Saturday, September 29, 2007


Last Sunday in church Pastor Don and Troy used the sermon title "What's in Your Barn?" It was a fitting sermon after the last three months. I can say that I have seen first hand how truly wealthy we are here in America . I can also say that I'm not sure that we're happier or more fulfilled. In fact, I think I've seen that the more we have the more we want and the less content we are. I don't know how to say it more concisely than that. Monrovia is the capital city of Liberia . Still, 3 years after the war, there is no public water, electricity, sewage, or acceptable roadways. The capital city! We get so upset if we go without electricity for 12 hours and they've gone years without it. Still I found so many people there who are wholeheartedly assured that the only course of action is to trust God. Many of them know that He is the only answer, they're just still waiting to see the practical responses to their prayers.

This is always interesting to me. Where do you think their deep trust in God comes from? How do you think they are so patient in their faith? -- is it cultural? different religious practices? And are there tangible ways that you see Monrovians faith where it is absent by Americans? I’d love to hear your answers if you are able to write about it. I think these are important questions to think about/discuss/implement.

The first paragraph above is part of a newsletter that I wrote after returning from Liberia. The paragraph in red is a repsonse from a college friend. The remainder of this entry will be my attempt at a response.

In the Western world or developed nations, we have so much. Even the poor have so much more than what is needed in many cases. There are those struggling to make it from day to day, don't get me wrong, but the vast majority in the U.S. have food, shelter, clothing, utilities, and we're all entitled to a free education. In fact, if we qualify, we even get free or very inexpensive health care. Not only do most of us have the majority of our needs met, we have abundance that is not even able to be comprehended by many in the world. I don't know all the statistics, but in the sermon I mentioned, one of our pastors gave several statistics regarding wealth. I think he said something to the effect that if you own a book you're among the world's wealthiest 5%. (Forget owning that book. Being able to read it is wealth we don't understand. So many of my patients just laughed at me when I asked if they had any education.) There were several other examples that he used. I'm sure they're available online. The details aren't my point. The point is, most of us have some sort of education and therefore, earning power. Many of us also receive some sort of wealth from our families such as free educations, inheritance, assistance over the years, etc. Even if we don't have much, most of us have the means to obtain life's basic needs. There are many social work agencies available to provide assistance for most of those that look for it. Sadly, we find it easy to rely on our possessions or means of obtaining those possessions. If we're sick we go to the doctor. If we're hungry we go to the grocery. If we want something new to wear, we go to the mall. If we want a bigger house, we take out a bigger loan.

For much of the world, our reality is an unheard of phenomenon. As I observed in Liberia this summer, there just aren't means for all in the world to obtain the basic needs of life as easily as it is here in the West. Like the first paragraph noted, there is not public water, electricity, sewage, or even acceptable roadways. If simple things like disposing of trash, sewage, and providing clean water are not a possibility or a reality, then other social programs are obviously far on the back burner, years in the future as the rebuilding process continues. When you hit rock bottom and have nowhere else to turn, what do you do? For centuries, the world has sought some sort of "higher power". There are many "higher powers" to be tapped into. This summer I became much more aware of the fact that Africa is a very spiritual continent, much moreso than most Western countries. Romans 8:9 says, "if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ". So there are millions in Africa who either don't know Christ or have chosen not to follow Him. That means that they are worshipping, trusting, and being controlled by many spirits that are of Satan. It's a matter of, if not one, then the other. So...many turn to evil spirits, but there are also many who have learned of the blessings afforded by the Holy Spirit.

