Friday, December 6, 2013

Proverbs 31:8-9

The month of November I spent time reading a chapter of Proverbs each day. It was pretty easy to keep track of- chapter 1 on the first of the month, second on the second, conveniently you read chapter 15 (my favorite) on the 15th day and so on. So on Sunday, December 1st, it was time for me to finish the book of wisdom by reading the well known chapter 31." I actually never made it to the end as I read 31:8-9:

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
    for the rights of all who are destitute.
Speak up and judge fairly;
    defend the rights of the poor and needy."

I didn't remember this part of Chapter 31. How many times have I read Proverbs since Mr. William's 6th grade Sunday school class? How many times, are women directed to Proverbs 31 to read about noble character and we miss this? I just had to pause that night and read this over again as it became my prayer. My heart was broken for the destitute. How could I speak up for them when I am in one of the wealthiest country? I thought of our cleft lip babies that needed us to be their advocate in a country where they were seen as cursed. My fistula ladies came to my mind as they were judged because they suffered through traumatic childbirth. How I missed taking care of those that were in need of the basics- not only healthcare, but just to be loved. I missed Africa and Guatemala... and wrote that in my journal as I longed to be anywhere else, but here. I needed purpose and direction in this world. I was homesick for what I loved to do. So I went to bed that night with the prayer that God would show me how I can "speak up" for those in my path in the coming days. 
Early Monday morning I was at work at 5:30am for a long day of bariatric surgery. My heart was still heavy with my prayer from the night before as I tried my best to take care of my patients and yes, even the surgeons. On my lunch break, I saw a missed call from my friend, Susan, who I often to go with on Refuge International medical mission trips. She had also texted me "Can you go to Guatemala?" I was on the verge of tears of frustration, but they turned into tears of "faithfulness"- as God had answered my prayer. A couple phone calls later, a check of my planner, and with my agency's blessing to have the week off- I bought my plane ticket for Guatemala! Hopefully, I'll fly out tomorrow morning despite the ice covering DFW and below freezing temperatures. I can't wait to the sun of Guatemala! Thank you in advance for your prayers for the team as we serve those in the coastal region of Sarstun, Guatemala that are poor and needy. I just wonder, if we all made this Proverb our prayer, how we could change the world of the destitute? 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Three Boxes

My missionary training had began in the Fall of 2008 and I just met him, but he asked me a profound question. John Rae, an international director of Mercy Ships, asked me “What do you think you need for Africa?” My new friend from South Africa followed with words of wisdom I will never forget. It was not a water filter system or a mosquito net that was essential. It was flexibility, patience, and most of all courage that I needed to pack for my journey over the ocean. After taking the required personality test, I knew I needed to work on letting go of some of my Type A traits. I understood learning to be flexible and patient in a place that was still years behind the western world. Leaving for a year to work in Benin, West Africa would be great practice. However, I thought I had already checked “courage” off my list. Quitting my job as an operating room nurse, saying goodbye to my family and friends, and moving to a country I never knew existed until I looked at a map- all fell under the bravery category. Why did he stress the need for courage more than malaria prophylaxis or sunscreen? Nonetheless, I turned the three: flexibility, patience, and courage into prayer requests. 
Just weeks away from leaving for Benin, I moved to my parent’s house still pondering courage. Leaving the country was going to be easy. A friend of mine said she would store my craft supplies and beloved red corduroy couch until I returned. My sisters took what they liked back to their corners of Texas. Finally, a benefit garage sale received the eclectic leftovers minus a few cherished items left in three boxes to store in my parent’s garage. I said farewell over several Tex-mex meals, tears shedding more for parting with salsa than loved ones. Everyone praised me for the brave act of going overseas, leaving the comfortable life behind. I knew this was my purpose in life as a nurse. God had called me to be a missionary nurse. To go and help those in need of healing that is not regulated by insurance companies or any other motives, but done so out of love. I realized now to show this kind of love, you have to be brave enough to love every day despite the brokenness of this world.
Not a day goes by that Africa doesn’t cross my mind and the lessons I learned on the other side of the pond. Not only that patience and flexibility will help you in your frustrations, but to laugh at those “TIA” moments. When situations do not go your way and it takes twice as long, I was told “This is Africa”. I learned you cannot change Africa, but it could change you. Africa transforms your heart to love. Africa shatters your heart into a million pieces, but puts it back together in a way that makes you love even when it hurts. That is when you need courage to keeping doing it no matter how much the burden weighs you down. These lessons were not taught by scholars, but by my patients. Mawulolo, Afi, and my VVF ladies- just to name a few- showed me what love can do to this the world. That courageous love carried me not only that first year, but also a few more beyond my original plan of working in Africa.
Fast-forward five years and four countries later, I am stateside to start new adventures: graduate school and a new job. I’ve been in Texas for nearly five months and I realize I need courage even more so now. The motivation to get up every morning and go to work in American hospitals. Its not that I’m lazy and I don’t want to work, it’s just harder when you have been somewhere else. It’s difficult when you feel like you don’t fit in to the equation. I need courage to not only take care of my patients, but to stand up to a system that tells me its not about the patient anymore. Again, to love despite the brokenness. (I’ll end the healthcare system rant there). Also, I wait patiently to hear if I have been accepted into a Nurse Practitioner program. Then courage to face the years I’m in school until I can one day return to the mission field. I pray that I have strength each day to carry on and trust that God has a plan for me here.
So you remember those three boxes I packed away in my parent’s garage? When I moved a month ago into an apartment, I was hoping to find the same courage I had five years ago. It wasn’t in those boxes or the ones we later found in the attic collecting dust. Recently, a friend of mine encouraged me "to stay close to the One who understands and directs your steps" (Thank you Kiwi Liz). For now courage has come in the form of waiting on the Lord daily as I trust that I will see the goodness in his plans for bringing me home from Africa. 

