Cover Story

Serving a God of miracles

"Serving a God of miracles" Continued...

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 18, 2010

Students attend classes but have few extracurricular activities. They live in rooms that sleep 12 with dorm mothers, and most have family visits once a month. Like Daniel, who was hoisted to the bars by Bransford, many have cerebral palsy. Others were born with spina bifida, or deformed by breech birth, or have a congenital disease.

Many are incontinent, yet all laundry at Joytown is done by hand. BethanyKids is near completion of a new laundry building, which will include washing machines.

Lacking sufficient adult supervision, the less disabled push those in wheelchairs. And sometimes sit two to a wheelchair. Bransford watches the students intently, searching out those who might benefit from some specialized intervention. He examines one child, a 9-year-old named Antony with cerebral palsy, and determines with a therapist that something is needed. Soon they have Antony on an examining table, his thin legs bent over a tin basin, and Plaster of Paris bandages unwinding and rewinding around each foot up to his thighs.

Antony's leg tendons are severely contracted, and surgery for him isn't an option. So Bransford stretches them out by applying leg casts that the therapist will gradually cut from the back to allow the tendons to relax, straightening his legs. Quickly smoothing plaster over dripping gauze with gloved hands, Bransford becomes less surgeon and more sculptor, humorist, artist. When the plaster dries he measures, then draws lines on each cast indicating where the therapist should cut later. "He will have some pain," said Bransford, "but he will walk, I think he will."

Optimism about outcomes runs hard into opposition: After all, Bransford is trying to fix people the rest of the world doesn't see as useful. Sometimes at medical conferences in the United States colleagues will ask, particularly in reference to spina bifida patients, "Why do you have so many?" And Bransford says that he replies, "It's just that most of yours are aborted."

In Africa the disabled are also liable to be discarded. Francesca, a spina bifida patient who did not arrive at Kijabe until she was 19 years old, spent a childhood avoiding members of her family who wanted to poison her, who thought she was a curse. "I was always alone, always wet, always smelly," she said.

Bransford had to amputate her lower right leg; in fact, she was a patient on his ward when I visited in 2001. But now she is mobile with the help of a cane, able to control her bladder, and helping to run Joytown. Bransford said she led over 50 disabled people to faith in Jesus Christ in the last 15 months. Francesca also is married-and expecting a baby.

"There was a time when I had mothers and fathers come with their kids. And I was comfortable telling them all the negatives-your child won't walk, won't be able to hold his urine. And often then they would leave. It wasn't worth it."

Then, said Bransford, "I got tired of playing God. I wasn't being fair. So I told them the same thing but I also told them their child might be the most intelligent person in the room, might bring them joy, might make a difference."

Contemplating a U.S.-based career change hardly means stepping away from the threat and the privilege. As Bransford's tasks at Kijabe have lessened, he's found more opportunity to travel to countries considered closed, even hostile, to faith-based medicine. "I may not be bright enough to be frightened," he sometimes says, but the reality is he continues to go where the need is-and doors open as a result.
Read profiles of past Daniels of the Year.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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