Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Second Chances

Published in the Fiji Times "Off the Wall with Padre James" Wednesday, 2nd May, 2012

From the centre of Vitu of Levu to the Soul of Asia; this is the story of 13 year-old Joveci Kawaira. It is a story of love, compassion and second chances.

Joveci comes from Draubuta, Navosa, in the interior of Viti Levu. When he was born, his left eye was damaged by the hand of a midwife who tried hard to pull him out after complications with the delivery.  The new-born baby had to lose his left eye few days after the birth when the damaged eyeball was bleeding and became infected.

Not only was Joveci’s life complicated by his disability, he also had to go through childhood without his left eye which gave him a hideous look.  As I listened to Joveci’s story, I tried to imagine what type of life this shy boy, with the biggest smile I have seen in a long time, must have had. If there was name calling and taunts from the other children, Joveci must have just assumed that this was his lot, his fate.

All that changed when a medical team from the Kwanglim Methodist Church in Seoul, South Korea visited one of the villages near Joveci’s school, Noikoro District School in 2010.

The secretary of the medical team, Deaconess Mi Suk Kwak heard about Joveci and met him. She was moved by Joveci’s story. The image of this one-eyed boy remained with her when she returned to Seoul and she committed herself to prayer for God’s guidance and help for Joveci.

Last year, when Deaconess Kwak returned for a second medical mission trip, she sought out Joveci. Meeting him for the second time she was convinced that God wanted her to help Joveci.

On her return to Korea she contacted Rev. Nam Gun Cho, the Director of Nasikawa Vision College, who had coordinated the mission trips. She asked him to find Joveci and take some pictures of him so that she could get some support for Joveci’s medical treatment.

The passion and dedication of the deaconess finally paid off as offers of support for Joveci began to come in. The vice chancellor of Korea Medical University, one of most prominent medical schools in Korea, decided to pay for his operation.

She was able to arrange free accommodation for Joveci as the medical procedure was expected to take up to 12 weeks.

It was not all that easy, however. Deaconess Kwak had to do take up part time work to earn enough money to pay for Joveci's air fare – around $2,600 Fijian dollars. Finally she had all the funds and everything was in place for Joveci.

On Easter Monday, 9th April 2012, Rev. Nam Gun Cho went through the departure gate at Nadi International Airport with Joveci, who felt like everything was a dream. This was his first big trip and he was going on a 10-hour plane ride.

This was also the first time he was going away without his parents. Rev. Cho shared with me how Joveci was crying after saying goodbye to his parents on the phone, before the plane flew out of Nadi. Once again God smiled on Joveci. An uncle of his, who works in Japan, was also on the flight and so Rev. Cho swapped seats so that uncle and nephew could sit together.

Meanwhile Dr. Kim, the vice chancellor of KMU, organized a special surgical team to undertake Joveci's operation ranging from ophthalmologist to plastic surgeons for the reconstruction of Joveci's eye. 

After thorough examination, the doctors decided to have two operations for Joveci. The first procedure was is to reconstruct the inner and outer skin around the hollow left eye by transplanting Joveci's inner mouth and thigh skin and injecting sillicon. With the operation a success, Joveci is now recoving and preparing himself for the second operation. This will be to put an artificial eyeball to provide a normal facial outlook for Joveci.

At the Esther Prayer Centre (see next week’s column for more on this wonderful group), I met up with Professor Yong Hee Lee who is accommodating Joveci in one of their guest rooms for visiting missionaries. Joveci is not alone. Knowing that Joveci would need someone to care for him after the operation and ensure that this teenager coped with being away from his family, friends and village; and being in a country with a different language, Deaconess Kwak, is sacrificing her family time to look after Joveci.

She told me that her husband and her son, who happens to also be student at the Methodist Theological University, understand that Joveci needs a “Korean Mother” while he is away from his parents and the vanua.

Joveci is a shy young man. But if his grin is anything to go by, he is truly grateful of the blessing he has received. Having experienced the love of God through a stranger, a vulagi has made a deep impact on Joveci’s life, and I would imagine his family’s life too.

We can learn something from this story. It’s not just about second chances, or the possibilities in surgery. We can learn from Deaconess Kwak, to open our hearts and allow ourselves to be moved to have compassion for everyone we meet. And we can learn from Jocevi, to receive God’s love and blessings with open arms.

“Simplicity, Serenity, Spontaneity”


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