"I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord. In the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord." Psalm 27:13-14 (NASB)

Friday, October 25, 2013


This morning no alarm went off at 5:30 to get me going for the day. I woke up all by myself at 6am. All by myself, at 6am. Not sure how many more ways I could write it as I'm still trying to comprehend it. Its a little scary that I may be becoming a morning person. For three weeks now, I've been working as an agency nurse at a hospital in Grand Prairie. Some days I have to be there as early as 5:30- I did not know that time existed until now. I am thankful for the job, but even more thankful for a day off today. I needed it after the emotional ups and downs of life as discontentment had set in this week. So today I planned on catching up on my sleep because still being a night-owl at 11pm does not gel with the alarm going off at zero dark thirty. Nonetheless, my body alarm woke me up. I laid in my bed (thank you Jeff & Kara for my new bed) hoping to fall back asleep, but not much slumber came. I moseyed out to the kitchen and was getting ready to turn on the coffee pot, when I realized I didn't need the caffeine fix or have to rush to work this morning. I could enjoy a cup of tea instead. I dusted off my beloved cobalt blue teapot remembering how much my grandmother loved it. That was one of the many things I inherited when she passed away so I packed it with care five years ago before I left for Africa. So as I took the lid off to fill with water, I noticed two pieces of paper crumpled up in it. Setting them aside, I filled the pot and placed it on the stovetop. As I waited for the steam to produce the whistle I read the pieces of paper:

"I am strong for all things in the One who constantly infuses strength in me." 
Philippians 4:13, translation by Kenneth Wuest, Greek Scholar. 

"At all times, in all circumstances, Christ is able and willing to provide strength we need to be content. Contentment occurs when Christ's strength is infused into my weak body, soul, and spirit. To infuse means to pour, fill, soak, extract. Every morning when I dip my herbal tea bag into boiling water, I witness infusion. How does God enable us us to be content? He infuses contentment into us through His Word. As it seeps into our minds, it transforms us. Just as a cup of tea gets stronger when we give it time to steep, so we become more content when we spend time in God's Word and allow it to seep into our lives transforming us to be like Him" - Calm My Anxious Heart, Linda Dillow

These were excerpts out of one of my favorite books, Calm My Anxious Heart. I have lost track of how many times I have flipped through the pages of this book when my heart was searching for contentment. Whether it was when I was transferring colleges, dealing with relationships, or waiting to be done with work so I could travel to Africa- it brought me back to where I needed to be- in God's Word. I had shared this devotion with a friend of mine last week, but I think God wanted me to meditate on it some more. Five years ago, I placed it in the teapot (although I don't remember) predicting the need for the encouragement as I start a new life stateside. So instead of sleeping in this morning, I drank my tea and allowed God's Word to infuse strength in me for the days ahead as I find contentment in this life.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Wordless Weekend: Guatemala

Putting God first in everything that we do at the San Raymundo Clinic. 

Remember Abuelo Teodoro? (look back @ my last blog)

Always an exciting day when a baby is born! Welcome Baby Jereme! 

How many people does it take to put on a cast? 
Sweet Nina.

Beautiful Antigua. One of my favorite places on earth. 
Beautiful textiles of Chichicastengo. 
Sarstun Clinic, on the NE coast, border of Guatemala & Belize.. aka Jungle.  

Caught taking a picture of Deb Bell (founder of Refuge Int'l) on the boat trip to Sarstun. 

Sarstun OR: Julie rocked being a OR nurse for the week! 

Patrona helping me translate Spanish into another dialect during a spinal.
Three meals a day of black beans, eggs, fruit, and tortillas. 
Left Sarstun in the middle of a rain storm, but survived the week in the jungle! 
Disclaimer: I realized it really couldn't be wordless or you might not know what you're looking at so I added captions! What a joy it was to work with so many people from all different backgrounds as we came together for a common purpose. I am grateful for another opportunity to go and help those in need of healing they could not receive elsewhere. Thank you all for your prayers and support as I went literally to "ends of the earth" in Guatemala!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Blessing from God

