New Mercies: Samba

Hope for a Second Chance

This is the month of Advent when we reflect on Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. We will be sharing stories of God’s miracles that have changed the lives of four very special people. In December you will get to hear about the lives that have been transformed by the love of Jesus, shown through Mercy Ships volunteers.

This week we get to hear Samba’s story of HOPE. Samba was born with a cleft lip — a condition that occurs 1 in 700 births worldwide. Usually, babies are operated on within a year to correct this. But in developing nations like Senegal in West Africa, the lack of resources means that someone like Samba will spend their whole life marked different from others.

Samba did live with his cleft lip for 56 years until the Global Mercy arrived in his home country.

In this episode, we hear about the painful reality our patients face because of their conditions like a cleft lip. We get to hear from the surgeon who operated on Samba and the transformation that took place in one man’s life because Mercy Ships brought hope and healing.

Looking for a way to join our mission of bringing hope and healing? Partner with us through a giftvolunteering with us, or by joining us in prayer.

New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the New Mercies, a podcast by Mercy Ships where we’ll take you behind the scenes and on board our incredible hospital ships that are transforming lives all over the world. We invite you to join us each week to be inspired and encouraged by stories of life-changing hope and healing. I’m your host, Raeanne Newquist and this is New Mercies.

This month I get to share with you stories of God’s miracles that have absolutely changed the lives of four very special people. For the next four weeks you will get to hear about the lives that have been transformed by the love of Jesus, shown through Mercy Ships volunteers.

Today we start with Samba. Samba was born with a cleft lip. A condition that occurs 1 in 700 births worldwide.

Usually, babies are operated on within a year to correct this. But in developing nations like Senegal in West Africa, the lack of resources means that someone like Samba will spend their whole life with this birth defect.

Samba did live with his cleft lip for 56 years.

“I was born with a cleft lip.

I am now 56 years.

People used to laugh at me when they saw me.

It was a really tough period.

There was a time, when I looked at myself and I would feel frustrated.

My friends ran away from me, they wouldn’t even sit down with me.”

Living with his cleft lip has not been easy. The split in his upper lip goes clear up to his nose, and has caused his front teeth to split and point outward. Because of this, Samba has endured discrimination and mocking, and this unwanted attention has even led to physical attacks. Samba said that the attacks were so frequent that he couldn’t guess how many times they had happened.

I can’t even imagine what that would be like, to be constantly ridiculed, or physically attacked because of the way I was born and what I looked like. What must that be like to daily wake up and be worried about how people will respond to your face?

I think I would shy away from even going out.

When the pandemic hit, most found it to be limiting and difficult, but Samba was grateful for wearing a mask because it allowed him to hide his lips.

Even with all of the pain and frustration from his cleft lip, Samba still was friendly, warm, and smiling.

Samba’s a cattle farmer in rural Senegal where discrimination has prevented him from moving into a more lucrative career. He’s a widower who’s devoted to his four children and he’s lived his life without savings or access to a hospital that could heal his condition. Even with his cleft lip, Samba’s smile is evidenced by the wrinkles around his eyes and his warm spirit.

Samba had accepted his limited life as it was, until the Global Mercy arrived in the capital of his home country. Everyone in Samba’s community discouraged him before he went to the ship because they didn’t believe he could be healed. But Samba went anyway, holding out hope for a changed life.

Dr. Chong is a surgeon from Australia and had the privilege of doing Samba’s surgery. Dr. Chong was struck by Samba and his personality from the first time that he met him on board the Global Mercy:

“When I met Samba, what particularly struck me about him was that he had this intrinsic sense of self-worth despite everything that he’d been through. He was so engaging, he wanted to tell you his story, he wanted to know more about you and he wanted to interact with everyone around him. I was like, this is someone that you know if he was the only person, I operated on I would be a happy man. I don’t mean that lightly. I kind of think to myself, this guy’s been sitting around for 55 years waiting for someone to come along and help him with his lips and never imagining it could have happened. The irony is that in places like Australia you operate on children one year of age. By one year of age most cleft lips will have been repaired so you come to a place like Senegal, and you meet someone who is 56 years old whose got an unrepaired cleft lip. It’s just like, wow how did this happen? How did you get to this age? But it’s common. For one the Lancet Commission tells us there’s 5 billion people out there who can’t access care and safe timely affordable surgery and that’s a massive thing. I think you know we’re humans. His worth doesn’t change just because I did a cleft lip repair right? But with his personality in particular, he can now be him.”

For Samba, being on board the Global Mercy was a really unique experience. He said that when he first got on board the ship, he was so scared.

I can only imagine what must have been going through his mind.

