2018-01-26 / Local News

Blacksburg missionary touched by girl’s plight

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Ledger Staff Writer

Oh, Mercy!

Blacksburg resident Vince Tharpe isn’t the first person to have this thought upon seeing the twisted and curved feet of 15-year-old Mercy, who lives in a remote village in Ghana, West Africa. Her mother named her Mercy after she saw the severity of her daughter’s club feet shortly after giving birth in the village of Okwenya.

About one child in 800 worldwide are born with a club foot. The birth defect results from the abnormal development of muscles, tendons and bones in the foot during pregnancy, causing the foot to twist downwards and inwards. A gentle realigning of the foot is needed to ensure a child can grow up being able to walk properly.

But Mercy is among the 80 percent of children in developing countries who go untreated with club feet because of no access to medical care.

“Mercy walks a mile and a half to school every day on flip-flops turned sideways,” Tharpe said. “She lives with her five siblings in a mud hut with a clay floor and no mattresses. Her mother told me many people have seen Mercy’s feet and promised to help her. They never came back. After I heard Mercy’s story, I was heartbroken and determined to do whatever I could to provide this sweet child some relief.”

Tharpe learned about Mercy’s medical condition when he visited the village of Okwenya while exploring a new mission territory for his Art Alive Ministries. He founded the nonprofit in 1985 to combine his talent for chalk art into multimedia presentations in countries where people have never heard the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

After he returned home from Ghana, Tharpe investigated different options for a medical treatment to help Mercy.

“We considered the possibility of bringing her over to America for surgery to correct her feet,” Tharpe recalled. “We were reluctant to do so since if complications were to arise it would be difficult for her to get access to medical care in Ghana.”

His solution arrived when Spartanburg orthopedic shoe maker William D. Friddle agreed to make a specialized shoe to help Mercy walk more comfortably.

“I took some cement mix and an electric saw with me when I went back to Okwenya in October,” Tharpe said. “I carried Mercy over to a place where there was electricity and made casts of her feet. I then took the casts back with me and gave them to Friddle so he could make the shoes at his business, Active Mobility Upstate.”

Mercy will get her new shoes in a week when Tharpe returns to Owkenya on Feb. 1 for an Art Alive Ministries mission crusade. He is helping build a new church called “Church of Living Water” near the village and will present three chalk art multimedia programs.

“We built the church near a new well we dug to provide fresh water for the village,” Tharpe said.

“God always seems to find a way to open doors and place the people in our path so we can make it into new areas to share the message of Jesus Christ. I’m excited we will be able to provide some relief for Mercy so she can walk more comfortably. William Friddle wants to go back with me to Africa so he can help more kids.”

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