It's easy for us to assume that blessings refer to material possessions, but that's not even the beginning of it. There are the blessings of salvation, faith, healing, hope, family, beauty in nature, felloship with other believers, the Word, and so many others. As we begin to realize and appreciate them, we begin to find joy and peace in the midst of tragedy and suffering. Those, especially in Africa, who have learned to rely on the Holy Spirit, rather than evil spirits realize that they have a hope that cannot be taken away by poverty, death, hunger, pain, or any earthly power. The Holy Spirit affords a power we can't imagine if we only allow Him. I think that's where their patience comes from. I think that's where their faith is rooted. Most, in Liberia, at least, have no other choice. They can't go to a shelter or social work agency to obtain the help they need, in most cases. They have tried the worship of other powers that are not of God and they don't help, don't help for long, or bring harm. Any other "faith system" or "higher power" they might deal with worships a being that is dead. That's not the case for Christians. For those in Liberia who know Christ, knowing that He is alive and has not forgotten them is everything.

I have to say a bit of the patience is also cultural. Life moves at a much slower pace in much of the world. I have heard so many go on short-term missions trips and come home referring to Mexican time, Indian time, African time, etc. People frequently have to wait in long lines for any sort of service or event. It's not a big deal to them most of the time. If you apply for some sort of government service, it takes much longer than would be acceptable to us. That's usually dealt with patiently. If you come for a free surgery and have to sleep outside the night before and then wait until 6pm the next day to be seen by the doctor, it's still looked at as a privilege to have been cared for at all. So...if God doesn't answer your prayer as quickly as you would like or in exactly the same way that you like, you're ready to keep waiting.

I may have written about this in one of my letters, but it's worth sharing again. At one end of the ward in the hospital there was a map of the world with pictures of the long-term staff. Many times I walked by that map and patients would be there looking at it. There was more than once that I'm sure I was showing a patient a map of their country for the first time! Their eyes grew huge with amazement as the began to see how Liberia compared with the size off the entire world. One of my favorite things about my time on the ship was when a patient would look at the map, see where Liberia is, see how many other countries the staff had come from and then just look at me with tears in their eyes. "You mean you're not all from America?" I'd assure them that no, we had come from more than 30 countries. "God brought all of the necessary people here at the same time from many places to help Liberia, to help me?" Yes, with a smile, I would agree that God had quite a schedule to juggle. "OH! My God! He heard me! He knew I was suffering! I knew that it was good that He healed me, but I didn't know He did all this just for me!" More than once all I could do was stand there with tears in my eyes as they laughed or cried with joy. What a privilege it was to be God's hands and feet, to get to be the tangible resource to remind someone that, no, God has not forgotten you!

You know that when God speaks to one person suffering like that and He hears and answers that cry, that person is not going to be quiet! One of my patients told me that she was going to go home to tell all the Muslims in her village that they better wise up because their prophet is dead and her Jesus is still alive. I think that's what it all boils down to. When you believe that Christ is alive and loves you, how can you not find some strength in that, even when today looks hopeless?

1 Peter 5:10 says, "And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast."

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Coming and Going

It's been a long time since I've been able to write here. First I was too busy at work to be able to blog, and then over the weekend the satellite was turned off. I'll put more about that at the end of this entry. Still no luck uploading pictures. Sorry. I guess I'll have a lot to show when I come home!

As is the way with life, there has been a lot of coming and going here on the ship over the last few weeks. We tend to only have any particular surgeon here for a few weeks at a time, so the types of surgeries we're doing changes frequently. We finished the first round of VVF surgeries. All of them went home. Many went home with successful repairs, but not all. Some will return in the fall for another attempt. It's humbling to see some of those with enough damage that they couldn't have a successful repair still going about the work of being an encouragement to each other. I'm pretty sure I would not be as strong. One who had a successful repair returned to the ship a couple days ago because of an infection. I think she'll be OK, but it's scary for her. I have to admit, that as you get to know the ladies you can't help but love them. I was sorry to see Quita have an infection, but it's nice to see her beautiful smile again for a while. We are also doing quite a bit of orthopedic surgery right now. The surgeons that were here the first few weeks of ortho are pediatric surgeons, so we've done a lot of kids. I like the kids, but I can't say that I enjoy taking care of them. I'm much more comfortable caring for adults. It's a growing experience!