As I sat down in the recovery room for the first time (at least it felt like it) to rest my tired feet,  Teodoro, one of the patients was getting up from the stretcher. One of the nurses, Tessa, was helping him make a lap around the recovery room following his gallbladder surgery earlier that day. I had met him in the pre-op room and as his nurse escorted him into the chilly operating room for his surgery. Teodoro was a frail older man, in his 70s, that suffered with gallstones for a long time and most likely other health conditions that come with age. He was short, with a rounded back, and a head and mustache of gray hair- your typical Guatemalan abuelo (grandpa). We all fell in love with Teodoro because of his smile that never left his face despite communication barriers (our Spanglish versus his Guatemalan dialect Spanish). Teodoro went home the day after surgery, most likely a rough ride on the road through San Raymundo, still with a smile on his face. A few days passed and news traveled quickly, that Abuelo Teodoro was back at the clinic, very ill. Thankfully, we had amazing doctors and nurses that worked together to take care of Teodoro. As we packed up the clinic on Friday, he was transferred to a local hospital for more observation. The group of volunteers spent the weekend in Antigua and we all talked about Teodoro wondering how he was doing. So when I arrived back in San Raymundo on Monday morning, my priority was to find out how our beloved patient was doing. With a few phone calls, Edy, our translator, told us Teodoro recovered fully from his surgery and went home on Sunday. I think back to the day in recovery as Teodoro was resting on the side of his bed, he smiled and scanned the room with his hand and told us with the help of a translator that we were all "blessings from God".

Today, three of us were working on inventory at the clinic and I thought of all the amazing people that I had the pleasure to work with last week. Nurse practitioners students & teachers from Case Western, pre-med students from Oklahoma and Florida, and quite possibly a quarter of the population from Dalhart, Texas. Medical volunteers brought their friends and family members to share in the missionary experience. Thankful for those that cleaned instruments and made sure our patients had their lab work done. There were surgeons fixing clubfeet and hernias, volunteers passing out toys to children, others painting or counting pills- each person was a blessing from God.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Its almost midnight and I have a 6am flight out so no deep thought blog will happen tonight. However, one of most devoted blog "fans" out there encouraged me to keep writing- so Patti this is for you. I wish I could do more than just write a blog for Brian and Patti Grams. They played a huge part in who I am today. Brian was my youth pastor back in the days of Mid-Cities Bible Church and Patti was one of my spiritual mentors through the teenage years and on to college. They both taught me what it meant to be first a servant and then using that to build God's kingdom. I was bitten by the "mission bug" at 15-years old on my first mission trip to Juarez, Mexico. Tonight as we gathered with friends, we wondered if those houses that we built in three days were still standing. I was always amazed that a group of teenagers could mix by HAND a cement foundation sturdy enough for a house, but we did each time. The other foundation that was formed down in the desert of Mexico, was a faith foundation for many of us. My foundation of missions was formed as we not only built the house for a family in need, we did Vacation Bible school with the neighborhood children. We shared with them how Jesus loved them and that He died on the cross for their sins. That's the foundation I have never forgotten each mission field I visited from Mexico, to West Africa, and now on to Guatemala. Jesus is the most sturdy foundation any of us can ever have in this world.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


Not a day goes by without Africa coming to mind. Social network is partly to blame (or thank), depending on what that picture or comment about Africa stirs up in me. Most of the time, its homesickness for the beautiful continent. Its also endless joy when I am reminded about the people I have met and the places I have visited on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. As the M/V Africa Mercy sails to the next outreach, Mercy Shippers world-wide are sharing their thoughts of each country visited by the ship. Over past the four and half years (should I round up or down to make easier?) I have had the amazing opportunity to travel the shoreline of West Africa visiting Benin, Togo, Sierra Leone and Guinea. Each place I saw God work in tremendous ways through what we did on the ship and eventually I would share them on this blog. Thank you for all who read so faithfully and encouraged me to continue to write even if sometimes I had no words. I definitely have favorite entries that I wrote in minutes compared to those drafts that painstakingly lasted through the night. There are days that I am homesick for Africa and I cherish those memories quietly in my heart. Other times, I can talk your ear off about my wild adventures. Just because I love sharing how God changed not only my life, but countless others.
So tonight I was supposed to be either A) Studying for the GRE (errr, grad school) or B) Packing for my Guatemala trip that I leave for on Saturday (more on that later). Instead, the procrastinator in me read through past entries to share a few with you. It will do my heart good to remember...

Mawulolo... broke my heart, but God is great.
Oh I can't ever forget about Afi and seeing her again.
One from my VVF ladies in their own words.
Remember when God did the impossible in Georgette's life?
And just one more. At the end of the outreach we had countless pink sheets of those people we couldn't help and we asked for prayer for them. Little did we know that the ship would return two years later to Togo where those prayers were answered.

I had planned on doing every outreach, but I think Togo will be sufficient reading for tonight. Looking into the past and seeing how God moved reminds me that He's still working in the present wherever I may be thinking of Africa.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


As the sun sets on this chapter of my life with Mercy Ships, I look forward to what God has next for me as I go stateside. One thing I know for sure that the God that has been faithful so far will continue to do so. Not to worry, there will be more blogs to come, but for now I am taking the time to rest and reflect on the past 4.5 years in West Africa. 

Thank you Lord for this magnificent display of your creation. Surely as the sun sets, you are faithful in your promises to be with us when it rises the next day. 

