Amazing Grace

    The Joy of a troubled mother!

    grace

    The rain was pounding the windshield like endless buckets being emptied onto a cement driveway. The windshield wipers, which had been working overtime to provide a somewhat translucent view of the roadway, seemed to be raising their arms in surrender.  Where was all of this water coming from? Had every cloud in the sky joined in some unspoken alliance to drown the Sierra Leonean landscape with more water than it could possibly consume?  Puddles on the road and adjacent shoulders were growing.  Cars had slowed to navigate the blurry asphalt ribbon and motorcycles with their weary wet passengers were huddled under any structure that might provide a temporary escape from the deluge.  It was during this heavy, incessant rain that the part of my mind that wasn’t focused on keeping the truck moving safely forward, began to reflect on the amazing experiences of the last 6 months.  Sitting dry and comfortable in the back seat of the 2017 Toyota Hilux pickup truck were Rebecca and Grace Koroma.  They were returning from a one-month excursion to the United States of America where Grace had undergone a life-saving surgery for a congenital teratoma tumor on her neck at Primary Children’s hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah under the steady hands of Dr. Fred Grimmer, a pediatric otolaryngologist.

    grace
    Grace Koroma

    As I thought about the events preceding this final trip back from Freetown, I found the tears in my own eyes competing with the rain on the windshield.  It had been a miraculous and spirit-filled journey and we were now nearing the end.  I thought back to the day it all began nearly a year earlier.  It was on October 21, 2018, when my wife, LaDawn, and I made our second trip to Tongo, this time bringing sacrament trays and hymn books to members to administer the sacrament for the first time as authorized by our mission president, Kevin Clawson.   After services that day in the community center, Rebecca Koroma, desiring to become, but not yet a member of the church, approached LaDawn and asked, nodding towards her not-quite one-year-old daughter, and speaking with a thick Krio accent, “Is there anything you can do to help my baby?” It was obvious that her daughter Grace had a severe unresolved medical issue with two large lumps on her neck.  They had been to see the doctors they could afford, but each of them referred them to more expensive doctors and hospitals further away from Tongo.  When the money gave out, they gave up.  The doctors they did see gave them no hope of a Sierra Leone solution.  Rebecca and Abdulai simply had no money and no solution to Grace’s significant problem.  As we returned from Tongo that day, LaDawn shared Rebecca’s inquiry with me and from then until a possible solution began to emerge, her question would not leave us alone.

    mill
    Doug & Sheri McMullin

    Fast forward to March 2019.  Doug and Sheri McMullin arrived in Kenema after spending a week in Bo at the Midwifery School where they taught the students the course “Helping Babies Breathe”.  They were now in Kenema to teach the same course to the midwives in the Kenema District.  Each year Dr. McMullin brings a group of interns to Africa to teach this course as part of the interns’ residency training.  Doug and I served our missions together, never as companions, but within the same zone for a number of months where we became good friends. When Doug was looking for a place to bring the interns this year, he sent us a message, and we put him in touch with our mission nurse, Elly Moomey, who quickly identified the key players in the midwife hierarchy and sent them to Doug.

    We loved having Doug and Sheri stay with us and it was during that time together that we asked him about Grace and what he thought the lumps on her neck might be.  Doug looked at her pictures and indicated that it looked like a serious problem that needed to be investigated further.  He took an immediate interest in Grace and said he would ask his network of pediatricians when he arrived back home and let us know.

    dr
    Dr. Fred Grimmer

    Shortly after returning to the U.S., Doug sent a few pictures of Grace to an ENT (Ears, Nose Throat) department in a nearby California hospital.  From the pictures alone, their initial thinking was that it was a more common systemic hygroma, a sponge-like collection of abnormal growth containing fluid.  Neither the doctors nor the hospital pursued further interest in the case.  About a month later in the second week of May, our first breakthrough miracle occurred.  Doug said he felt a palpable tap on his shoulder and a strong impression to contact Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City about Grace.  When he called, he was put in contact with Dr. Grimmer and they discussed Grace’s case.  Like Doug, Dr. Grimmer took an immediate interest in this little girl and began to work diligently to get a fact-based diagnosis and a plan in place to help her.  Within a few days, he identified and contacted a diagnostics clinic in Freetown where he arranged to have scans performed.   A few days later, Rebecca and Grace were on a bus to Freetown.  Once there, they stayed with Rebecca’s brother-in-law, Paul Koroma, and his family, before and after the appointment.

