AndreAndre came back to see Dr. Tertius. He had a severe neck contraction that pulled his head down. His face was twisted, as if the skin had just melted off.

I told Andre that my best friend at home, who I grew up with, was also named Andre. “I think you’re my Malagasy Andre since I cannot see my American Andre while I’m here.” He smiled, one of many times throughout our conversation.

My friend Andre from Rochester is one of the most creative, talented people I’ve ever known. I had the privilege to grow up with him. He is also a darn handsome guy. Normally that’s irrelevant, but over time I realized I’ve never met an Andre that wasn’t attractive. Every Andre I’ve ever met has been handsome and well-liked.

Here was a new Andre sitting in front of me. I didn’t know him at all yet, but because of his name, I knew he would become a friend.

I had to go through a series of health history questions. Of course, I added in a few of my own.

Any history of heart problems, breathing problems, etc.?
No, but I get bad headaches because my head is pulled downwards.

Do you work? Are you able to make money?
Well, I cannot do much, but I clean houses for money when I can find work.

And your family?
I have many siblings, but we do not talk. I am not a part of their lives.

Any wife or children?
No wife, not like this. I would love to find a wife, but it’s not possible with my condition.

He was so special. Claudia, the translator working with me noticed first. He was friendly and talkative and shared his story freely.
He would be a good candidate for the communications team.

I interpreted her words: “This man’s voice needs to be heard.”

Every patient on the Africa Mercy has a story and a voice. Some patients are able to articulate their journey in a way that helps us understand a fraction of what they’re going through. These patients are the ambassadors for the hundreds of patients that don’t get to sit down with the Communications team.

Kristi, our videographer and my favorite NYC-girl, sat with us. It was she who gave him permission to sit up straight and lift his eyes.
You are valuable she told him.
You can be proud of who you are here; you don’t have to face the floor.
He immediately sat up and lifted his face. I thought it was his contracture that pulled his face down, but it turns out his heart was down-turned too.

I left him with Kristi who has a tender passion and calling from God to give this disfigured man dignity. He is worth listening to. His story is worth telling. He is not just another surgical candidate to us. Rather, I see it as a divine appointment that he made it to the ship.

God has work to do on his down-turned heart. But I ask, who taught him to see himself that way???

I forget that the world sees ugliness in faces like Andre’s. I see their twisted, melted, scarred faces and look right through it. (My nursing brain says, “Let’s get that taken care of right away!”) As I get to know them on the wards, I get familiar with their essence.

Many people see ugliness, repugnance and horror. When we focus on someone’s ugliness, we ignore that person’s beauty.

We ALL have beauty. We are ALL made in the image of a beautiful, creative God who doesn’t make trash.

It makes me angry that a community has been teaching Andre all his life that he is ugly! He doesn’t need to say it explicitly for me to imagine what it feels like to have trouble finding work, no wife, and an estranged family. All of this is because of a burn from a childhood accident.

I’m reading The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne and he admonishes those who say they are giving a voice to the voiceless. He says,

“The truth is that there is a lot of noise out there drowning out quiet voices, and many people have stopped listening to the cries of their neighbors. Lots of people have put their hands over their ears to drown out the suffering.”

We’re not giving a voice to the voiceless. Andre has a voice. He is genuine, open and friendly with his story. But his voice is indeed quiet, and his community seems to have stopped listening. First, I listened with Claudia. Then Kristi listened. Now you are listening. And I hope you see the value in listening to the stories that no one pays attention to.

If you think this story needs to be heard by more people, then please share it.
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