"Let the name of the Lord be praised both now and forevermore. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. 
Psalm 113:2-4

Sunday, June 2, 2013

You Said

I often say songs speak to my heart more than anything else in this world. For some people its nature, some its reading or listening to a speaker. The list could go on forever, but for me its the powerful lyrics combined with a beautiful melody. Which is kind of ironic since I'm not musically talented whatsoever and if you sit me down to read chords, my eyes go cross (true story this week). One of my friends likes to tell me I make a joyful noise, not music, when I sing.
I believe we worship and connect with God in unique ways. That is why some of us can sit through a hour-long sermon, or do intense Bible study homework, or just meditation- and somethings speaks to our heart. Most of us know the love languages, but music I like to say is my heart language. I could read a passage like Psalm 121, but not until I can sing it with a guitar strumming do I know deep down that I can look to the Lord for help. Hymns are one of my favorite music genres. Before everyone could read and modern technology helped with mass production, hymns were sung to teach theology to the church. I love how hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "In Christ Alone" not only teaches us the gospel, but we can proclaim the truth when we sing from our hearts. 
So tonight, I'm going to share you one of my favorite worship songs, "You Said" written by Reuben Morgan. I first heard this song in youth group, most likely getting ready to leave for my first Mexico mission trip and it has been my prayer ever since. Fast forward 14 years and I find myself singing this song at a worship night in my last days in Guinea. I barely could get the words out the first time through as I was overwhelmed with God's faithfulness. I really did ask for the nations, I prayed for Him to send me to the ends of the earth. I have seen His healing and the light break through darkness here in West Africa. 

This song andy prayer will always be on repeat in my heart. 

"You said, ask and you will receive
Whatever you need
You said, Pray and I'll hear from heaven
And I'll heal your landYou said Your glory will fill the earth
Oh, Like water the seas
You said, Lift up your eyes
The harvest is here, the kingdom is near
You said, Ask and I'll give the nations to you
O Lord, that's the cry of my heart
Distant shores and the islands will see 
Your light, as it rises on us..."

Sunday, May 19, 2013


This morning I attended not your typical church service. There were no pews at this church. Every bed occupied by a patient, crew members on stools between the beds, and chairs crammed across the ward to fit the remaining patients left on the wards. We squeezed as many as we could since today was the last ward church in Guinea. Just a few days ago, I carried Kadiatou, as tears streamed down her face into theatre. Today she found a comfortable spot on my friend's lap and played with us until the service started. 
The dress is always Sunday best for crew, but the patients usually wear hospital gowns. I noticed Marietou, a long-term patient, in a dress and head wrap. She greeted me with a hug and with her new smile. When she was young, her face from her nose to upper lip was destroyed by Noma. After several surgeries, Dr. Gary created her a new face with extra skin and muscle from multiple areas and even a piece of rib to make a nose. It has been amazing to see the transformation the past four months in not only Marietou’s face, but also her personality shining after being shunned for most of her life. Today’s service was special because patients were asked to give their testimonies. So Marietou’s cousin, Jeneba, spoke on her behalf to thank the crew and everyone for changing her life. For taking care of her when no one else could do anything for Marietou. Next Morali, shared his story that started in Sierra Leone during the civil war. The rebels destroyed his face with glass bottles and placed a padlock in his nose that he carried around for years. Eventually, it was removed, but it had damaged his face so much that he could not breathe without pain. Just this past week, Morali had his final surgery to place temporary tubes in his nose in hopes of breathing again. The third patient, Thierno, shared that he traveled all over West Africa to find medical help. Theirno was a famous soccer player, so he had the funds to travel and find a dentist to remove teeth that were bothering him. However, the pain and “button” in his mouth started to grow and took over his mouth that he could not even eat. He would try to drink water and most of it would come back out. At screening, he was so frail at 40 kilos (88 lbs) with a tumor that started in his mouth was then threatening his sight as it pushed up on his eye. Thierno stayed on the ward until he was strong enough to have surgery to remove the first tumor and another one just a few months ago. This past week, I brought Theirno into surgery one last time so Dr. Gary could revise his scar and extra skin that once was covering a tumor.
Clemetine, our ward chaplain, had asked these three patients to share, but as she tried to end the service, more patients asked to say something. In between a few praise songs, patient after patient stood up and shared their experience on the ship. That God had brought them here and they are healed. A proud papa stood up and held up his son, Lamin. We all know Lamin because he rides he tricycle up and down the hospital corridors. He does pretty well not running over toes even though we had to remove a tumor in his eye. He’s the happiest of little boys on the ward and responds to every “Amen” said aloud at church. Another papa came to the front and shared with us about his baby son, Junior. My friend Sandra brought Junior and his father to the ship last week from Sierra Leone. I met them on the dock as they arrived and cuddled Junior everyday on the ward. He’s only six months old and has a cleft lip and palate. His grandmother told the father he was a curse because he was causing his mother to be sick and should be sacrificed. Sandra was able to find an orphanage for him to stay until he had his surgery. Last Tuesday, Sandra prayed over Junior at the bench and I brought him in to the OR for Dr. Gary to repair his lip. Today, Ibrahim, Junior’s father, stood in front of us, and said with confidence, “My son is not the devil, not a demon, but a human being.” Patient after patient shared their story of being accepted for the first time, feeling loved and cared for, and even being fed, but most of all they received healing. 
As I was trying to listen to all the testimonies and commit them to memory, I noticed the patient in the bed next to me. Hasanatou is the feisty granny on the ward that all of us know well. Hasanatou’s family placed in her a taxi, but it took her several weeks to make the day-long journey. With the help of a stranger, she made it to the ship to have her surgery in January. We are praying to find her family to escort her home. She motioned to the nurse during the service that she was in pain. So instead of a collection plate being passed at this church service, a little medicine cup with a pill was passed to Hasanatou. The last testimony came from a brother of a patient, Ibrahima. Ibrahima was our last patient to have surgery here in Guinea. Friday night I was on-call so I came back to the OR to take care of Ibrahima. My friend gave me a report and told me it was a miracle that he survived his first surgery to remove the jaw tumor. This was his third surgery and we pray his last as he recovers on the ward. His brother told us many times the family took Ibrahima to the mosque to pray for his life to end, for the misery to end. His mother eventually sent Ibrahima with his brother to find help on the ship. Ibrahima’s brother thanked us for giving him life again. As the ward church finished with one more song, I looked around with a grateful heart at the bandages covering our patients’ wounds and prayed that one day this will be true for each one of them…
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Wordless Weekend!

