In 2013 Mercy Ships served off the coast of the Republic of Congo. During the Africa Mercy’s 10-month stay in the port of Pointe Noire, Republic of the Congo, volunteers offered free surgeries to remove tumors and cataracts, fix bent limbs, and heal burn wound contractures giving hope to thousands, including 5-year-old Lucrech.

When young Lucrech was 2 years old, he tripped while trying to chase a toy, plunging his small arm into a pot of boiling beans over an open fire.

Without access to safe medical care to prevent the raw wound from forming inflexible scar tissue, the skin across Lucrech’s palm tightened until each finger was pulled into a permanently bent position. This is called a burn contracture.

Mercy Ships volunteer surgeon, Dr. Tertius Venter, explains, “To treat an acute burn wound we would quickly do a skin graft before a contracture forms. We’d treat it with physical therapy and occupational therapy, and then splint it. But, in many parts of Africa this is just not available. The only way that the body can heal itself and prevent infection is by pulling everything together to close the wound up.”

As Lucrech got older, those around him began to tease and mock him. His classmates ridiculed him because he could not write or throw a ball, and soon, Lucrech decided he’d had enough of school because of all the negative attention.

His mother, Nadja, shared, “He loves to play games, especially soccer — but he had to play alone.”

Nadja feared that her son would never find healing for the painful scarring and worried he would feel excluded for the rest of his life. Then one day, she heard of a unique opportunity. A hospital ship full of volunteers was visiting the Republic of Congo and offering free surgeries to those who needed it most.

Nadja quickly brought her son onboard the Africa Mercy, where Lucrech received surgery to release the contracture. Now his five freed fingers can move, stretch, grasp, wiggle, point, and tickle!

Following the surgery, Lucrech underwent physical therapy where he and volunteer physiotherapist Nick worked together to regain full function of Lucrech’s hand.

One day, during a rehab exercise, Lucrech had amassed a crowd, including his mother, who watched in joy as her son was able to touch each of his fingers to his thumb. It seems a small distance to cover — but, for Lucrech, it’s a milestone.

When a crew member asked what he wanted to do now that he was able to move his hand once more, Lucrech answered excitedly, “I want to go back to school to write!” Then, with a heart-melting grin, he added, “I want to play ball with my friends, too!”

Many children like Lucrech have found the life-changing healing they so desperately need. But this is only possible because of our partners’ and volunteers’ compassionate hearts. As we anxiously prepare for our return to Africa this year, please see how you can join us as a volunteer in our mission of hope and healing or see how you can partner with us.

The need is great but hope and mercy are greater!