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Finding Her Smile: a Journey of Healing

Len was a shy girl who often hid herself from the spotlight. She was first introduced to Homes of Love in February 2005 when she entered her new home. Due to the death of Len's father, eight children in the family, and extreme poverty, Len's mother had run out of options and brought Len to the home that day. It was heart breaking to watch Len's mother and other relatives walk away from their children, but this was the first step of her new journey. 

Gary and Debbie Chesney were visiting that day and while playing with the children, something about Len caught the eye of Dr. Chesney (a dentist). He noticed that Len had a cleft palate and decided it was best to take a closer look at all the children's teeth. With Len, he saw something unusual. At some point, her cleft lip had been repaired but her whole palate was left open and unrepaired, making it difficult for her to speak and even challenging to eat. This was an unexpected medical challenge, but God had a plan of healing for Len.

As soon as the Chesney's returned home, they began to pursue ways to get Len the surgery she desperately needed to repair her palate. They stumbled upon news that an organization called Operation Smile, which specializes in reconstructive surgery, was going to be in her area of Vietnam that May. After speaking with the organization, they were told to get Len there but that many other people would be waiting for the same surgery. Operation Smile made no promises that she would be chosen for surgery. Len and her mother arrived to the sight of thousands of parents and children gathered, all in hopes of being chosen. Many of them had cleft lips and palates that appeared much worse than Len's. On that occasion, the medical team only planned to perform a few hundred surgeries, and many children would go home without treatment. Miraculously, after waiting and praying to be selected out of the huge crowd, Len was chosen to receive the gift of this life-changing repair surgery.

Len healed well from the surgery, but her cleft condition had left its scars, evident in her missing front teeth and her poorly developed speech. Efforts were made to try to find a speech therapist for her, but none could be found in Vietnam. Len's HOL mom and sisters took it upon themselves to try to help her improve her speech and did the best they could. Len cared deeply for her HOL sisters and parents. She was a great help to her mom at home, quietly helping without being asked. Despite her shyness, her heart was to serve and help others, especially those she cared about. 

When her permanent adult teeth finished coming in, it was clear she was still missing more than just her front teeth due to the cleft palate. She was ashamed of her smile and her missing teeth and did her best to hide herself from others. However, she loved to participate in worship dance at church. It was the one place she could express herself without needing to show her teeth or speak. 

Upon graduation from high school, Len was old enough to be considered for extensive dental reconstruction, involving multiple crowns to replace her missing and malformed teeth. After hearing her story, a local dentist in her city graciously donated this service to restore her teeth. Len was given the gift of a beautiful smile. Along with a new smile, God started to transform Len from an insecure, shy, young girl into a strong and gentle servant-leader in her home and community.

She graduated from high school with excellent grades and had set her sights on becoming a preschool teacher. Even with high grades and a lifelong desire to teach, her speech impediment continued to obstruct her path. She had worked hard and God had given her so much healing, but she still could not prove herself to the admissions board. She was rejected from the education program because of her speech impairment. This was heartbreaking to Len and felt like a setback in the journey toward her dream. 

After praying over how to move past this disappointment, Len chose to still attend college and study pharmacy. While at school, she often served her fellow students in the dorm by cooking for them. She loves to cook and learned this skill from her HOL mom. This summer, Len completed her undergraduation degree in pharmacy, but her true desire is still to be a teacher. She plans to work in a pharmacy to earn money and continue pursuing a degree in education by going to night school. Now that she has proven herself by earning a college degree, she can be admitted into the education program at the university. 

After years of being held back by her cleft palate and its physical and emotional effects, Len is now shining as a natural leader. She leads the Christian University Medical Students Fellowship and the youth dance ministry at her church. She wants to stay in her city to be near her Homes of Love family as she continuues to pursue her dream of becoming a preschool teacher. 

Along Len's journey, God has worked miracles, often doing the impossible. For Len, it began when she arrived at her new home on the day Gary happened to notice her cleft condition, and when God answered prayers that Operation Smile would make the unlikely choice to repair Len's open palate. God continues to work miracles today as Len finally pursues her dream of becoming a teacher.

Your partnership with Homes of Love helps make stories like this possible for our children. Your prayers on behalf of Len and other children do make a difference! And when you give, you are helping us welcome children into families and walk alongside them on their unique journeys.