Excruciating pain violently ended Sumaya’s slumber that morning, altering her life forever. It’s a day she’ll never forget because she’s reminded of it each time she looks in a mirror.
Sumaya was 24 years old and 6-months pregnant when she was attacked. Her husband, in a fit of anger, had hired a thug to douse Sumaya with strong acid because he refused to believe he was the father of her unborn baby. She did not die as intended, but suffered long in recovery and now lives with horrible disfigurement.
Sumaya’s suffering is not unique. This heinous form of revenge is widely practiced throughout East Africa. Such acts result from an argument, the jilting of a lover, inability to pay a debt, the souring of a business relationship, or other perceived offense. The outcome—severe pain, ghastly scarring and often blindness—is a permanent reminder of sin and its consequences. Many die after prolonged agony. Survivors confront a new reality in which they routinely encounter horrified looks on the faces of strangers, and the frightened cries of children—a world that now sees them as monsters.
But there’s one woman who is not afraid to look at the face of an acid attack victim. Her response is not fear and abhorrence, but the love of Jesus. Her name is Victoria Namusisi and she lives in Uganda.
Jesus’ words, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt. 25:40), have long been a driving force in Victoria’s life. Callously ignoring hungry, filthy, naked and unloved street children was not an option for her, so she began taking them into her home. Soon she had to build a dormitory. All attended school; eventually she started a preschool, then a school for special needs children. When I asked where she gets the energy at her age, she replied without hesitation, “These children need someone to love and care for them, what else can I possibly do?” Her kids call her Mummy and greet her with open arms and ear-to-ear smiles.
With such a heart for the marginalized it was only natural that Blessed Survivors, a support group for acid-attack survivors, was birthed. Victoria brings Jesus’ love and cares for these victims, too, each of whom is hurting physically, emotionally and spiritually. Her goal is to help them regain full, productive lives. During my last visit, I met several members of Blessed Survivors and listened to some of their tragic yet encouraging stories.
Minsa was splashed from the neck down. Although the acid greatly affected her fingers, she continues to pursue her vocation as a tailor. The Disabilities Ministry paid for skin grafts to help alleviate some of the pain and greatly improve her mobility. She was given a sewing machine so she can be self-sufficient.
Kenneth was standing on a street corner with his friend, who was also his employer, when both were splashed by a man in debt to his boss. Kenneth received substantial burns, but his friend died four days later. The Disabilities Ministry paid for Kenneth’s surgeries, medication and meals. Due to his employer’s death Kenneth no longer had a job, so Heaven’s Family is now helping him with rent for his own retail shop.
One of the goals of Blessed Survivors is mutual support. Instead of feeling like outcasts, they can come together in understanding and the love of the Lord. Such is the story of three friends whom I had the privilege of meeting. Gemida works daily in the market selling fruits, vegetables and juice with two other survivors, Maureen and Jennifer. They learned they could sell much more if they had refrigeration. We felt blessed to be able to meet that need. Maureen was incredibly happy about receiving this “wonderful gift,” and even danced about with joy!
It is impossible for us to reverse the effects of these life-changing attacks. But by the love of Jesus expressed through His family, we can help bring dignity to these individuals. It is crucial that we provide medical treatment that helps increase their mobility, reduce their pain and minimize their scarring. We also try to heal their emotional and spiritual scars and help fulfill their desire for self-sufficiency and independence.
In the end, it’s not a mirror that tells us who we are, but the Word of God and His Spirit within us. I’m glad we can be on Victoria’s team, reflecting the light of Truth into damaged hearts that need His touch.