Around the time Junior learned to walk is when his mother realized he was not like the other children. His legs were not straight—they bowed out at his knees. His two legs were shaped like parentheses, as if they were holding in a secret, or a deep disguised reason why he was made this way.
At the ripe-old-age of three, his condition caused him to struggle while walking. His mother, Akpene, was discouraged at first but tried to be optimistic that this was just a phase. Surely, she thought, he would grow out of this deformity.
Three-year-olds do not have insight into their future. At that young age, all they know is their parents give them love and ensure their survival. They are not wise enough to know any different. They have no control over their health, nor do they have foresight to predict the future.
Junior, however, held all of these gifts. He did not accept his crooked legs as simply the hand he was dealt. He knew he would not be this way forever. At the distinguished age of three, he intelligently and confidently looked at his mother and told her, “I know these legs that you are seeing today will not be like this forever.”
She patted him on his head, acknowledging his insight, but was curious as to how he came up with such an unattainable dream. For she knew that the only way to straighten his bow-legs was to have a medical procedure. A procedure that required money. Money she did not have.
The neighboring kids around Junior’s home would laugh at him. They would chase, tease and ridicule him. Harsh words create scars on young children that effect them years down the road. Not for Junior. He was head-strong and determined not to let mean words alter his faith. With the resolve of a mature adult, he would look at them with peaceful eyes and say, “I know you are laughing at me now, But one day I’ll be healed from this disease. One day.”
About a year down the road, an organization arrived that seemed to be the answer to his prayers. Junior and Akpene visited this international healthcare NGO. The doctors there examined his legs. Unfortunately, Junior and Akpene were turned away after being told that there was nothing that the organization could do.
Akpene returned home with her head low, discouraged and dejected. The neighbohood kids continued their teasing. “Ahhhhh Junior,” they said, “They couldn’t help you? Oh, that is too bad.” But Junior’s head was not bowed in shame like his mother’s. Junior’s graciousness to these crude boys was unimaginable for a four-year-old. “They couldn’t help me because they are not the right people,” Junior preached. “I know that I will be healed, Although they couldn’t do it, I know…I believe…that one day I will be healed from this disease.”
Life for Junior went on. He constantly rose above the teasing. Akpene prayed for help, but succumbed to the fact that maybe Junior will never be helped. She grappled with the looks she received from others. Looks that said “Why don’t you do something to help your son. Look at him, he’s disfigured. You must be a bad mother if you can’t find help.” She saw it in the people’s eyes: the disgust. Those looks cut through her heart. “It is so difficult to be a mother to your disfigured child. It tore me apart to see the way people looked at me: like I didn’t love him enough to fix his bowed legs.”
An announcement on the radio on day changed everything. Junior and Akpene heard it together. They were both at home. Mercy Ships was coming. A big white ship offering free medical care. Help was on the way. Junior hobbled over to his mother, tugged on her dress and looked up into her eyes. “Mama, these are the people who are going to help me.”
Akpene was overwhelmed. Her young son, whom she spent so many nights worrying about wide awake in bed, was becoming the person she looked up to. His composure and resilience was comforting. She hoped and prayed that Junior’s intuition was right…and this ship would offer the help he so desperately needed.
Junior and Akpene walked hand in hand to the Mercy Ships screening sight in Lome. There were masses of people: Long lines and a cloudless sky with only the sun beating down relentlessly.
Akpene was inundated by the throngs of people. She and Junior stepped away from the crowds and bought some food from a street vendor. Akpene contemplated her plan of action. She wondered if they should wait in line or simply giving up. Junior, on the other hand, was filled with excitement. He was strong and steady. He eagerly anticipated the moment he would stand in front of the doctor who would say to him “We can fix your legs.”
Then, an angel appeared from the crowd. A women in blue Mercy Ships scrubs emerged from the crowds and long lines and walked over to the young boy sitting on the side of the road. She took the mother’s hand and said, “Come with me.” In that instant, Junior knew that God was using this nurse to bring him face-to-face with the people who would help him.
The nurse led Junior and his mother into the screening tent. The other children surrounding them were screaming out of fear: Fear of the unknown.
Junior stood silently as he was examined by a Mercy Ships surgeon. His composure was astounding and he was overwhelmed with happiness. “See mama, I told you. These are the people. The right ones,” he said to his mother. The doctor handed him a card with an appointment for surgery.
Today, Junior stands on straight legs. He is six years old and his mother tells the story of Junior’s transformation with pride. As the Mercy Ships Togo Field Service came to a close, Mercy Ships invited hundreds of distinguished guests to attend a Thank You event onboard the Africa Mercy. Government officials, Ambassadors, Doctors and other Togolese dignitaries filled the International Lounge. Hospital Managing Director Bill Martin addressed the crowd, thanking them for allowing Mercy Ships to serve in Togo and affect many lives. Then, Bill invited two very important visitors to come to the front of the room.
Six-year-old Junior, along with another boy, stood up from his seat and walked on his arrow-straight legs to the front of the room. He stood next to a photo of himself taken four months earlier. Bill asked the boys to point to their pictures. Junior pointed to his bow legs projected on the screen. Then he glanced down at the straight legs on his body.
Though one would think it was an unbelievable sight, it wasn’t unbelievable to Junior at all—it was what he always knew would happen.
He knew someone could help him, and he had been praying for Mercy Ships his entire life. Now, they have brought him Hope and he is Healed.