We have also been doing a lot of eye surgeries. There's a fairly constant influx of outpatient procedures, like cataracts, but we've had more inpatient eye cases lately as well. Many come with all sorts of traumatic injuries to their eyes. Often (I put that word there for you, Marley:) the eye has been injured for so long that it's pretty grotesque to see. I can't imagine how uncomfortable it would be to have your eye swollen and knotty for more than 10 years let alone not being able to see. Many of those patients come hoping to have their sight restored. That's just not always an option. It's not fun to do pre-op teaching and have to make sure that the patient understands that after their surgery, not only will they not have full sight, we will be taking the eye out to prevent infection or other complications. It's a huge disappointment to them. It's somewhat the same with the dental clinic. There are some things that they can do to help people and preserve their teeth, but as a general rule, people come with teeth that have been in bad shape for a long time. A lot of what the dental team does is simple extractions. At home, just going without a few of your teeth would not be an acceptable option, but here it's better to lose your tooth than it is to have an infection that becomes systemic and kills you.

For the most part the last couple weeks had been pretty routine day to day stuff, work, hang out, watch movies, and go to Monrovia. Sunday changed the experience for many. One of our crew drowned at a local beach. The satellite was turned off until his family could be properly notified without it getting to them through the grapevine before someone was able to tell them in person. He was a 21 year old from Texas. Yesterday would have been his 22nd birthday. The rip currents here are incredibly strong and sadly on Sunday the sea won. It's not fun to be one of 400 people wandering around a ship not sure what to do with themselves. Three people that were at the beach with him have flown to Texas to attend his funeral. One of the three is my roommate. Another one of the three got the news that her grandpa had passed away the next day. Please keep them and his family in your prayers. It has hit all of us quite hard, even though many of us didn't know him very well. I can't imagine the shock, for his family, of receiving that news at home. I said, many comings and goings. I certainly never expected the kind of going that we had on Sunday. I knew before I came that this is a place that you're always meeting new people and saying goodbye to friends who have finished their term. I guess I didn't think much about how much it would also be difficult to say goodbye to the patients after getting to know them. It's fun, though, to get to know the new group of patients coming in. We have a file on the computer that the communications department is constantly updating with pictures of the different outreaches on the ship. It's quite impressive to look back at them. Since I've worked mostly with the VVF ladies, they are the ones that stand out to me the most. It's an encouragement to look at the pictures of them when they first arrive for screening and then see pictures or remember their faces when they go home. When you look back at the fear and sadness in their eyes when they arrived and see then see joyful pictures of them as they depart or remember their bubbly personalities that came out as they were here, you can't help but feel blessed with the privilege of getting to see that process. One encouraging thought is that you never know who's going to walk up the gangway tomorrow. You have to say goodbye a lot, but a dear friend may be walking up the gangway tomorrow if you're willing to take the time to get to know them. There is risk involved because you know that they or you will be leaving sometime in the probably not so distant future, but so often the reward is worth the risk!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Independance Day, Republic of Congo

This is slightly old news, actually, 2 weeks old, but it's still a fun story to tell. A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in the midships lounge, the living room of the ship. A friend of mine from Nigeria stopped by. Turns out there are a couple people here on the ship that are from the Republic of Congo and that day was their equivalent to our 4th of July. They had invited my friend to go to the Congolese Embassy and then my friend invited me. I had no idea what to expect, but who's going to pass up the opportunity of a trip to the embassy? That was 3:30 and we were supposed to leave at 5pm. I got to my cabin and all of a sudden realized that I had no idea what to wear. It was probably very naive, but the only thing I could picture was something very formal and grand, a little like some of the scenes in "Coming to America". All I have are clothes that make me look like a missionary, long skirts, solid-colored t-shirts, and sandals, definitely nothing formal. I tried a new skirt my roomate bought that is some gorgeous african fabric. The problem is, it's a big tube skirt, sort of like a wrap to wear at the beach. You tie it in a knot and hope it doesn't fall off. That was not going to do for an event at the embassy. I finally settled on an outfit and off we went. That's not quite true, because we had to wait a while for the taxi. Jean-Claude, the guy who is from the Congo, has a taxi driver that he knows and calls when he needs a ride, but that's still on different time than we would expect at home, so we actually left around 5:30.