Remember Moussa?

Youth Worship in the wards. 
Remember Michelle & Mariama

Carys & Kadiatu 

Game time! 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


TIA: This is Africa. We sometimes use the term when something doesn't go as planned. We use it more in a jokingly matter, when things could only happen in Africa and no where else in the world. TIA. 

So last Sunday was a TIA kind of day. Moise, our day worker, took us on an outing in Conakry. My friend, Melissa, and I waited an extra 15 minutes for Moise to show up the gate to take us to his church. TIA. When we thought he was not going to show, we decided to take a stroll down the street to find a church. As we walked by the round-about, Moise jumped out of a taxi, in his traditional dress, ready for the day. We ended up at a local church called "Amor de Dieu" meaning Love of God. We danced in the front and sang a few songs we knew in French. The sermon was preached in the loudest decibel possible. TIA. I take these moments (when I'm distracted) to pray for the Church. Pray for it be strengthened. The building we were in was just half full and knowing Guinea is majority Muslim, the need to pray for believers. Prayed for our patients who have come to know Christ, that they will have a place to worship without persecution. Prayed for each of the little ones that dared to come sit on my lap during the sermon, a welcomed distraction of course. TIA. 

Church ended about 1pm, it started at 9am. We were a hour late to begin with. TIA. We took a taxi for just a few miles down the street when Moise decided it was best for us to get out. The taxi driver would have charged us 25,000 Guinea francs instead of the 1,500 (what we paid) to go around the peninsula that Conakry sits on to get to the coast. So we not only cut through a neighborhood, but also a wedding reception to get to our destination. At the end of the street, there was a local djembe (drum) shop, so Moise and I took a few minutes to try these djembes out. 

Melissa asked Moise to take us to a local restaurant for lunch. So we ended up at Fougou-Fougou-Faga-Faga. We were seated under the shade of the palm trees and a great view of the coastline. The menu was read to us which included only drinks. Moise conversed with the "waiter" to ask for food, but the restaurant was not open on Sundays for lunch. So we gave our waiter some money to buy any food he could find on the street. He returned with a long baguette and six small bananas. TIA. Along with our Fantas, we enjoyed the breeze as we heard the drummers down the street practicing on the djembes.

Moise, Melissa, and I returned to the road that was the short-cut to the main road. Yeah, no road names. TIA. We walked through the neighborhood as kids played and women cooked outside on their porches. As we walked by one home, the lady of the household invited us to have lunch with her family. She had just made mango chutney- it was still on the fire when we took our seats. They made us feel so welcomed and thanked us for the work Mercy Ships was doing for the people of Guinea. TIA. It was a delicious add on to our bread & banana lunch and an end to another amazing experience in Africa.

This is Africa. This is a place I have fallen in love with over the four years and four countries I visited. These are the people I have been called to experience life with and love for this time.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Today is a day to be thankful.

This morning, Andre came to us with a tumor on the top of his mouth. You probably could not tell from the outside that he had been suffering with this for years as it took over his mouth. However, by the look of the CT scan and the time and care it took for our anesthesia team to place a breathing tube- he was struggling to even breath. I assisted Dr. Gary in the surgery and the mass came right out after a little manipulation. It fit right inside the palm of my hand. Most likely it is not a malignant tumor, but it would have been fatal to Andre if he did not come for surgery on the ship. Today, be thankful for each breath.

Last night, I took the ship's youth down to the ward to sing songs and hang out with the patients. We made our way down the hospital corridor visiting patients and finished the night in the max-fax ward. I was able to check up on a few patients like Moussa and Nafi, both are recovering well. Madama, a 51 year-old cleft lip patient, had a mirror in her hand, as she admired her new lip. So one of the youth, Michelle, met Mariama in D ward. Both girls are about the same age, but one thing is different- Mariama cannot attend school because of her cleft lip. Michelle managed to teach her new friend a card game despite a language barrier and Mariama unable to understand the numbers on the cards. Mariama came with her father to the ship from the far north of Guinea and I met them at the bench today for her surgery. Melanie assisted Dr. Gary in repairing Mariama's lip, complete with a star-shaped nasal bolster and steristrip whiskers. Hopefully, one day Mariama will be able to attend school and be the star student. Today, be thankful that you are able to read.

