Voices

Communion with Saul

That God might be glorified in Addis Ababa

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

"This is Christ's body, broken for you. This is Christ's blood, shed for you." As we give out bread and wine during the Lord's Supper, the actor is Jesus, the beneficiary is personal: you.

Ads last month on Ethiopian radio spoke of a "cleft clinic," a Project CURE program for children and adults with holes in their faces and their throats. I watched one afternoon as 20 patients, usually brought by their parents, came to Saul Lim, an American plastic surgeon who recently sacrificed security and a colossal income to move with his young family to Addis Ababa, the east African country's capital.

God's mercy is evident in both the Lord's Supper and the fact that most of us are born with faces with the right number of holes. At six to eight weeks of gestation our faces usually fuse. For some reason, in some children, the parts don't fuse. They have extra holes between their noses and their lips. They need additional grace.

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"We'll make his nose better," Lim (through a translator) told one mother holding her baby. "We'll make his lip better. Jesus brought us, brought me, here for him." The mom left wordlessly.

A 23-year-old who could be very pretty except for her malformation came in, looking ready to cry. She had unskilled surgery as a child and is now a teacher, with students who sometimes hoot at her. Lim: "We'll make your nose better. Jesus brought me here for you." She walked out, dazed: Will this miracle come to pass?

A teenage mom walked in holding a 1-month-old with a completely cleft lip. She sat, gazed at her baby, and smiled-no, glowed: She's in love with her baby. The father, a few years older, wearing a Michael Jordan 23 shirt, was unsmiling. When Lim said, "We will fix his lip," the mom beamed even more broadly, but the father remained stern.

Then Lim said, "Jesus brought me, brought us, here for him." The man suddenly smiled, as if just getting it, and enthusiastically shook the doctor's hand.

A 13-year-old girl slipped in, holding up her scarf to cover her mouth. She uncovered her mouth only when seated before Lim-and her reason for hiding behind her scarf was immediately obvious. Lim maintained his composure, examined her, and said to the translator, "Tell her that she will need more than one operation. We will do everything we can to help. Jesus brought us here, brought us all here, for her."

The girl again covered her mouth as she went out. Lim mentioned to me, "That's the first time I've seen this in person. We don't have this in the U.S.-I only saw pictures before."

A 12-year-old came in with his mouth frozen in a grimace. Malnourishment had provided the base for an infection when he was 5. Now he is missing a lot of tissue, skin, and part of his mouth. He had wanted to commit suicide, but Lim said, "We can help you. Jesus brought me, brought us here, for you." The grimace did not, could not (for now) change-but it will.

A father arrived from 50 miles away with his baby, who was dehydrated and shaking. The baby will get immediate help, and the operation will come later. Lim: "By God's grace we have an expert here on feeding children with cleft lip. Jesus brought us here for your son. That's why we are here."

Chapter 22 of Luke's Gospel: At the first Communion, on Passover, Jesus "took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is My body, which is given for you.'"

Communion with Saul Lim in Addis Ababa: He says to a 7-year-old in a Yao 11 NBA shirt, "We will take care of this. Jesus brought me here for you."

Two millennia ago Israelites asked Jesus why a man was born blind. He responded: "That the works of God might be displayed in him." Why are some born with a cleft palate? The answer could be similar: So that God will be glorified through the works of those He calls to help.

If you have a question or comment for Marvin Olasky, send it to molasky@worldmag.com.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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