Samba took a full tour of the ship and when he got out on the upper deck and could look out over the port and into his nation’s capital, he began to cry. This was a vantage point he never had and seeing his country from the top of a ship gave him a new perspective that brought him to tears.

While waiting for surgery, Samba reflected on his journey, recounting a lifetime of teasing and self-loathing. He said, “People used to tell me things that I cannot even explain,” “I’ve missed a lot in life.”

It’s just heartbreaking to think that something so simple and dare I say small like a cleft lip repair, is not readily available to everyone in the world. And something small like this can become massive over the years, it became something that defined Samba and limited him and caused so much pain in his life.

Dr. Chong had heard many stories like Samba’s throughout his decades of regular volunteering with Mercy Ships. But he usually wasn’t hearing these stories from patients with cleft lips. As he mentioned, these things are usually taken care of by the time someone turns 1 year old. But it all comes down to access. And in the developing world, there is little to no access to safe, affordable, and timely surgery.

This is the reality drives Mercy Ships’ mission to bring life-changing hope and healing, in the name of Jesus…

On the morning of Samba’s surgery, Dr. Chong took a moment to share an important message with him. Looking him in the eye, Dr. Chong said: “We can see your heart. No matter how you look, you are a very good man.”

Samba had only heard the opposite for 56 years, but this day was different. Samba never thought that one day his lips would be repaired. But that day had come.

Dr. Chong told Samba. “I had to fly over 24 hours to get here, and if it was just to meet you and do this surgery, then it was well worth it.”

Samba was quiet and solemn as Dr. Chong outlined the operation. A national crewmember named Bocar Sy reassured Samba in their shared language of Pulaar that he didn’t need to stay so still, despite being attached to an intravenous drip, so Samba relaxed a little bit, giggling. Dr. Chong asked if Samba would like the surgery to preserve his omnipresent “spear” tooth that peeked through his cleft lip. Looking at Dr. Chong incredulously, Samba mimicked ripping out the tooth that had defined him for so long.

Perhaps it was that jagged tooth sticking straight out from the center of his upper jaw that had provoked so much mocking and pain for Samba. The very thought of having that gone brought him to tears. “I am crying because I am very joyful — I am not sad,” Samba clarified. “Everything is going to be all right, and I can’t thank you enough for that.”

After his surgery was complete, Samba remembered someone waking him up and telling him that the surgery was finished. He couldn’t believe that he didn’t feel any pain.

The next day, Samba sat in his hospital bed with a newfound dignity and whenever he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a mirror, he began to cry tears of joy. He truly couldn’t believe his eyes.

Samba was asked if he was ready to take some photographs and he jokingly put his hands over his mouth. He said, “I won’t smile! I have been given a good gift and I want to take care of it and let it heal perfectly!”

The overwhelming gratitude was obvious to everyone in the room. Samba would steward well this free gift of a new chance at a full life. He had a vibrant personality before his surgery and a warmth and joy that really went against the mocking that surrounded him. But now, unhindered by his cleft lip, Samba was ready to make up for lost time and go live his life to the full.

Two weeks after his surgery, Samba was sent home from the floating hospital to be reunited with his family. His community could not believe the transformation. Samba declared, “I am the happiest person.”

For many of our patients, free surgery means a second chance at life. The life they were meant to have but had been robbed of because of something like a cleft lip.

This first week of Advent when we focus on Hope. It’s something we talk a lot about at Mercy Ships being that our mission is to bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. And truly our doctors and nurses offer healing through surgery, but it is Jesus that offers the whole world hope.

Jesus sees someone like Samba and brings a hospital ship to his country just to offer him the hope of a better life. Jesus doesn’t just offer hope to our patients or people impoverished in developing nations. Jesus offers hope to you and to me.

For God loved the whole world, everyone, each and every person, so much that he sent his son Jesus to be born as a tiny baby and grow up to be beaten and shunned, mocked and ridiculed and ultimately killed, so that he could put to death once and for all the sin that entangles us all and causes great suffering.

Death could not keep Jesus in the grave and as he defeated all that hinders us from having abundant life, he defeated death itself and came to life again. He is alive and He is our hope.

Putting your life in Jesus’ hands means trusting him to provide hope and healing to your soul and give you a second chance at life. Maybe it’s not a cleft lip that is hindering you and causing hardship, but we all face tough things in life and Jesus does not shy away from us in our ugliness. In fact, he comes even closer. He is not disgusted by the disfigurement of our mistakes and failures. He sees us as perfect, created in his own image. He loves us completely just as we are.

May you experience the God of Hope this Christmas season.

And remember the second chance at a full life that Samba was give is freely offered to you too through Jesus. Merry Christmas.

For more information about Mercy Ships, go to, and to keep up with the guests and stories on New Mercies, follow us on Instagram at NewMerciesPodcast.