For ‘Papa Sam,’ stepping aboard the Pacific Link was more than just an operation of the eye, it was an operation of the heart.
LONG ISLAND, Papua New Guinea — There was something about his eyes that extended far beyond the cataract blue. The sense of hopelessness was so visible on his face it was nearly tangible. Why was this former sailor so hesitant to climb aboard the YWAM ship?
For years “Papa Sam” worked as a deck hand on ships all around Papua New Guinea with a shipping company. His love of the sea and adventurous spirit led him to spend five of those years transporting dried coconuts from various islands around the nation to the mainland. As Sam’s years on the sea drew to a close, he caught a ship back to his childhood home of Long Island and together with his wife became father to five. Though no longer at sea, Sam’s thirst for rustic beauty and love of the outdoors led him to sustain his family through the farming and fishing so indigenous to his isolated island home.
As years passed Sam’s vision began to blur and with it the zeal he had for the life he’d been given. As cataracts began to cloud his vision, it didn’t take long for him to recognize the hopelessness of his situation. Seventy-five miles from mainland Papua New Guinea and decades removed from the widespread influence of modern medicine, cataracts were nothing less than a life sentence to perpetual darkness.
“I was a prisoner inside my own home” he said through a translator. “My children had to help dress me, take me to the bathroom… I couldn’t do anything for myself.”
As the walls that enclosed him became the prison cell he feared, Sam soon discovered the slippery slope of depression and lived each day with the listless hope that death would soon envelop him.
When news of YWAM’s ship reached Papa Sam’s tired ears that a 30-minute operation could restore his sight, that changed. As the ship anchored, Papa Sam, two of his sons and grandchildren whose faces his eyes had never gazed set out to discover all the medical vessel had to offer the oft forgotten residents of their equatorial ring shaped home. As the intake table sifted through multitudes of those to whom medical help had either rarely or never been given, volunteers from the ship noticed the telltale blue of Sam’s eyes.
After 30 minutes of probing and convincing, a glimmer of hope breached the black veil of hopelessness that shrouded Sam’s heart and for the first time in nearly a decade Sam considered what life might have to offer him. As he climbed aboard the ship and sat down for Dr. Sunu Dulal to take a look into his eyes, his countenance was that of hopeful reluctance, but as the doctor conveyed that — barring complications — he would be able to see again, the flicker of hope he so heavily guarded began to fan into flame. They’d take time to replace the lens in his left eye that day and he’d return to the ship tomorrow for post-op and surgery on the right.
As Sam sat aboard our ship the next day with the gentle lull of lapping waves against the hull awaiting surgery on the right eye, a smile cracked his face. “Mi mamammas long lukluk wunbela ai” he said, grin in place. That means, “I’m happy to look with one eye.”
For Sam, cataract surgery changed his life in more ways than one. He said he was so happy he could see again that his desire to live had been resurrected. “I can see my hands again. I can see his face. I can see your face!” he spoke emphatically. More than anything, Sam is excited to regain the freedom to wander through the wonder of nature again. No longer confined to the walls of his former prison and no longer corralled by the guiding hands others, Sam’s desire for independence is now free to collide with reality.
For Papa Sam, stepping aboard the PACIFIC LINK was more than just an operation of the eye, it was an operation of the heart. After years of seeking healing, Papa Sam had resigned himself to the despondency of his fate, but God is ever faithful and His timing perfect. He loves to surprise people with gifts we no longer believe we’re capable of receiving.
Papa Sam’s farewell to those on deck with him that day was, “I found the real church!” It’s a privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus as we partner with God in the possible and trust Him with the impossible.
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