Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas story that changed history...

"In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

 Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, 
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.  Luke 2:1-21

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. 

Matthew 2:9-11

Characters and props for the Christmas story provided by the Operating Room onboard the m/v Africa Mercy.

"She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:21

Monday, December 19, 2011


I was lost in Powell's, the largest book store in Portland, but I finally found the book I was looking for to read on my flight to South Africa. I am not sure who suggested, Half the Sky, by Kristof & WuDunn, but it will be my recommendation for all of you to read. I read about women's oppression as I flew halfway across the world and then sailed to the country mentioned the most in the book, Sierra Leone. The statistics just floored me as I read about child slavery, maternal mortality, and my passion- women suffering from vesico-vaginal fistulas. I read it again on my 36 hour flight home to Texas again just to remind myself why I am moving missions, living on land, and working with local nurses and doctors to help heal their country. 
"The most common measure is the maternal mortality ratio (MMR). This refers to the number of maternal deaths for every 100,000 lives births... In Ireland, the safest place in the world to give birth, the MMR is 1 per 100,000 live births. In the United States, the MMR is 11. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is 900, and Sierra Leone has the highest MMR in the world, at 2,100." The MMR is a statistic to express the risk during a single pregnancy. In simple numbers, but high for sub-saharan Africa, a woman's lifetime risk of dying in childbirth is 1 in 22. In America, the risk is 1 in 4,800." Behind these numbers there are names, faces, and their stories- here are a few that captured my heart in the first days at Aberdeen Women's Centre. 
I was in temporary housing for a few days and then moved to my apartment above the maternity side of the hospital. As I walked to and fro with boxes, I saw two ladies with swollen bellies resting under the shade of a tree. These two, Hawa & Alimamy, are pregnant and waiting to deliver any moment by c-section. You can see their excitement in their eyes because a few years back they were the ones on the VVF ward. Maternity nursing is a new thing for me, but I am excited to be a part of it here at AWC. 

Fatmata and Alimata did not know each other, but something in common brought them together. They are both teenagers, married, and have lost a baby being in labor for days. They smelled like urine and were shunned by people in their town. These girls are always together walking around the hospital and their beds are right next to each other in the ward. Fatmata had her surgery last week and Alimata was in the operating room when I left on Monday. They will be recovering for a few weeks, but you can tell the healing has already started. Their smiles are contagious. My days at AWC were busy with orientation and getting small jobs done, but the ladies always wanted me to come sit with them. When I return, if Fatmata and Alimata are still at AWC, I imagine they will finally get to braid my hair. 

Bintu is the youngest patient (2nd from the right) and Mama (below) is probably one of the oldest on the ward. They both are precious to me as I sit with them making cards. Bintu takes her time to get from the ward to the courtyard for crafts and chop (meal) time. She is 14 and can barely walk. When she was struggling to give birth, people in her village, placed weights and heavy stones, to force the baby out. Bintu will have a long road of physical therapy and eventually surgery to repair her fistula. This is Mama- forgive me, I don't remember her name, but thankfully, "Mama" is universal in Africa. She wanted to see herself so she asked me to take a picture of the "old lady" referring to herself. I pray she will heal completely and have a gladi gladi ceremony soon- complete with a new dress before she goes home. 

On my first working day, a woman came in with an abruption- the blood supply to the baby had separated prematurely. An emergency c-section was performed, it was too late for the baby, but we were worried we might lose her. Just three days prior, Mercy Ships crew had donated 60+ units of blood, and we were able to use four bags just for this woman to save her life. Donors are rare and blood is in critical shortage in the country so this was a huge answer to prayer for the hospitals in Sierra Leone. This woman could have been another statistic, another number in a woman losing her life giving birth. It is comparable to five jumbo jets' worth of women die in labor each day. For every woman that dies in Africa, at least 10 other women suffer from childbirth injury such as fistulas. These statistics drive me and others to help women in Sierra Leone as we hope the numbers change- one mother and baby at a time.

