“I thought she had given birth to an animal. I was waiting to see the tail start growing.”Joseph’s father
In remote, sparsely populated communities in Zambia, when something strange occurs, it becomes the talk of the day. Children who are born different become the subject of scrutiny among community members. Baby Joseph came from such a community, and his birth devastated his parents. Joseph and Mary felt defeated when they saw that their child had been born with a prominent face defect that attracted many speculations and accusations across the community.
Joseph was born with a congenital condition called cleft lip. His upper lip didn’t fully form, leaving it partially open. His appearance came as a shock to his parents and their neighbors, as it was the first time they had ever seen a cleft lip. Tucked away from modern society, their community didn’t even know that such conditions existed.
Joseph after surgery
Joseph’s cleft lip attracted strong opinions among the family’s neighbors. They believed Mary had given birth to an animal, not a human being. “Our neighbors were saying that this child has no life; he is not human. Even taking him to the hospital, you will waste your time. Don’t even bother breastfeeding him,” recounts Mary.
Initially, Joseph’s father (and namesake) shared the opinion that his son was part animal; however, Mary loved her child and knew he was fully human. She ignored advice from her neighbors and faithfully breastfed her child. “Through all this, God made me not to have fear. I used to breastfeed him despite neighbors saying that I shouldn’t, and when we came here they advised me that I should buy him a drinking bottle. Because of the way his mouth was, he could have had difficulties feeding and starve,” says Mary.
Baby Joseph with his parents, Joseph and Mary
At the local health center where Joseph was born, a nurse told Joseph his son could find treatment at a hospital in the capital city of Lusaka. Unfortunately, she didn’t specify the name of the hospital. The couple, desperate to find answers, embarked on a journey to Lusaka when the baby was just a few days old.
First, they went to another hospital in Lusaka. The nurse who attended to them knew of CURE Zambia, and she urged them to go there. Joseph and Mary found transportation and arrived at CURE anxious, exhausted, and hungry. A receptionist immediately called for a nurse to greet and counsel them.
Nurse Mambwe checks on Joseph
Mambwe was the nurse on hand to receive them, and he brought the family to the children’s ward. There, he counseled them, assuring them that their child was not an animal but had a correctable condition that doctors could heal. The couple remained skeptical. So, Nurse Mambwe took them to talk with me. I’m a Storyteller at the hospital, and part of my job is to take pictures. I showed them a series of before and after pictures of children with similar conditions so they could see that healing was possible.
“I saw the pictures of children who were like my son before. To have these, photos it must be real! I saw children being treated with different disabilities in the ward,” shared Joseph.
The family settled into the hospital. Mary hadn’t been able to bathe since leaving home, so our nursing staff took over the care of baby Joseph while ushering Mary to the bathroom facilities. Nurse Mambwe and Health Assistant Nelly bathed little Joseph, who was less than a week old.
Feeding baby Joseph
CURE staff then served the family with food, and plans were made for baby Joseph to return in April to receive surgery. Joseph would be three months older, and Dr. Silvio Podda, a surgeon, would be visiting and available to perform the transformative operation.
Joseph and Mary went back home armed with information, contact numbers for the hospital, and a much-needed sense of relief. They explained to their neighbors that Joseph would have surgery in April, but still, no one believed that anything could be done to heal Joseph.
Dr. Silvio Podda conducting a surgery
Soon it came time for baby Joseph’s surgery. The family left home once again, and their neighbors speculated wildly about their departure. Rumor had it that the unfortunate parents had gone to throw away or kill their baby because nothing could be done to help him. They didn’t know that Joseph and Mary had found a way to come to CURE Zambia’s cleft lip and palate clinic. They didn’t know that Dr. Podda was able to fix Joseph’s lip. They didn’t know that while they were guessing at baby Joseph’s fate, his parents were excitedly preparing to bring him home. They were so excited that they didn’t want to stay in the hospital any longer than they had to. The couple wanted to show off their transformed son to the very people who had urged them to throw him away. Joseph and Mary wanted to celebrate God’s miracle.
Joseph (the father) expressed his gratitude to the hospital and staff who attended to them during their stay, saying, “I am thankful. We haven’t encountered any problems during our stay. You have been feeding us, my son has been healed, and all of this at no cost.”
Two thousand years ago, another Joseph and Mary fled their home with their child, hoping to save His life. Before Jesus’ birth, Joseph knew that the child wasn’t his. An angel told him that Mary was carrying the son of God, and so Joseph faithfully loved and raised Jesus as his own, despite judgement from his community. After Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt when an angel warned them that Herod was to order all first-born males killed. The family returned to Israel after Herod’s death, and Jesus grew up in the town of Nazareth, fulfilling the Old Testament prophecy that said, “He will be called a Nazarene.”
Imagine the confusion Joseph must have felt and the fear that must have engulfed Mary. Our Lord’s plans are sometimes hard for us to understand. Jesus’ earthly parents took an enormous leap of faith when they journeyed to Egypt.
Flash forward to 2019, Joseph and Mary of Zambia took a similar leap of faith when they sought a hospital they weren’t sure even existed. Joseph set aside his skepticism when God’s truth was revealed to him: his son was made in God’s image. His son’s life was worth saving.
We are thankful that Joseph and Mary didn’t allow their community to influence their decision to find the treatment their precious child needed. Their journey not only saved their child’s life but opened the eyes of a community that feared what can’t be explained. Now they know they don’t have to fear what is different. Through baby Joseph’s transformation, one community in Zambia has seen the power of Jesus.
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.1 Corinthians 2:4-5