Rafael, Mexico 1987


Rafael was a man completely transformed. It wasn’t just his appearance that changed after his cleft lip surgery, his whole demeanour was altered, He was viewing life differently. 

Graeme Walls says Rafael impacted his life in a pivotal way, that influenced him for the duration of his 40 years of service with Mercy Ships.  

“It was 1987 when I met Rafael in Mexico. The first Mercy Ship – Anastasis- was on our very field surgical field service.

He was a shoe-shine man in Lazaro Cardenas, where the hospital ship was docked. Several weeks before, the Mercy Ships advance team had been in the town preparing logistics for the hospital ship’s imminent arrival and had met Rafael on a few occasions. One of the team told me her heart went out to Rafael she noticed he had a club foot. Gaye said that when they greeted Rafael, he looked up – and her heart broke. Rafael also had a cleft lip.

Rafael had no hope of getting the surgical treatment he needed, as he earned just a few cents every day shining shoes. Restoration was completely out of his reach – and beyond his hope.

Gaye made sure that when the Anastasis arrived into port Rafael attended the surgical screening. He was scheduled for lip reconstruction on board – a very short but earth-shattering operation.

My life was transformed too, not long after Rafael had his surgery. I had encountered him in town before, but something was about to shift in me that laid the foundation for my four decades of service with Mercy Ships.

As I walked up a flight of stairs on board the ship, a small man was coming down in the other direction. At first, I didn’t recognise him. But then he looked up, and met my gaze – eye to eye.

It was Rafael; the man who had never looked anyone in the eye before, because he was so ashamed of the way he looked. His face had been restored!

My world shifted that day. I will always remember the new beginning that had already begun to unfold for Rafael.”

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