Our last patient, Matwata, came all the way from Liberia for her surgery. I noticed Matwata shyly watching from her corner bed in the ward as we sang songs last night. The translator shared the words of "Trading My Sorrows" with the patients- "I'm trading my sorrow... sickness... shame... pain, for the joy of the Lord." Eventually, a small dance party formed with youth, nurses, and patients- including Matwata. Matwata had part of her lower jaw removed today by Dr. Gary and Maryke. Another common tumor we see here, called ameloblastoma, that aggressively takes over the jaw and mouth. Most patients are malnourished because the tumor makes it nearly impossible to eat. So today, when you sit down for your next meal, be thankful you are able to eat.

To some readers, I may sound a little to direct in this blog, but it is a reminder to me as well to be thankful. It was a long day so I was tired when the call team came and took over Matwata's surgery. I headed to my cabin to take some medicine to combat this cold I've held on to for awhile. Instead of complaining about the petri ship, I was thankful I had medicine near at hand to help me feel better. I proceeded to the dining room for dinner- I was more than thankful for the galley team that prepared Mexican food for dinner for the crew. And thats when it hit me, I was able to eat unlike Matwata. I have had the privilege to attend school and hope Mariama will be able to one day soon. Tonight as I sit here, I think of Andre recovering on the ward, that each breath he takes, he is thankful.

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Bench

If you ever been onboard the Africa Mercy, you know where "the bench" is on deck 3. It may look like an ordinary bench that you find in a park or a train station, but this one is special. At the bottom of the red stairs that lead to the hospital, you will find it strategically placed right in between the wards and the operating room. When we are ready for our patient, we call the ward and have them meet us at the bench. This is where the ward and OR nurses come together to give report. The patient is given into another pair of caring hands to look after them. I believe this is the place where God enters into the picture even more so when we collectively as a team bow our heads with our patient and pray for healing. We acknowledge we can not do this surgery without God leading the surgeon's hands and giving wisdom to the team to take care of the patient. The bench its made out of solid brown oak slats and has a metal plaque on it dedicating it to a beloved crew member we lost last year, Lady Jean. In past outreaches, she used to sit there patiently waiting for cataract patients coming from theatre. As I wait for my patient to arrive from the ward, I take that moment to be still. In the operating room, my mind and body are going a hundred miles per hour as I work, but this is the place to pause and remember why I am here. I am here for Jesus. And second, for my patients.

Sweet Binta recovering after surgery.
At the bench, there are moments with my patients that I will cherish for a lifetime. Just a month ago, I met sweet Binta at the bench. In report that morning, our team learned that Binta's first surgery had to be cut short because she lost several units of blood. Something her body could not handle again despite the abnormal boney tumor taking over her face. As I waited for Binta at the bench, I took a moment to pray silently we could help her more without complication. Binta using her arm crutches walked toward me with a smile overwhelming her face. Since she was holding on to her crutches, she leaned into me for a hug as I wrapped my arms around this precious one. She had no shame nor fear, she had been at this bench before. I completed my nursing duties including the operative checklist and as a team we lifted Binta in prayer. Dr. George was able to do her surgery and remove more of the bone from her forehead in just a few hours and only one unit of blood was needed this time.

This morning we gathered in OR 4 once again- Dr. Gary, Dr. Michael, Maryke, Melanie, and I- to go through the day's schedule of patients. Our first patient, was 5-month old Moussa, who had a cyst on his head to be removed. We called "D" ward to tell them we were ready and I volunteered to pick up the little one at the bench. I went over the chart with Dan, the ward nurse, and talked with Moussa's mother. Then I offered to say a prayer for Moussa as I placed one hand on Mama's shoulder and another on Moussa, who was in Dan's arm. During the prayer, I felt a very wet and slobbery hand on cheek and looked up to see giggly Moussa staring intently at me. I finished up the prayer asking God to be with us in the room as we took care of him. I cuddled this chubby baby as much as I could as we got him hooked up to monitors. We started looking for an IV and that took over a hour to find, but God gave us one at the right time. It was a busy couple hours and a few stressful moments for the team working to take care of Moussa. As we carried him from the operating room to recovery right where the red stairs end, I had to remember to thank God for listening to our prayers just a few hours before at the bench.
I love meeting my patients at the bench, seeing them smile as I try the local dialect with the help of a translator. I cuddled the babies there. I connect with my patients when I look them in the eye and say their name. I hear a small laugh when I introduce myself as "Alimatu." I see hope beginning to form when they realize this is where the healing starts. More than anything, I love that I am able to pray for my patients and God meets us there at the bench every time.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


