Not a moment too soon

When Benessa* was born, her mother had a simple wish for her daughter’s life. “I want her to be like a diamond — to shine bright,” she said.

Unfortunately for most of Benessa’s life, the light inside her was overshadowed by the neurofibroma growing on her face.

When she was just a baby, her parents noticed a small lump and dark hairs growing above her left eye. By the time she was five years old, Benessa’s neurofibroma was drooping over her forehead like a sac and beginning to dislocate her eye. Over time, more lumps started to develop on her skull and upper lip, causing severe swelling.

Even at her young age, other kids noticed Benessa’s differences, which led to bullying and name-calling. They would call her ‘sick’ and avoid playing with her because they were afraid. As a result, Benessa was spending her childhood on the sidelines. She refused to go to school, even though her parents desperately wanted her to have an education. ‘She was so scared… she said everybody would laugh at her,’ said Benessa’s mother.

With a heavy shroud of insecurity and fear surrounding Benessa, it was hard to see the sweet, playful girl inside, waiting to be let out.

The family was poor and struggled to provide enough food for their two children, so an expensive, complicated surgery was out of the question. Her parents prayed every day for healing for their daughter.

When they heard about Mercy Ships, Benessa’s mother was overjoyed. It was the first time that she’d dared to believe her daughter might receive surgery.
The family travelled for hours to get to the Africa Mercy, but the end goal was worth every arduous mile.

Soon, a volunteer plastic surgeon specialising in neurofibromas removed the tumour Benessa had carried for years. In the weeks following her operation, Benessa spent time onboard being showered in love and friendship by the crew, nurses and other patients. Freed from worry, the sweet five-year-old slowly emerged from her shell, and her inner diamond began to shine through.

Thanks to her growing confidence, Benessa is no longer afraid to start school and her Mum is filled with joy.

‘When we came to the ship for the first time, I was just thanking God over and over,’ said Benessa’s mother. ‘There is no gift greater than good health.’                     *Benessa was also known onboard by her nickname M-muh