It was a privilege to care for a sixteen-year-old mother who was desperately trying to keep her six month-old son alive on our very first LEAP trip to Damoh, India in partnership with Central India Christian Mission (CICM). He was born with a very large cleft of the lip and palate and was not able to nurse. For six months, the mother endured the sharp cries of hunger as she desperately tried to provide for the needs of her child. She had traveled to the mission hospital in a desperate attempt to save her child’s life.
We fabricated a device that would create a temporary palate to aid in the feeding process. Special bottles designed for children with cleft palate were introduced as well as infant formula. These procedures are very routine in my practice in the US but normally occur on newborns. Never had I successfully placed this device on a child that was six months old. My expectation was that the child would not tolerate it, and the crying would become more incessant.
This young mother and her baby slept on the floor in a dark hallway of the hospital that evening. The next morning, despite the expectations that this procedure would not be tolerated, I came upon a well-rested mother and a content child. She had a look of joy on her face! Maybe her baby could survive! This look was very brief, however, because as a member of a very low caste, she was not allowed to look us in the eyes or thank us in ways in which we are accustomed. Her way of showing gratitude was to kneel and kiss my feet over and over again. At the end of our week in Damoh, I had the opportunity to travel to the family’s village, wanting to check on the boy’s progress. The entire village was present as they danced and sang, presenting various fruits, nuts, and spices. Each child placed a lei made of packing peanuts and colored foil around my neck. At that point, a purple powder was placed on my forehead by an elder in the village. Its significance was unknown to me.
Several years later, I learned that in this ceremony I had been made a goddess. This was shocking on many levels. I had been a goddess for some time now, and I didn’t even know it! I would need to inform my husband and children immediately! This was very short-lived, however, as the realization set in of the desperate spiritual void that would have to exist in order to make a very ordinary, sinful human-being into someone to be worshipped.
One of the grandest blessings associated with the partnership LEAP has with CICM is the follow up provided by the mission after the completion of our work. Each LEAP patient’s family is visited, and in most cases there is an opportunity to share the Truth of Salvation. It was in a follow-up visit that this family became followers of Christ; eventually, the entire village converted to a Christ-filled life and have since planted three other churches in neighboring villages.
Dr. Cheryl Cermin
LEAP Medical Volunteer