Half the Sky, by Nicholas Kristof & Sheryl WuDunn, Vintage Books, 2009

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Africa Mercy

This time for the sail, I was on the dock to wave off the M/V Africa Mercy. The ship I have called home and the crew that have become my family, will forever be in my heart. My love and prayers I send with you as you sail to Ghana and on to Togo for the next outreach.

Lord, guide this vessel of mercy to those people in need of hope and healing. May it be filled with your love as the crew serve those in West Africa with what you have given us so freely. Thank you for the joy, the opportunity to work on the ship and I give you the glory of what has been accomplished. May the nations praise your name. Amen.

My new Aberdeen family came to support me as we waved off the ship. Ready for the new adventure!

The gangway going up as the engines start and the mooring lines are pulled in.

My friend, Sandra, works at the pediatric government hospital and has been living in Sierra Leone. Thankful someone can show me the ropes of living on land.

"He has shown all you people what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."
Micah 6:8

Friday, December 9, 2011

Two-weeks notice

The date was quickly approaching for the M/V Africa Mercy to leave Sierra Leone. I wanted time to stand still, but I found my two-weeks notice coming quickly. The 10-month outreach was finished for the crew. I made it back for fourteen days to pick up life where I left in September. I found joy in those last days in everything I did- even stripping, waxing, and mopping the floors in the operating room. I spent time entering hospital data on the computer- knowing that I had missed surgeries this year, broke my heart. However, hearing stories and seeing pictures of patients encouraged me that God still did amazing work here when He had me somewhere else. I reunited with dear friends and even met some new people- that knew my story because they had been praying for me while I was away. I am in awe of the body of Christ when it comes together to support those in need even across the world.

My ship family, I cherished even more those last days. My schedule was packed, but I loved every minute of it. Pool party with the youth, working Starbucks, baking in the crew galley, and honoring a tradition with friends- taking a day to walk the country we had lived in for the year. As the "at sea" drills began, anticipation of the sail mounted. Sharing stories over meals of pasts sails relieved my sadness on missing this one to Ghana. I gave away all my pirate gear (and a lot of magnets) to friends before I departed. There were parties, coffee dates, and movie nights full of laughter. My friends said they missed my laughter, but more than anything I missed laughing with them.

When you put your notice in that you're leaving the ship, everyone will know. It feels like a member of your family is leaving home. My name went on the departure list in front of the purser's office and I received a check-off list on my door. The inevitable question when you walk around on your last days- "Will you be back?". For now, I am moving on to another mission, a new adventure on land. I said my goodbyes over and over again. They did not seem real. I turned in my cabin key, signed off articles, and was given my passport. As my friends waved me off on the dock, I had complete peace I was following what God has next for me. I am not sure the final answer to that question, but in my heart I hope these were not my last two weeks I had onboard the M/V Africa Mercy.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Mercy Shippers

Mercy Shippers are an unique breed. Our time on the ship shapes who we are by the end. We change in so many ways. When we leave the ship, its hard to explain life to people that have never experienced it. Don't get me wrong, I imagine we can talk anyone's ear off about our experiences. However,  we make it a point to reunite with other Mercy Shippers because we connect in different way than any other friendships. We live life 24 hours, 7 days a week together. We share memories and pick up habits that are unique to those have been on the Africa Mercy. I came up with the list below when I was home stateside hanging out with some of my friends from Mercy Ships. Hope this bring a laugh to those Mercy Shippers that know what I'm talking about! Thanks for the memories everyone! 