    plumb
    Walter Plumb

    Once the scans were received in the U.S. and read by Dr. Grimmer and his staff, things started moving quickly.  Dr. Grimmer diagnosed the lumps as “classic teratoma”, meaning a tumor made up of different types of tissue such as hair, muscle, and bone.  These tumors are operable, but the surgery is delicate.  It was no coincidence that Dr. Grimmer specializes in exactly this sort of neck masses.  On June 4th, I received a text from Doug indicating that Dr. Grimmer had received a commitment from a Philanthropist named Walter Plumb, a member of the Board of Directors of Charity Vision International.  Plumb agreed that the charity, its partners, and board members would be willing to cover the hospital costs.  Dr. Grimmer and his staff had already agreed to do the surgery free of charge.  A day later, Doug setup a “GoFundMe” account, requesting $5000 in donations to cover the cost of bringing Grace and her mother Rebecca to the United States for the operation.  Within 2 weeks, the project was fully funded.

    Now that we knew that this surgery could actually happen, there was much work for us to do on our end.  Rebecca and Grace would need passports, visas, medical checkups, and clothes.  This meant figuring out the logistics for multiple trips to Freetown.  We would also need to figure out airline schedules so they could travel with departing missionaries and we needed to find someone who could accompany them on the flight back.   And all of this (passports, visas, airfare, ground and water transportation, communication, food, and housing) needed to fit within the $5000 budget.  In addition, we also needed to find a place for them to stay in Salt Lake City and someone who could watch over them. They would need to be tested and treated (if necessary) for malaria prior to their departure.  The tasks ahead felt daunting, but we had already experienced significant miracles and as we pressed forward, we had full faith that divine help would continue.

    The next trip to Freetown for Rebecca and Grace came on June 17th.  They had ridden a motorbike “taxi” from Tongo the day before and again stayed overnight with their friends in Kenema.  A young single adult named Mustapha Dassama (“Dass”) agreed to go along with us as he was preparing to serve a mission and needed to apply for his own passport.  Taking him along helped us communicate with Rebecca.  We needed to get passport pictures for both Rebecca and Grace, which we were able to do in the morning and by early afternoon we were on our way to Freetown.  We arrived just after 5 pm, dropping Rebecca and Grace off at Paul’s home before driving to the mission home where we stayed the night.  Dass stayed in an empty missionary apartment nearby. The next morning, Allie Kargbo, one of the mission drivers, picked up Dass, drove to the immigration office and there met Rebecca and Grace to begin the arduous process of obtaining passports.  That day, Allie worked miracles with his contacts at immigration and successfully guided them through the entire process and back to the mission home by 2 pm.  A feat we have not seen replicated since that day.  We left shortly thereafter to return to Kenema.  Step one was complete.

    Our next task was to get visas.   On Wednesday, July 10th, I spent all day working on the embassy website navigating the process to apply for visas.  I found the process confusing and the website perplexing. It was like driving on a roadway, missing the road sign for a junction and then having to go further up the road, make a U-turn and travel back to that same junction, only to find that everything looked different from the other side.  With perseverance and prayer, I finally found and made the right turn that took me to the right destination.  There were, however, a few questions for which we needed Rebecca’s input.  While in Tongo a couple of days later, I was able to sit down with her and walk through the remaining questions.

