A 10-year-old boy from Liberia entered Mass General Hospital in Boston just before the COVID-19 pandemic.
He was diagnosed with fibrous dysplasia, an uncommon bone disorder in which scar-like (fibrous) tissue develops in place of normal bone.
This massive tissue had overtaken the boy’s face. It was cutting off his ability to breath and making it nearly impossible to eat.
Time was running out for little Samakai. Then he met Henry Peabody.
Henry is a social worker in New Jersey. A Liberian native, Henry makes frequent humanitarian trips to Liberia.
I met Henry during the Liberian Civil War when I traveled to that country in December 1995 during a cease-fire. When fighting broke out again in April1996, Henry returned to the Budabarram Refugee Camp in Ghana.
I was later able to help him get back to Liberia, secure a visa and come to the United States. I was able to arrange for Henry to attend college. He later graduated from Mercer University.
Henry has been giving back ever since.
When he found this child, he called me and asked if I could purchase plane tickets for the child and his mother to come to the United States. He said he had found a doctor that would do the operation that would save his life.
Samakai arrived in the U.S. just a few weeks before the outbreak of COVID-19. Had he come any later, his surgery may have been canceled.
However, the surgery was done on schedule and he remained hospitalized about six weeks before his recent release.
Doctors say that the surgery was 100% successful. He will need to be on medication for the rest of his life, but they expect him to live a normal life.
Fifteen years ago, I founded the Bricks for Ricks Liberian Housing Foundation, Inc. Among the best accomplishments of the foundation has been sending two earth block-making machines to that country, which are operated by missionaries, Jesse and Jessica Philipps.
They provide jobs for about 50 Liberians with these machines, building homes, schools and churches. They teach life skills to the workers and to be disciples of Jesus.
Years ago, we partnered with the Rotary Foundation and sent another earth block-making machine to Peru. These machines cost $30,000 and make 16-pound earth blocks out of 92% earth and 8% Portland cement.
We have sent a Mahindra Tractor to Ricks Institute in Liberia. We have helped dig wells, put a roof on a church, and helped feed hungry people during the Ebola crisis.
However, there isn’t anything that brings me more joy than to be able to see this child have an opportunity at a healthy life. It warms my heart to know that there are such skilled medical people with such compassion that they would agree to save this child’s life by donating their services.
I realize there are plenty of Americans that are in need right now. What I also know from being in Third-World countries is that when America suffers, those who usually suffer will suffer even more because they depend so much on our generosity and love to give them a fighting chance.
I believe in teaching people how to sustain their own lives rather than just giving them enough to support them for a few days. Sometimes, you must reach out and help people until they can help themselves.
Sometimes you also must do something for someone that they could never do for themselves. That someone could be a neighbor, a family member, a stranger or even someone from across the ocean.
One day, we might be the ones in need. I don’t think we would care where the help came from, just as long as it came.
I’ll never forget walking down a row of stick hut houses leftover from a refugee camp operated by the United Nations in Virginia, Liberia, during the civil war. I’d never seen poverty like that. I never knew people could live in such deplorable conditions.
That day, I decided to do something, anything I could to help those people. The Bricks for Ricks Foundation was the result.
Since that day, many people have joined me to help them. Among those we have now helped is this precious child.
Right now, if you look around you, with so many out of work, people sheltering in place, you will see someone in need. Will you decide to help, or will you pass by on the other side?
Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Georgia.