  • Playing the word "Milch" in scrabble and shuddering thinking about the taste of shelf-life milk. 
  • Magnets replace nails in hanging wall decoration.
  • Common meal conversations include your GI tract or what noises your toilet is making. 
  • We leave messages on sticky tack instead of voicemail.
  • Looking for hand sanitizer as you walk into a dining room. Did you also know there was a "hand sanitizer" dance move created by the AFM youth?
  • When meeting new people you ask- their name, where they are from, what they do and how long are they here for?
  • You use starboard and port when giving directions, even if you're on land. 
  • Its too quiet if there no "humming" generator background sound. When the air-conditioner shuts off, you know a blackout will soon follow. 
  • You are hungry at 5pm for dinner. 
  • In a house- there are cabins and decks not bedrooms or floors. 
  • You're the only one dancing or clapping your hands at church. 
  • People think you have an European accent because you use holiday, rubbish, cupboard, and lovely in conversation. 
  • There is more than one name for a surgical instrument. You learn them all. 
  • Starbucks is out of your price range and Walmart is a bit overwhelming. 
  • Your work commute is long if its involves more than one staircase.
  • Flip flops all-year long footwear. 
  • You learn different eating habits: using silverware for finger foods (or vice versa), teaching what peanut butter is good on like apples, and grilled cheese sandwiches are always an option for a meal. Cinnamon toast and tea are often dessert. 
  • A torch could be a stick with fire, or just a flashlight.  
  • When you watch TV, you usually watch more than one episode at a time. 
  • Sayings like "happy as a clam" may not translate well. 
  • You have a lot of four digit phone numbers memorized. 
  • You're friends are also your dental hygienist, physical therapist, and electrician- and possibly your neighbor. 
  • You are aware that there are more holidays to celebrate than you can imagine. 
  • Pirate gear is a must, even if you really don't live on a pirate ship, but a hospital one. 
  • Two minutes is more than enough for a shower. 
  • Everyone is on the same pay grade. 
  • You feel weird without a badge on. 
  • It takes you longer to get to the kitchen and laundry room than your workplace.
  • You can bet on hearing worship, prayer, music, and have amazing conversations at any time of the day. 
  • Most of all, you get to know hundreds of amazing people. Its more than a job here, we're family. 

Friday, December 2, 2011


As I got off the plane in Sierra Leone, I finally felt the humid heat I had missed for so long. There was a gentle breeze coming off the ocean. It felt good to be back. I had traveled 30+ hours in the same clothes including sandals- I got crazy looks from fellow Thanksgiving travelers in D.C. and Brussels. It was the first time in Africa for a passenger I met on the plane, I told him "welcome to chaos" as we enter the airport custom area. No lines, just a huge mob of people trying to get places. I waited patiently until I finally could show my passport and all it took was to say "Merse sheep" and I smiled as they waived me through to the only luggage carousel in Lungi airport. I was greeted by one of the security men and the only response I had to "How d'body?" was "Tell Papa God tenki!" He helped me load my heavy bags since my arm was still in a splint. It felt good to see a familiar face in the crowds outside the airport. Bridget and her husband, Pastor Mark, have been helping crew come and go throughout the year. I also know Bridget because she was one of my last patients the week I left in September. It was so good to see her smile and know she is better since her surgery. I took a taxi, a ferry, and a landrover- that was about 3 hours of waiting to get home to the ship. With all that time to hurry up and wait, I had time to reflect at my time stateside. As we slowly crept through the streets in Freetown- it started become familiar to me again. People, young and old, were still out late at night... men with baby strollers pushing coolers of drinks around, women sitting next to their lanterns selling the catch of the day, children carrying baskets of plantains and water on top of their heads. The streets like Sani Abacha and Kissy Road were packed with taxis and poda podas carrying people to and fro. I was getting anxious to get to the ship when we were on Fourah Bay when a poda poda came very close to hitting us. I am still a little squeamish when it comes to near miss car accidents since mine, but this time I couldn't close my eyes. It is common to see phrases painted on the front pertaining to God on these buses and this one I saw clearly.. "God's Timing is the BEST." Simply put, but the most important lesson I needed to learn that night and for the past year. Despite illness, the setbacks, canceled flights, missed days on the ship, discouragement, and I can go on... I saw God's hand at work through it all. Really in all that and God was working? Yes, He was. God's plan was for me to be stateside for 76 days. I might not know the BIG picture yet, but He does, and I can rest that His timing is the best. 


The views expressed here are solely mine and are not the opinion of AWC/Mercy Ships.