What Face Do You See?

On September 6, 1975, Thelma Perkins, a 38-year-old mother of three who lived in Maryville, Tennessee, was assigned to the newborn intensive care unit of the hospital where she had just become a nurse.

That day a baby arrived with extraordinary needs.

This little girl had light, curly brown hair, but a “face” that was nothing more than a shapeless mass.

She had no eyes, no nose, and only a ragged opening for breathing and feeding.

A few days later the NICU supervisor called a staff meeting to make one thing clear.

“I  don’t want to hear any more talk about this baby’s appearance,” she said.  “Her name is Alice.  She has a purpose in this world, and we are going to treat her like every other newborn patient.”

Thelma Perkins found herself drawn in love to this baby with no face.  She talked and cooed to Alice, picked her up, cuddled her, and loved her.  Eventually she and her husband Ray became Alice’s adoptive parents.

They patiently taught her to sit up and walk.  Alice endured a series of operations in which surgeons fashioned her a face.

In preschool she learned to talk, and at age seven could speak 250 words.  She learned how to play and live happily.

The story of Ray and Thelma Perkins’ unconditional love found its way into an article that was reprinted in Reader’s Digest in 1983.  Fourteen years later one of the young moms in the church where I served as pastor read it for the first time.

She was so moved that she felt prompted to see if there if there was still a phone listing in Maryville, Tennessee, for a Ray Perkins.

Even as she thought, “This is a crazy thing to do,” she found herself dialing directory assistance.  Moments later she was on the phone with Thelma Perkins, then age 59.

Thelma radiated a love for God.  She related that Alice was due to graduate in a few months from the Tennessee School for the Blind, had a good sense of humor, and loved to go to church.

Then she choked back tears, saying, “Alice was diagnosed a few years ago with a form of MS which is causing her to lose her hearing.  Eventually she won’t be able to walk.”

When asked about further prayer concerns, Thelma indicated the need to build an addition onto their home with a wheelchair entrance.

That night the young mom from our church shared the news of the phone call with her husband.  Without hesitation he said, “Let’s offer to go help Ray build that addition.”  A few weeks later they and their family had driven the 350 miles from Zionsville to Maryville, and established construction plans with the Perkinses.

News of the trip inspired the involvement of four other churches, two in Tennessee and two in Indiana.

Suddenly, dozens of people who were unknown to each other, separated by time and space, came together to extend the healing ministry of Jesus – all for a girl who once literally had no face.

How do we respond to a world in deep need?

First we cry.  Then we die.

We cry as our hearts are broken with the things that break the heart of God. Then we die to the comfortable patterns of life that isolate us emotionally and geographically from those we are called to serve.

And in our crying and our dying, we get to experience the gift that only God can truly give:

Our hearts are reborn.

— Authored by Glenn McDonald

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