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March 23, 2012

“The God Who Sees Me”: Achu’s Hope

AchuRecently, Kimberly Smith, founder and director of Make Way Partners, posted on her blog the story of a Sudanese orphan named Achu. Like so many orphans, Achu’s account of suffering and abandonment was heartbreaking enough, but there was more—this 15-year-old girl was suffering from a horrific open wound that threatened to take not only her leg, but her life.

Our ministry, Eternal Perspective Ministries, had the privilege of offering to cover Achu’s medical expenses. I asked Kimberly to share her story in the guest post below. This is wonderful and amazing, and it is our privilege to help. It makes me cry just to see Achu’s smiling face. I look forward to meeting her someday, in a far better world, where pain and suffering will be no more.

Achu’s Hope of Christmas Coming

Can you remember what it was like to be a kid between Thanksgiving and Christmas? For most of us, the anticipation of Christmas coming was all we could talk about. Some things are like that—they’re so good we can’t get them off our minds. That’s definitely the case with the story of a Sudanese orphan named Achu.

Even though the New Republic of Sudan seceded from Sudan in 2011, after five decades of Islamic invasion, slavery, and genocide, there is still no infrastructure within the fledgling country. In fact, much of it is still under attack and bombed on a daily basis.

Since there is no other medical care available, thousands of people walk for hours, and even days, in the unbearable heat to visit the small Make Way Partners open-air clinic. With our extremely limited staff and resources, each sunrise delivers two to three times more patients piled and waiting around our door than those we can actually treat in one day.

So, each morning the clinic staff passes out vouchers—first come, first serve—to the waiting number of patients which the medical team deems they can treat that day. As hard as it is to do, all others are mercifully sent away so that they do not wait all day—in vain—under the unforgiving sun.

Dr. Matt Mooreland, MWP mission-team member, was finishing his second day of serving in 130 degree heat on the border of Darfur, Sudan when his eyes fell upon a frail child sitting in the door way. She had no life-saving voucher to wave before Dr. Matt. Early in the morning Achu had been told that she could not be seen that day…no room in the inn…she was sent away.

Persistent as the woman in Mark 7, who begged Jesus to treat her like a dog who ate the crumbs falling from his plate, Achu didn’t leave. She curled into a fetal position on the sidelines, where MWP indigenous director Lual Atak found her, and helped her toward the front of the clinic.

The miracle happened. Dr. Matt met Achu.

Achu's leg woundBad news accompanied the miracle, however. As Dr. Matt unwound the filthy cloth tied around Achu’s twig-thin leg, he found that three to four inches of Achu’s bone protruded through her skin just below her knee. Pus poured out of the swollen wound, and the foul stench of decaying flesh quickly filled the room, forcing most of the nonmedical staff to leave.

Dr. Matt learned that the injury had occurred a year earlier: “Achu stated that a little over a year ago she was wrestling with a friend by the borehole in her village and her leg got twisted up.  Unable to bear weight, she crawled back home and stayed on the ground for almost two months straight. Her mother was dead, her father was a drunk, and the stepmother was refused any money for aid because all Achu’s father would do is drink it away. Because of her leg injury, Achu was not able to work, and her family blamed her for the loss of two otherwise healthy hands… After two months, she forced herself to start walking and moving around, and over time developed a way to function day to day, while completing her chores.”

But the story grew worse. Dr. Matt realized that the infection was so severe, that even with excellent medical care—which was not possible from our scantily-supplied-open-air clinic—Achu would surely lose her leg, if not her life.

Achu's despairIn the words of Dr. Matt, “It was my duty to tell her there are no amount of medications to keep a dying piece of bone from eventually infecting her entire frail body. It was a devastating prognosis. Achu, who was without a smile already, dropped her head and stopped making eye contact with anyone. As medical professionals, we are taught to deliver bad news with honest, straight talk followed by a sincere attempt to show sympathy and hope. However, in this case, my response was long on sympathy and very short on hope. The facts are simply that the average citizen in this area of the world has no access to surgical services and no means to travel the hundreds of miles to obtain those services. I had just handed down Achu’s death sentence.”

The entire team remained in constant prayer for Achu. I’ve always been sort of a dragee when it came to social media, but I’d read a convincing article by John Piper a few months earlier about God using 140-character tweets just as powerfully as 30-minute sermons. We just have to work harder on getting them down to size! So I called on thousands of others to join in prayer, and realized John was right—God can indeed move through social media.

Thousand filled (and continue to fill) the no-man’s-land between Heaven and earth with prayer. Then, another miracle: Eternal Perspective Ministries wrote offering to cover Achu’s medical expenses, if Make Way Partners could coordinate it.

I called my friend Dr. Carol Spears at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya and asked her if Tenwek would be able to treat Achu. Dr. Carol informed me that not only would they treat her, but also that Dr. Dan Galat, on staff, was a Mayo Clinic-trained orthopedic surgeon. 

Miracle number too-many-to-count—a Mayo-trained orthopedic surgeon in the next country over, who was willing to operate on Achu! But we would need the stream of miracles to flow with whitewater power; getting Achu out of Sudan would be no small task.