    After church the next Sunday, I entered Rebecca’s answers into the online form and decided to sleep on it before submitting it.  I had discovered an inconsistency between the passport and the visa in regards to her place of birth.  Her passport listed Koindu, but the visa correctly said Koidu.  Both are actual towns in the Eastern Region of Sierra Leone.  The passport error had gone unnoticed until that day.  After praying and then sleeping on it, I felt we should press forward.  On Monday afternoon, I finally hit the “SUBMIT” button.  Almost immediately we received a confirmation back that the appointment had been approved and was set for September 16th.  But that was not the goal.  The goal was to get an emergency medical visa appointment.  I had sent an online inquiry the previous week asking about how to file for an emergency visa and the answer came back the next day. After getting the initial appointment (which is required before an expedited visa appointment can be requested), I followed the instructions and submitted the request for an emergency interview.

    In order to even request an emergency medical visa, there were three letters required.  1) A letter from the doctor in the USA explaining the medical issue and the proposed solution. 2) A letter explaining how travel and medical procedures would be funded. 3) A letter from a doctor in Sierra Leone explaining that the procedure could not be done in Sierra Leone.  We added a 4th, which was a letter from us explaining the history of our involvement with Grace and what we were trying to accomplish.

    The first two and fourth letters we had. The first from Dr. Grimmer, the second from our friend Dr. Doug McMullin and fourth was the one we had written. It was the third letter we were struggling with. I worked with the diagnostics clinic in Freetown for 3 weeks trying to get a letter from them, but in the end, the doctor there said she could not write it.  The clinic then referred us to a pediatrician that they thought could help us, but when I called her, she told me I would have to send her all the scans (they were in the U.S.), she would read them, and then decide if she could write the letter. I understood her reluctance to make a statement that was not her personal case, but this would mean additional time and money that we did not have.  It was Doug McMullin who suggested I ask Dr. Grant.  Dr. Grant is a doctor here in Kenema that sees our missionaries when they are ill.  He has always been very helpful (and effective) and we have a good relationship with him.

    Dr. Samuel Grant
    Dr. Samuel Grant

    I sent him a WhatsApp message and he responded that he would help us.  That was on Thursday, July 11th.  I sent him a simple letter that he could draw from as well as the letters from Doctors Grimmer and McMullin.  On the following Monday, I still did not have his letter in hand. i   messaged him again and he said the letter was complete, but that Rebecca needed to take Grace to the Community Health Center in Tongo to answer a few more questions.  I quickly responded that she had been there, they referred her to Kenema Government Hospital, they referred her to the Catholic Hospital in Serabu (near Bo) and they referred her to a hospital in Freetown.  They didn’t have money for the trip to Freetown so returned home thinking they would never get help for Grace.  When Rebecca had told me this the prior Friday, she produced the paper referrals and I took pictures of them.  When Dr. Grant suggested they needed one more appointment, I sent him copies of the referrals and within 5 minutes, he sent me the signed letter! 

    With these 4 letters now in hand, I submitted the request for the emergency visa appointment and attached them as support.  That was late in the evening on Monday, July 15th.  When I checked the email on Tuesday at 3 pm, I found that the request had been approved and there was a link to set the appointment in the email.  Following the link, I could see there was an appointment for the very next day, at 9:00 am. The next available one would be on Monday the 24th.   I immediately called Rebecca, and she said she could come to Kenema but would need help with the transportation cost.  I texted Solomon Kongoley and Messie Senesie in Tongo to see if either could help her until we could pay back the funds from the money that had been raised.  When I tried to call Rebecca back, her phone was off. Now we had to make a decision. Should we book the appointment and have faith that Rebecca would make it to Kenema?  Or should we try for the following Monday? I prayed and the spirit said to book the appointment for the next day.   I booked it and then sent more texts to both Brother Kongoley and Sister Messie with no response.  At 6:30 pm I called Brother Kongoley to see if there was an update and he said Rebecca and Grace were already in Kenema with his wife.  I then called Rebecca and confirmed a 4:15 am pick up the next morning.

