November 27, 2012
From The Orange County Register
Published November 16, 2012
By LORI BASHEDA / THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
SECOND OF TWO PARTS: In Part One, Bonner Paddock, an O.C. man with cerebral palsy, climbs Mount Kilimanjaro and vows to help the Africans he met on his journey. Today, Paddock and an unusual British woman move to help a girl with bad legs, Juliana.
Lynn Elliott stands at the foot of an African mountain, surrounded by barefoot orphans.
She asks her guide what will happen to the children. What she hears isn't good.
But her two-week visit is ending; a plane is waiting to take her home.
What can one woman do?
Back in England, eating Christmas turkey with all the trimmings, her family and friends think Lynn's “African phase” has passed like a bad kidney stone. She knows it hasn't.
Then, a few weeks later, while washing pots, she has what some might call a vision: She sees Jesus, hands out, as she stands in front of him, small and childlike, holding a dead child in her arms.
This does not go over well with her friends or family, particularly her husband. He points out that “mental hospitals are full of people who think God has spoken to them.”
Two weeks later she tells her husband she is going to sell everything she owns and return to the mountain.
If you want to, you can join me.
Her husband doesn't have to think twice.
If you walk though that door, that's it.
So, that's it.
Lynn Elliot sells her antique furniture, her Mitsubishi, her China tea sets. She packs a suitcase with medicine and bandages and another with clothes. She and her husband are raising a 10-year-old foster boy, Tom. So she packs him up too.
They arrive in Tanzania in June, 2000, and soon find a derelict orphanage, among the native Chagga tribe, 6,000 feet up the slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. With the money from selling her belongings, she buys rice and hires porters to climb the mountain with her, feeding people along the way.
The mountain elders call her The Stick of Jesus. The children call her Mama Lynn.
After three years, she takes the 35 children she has collected down the mountain to start a new home. Before long, one home turns into eight. They house orphans and elders who have been cast out, expected to die. She asks for no money, but people give it to her anyway, and volunteers from around the world show up on her doorstep.
She calls her compound Light in Africa.
Bonner Paddock isn't a visions kind of guy – he doesn't even go to church but once a year – but when he hears Mama Lynn's story he is blown away. He vowed after climbing Kilimanjaro that he would return some day and give back to the people of the mountain. The only question was, which people? Now he had his answer.
Paddock dials up Afshin Aminian, his friend and a pediatric surgeon at Children's Hospital of Orange County, and tells him about this lady they call Mama Lynn. They pack their bags and head to Africa.
Mama Lynn is waiting for them at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. She has sent word into the bush that a doctor is coming to help children who need healing.
A peasant named Joseph is one of the first to arrive. His pants are covered in holes, as if they had been sprayed with buckshot. On his back, he is carrying a girl in a pink dress.
In Swahili, Mama Lynn congratulates Joseph for taking care of his daughter, rather than abandoning her, like most parents in his culture do when a baby is born deformed.
The man puts down the girl, who is now 13, and says her name is Juliana Williams. Her legs are curled up like a pretzel. At the end of each leg is a tiny foot. They are useless, so Juliana taught herself to walk on her knees.
As if she were asking Juliana if she wanted a drink or a snack, Mama Lynn casually asks the girl if she wants to stay and live with her.
Joseph takes Mama Lynn's hand and spits on it.
Oh boy, are we gonna rumble here? Paddock wonders.
But in this tribal region, spitting on someone's hand is a high form of respect.
Juliana nods yes, she wants to stay. The man turns and walks off down the street.
Not a tear, Paddock says. They were both stone faced.
Aminian and Paddock can barely process what they just saw. They just stare at each other.
Mama Lynn explains that in the tribal regions, people don't show pain.
Aminian tells Mama Lynn he can help most of the kids that show up that day. But he cannot heal Juliana. Her legs need to be amputated.
But before he flies back to Orange County 48 hours later, Aminian makes a decision.
I can't go home to sleep every night wondering what happened to Juliana.
When Paddock greets Juliana at LAX with a wheelchair, it is 15 months later. Mama Lynn doesn't do bribes, which is why it took so long to get her here.
"Tanzania can have my time. Tanzania can even have my life," she says. "But they can never ever have my integrity."
While Mama Lynn fought to get Juliana a passport, Aminian convinced Children's Hospital of Orange County in Orange to let him do surgery on the girl. Paddock's One Man, One Mission Foundation footed the bill. And the Ronald McDonald House across the street from the hospital offered Juliana and Mama Lynn a cozy home away from home.
They arrive Aug. 18. Three days later, Juliana wakes up with no legs at the knees.
She asks few questions, one of which is whether she would be able to dance or run with her new legs some day.
Bonner shows her a YouTube video of double amputee Oscar Pistorius sprinting around the track in the Olympics this summer on his prosthetic feet.
"She didn't say a word," Paddock says. "Just soaked it in."
Juliana spends the next two months healing and trying out her own prosthetics. She's smiling more and more, especially when she's watching a Justin Bieber video. Or the Disney Channel. Or getting her nails polished. Or eating a hamburger.
Mama Lynn puts her foot down. Juliana has to fit back in with the other kids when they get back to Tanzania.
They waved goodbye to Orange County last week. When they arrived at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro, there weren't eight Light in Africa homes anymore, but nine. Paddock had one built for Mama Lynn's special needs kids. They call it Tumaini, which means "hope" in Swahili.
"I feel damn good," Paddock says.
He knows Juliana's struggles aren't over, but he believes her new legs will give her a fighting chance. "And I think that's all any of us want: A fighting chance."
As for the twists and turns that led Aminian to Paddock and Paddock to Mama Lynn and Mama Lynn to Juliana and Juliana to all of them?
"I believe people do walk into our lives for a reason," Paddock says.
And, in this case, walk back out.
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