In order to justify not giving up any of his booze money, Achu’s father denied Achu needed help. So, even though we offered to cover all expenses from the private charter to get her out of war-torn Sudan, to medical expenses in Kenya, to food and lodging for her big sister to accompany her along the scary journey, Achu’s father refused. Drunken Sudanese men do not easily or usually change their minds, nor admit they are wrong.  

Even if her father agreed to let us take Achu to Tenwek, we still only had a few days to create and file for approval the necessary travel and immigration documents to legally transport her across international borders. Achu is from a land where there are no birth certificates, identification papers, educational records, or immunization vaccines. She had never ridden in a car, much less flown on a plane.

Slowly-by-slowly, as they say in Sudan, I kept making plans through Dr. Carol in Kenya, and believers from Alabama to Switzerland and Sudan to Australia kept filling up that no-man’s-land with prayers. The stream of miracles raged on against the gates of evil, and Achu’s father suddenly agreed to let her go even as the local commissioner rushed together all the required travel documents. 

This emaciated, abandoned orphan had every reason in the world to not trust anything we said. Yet, she boarded our plane in childlike faith, spreading her lips in a smile that lit all our hearts for the next eight hours of fly-time.

My seat sat backwards, like the old trains used to do, so that I was facing Achu. I studied her face as our World-War-II-era DC3 bounced down the trench-riddled dirt airstrip and rattled into ascension. I expected fear. I saw nothing but the pure unadulterated Hope that the One True Christmas is surely coming.

Achu had told Dr. Matt that a month before coming to the Make Way Partners clinic, she had started going into the local church and praying to God that she could find a way to get her leg fixed.  When she and her sister heard about the clinic, they traveled in faith, hoping that someone there could help her. Achu then stated that God had answered her prayer and that now—for the first time—she had hope.

Hebrews chapter 13 comes to me. With passionate exhortation the author exhorts us to stop trying to live the privileged life, and to go outside the camp—where Jesus lived and died, where the action is. I have lived on four different continents and traveled to many others. I know of no other place farther “outside the camp” than Sudan.     

Thank you for joining Achu—and many other unadoptable orphans “outside the gate” in prayer, financial support, and sharing her story so that others might join her, too. Miraculous stories of Hope are like experiencing a childlike Christmas all over again; you just can’t stop talking about them and sharing the hope with others! 

Love, your sister along the journey,

Kimberly L. Smith

Dr. Dan Galat, orthopedic surgeon at Tenwek Hospital who has overseen Achu’s care, picks up the story:

Achu's leg treatmentAs our orthopedic team evaluated Achu, the foul smell of necrotic flesh was strong, and our first thought was "there is no way to save her leg." The piece of protruding bone was too large and after removing it, we were concerned that the remaining defect could never fill in with new and healthy bone. However, we were encouraged, as x-rays showed a surprisingly large bridge of new bone posteriorly, which explained why Achu, despite her condition, was still able to walk, bearing weight on her leg. In addition, we had the sense that God was at work and we were just along for the ride. So that same day, we took Achu to theatre, and removed this piece (approx. 3 inches) of dead sequestrum. Indeed, the hole it left in her leg was cavernous, but we could feel the bridge of bone posteriorly, and the leg miraculously felt very stable.

Achu is currently still in the hospital undergoing daily “whirlpool” therapy in a Jacuzzi-like tub to clear up any remaining signs of infection, and soon, we hope to continue wound VAC therapy which utilizes a sponge and suction to encourage formation of granulation tissue that will slowly fill in this defect. What is most striking to us now about Achu is her beautiful and continual smile, which, I believe, is the reflection of new-found hope. She knows there is a God who has seen her condition and is loving her with a perfect love.

Her story reminds me of Hagar, who when she met God, called him El Roi, "the God who sees me" (Genesis 16:13). God is answering her prayers (and the prayers of many others) and we are privileged to be a small part of this process, seeing yet another one of God’s miracles on behalf of the poor at Tenwek. I am humbled and moved to worship the Father who sees the neglected, the abused, and the hopeless.

Achu and Dr. GalatDr. Galat shared some specific prayer requests: that the new bone continues to strengthen and remodel so that it is healthy; that the defect would fill quickly with healthy granulation tissue; and that Achu’s time at Tenwek would allow her to experience how much God loves her.

As Nanci and I have read these various reports and articles about Achu, we have wept together. God’s hand upon this girl’s life is remarkable. What a privilege for EPM to help her live and walk and, we hope, to love Jesus with all her heart.

And thanks to those who kindly support EPM with your financial gifts. You have had a major role in the life of this little girl, and countless others.

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May 2, 2012 Update

AchuThose of you who have prayed for Achu will be interested in this update from Make Way Partners (www.makewaypartners.org). Check out the before and after pictures of this precious child. 

“Achu was released Saturday from Tenwek hospital in Kenya, ten weeks after the decaying bone was removed from her leg! Achu will remain a few more days in Nairobi while her wound continues to heal but soon she will be on her way back to Sudan, where the Sudanese health staff at New Life Ministry will oversee her care as her leg continues to heal. Amos reports that the day Achu was released from Tenwek was full of emotion – joy mingled with sadness filled the atmosphere as this beautiful child traveled from bed to bed bidding farewell to the fellow patients in her ward. The staff will miss her smile and her beautiful spirit. Do not cease praying for Achu as her leg continues to heal and as she soon will be transitioning back into life in Sudan, life in a warzone.”

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