, but this time, he didn’t fuss. He was happy and calm. We didn’t even have to distract him with a guitar or hairy arms.
They called Dennis into the operating room and no one had to hold him down. He happily clung like a koala to the large manly assistant named Peter.
Two hours later, Dennis walked out the door holding his dad’s hand with patches over both eyes.
Twenty-four hours later, our optometrist took the patches off Dennis’ eyes. Cranky, stubborn Dennis was back. He refused to open his eyes. In typical Dennis fashion, he was only going to open his eyes when he was ready. Again, we just laughed. This kid had our hearts.
We just wanted to see him see for the first time in his life. But he made us all wait, of course. He would not be persuaded.
Until Todd put his arm under Dennis’ hand. Immediately, Dennis opened his eyes to look at Todd’s arm. He wanted to know what that furry thing was that he had been feeling for days. He looked for a split second and then quickly shut his eyes again.
In that first hour of sight, Dennis opened his eyes a total of four times. Each time, he only opened them for a split second. He was overwhelmed by his sight. He was seeing for the first time in his entire life, and it was a lot of information to take in.
Can you imagine being three-years-old and seeing for the first time? Talk about information overload.
Even though Dennis only opened his eyes for a split second, we all got so much joy in those moments. He could see! All we could do was laugh with joy.
Eventually Dennis acclimated and kept his eyes open for longer periods of time.
He looked at his father for the first time in his life.
If you had asked me two years ago where Togo is, I would have responded, “Isn’t that off the coast of Australia?”
That’s what I said when Lewis approached me about getting involved with Sight.org. (I was confusing Togo, a small West African country, with Tonga, a tiny South Pacific island!) Find Lome, Togo on your map app. That’s where Beth, Lewis and I will step off the plane into a ninety degree February morning. I may well be saying to myself “Togo – we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
I’m excited about seeing a place on the planet where daily life is radically different from how I live 24/7 in the buckle of the Bible belt in Tyler, Texas, USA. But that’s not what I’m most excited about seeing.
I’m excited to be in the operating room for four full days as one Togolese person after another gets their blinding cataracts cut out in less time than it takes to get my hair cut. I’m excited to watch our skilled Sight.org medical team, (all of them native Africans who live there), working like a well-oiled machine to give vision back to 150 adults. I’m very excited to watch our patients’ faces light up and to hear their voices shout with delight. I can’t wait to see their feet dancing in celebration as the darkness lifts when the eye patches come off. But that’s not what I’m most excited about seeing.
I’m excited to ride up into the rural hillsides in the Sight.org van, seated between Lewis and Beth as we pick up four children – little ones who’ve never seen their parents, family, or friends due to cataract-induced blindness since birth. I look forward to watching them the day after surgery when they look into their parents’ eyes for very first time. But that’s not what I’m most excited about seeing.
It gives me chills to think about bringing these now-seeing children back to their families and communities. The ten-year-old boy, who has had no friends, will now be chasing the soccer ball along with the rest of the guys. The seven-year-old, who was born the same month as Sight.org in June 2012, will gaze at the African sky for very first time. As satisfying as these scenes are, they’re not what I’m most excited about seeing.
Raymond will drive us to three villages in the Elavagnon region where our medical team has brought vision to 2221 people since we first ventured into this Voodoo and witchcraft-dominated region in 2016. I’ll meet our Togolese brothers and sisters in Christ who heard the good news of Jesus and accepted his offer of forgiveness and eternal life when our medical team brought them the gospel. I’ll join their evening circle around the village mango tree as the African sun sets and the solar-powered audio device begins playing the New Testament in the Ewe dialect. I’ll probably clap, sing, and dance the praises of Jesus with the. Those of you who know me know I mean that literally! But even these new Christ-followers are not what I’m most excited about seeing in Africa.
I find myself nervously and excitedly looking forward to seeing God work by the power of His Holy Spirit, drawing people out of the spiritual abyss and into the glorious light of His Son Jesus. I am awestruck at the thought of watching Him rescue his creations from the fear of death which has held them captive all their lives. As incredible as that will be, it’s not the number one thing I am looking forward to seeing while there on the equator.
What I am most excited about seeing is God in all His glory. The best definition of “glory” I’ve ever heard is from my pastor Gary Brandenburg who said, “glory is when the invisible God is made visible.” I’m looking forward to seeing His glory as relationships form between our team and our patients. As He surprises us with the things we need, right when and where we need them. As He empowers us beyond our talents and training to do His works of healing that are clearly beyond our capability. As He opens blinded minds and hearts to the great love He has for each person. As He restores hope to people when their vision is restored. As He becomes visible in people who place their faith in Jesus because they believed our message. As He calls more people to become a part of Sight.org as they watch the surgeries live on Facebook.
Lord, open their eyes.
And open mine even wider.
Written by Todd Hinkie, Sight.org Director of Strategic Growth and Development
Do you want to go with us to the operating room, the mango tree, the villages and the towns of southern Togo? Lord willing and technology cooperating, we will be streaming live on our Facebook Page, so now’s the time to be sure you’re following!