As I trotted down the blue stairs toward the operating room after my coffee break, I could hear music coming from the ward. The drums were beating and you could hear the patients sing "Higher, when the enemy tries to bring me down in shame, He (the Lord) lifts me higher." I love that the voices were so loud and clear, singing over the echoes of the drums, so all could hear even beyond the hospital on deck 3. 
I think back over the month I have been back onboard the ship and the patients I have taken care of in theatre. Each one of them has a story of shame, but also a story of healing. My first week we wrapped up fistula surgeries and continued with hernia surgeries. I have written a multitude about the fistula ladies in the past year. However, who writes about the man that suffers from a hernia and can't work to provide for their family? Or the patient that has to wear a hat to cover a lipoma (a fatty tumor) on his head? I stopped by A Ward later that week and saw all my patients from the "lump & bump" days and saw how happy they were. They did not feel that shame of looking or feeling different anymore. They felt human again. One papa I greeted and he gave me two thumbs up as I asked him "Como ca va? He then proceeded to point to the smiley face on the pain scale. Just with the removal of a bump on his head, the shame was gone, the weight on his shoulders lifted, and he was happy again. 
I need not to forget that even the smaller scale surgeries we do can make such a big difference in our patients lives. The second week I spent assisting in cataract surgery. Every twenty minutes, a life was changed, giving someone their sight back. It was hard to grasp this as we were moving quickly to keep the patients flowing from bed to bed. I believe our cataract patients are some of the bravest people. They arrive to the ship and a crew member takes their hand to lead them up our very steep gangway and down another set of stairs to the hospital. We collect them one by one as they sit on the bench outside the OR. We walk backwards and lead them into the theatre by holding both their hands until they reach the bed. We do this because majority of our patients our blind due to the dense cataracts. Their expressions are masked by fear of the unknown, but most of them lay still with only local anesthetic until we cover the eye with a patch. We walk them back to the bench the same way with their hands in ours, but this time they know something is different. The day worker translates my French "c'est fini" into a Guinean dialect and usually a toothless grin forms with a grateful "merci" to follow. The shame of being blind is no longer their story, they will hopefully be able to see again.  
Finally, the past two weeks I have been working in Maxio-facial surgery with the patients that are embarrassed because large tumors are taking over their jawbone or Noma that has eaten away their lips and nose. They feel the shame of looking different. Not one of them I would look down to, but people they know most likely have treated them like this. I look past the tumor or deformity and see a person that needs to know they are loved and will be cared for in surgery. As I check them in at the bench, I kneel next to them and hold their hand and look into their eyes as I introduced myself as "Alimatu" their nurse. A hint of a smile can be seen despite the tumor or cleft lip, because they know I see them for the first time and not their shame. 

Monday, February 18, 2013


This post is long overdue. I might as well use the "African timing" excuse to keep me in good standards with all my blog readers. Most of you, I imagine, will extend the grace needed, as it has been hard to find the right words to type. The words to end the Sierra Leone chapter of my life. The tears are inevitable (on my side) as I think upon God's faithfulness over the two years I have been in Sweet Salone. I look as far back to the end of 2011 when I was stateside recovering from gallbladder surgery, a car accident leaving me with a broken arm, and my dad in the hospital- still with Sierra Leone and her people always on my heart. Would I even be able to go back to Africa? Would I ever work again on the ship? Could I still work at AWC with this delay? I usually stay on the positive side of life, but I really did struggle to see the good amidst the troubles. After two months and one to many plane ticket cancelations, I learned lessons that will stay with me all my life. God did bring me back. I had to learn my identity is not Africa or being a missionary, but being His- no matter where I am in life. So fast forward a year (full of blogs about my fistula ladies) and I am finished with my year contract with Aberdeen Women's Centre and I traveled home to Texas for Christmas.  Thankfully, with a round-trip ticket I returned for two weeks in January to say goodbye (again) to my patients, coworkers, and friends. As I look over pictures from these two weeks and remember the encounters I had with people, I see God doing His final work in me in Sierra Leone.

My last weeks of 2012 at AWC were quiet on the clinical side of things due to presidential elections. So I spent more time with Millicent on teaching her computer skills. By mid-December we had completed the Operating Room Policies and Guidelines! Milo and I had battled throughout the year with cultural and nursing differences, but this month we worked side by side as a team. We understood each other for the first time as I let her take ownership of this project. If I had done the book myself, it would have sat on the shelf and collected dust like the others before me. This time I was able to teach Milo so she could teach her nurses what I wanted to do all along. While we worked on the computer she always had trouble finding her reading glasses, so when I returned in January I brought back a glasses case. She was so thrilled for the small gift and she gave me something in return. Milo introduced me to a new nurse, Agnes, as she sat in the recovery room reading the guideline book learning the nursing standards I had come to teach at AWC.

Kumba in November waiting to greet me outside my office. 
The same day, I spent the afternoon with the fistula ladies and Teacher Hagar. I had brought pack beads for jewelry making and the most cherish craft supply- crayons. These ladies could spend hours each day (I could too) coloring anything put in front of them from hygiene lessons to Bible story pictures. So that day I sat with the ladies in the courtyard to do some crafting as they quizzed me on my Temne and Mende words. A lady came and sat down next to me and said "Thank you Allis"- and I realized it was Kumba. Kumba was a precious lady that came to us in September, using forearm crutches, which is not easy to get around in Africa while leaking urine after a traumatic childbirth. Despite seeing many of her friends on the ward come and go, she persevered through physical therapy. Everyday she would exercise by walking from her bed to the bench outside my office.  It was heartbreaking that we had to send Kumba home over election time since she was still not strong enough for surgery. I was worried she might not make the long journey back to Aberdeen for surgery in January, but she did and she celebrated her gladi gladi that next week. Kumba reminds me of other ladies we had to turn away or delay surgery for various reasons. However, for these women, I pray that they don't give up hope like Kumba and find the healing they need at AWC.

