Luke’s face of pain


AT around 2pm on Wednesday, July 26, my host’s wife Anna Toby knocked on my door and asked if I could spare some time for a visitor who was outside. Nudged with a degree of uncertainty, I made my way out still drowsy from my early afternoon nap. As I got to the verandah I spotted a lanky, well-seasoned gentleman in his mid-60s sitting quietly on the newly constructed pavement in front of the house. At first glance, the person seemed motionless and appeared to be disconnected from the world around him. And then I saw it. The jutting size of his right jaw surprised and disturbed me. “This is the visitor I’d like for you to meet” said Anna as she drew up to the man’s side.
He gave me a friendly stare when I reached out and firmly shook his hand. I sensed that he had been in dire need of help for a long time and was now hoping that I would be the one to give him that help.
I smiled at him as our eyes connected. The sparkle in his eyes made me realise that he can only smile from his eyes and not from his mouth. His mouth and tongue were so ravaged by the large growth on the side of his face that they no longer could move.
“Hello, how are you today?” I said but got no response. Only his dark brown eyes stared back at me.
“I am sorry but he cannot talk or hear anything,” whispered Anna. I realised then that his eyes were his only channel of hope and communication.  I also could see that they were coloured in pain and desperation. For a long time, these eyes had been searching for someone to really understand his greatest need and the true conditions of his heart that he couldn’t express in words. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. For my visitor, only agony and sadness shone through.
I felt a sudden wrenching in my heart to do whatever I could to help.
I later interviewed Lawrence Wita (my visitor’s host) that same afternoon to try to get some basic information about the man. His name was Philip Luke. Originally from Lumi Station in West Sepik. Philip came to Madang at a very young age and has lived there ever since. Like many adventurous young men from his area in the colonial 1960s, then 16-year-old Philip worked at the Dilup Coconut Plantation along the North Coast Road. While most of his peers returned home after independence, Philip didn’t, deciding instead to make Madang his new home.
He was never married so doesn’t have any children. He attends the Foursquare Church at the Gospel Light House in Jomba some Sundays.
“He would come all the way from Dilup and Maiwara on north coast on Sundays for church services,” Lawrence said of our friend.
“He is a good, friendly and faithful man. He is never angry. His time for formal employment is now over, but boy I tell you, he is a workaholic around the house and I like having him around,” Lawrence continued.
It was in 2014 that a little growth started to form on the right side of Philip’s face. His friends urged that he seek medical attention but Philip refused for fear that something worse might happen to him. Up until last Wednesday when I met him the growth was already so large that it deformed his face. Talking and eating are now difficult for him. He can only feed on mashed food.
Despite the deformity on his face, Philip doesn’t let the abnormality bring him down. In fact, he accepts the way he is and surprisingly, for me, he has quite a good number of friends and is a popular figure in Madang town, especially in the Newtown and Bukbuk areas.
“His popularity may partly be attributed to his current physical condition,” Lawrence pointed out as we wound up our short interview session.
For me, I believe it is the inner persona of Philip that makes him admired by many.   I sat still for some time after the interview thinking how wonderful the rest of life’s journey would be for Philip if only the growth was removed from his face. I pondered the deep cries of his soul that had been made silent by the large disfiguring condition that he carried with him everywhere. Even to his sleep.
What I garnered from that meeting was a resilient and beautiful soul. It made think harder about I could help him.
Philip currently resides with his friend Lawrence – who also comes from Lumi- and his wife at Bukbuk.
Through community help group Kumura Foundation, I took Philip to Modilon General Hospital in Madang last Friday for an assessment. Dr Atua from adult outpatient diagnosed him as having an abnormal and massive parotid tumour (a cancer) which could destroy his health if not treated soon.
Philip is now scheduled to visit Dr Maihuais, ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist at Modilon in another 13 days for an expert opinion on his subsequent diagnosis and on whether or not he requires a surgical operation.
Readers wishing to help Philip can call 79127021 and ask for Vincent.

  • Vincent P. Kumura is the founder and director of the Kumura Foundation.