    USA

    At 3:00 am the next morning we were awake and preparing for the day.  Dass again agreed to go with us and showed up at our apartment at 3:50 am. By 4:30 am we were out of Kenema and on our way to Freetown.  It was raining.  As we neared Freetown, the rain started coming down harder and fog settled in.  Despite the weather, we still managed to arrive at our target time at 8:30 am.  Dass and I took Rebecca and Grace to the front door and left them with the guards (we were holding umbrellas for them).  Five minutes later, Rebecca came back out to the truck and said they wanted me to come in. Turns out they recognized her limited language skills and noticed she wasn’t feeling well and did not believe she would ever get a visa unless I accompanied her through the process.  It was one more miracle, as the embassy rule is “only those with appointments and papers with barcodes to prove the appointment are allowed in the building”.  It was obvious that I was the only “non-visa seeking” person in the room that day.

    We waited nearly 2 hours before our turn at the visa window arrived.  Rebecca continued to feel worse.  She had wrapped herself in the sling cloth she used to carry Grace on her back as she was freezing and the air conditioning was not helping.  Grace was running a fever.  As soon as we got to the window, the consular agent greeted us warmly and indicated that she was the one who set the appointment and had already read all of the letters we had submitted.  She asked Rebecca two questions, both extremely easy, and then immediately granted a 6-month visa.  Just like that, we were done.  The discrepancy between birthplace on the passport and the visa never came up.

    What makes this even more remarkable is that we have two friends who work in the State Department. I had asked both of them for advice. And while they are limited in what they can advise people, they both independently indicated that our case would be a long shot.    The night before we sent out emails and texts to close friends and family who were aware of Grace’s plight to please pray for them and us.  We asked for two things:  1) That Rebecca would do well in the interview and 2) That the consular agent would be favorable to granting the visas.   It was as though angels were all around us.  In fact, when we came back to the guardhouse and found out we had been successful, they cheered for us.  It was humbling and heart-warming.  It seemed like everyone in that building was pulling for little Grace that day.

    When we got back in the truck, Rebecca said she was not feeling well and wanted to stay in Freetown with her brother in law’s family for a day or so to recover.  We decided we would first go to the mission home and use the restrooms, as there were no public facilities at the embassy.  While at the mission home, President Harper was able to interview Dass for his mission and Allie Kargbo came into the office and we were able to ask him to go to the embassy next Wednesday and pick up their passports with the visas.  He gratefully agreed to do so.  We dropped Rebecca and Grace off at Paul’s home and returned to Kenema.  Step 2 was complete.

    On Tuesday, July 23rd we woke up to a new day with one goal in mind.  It was time to get the airline tickets booked.  We had passports, we had visas, we knew the departure date and itinerary to the U.S. and we knew the airlines.  Now it was time to execute.  We spent the first few hours trying to figure out the most cost-effective round trip airfare.  This is LaDawn’s strong suit.  She navigates airline websites like a seasoned travel agent.  We were surprised at the number of options we had to work through, the most important being the return date.   Cason Curriden, a returned missionary from Sierra Leone, agreed to fly back with them as far as Ghana and then help them get on their flight to Freetown.  Unfortunately, he was in a remote area for the entire week with no cell phone service, meaning we had to make a decision without his input.  Since school at BYU would be in session, we also needed to minimize the number of classes he would miss.  A wonderful couple in Utah offered their frequent flier miles to fly Rebecca and Grace from Ghana to Salt Lake City and back, which turned out to be a huge blessing, and just one more miracle along the way.  It also meant that we would need to match Cason’s return flight with the reward travel dates while minimizing both the cost of Cason’s ticket and the number of reward miles required.  We needed to arrange the Freetown-Ghana roundtrip ticket separately.  On the return flights home, Rebecca, Grace, and Cason would all need a place to stay overnight in Ghana due to flight schedules, which would bring Rebecca and Grace to Freetown and Cason back to Utah the next day.  After working on the schedules in the morning, we selected a return date four weeks after their arrival and began to identify the options and costs.  Even though the reward miles and costs were lower with the combinations we were considering, the timing did not feel right.  When we checked the schedules for one week earlier, it was like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle falling from the table to the floor with every single piece falling effortlessly into place.