Gbassay, Murray, & I (aka Aunty Allis). 
I thank God for these moments of joy as I hug and dance with my ladies one last time. I spent the day with a precious one (for her protection, I will call her"K") at her house, being served cassava leaves, and being shown sewing projects. I have promised to help K in her schooling and her training as a seamstress. My little sister as I like to call her, is growing stronger and taller since the last time we saw each other in November. Another reunion was a total surprise, when Gbassy (pronounced "Bashe") showed up for her follow-up appointment seven months late. We both squealed in excitement seeing each other again and embraced in a hug with her baby Murray in between us. Gbassy had brought coconuts for me as a thank you gift for her surgery in March. I had joyous tears as she told me she was still dry. I tell Papa God tenki for these sweet moments with my ladies and forever cherish them in my heart.

I came to teach the nurses and care for patients and in return I was taught lessons not only as a nurse, but in serving and in love. I hope one day I will return to Sweet Salone. I spent time contemplating the future with friends on Salone's beautiful beaches and dreamed of what would come. For now, I trust that God knows the plans He has for me. "Plans to prosper, not to harm, but to give me a hope and a future" (Jeremiah 29:11) as I find myself over a week in Conakry, Guinea onboard the M/V Africa Mercy for yet another chapter in my life.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wordless Weekend

All these have something in common... Can you guess? This blog post is brought to you by the letter "C". Brings back Sesame Street memories for me.  Coconuts from Gbassy & Murray, crayons & crochet time at AWC, car ride from the beach, close friends (Sandra & Suzanne), and cloth I bought at the Freetown market. Its been a busy two weeks in Sierra Leone and I promise a blog about it all soon! 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When Loves Sees You

Before I left Texas I had the privilege of speaking at my home church, The Mission. Pastor Cory and I had made plans that I would share on my last Sunday home and I was fine with just a few minutes. He called the day before ready to bargain with me. I was like, “Five minutes would be fine”, he said, “twenty”. Did I need to remind him that I bargain for a living in Africa more often than he did? I mentioned ten with a video and than he offered the whole service to me. Finally got him down to 15 minutes and thus started a Saturday night preparing a sermon from scratch. I knew I had my VVF video to show, but what else could I share, how could I challenge a group of believers? Most of them raised me in the nursery and knew my missionary stories. Some were parents of kids I used to babysit and youth group kids I led in Bible studies, all grown up. However as I looked out across the congregation the next morning there were new faces. My home church has kept meeting together despite downsizing to become The Mission for the surrounding areas of Hurst-Euless-Bedford. Its not a mega-church, but a place full of people that are willing to love each other by taking meals to those in need and keeping those that are sick in their prayers. I wanted to challenge them what it looks like to love outside your comfort zone. What it means to not only love your neighbor, but your enemy or even love a stranger. I shared with them the ministry of loving the unlovable. I have had the pleasure of holding babies with cleft lips that have been shunned from their villages. Holding the hand of a patient before surgery and that physical touch being rare since the tumor took his face. This past year, loving the fistula ladies that endured days-long labor, losing a baby, and their husbands leaving them because they smell like urine. I have to admit this is still difficult to explain to a huge audience like in a church, but over coffee with a nurse friend I can talk about fistulas with no hesitation. I shared with my congregation that these ladies are often seen as modern-day lepers. Sometimes like the woman with the issue of blood who reached out to touch Jesus’ robe risking her life, but receiving healing because of her faith.  As well as, the Samaritan woman that Jesus meets at the well probably shunned by her community since she is the only one there at the time. Our screening team sometimes can find the fistula ladies very early in the morning by the river doing their washing and collecting water before the rest of village wakes up.  I showed the video I made this summer with a song called “When Loves Sees You” by Mac Powell and the words ring true for not only my patients, but also you and me. The lyrics describe Jesus’ ministry on earth that we need to follow- loving others no matter their wounds.
I continued on with about 8 minutes left, watching the clock since I’m not one that likes the spotlight. Pastory Cory had been speaking on 1 Corinthians 13 that past weeks, so I outlined my mini-sermon based on the passage. Sixth graders at our church memorized the chapter for years in the Williams Sunday School class to receive our own Bible at the end of the year. The scripture has always stayed with me and even last year I had a keychain with the verses 4-7.  For me, a needed reminder that love is patient, kind, and not easily angered as I worked along side nurses from another background than mine. As I took care of Isatu for months, I knew that this love endured all things and showed her love that did not give up, but hoped for her to be better again one day.  Another patient I became close to, before she left the centre, gave me the only possession she brought with her. It was a simple craft of yarn made into a ball, but she gave me everything she had out of love. I will strive to do the same and support her in school, with love, or else it doesn’t count for anything. When I shared my ladies’ stories, I saw the tears being wiped away in the audience; I even had to keep mine at bay. As I sat in front of church, it came to me how much my Heavenly Father loves me. Love moves people to give everything they have to those they love. God ask the same for us because He did it first- by sending his Son. Just like the song in video, Jesus “came for your story, came for your wounds, to show you what Loves sees, when Love sees you.” 

To watch the video click here: Love


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