Article Content

Pressed on every side, I observed the scene around me. To my right was a man who appeared to have had his head cut off and reattached. A thick, jagged scar snaked around his neck like a zipper. To my left sat a small girl, with her arm missing below the elbow. In front of me, a woman held up the palm of her right hand with no fingers. Next to her, a young man balanced on one foot, the other leg not even extending below the hem of his shorts. Everywhere I looked, a macabre sight looked back at me, eyes pleading for help.

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

Where was I? How had this happened? How had I come to be here?


It was November 1998, but that isn't the beginning of this story. The story began many years before.


I grew up in the most peaceful country you could ever imagine. Sizzling days darkened into sticky evenings. Crickets kept you company in the pitch-black nights, where only moonlight cast a blue shadow on the deserted footpaths. You could leave your doors unlocked, even open, at night for access to the occasional breeze. A girl growing up in this paradise never worried about being assaulted, raped, kidnapped or mugged.


This was a place where people looked after each other, and everyone was responsible for everyone else. Peaceful is the only appropriate word to describe life in Sierra Leone in the 1970s. Oh, there were occasional political rumblings, but for the most part, and for the vast majority of the population, life in the little West African nation went on from day to day, comfortable in its predictable monotony.


The peace continued until the 1990s, when life began to change in Sierra Leone. A conflict in neighboring Liberia filled the newscasts. People scoffed at their warring neighbors, saying, "That will never happen to us. Sierra Leoneans love peace." But, a few years later, the news took another twist. Bands of rebels from Liberia began spilling over the common southern border. Attacks on villages in the south began to take place at an alarming rate.


Unconfirmed reports of violence and killings made everyone draw a sharp breath, only to let it out, sighing, "Those southerners are troublesome people. We in the north love peace." But the goal had not yet been realized. Greedy warlords in West Africa, North Africa and Eastern Europe had their eyes on a larger goal than a few people in some insignificant villages in the south. They were targeting the diamond mines in the east, Sierra Leone's richest natural resource.


By 1995 not one area of the country had escaped the cruelty of rebel violence. Several coups, a couple of disastrous peace talks and a new president later, even the well-guarded capital city of Freetown felt its terror. The common tactic of the rebel groups was to terrorize citizens without regard to gender, age, tribe or socioeconomic status. They gang-raped women and young girls, while their families were forced to watch at gunpoint. They decapitated or brutally murdered men and women, while their children looked on. They methodically chopped off the arms, legs, fingers, ears and various other body parts of people from infancy to old age.


By 1999 from a population of nearly five million people, one-half million were refugees in neighboring countries, living in camps that defy description. One million were internally displaced, living in camps within Sierra Leone, some of which would not pass inspection as garbage dumps. Countless thousands had been murdered, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands, but we will never know. Tens of thousands had been raped, and thousands had been permanently mutilated by rebel machetes, axes and chain saws.


It was in this milieu that I found myself that sweltering November day in 1998, surrounded by victims of cruelty that my mind could not fully comprehend. I was struck with the contrasts to the Sierra Leone of my youth.

Figure. 17-year-old ... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. 17-year-old Lahai tests his prosthesis. Aruna displays his new "driving" hand. He now works full-time for World Hope.

I was with a team from World Hope International, a Christian relief and development agency, to assess the needs of the country in the midst of their nearly decade-long crisis. We stood under a mango tree listening to the horrific stories of innocent people who had been violated by men who were, more often than not, familiar to them. People were receiving little help. Most humanitarian aid agencies had pulled out for safety reasons, and those who were left had all they could do to provide emergency relief to the thousands who needed it.


As the people told their stories one after another, we felt numb, unable to absorb more horror and tragedy. But, eventually, the numbness wore off and had to be replaced. There were many options for response: rage at those who could heartlessly butcher children; apathy at a job too large to tackle; pity, a disabling emotion, toward those who have been victimized; or action to deal with the problem head-on and attempt to right some of the wrongs done. I chose the last option.


Shortly after we returned from Sierra Leone in December, I called the director of World Hope International, Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, and told her that I felt compelled to assist the amputees with a program that would lead to their rehabilitation. In a country that has ranked last on the United Nations index for poverty and development, the resources for the disabled are scarce, at best. She agreed and told me to write up a proposal and then we would see what we could do.


Thus began the long, arduous, exhausting, thrilling and rewarding journey into the ministry called Limbs of Hope. The name of the program encapsulated the goal-to bring hope to a people in despair and limbs to those who have had theirs so tragically taken from them. This is a program that God began. It has been evident from the outset that God has been in control and that he has brought about the successes.