    By then it was an afternoon in Sierra Leone, allowing us to contact our reward miles benefactor in Utah and ask for help in booking the itinerary we had selected.  She was on the phone for over two hours with the airline working out all of the details.  When she explained to the airline the reason for the flights, the airline agent upgraded them for free to comfort plus seat both ways.  By the time Tuesday was over, we were on cloud nine!  The flights were completely booked.  This surgery was going to happen!

    LISA
    Lisa Tanner Sparks
    ELDER
    Elder F. Enzio Busche

    We were feeling very grateful for the way everything was coming together, but there was still one thing keeping us awake at night.  Who could we get to host Rebecca and Grace in the Greater Salt Lake area?  As I was praying about this one evening, Lisa Tanner Sparks name came to mind. Lisa, Doug, and I all served under Elder F. Enzio Busche in the Germany Munich Mission in the late 1970s. Since we were also friends on social media, I was aware that Lisa had experience with impoverished areas and people in Nepal where she makes a trip each year to bring school supplies for the children.  She raises money for the supplies by selling pillow covers that she makes from exotic cloths purchased during her travels.  When I reached out to her she was willing to help but concerned about her scheduled travel dates as a flight attendant.  Within a day, she cleared her schedule up through August 28th and committed to meet Rebecca and Grace at the airport and host them up until she had to go back to work two days after the surgery.  Another miracle!  To complete this Germany mission connection turns out Dr. Grimmer is Elder Busche's nephew!  Only the Lord could have known that 40 years later these mission connections would again converge to bless a beautiful little girl in Africa.

    GRACE
    Sister Grace Kongoley holding little Grace standing next to Rebecca
    MISSIONARIES
    (LtoR) Elder Jones, Rebecca, Elder Smith holding Grace, Elder Topham & Paul Koroma.

    With all of the loose ends now tied neatly in a bow, on Saturday, August 17th, Rebecca and Grace left Tongo and stayed with the Kongoley’s in Kenema until we picked them up Monday morning and headed to Freetown.  We arrived in the early afternoon, dropped Rebecca and Grace off at Paul’s home and then drove to the mission home where we stayed the night. The next morning, Paul brought Rebecca and Grace to the mission home and stayed with them until we left for the boat dock at 11:30 am.   They took a boat across the bay to Lungi Airport and then departed on a 3:45 pm flight to Ghana.  We were very comfortable with Rebecca and Grace flying as we had aligned their flights with three missionaries flying home to Salt Lake City. Elder Garrett Smith, Elder Jade Jones, and Elder Joshua Topham.  Based on reports from Elder Jones and Elder Smith, the trip went well with only a small hiccup in Ghana.  Because the ticket from Freetown to Ghana had been purchased separately from the ticket from Ghana to Salt Lake City, Rebecca’s luggage did not automatically transfer.  The airline representative insisted that Rebecca go alone to point out her bag to the men that needed to load it onto the new flight.  The airline would not let the missionaries go with her so they just waited with Grace at the gate.  They were greatly relieved when they saw her approaching just as they were preparing to close the door.  Elder Smith later texted me when I asked him about the problem, “Yeah we did [have some difficulty] but it all worked out thanks to a little help from God.”   The rest of the flight went well and they arrived in Salt Lake City just before 2 pm on Wednesday local time.  As promised, Lisa met them at the gate and took them to her home.

    ART 16
    Lisa met Rebecca and Grace at the Salt Lake City airport
    GRACE

    After months of prayer and preparation, including logistical details, travel passports and visas, luggage, clothes, medical checks, hosting, and communication protocols, Rebecca and Grace were now in Salt Lake City, Utah preparing for the surgery to remove Grace’s tumor. Over the next few days as they awaited the date of the surgery, Rebecca and Grace were treated to numerous visits to local attractions that included Temple Square, the Hogle Zoo, “This is the Place” monument and a trip to an African food store.

    The Friday before the surgery, (August 23rd), Lisa took Rebecca and Grace to meet with Dr. Grimmer where he told them that the tumor had created a few more complications than previously thought. He told them that Grace’s tumor was quite rare, occurring only 1 in 50,000 children (based on U.S. statistics) and that the mortality rate associated with such tumors is 80%.  He was worried about the nerves in her left shoulder and her voice box.  He said that the tumor was already putting pressure on her trachea and that she would not have survived many more years without the surgery, as her airway would eventually be completely blocked.  He was hopeful but cautious that tumor would be “mature” meaning it would be easier to remove with minimal probability of growing back.

    After learning this new information, we sent out emails, texts, made a few phone calls and posted to social media a request for divine petitions in an effort to get as many people as possible to fast and pray for Grace.  The request was for five specific things: 

    1. Dr. Fred Grimmer's hands would be directed and his mind enlightened by the Lord and His angels during the surgery. 
    2. That the tumor would be 'mature' and easily removed
    3. That her voice would not be affected to any significant degree. 
    4. That the nerves in her left shoulder impacted by the tumor would not cause her long-term problems.
    5. That Grace would recover quickly. 

    The surgery was scheduled for noon on Monday, August 26th, but they had been asked to arrive early so the hospital could do an X-ray on Grace to ensure she did not have tuberculosis. Living in a rural area in Africa and being poor, is a recipe for TB.  We were so happy to hear that her lungs were clear with no sign of this dreadful disease.

    There were a few communication issues in gathering all of the necessary information about Grace from Rebecca prior to the surgery.  Fortunately, Lisa called Garrett Smith, one of the returned missionaries who traveled back with her from Sierra Leone, and he was able to help the doctors get the information they needed.  This good young man was at the dentist when the call came and gladly interrupted his dental appointment to be of assistance.   At 1 pm, Grace was wheeled into the operating room and thirty minutes later the surgery was underway.  Rebecca was personally determined to exercise every ounce of faith she had and to do so she and Lisa began a fast on Saturday night and didn’t end it until the surgery was over late Monday afternoon.

    GRIM
    Dr. Grimmer gives Rebecca the good news about Grace's surgery

    We received a call from Lisa shortly after 4 pm Utah time.  It was after 10:00 pm for us in Sierra Leone.  We had been prayerfully and anxiously waiting for her call, thinking about the miraculous journey over the last 6 months to finally bring her to this moment for which we had all been praying. What joy we had as she told us that Dr. Grimmer indicated that everything had gone well and he felt that he had removed the entire tumor without damaging the main nerves to the left shoulder or the voice box.  He indicated he was able to remove it through a small 2” incision in Grace’s neck, which he expected to be barely visible once healed. Our joy and gratitude for this significant blessing were unbounded.  We sent out emails, texts and a social media post expressing that gratitude and giving all glory to God the Father and his beloved son Jesus Christ for this miracle.”  The most important part of Grace’s journey was now behind her.  

    Over the next few days, we learned that Dr. Grimmer was concerned that the tumor had impeded the growth of a portion of her thyroid gland.  They still needed to do a blood test to check for the levels of thyroid hormones being produced, but the expectation was that Grace would likely need to take a drug to boost these hormone levels every day for the rest of her life.  Something we worried about due to the recurring cost to the family.

    jean
    Rebecca with Sister Jean Bingham

    Interestingly, Grace was never restricted on what she could eat from the moment she woke up. Considering the pressure the tumor had been putting on her neck and throat area, combined with the surgery to remove it, we thought that quite remarkable.  The other noteworthy news was after being taken off of pain medication in the hospital, she never gave any signs of discomfort.  This was one resilient little girl!

    Shortly before the surgery ended, Sister Jean Bingham, the general Relief Society president of the Church, stopped by to visit with Rebecca and check on Grace’s surgery.  She had been there about 30 minutes when Dr. Grimmer came out to give Rebecca and Lisa the good news.  Her timing was inspired and allowed her to share in Rebecca’s great joy. Sister Bingham met Rebecca and Grace in June while visiting Sierra Leone.  It was such a sweet reunion for both of them.  Later that evening, four Krio speaking returned missionaries from the Sierra Leone Freetown Mission also stopped by for a visit.  Jade Jones, Garrett Smith, Joshua Topham, and Skylar Christy.  These four returned missionaries gave Rebecca such comfort and joy as she was able to communicate freely with them and get translation help to understand the nurses’ instructions in regards to Grace.