In February 2000 the Amputee Care Centre opened in Freetown to provide prostheses and rehabilitative services to amputees in Sierra Leone. Within its first two weeks of operation, with the help of a team of professionals from the US, over 160 below-elbow arm amputees were fitted with prosthetic limbs. The center is staffed with thirteen full-time personnel and two part-time staff to provide physical and occupational therapy, counseling, spiritual care and social work services to amputees in Freetown. Mobile clinics take the care to the field, when the security situation allows, so amputees unable to get to the capital can also become independent and productive members of their communities.


While the process has not been smooth, the successes make it worthwhile. Success stories include ones like Jusu. He was one of the first people fitted with prostheses during our pilot fitting in September 1999. He had formerly been a military officer and chief of security for Barclay's Bank in Freetown. During the invasion into Freetown in January 1999, rebels came into Jusu's home, demanding that his fourteen-year-old daughter be given to their leader as his wife.


Knowing the fate that awaited her if they complied, Jusu told the men that she would get her bag and a few things and then come with them. As they left the living room, purportedly to get her bag, Jusu helped her escape through the window. Knowing the potential consequences of his actions, he stalled the men while his daughter put distance between herself and the house.


Soon, however, the men demanded that she be brought out immediately, or Jusu would die. Jusu began to talk to the man, while moving tactically toward him and attempted to secure the man's weapon. After a thirty-minute struggle, he knew he would not succeed in disarming the man, so he too jumped through the window to escape.


Unfortunately, he ran right into a band of rebels who were outside his house. They led him to a spot under a mango tree where a young man of about fifteen years sat holding an ax, wearing a tee shirt that said, "CO (Commanding Officer) Cut-hands." Jusu was put in line with a number of other men.


One by one, each man's hands were laid against the stump of a tree and chopped off with the ax. For each succeeding man, following the severance of both of their arms, they were shot at point-blank range and kicked out of the way to make room for the next victim. When they had severed both of Jusu's arms midway between the elbow and the wrist, they discussed him among themselves and decided to let him live as a lesson to him for life.


Jusu headed home, bleeding profusely from the stumps of his severed arms. As he neared his house, he could walk no further and collapsed from shock and blood loss. After a while, he heard his wife, who had not been home during the attack, coming around a corner, and he called to her. She ran to assist him, and with her help, he walked another three miles to a clinic for medical attention.


His family was unharmed, thanks to his valiant sacrifice, but now this father of five was helpless to feed himself, go to the bathroom independently, dress himself or scratch his nose when it itched.


Eight months later, Jusu was fitted with bilateral arm prostheses. He immediately went out behind a shed and relieved himself-alone. About a half-hour later, he emerged, having even buckled his belt by himself, to the applause of a dozen other amputees who awaited him, as well as the team of foreigners who had brought him his means to independence. He proceeded to write his name, carry buckets full of water and pick up his two-year-old daughter, place her in a wheelbarrow and wheel her around the compound. All the while, a smile split his face in two.


Jusu later became a full-time employee of the World Hope Amputee Care Centre, where he encouraged other amputees to work diligently to learn new skills with their prosthetic arms and legs. He was empathetic but refused to pity anyone. He knew that only with hard work would they gain their independence. He was a role model. After working at the Centre for over a year, Jusu struck out on his own, building his family a home and starting a welding business. He embodied the hope that could be found through this ministry of love.


Managing this program has been the hardest and yet the most rewarding job I have ever done. I work full-time from my home in Mississippi, although the World Hope International headquarters is in Washington, DC. Frequent travel to Sierra Leone and other related trips take me away from my husband and two young children, whom I home school. Leading teams of five to twenty-two medical and other professionals to Sierra Leone to assist at the Centre poses its own set of challenges.


And the struggle for funds is constant. The entire program, with a budget for 2001 of over $175,000, is funded almost entirely by donations from individuals and churches. While we wonder at times where the money will come from, we have constantly been amazed to watch the One who began this program continue the good work he started to bring it to completion.


Is it dangerous? Yes, sometimes. Do amputees struggle with accepting their disability and being motivated toward the work of rehabilitation? Absolutely. Is it hard to see the suffering? Extremely. Will the program continue? With certainty!! Why? Because God continues to provide and give strength-and because the need is still there.


It only takes one look at a child tossing a ball with a friend, catching the ball with his prosthesis, or one time hearing a man say, "You will always be a part of me because you have built a body for me," or one hug from a man with metal arms, whose tears say what his voice at that moment cannot, and you know that the work will, indeed, must, go on-in God's strength, and for his glory alone.


Information on World Hope International

If you would like to learn more about Limbs of Hope or any of the ministries of World Hope International in twenty-seven countries around the world, please call (888) 466-HOPE (4673), or write PO Box 2815, Springfield, VA 22152, or visit the website at You may contact the author directly at (662) 890-5966; e-mail [email protected].