    RMS
    (LtoR) Jade Jones, Joshua Topham, Rebecca, Garrett Smith and Skylar Christy
    JEAN 2
    Brother & Sister Bingham with the Koroma's during their June visit to Sierra Leone focused on Gospel Literacy

    The Saturday before the surgery, Lisa informed us that she had changed the date she would go back to work to September 1st, canceling yet another trip so she could stay with Rebecca and Grace a bit longer.  The original plan was to move them into another home once Lisa went back to work, but as the date drew nearer, Lisa felt inspired to have them stay in her home and invite friends and ward members to come and stay with them.  This was such a huge blessing to both Rebecca and Grace as they did not need to reacclimate to a new environment.  Jenny Jones, Janet Van De Graff, Susie Ogden and Sidney Christy were just four of the angel women who came and stayed with them, took them on outings and spent time talking with them.

    GRIMM
    Dr Grimmer with Rebecca and Grace on September 10, 2019

    On September 10th, Jenny took Rebecca and Grace to the follow-up appointment with Dr. Grimmer to do the thyroid blood test, check her recovery process and talk about the results from the pathology.   The pathology clearly showed the tumor was mature, meaning the probability that it would grow back was extremely minimal.  The blood test to check the thyroid came back the next day completely normal.  This was an unexpected but welcomed blessing.  Grace now had a completely clean bill of health!

    CASON
    Grace, Rebecca and Cason on the plane

    Three days later, Rebecca and Grace, accompanied by Cason, boarded the flight leaving Salt Lake City returning to Sierra Leone.  Once in Ghana, Cason had arranged with Elder & Sister Mangum, a senior missionary couple, to stay in their apartment while they were traveling outside of Accra.  The Mangum’s then arranged with Elder and Sister McGary, another senior couple in Ghana to pick up Rebecca, Grace, and Cason on Saturday afternoon and return them to the airport on Sunday.  Cason caught a flight back to Salt Lake on Sunday evening and Rebecca and Grace returned to Sierra Leone arriving in Freetown just after 6 pm.

    The next day, September 16th, we left Freetown to return to Kenema.  As previously mentioned, it was raining hard as we made our way home.  On Tuesday morning we attended zone conference in Kenema and that afternoon took Rebecca and Grace back to Tongo.  It had been exactly one month since they had left.  Elder and 

    SIERRA LEON

    Sister Child, another senior missionary couple in our mission, came with us.  We were confident that Rebecca’s husband Abdulai, and the few members that live near them would be happy to welcome them back home, but we never expected the welcome that they, and we, received.  As we drove to the area near their home, people began to follow the truck as if we were leading parade. By the time we stopped and parked, people were all around us.  As we opened the doors and stepped out, people we had never met came up and hugged us and thanked us over and over and over again.  Abdulai was among the first.   Such gratitude!  Such joy!  It was easy to know that they had all been praying for little Grace.  Being around so many grateful and 

    kunz
    Elder & Sister Kunz with Rebecca, Abdulai & Grace back home in Tongo

    welcoming people, we again realized that we were truly representatives of Jesus Christ.  People were thanking us as though we had done this great thing, but we were only representing Him at whose hands this miracle occurred.   Our small part was to seek, understand and then follow the promptings of the Spirit of the Lord, but the heavy lifting was left to higher powers.  All glory to God the Father, his Son Jesus Christ and the inspiration and influence of the Holy Ghost throughout the last six months.  Rebecca and Grace were finally back home, healthy, happy and filled with faith and hope for the future.

    kunz
    Grace with Elder Kunz after the surgery and back in Tongo

    These experiences with Rebecca and Grace have been profoundly rewarding for us.  Working with so many amazing and wonderful people who helped make this happen has been a labor of love and prayer.  To us, the whole experience was a series of miracles, falling like African rain.  Yes, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob is also the God of little Grace Koroma - and he still works miracles on behalf of his children whom he loves.