I had not been to the part of town where we were going, actually I hadn't seen much of Monrovia at all, so it was fun to get out and see the town I call home for the summer. We went past the University of Liberia, the former presidential villa, and the UN headquarters. The area where the embassy is has many embassy buildings in the neighborhood. Many of them looked like they had suffered a lot of damage during the war, so I began to realize they may not be as nice as I was thinking. When we arrived at the Congolese embassy I got out of the car and across the street was the Liberia Mennonite School. I was a little bit proud to notice that it was in better repair than most of the buildings I had seen. I would like to try to stop by there sometime if I'm in that area again.

The embassy was the size of a very large house in the U.S. The celebration was in the back yard. I was expecting a very formal affair inside and it turned out to be a big barbecue on the lawn, just like a wedding reception or graduation party at home. We found out, though, that there had been some sort of miscommunication. We had understood that the party was from 5pm to 8pm. No, it started at 8pm, so we just all sat in the yard, talking, listening to the music that was playing, and talking. It was fun getting to know everyone. It's a little tricky because French is the primary language in the Congo so Jean-Claude and his wife, Anastasis (yes, the same name as the ship that just left), speak english, but with a very strong french and african accent. The other complication was that the people preparing for the party had already set up the sound system. It was a lot of fun dance music, but it was loud enough, that it was hard to hear each other, so we did a lot of just hanging out, drinking diet coke (mmm) and watching the preparation. After sitting there a while, I realized that that was the first time that I had seen a lawn since I've been here. It was nice, it felt like a little bit of home to sit in the yard in a resin lawn chair under a rented tent.

There was a man in one corner of the yard grilling. The grills were a series of 50 gallon drums with fire pits in the bottom and then a grate stretched across them with several large things being grilled. After a while the lady that seemed to be in charge came over and told us that once the food was ready we could feel free to help ourselves. There would be grilled goat, sheep, and chicken. That was when I realized that I was seeing a nearly whole animal on one of the grills.

Around 8pm people started arriving. We had decided to stay until 9pm, but the party was just nicely getting started, so we stayed a while longer. The food wasn't ready until around 9:30. Jean-Claude and Anastasis had been invited by someone else and she didn't want us to leave until we had eaten, so we extended the time. Taxis sometimes become a bit of an issue because they aren't always readily available, and they may already have 7 people in them. Jean-Claude finally ended up calling the driver to come wait and eat with us, so that we were assured of a ride home. I thought that the driver seemed a little bit annoyed at the inconvenience, but when we got back to the port, he refused payment in thanks for future business and the meal. Things definitely work differently here than in other parts of the world.

The party consisted of a bunch of Congolese people that are currently living in Liberia, lots of UN people, and people from other NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations, humanitarian aid organizations. Mercy Ships is an NGO, just also a Christian organization which is a bit different than some of the others.) There were a lot of people dancing to the music, which to me sounds a bit like Reggae. It's not the same, but still similar. We finally got in line to eat and I had some of each of the meats, rice, cassava, plantains, and french fries. It was all very good, but a lot of food to eat a 10pm!

All in all, it was a very fun evening. It was nothing like "Coming to America". It was, however, very much like a 4th of July party in America. It was nice to go since I wasn't at home for the 4th of July. I just celebrated on the 30th of June. It's not every day that you get to go to a celebration at the Congolese Embassy in Liberia. It was definitely an experience I felt privileged to have. My roommates were pretty jealous that I got to go and they didn't.

Friday, July 13, 2007


She has totally stolen my heart. She's a 40 year old VVF patient who has been here on the ship now for 3 weeks. She was here for a week and a half before she even had surgery. There were about 5 ladies from a couple hours away who came for the screening, driven by their pastor. For some reason, he left them here, so they stayed in the hospital as hotel patients for a while before they actually had surgery. Most of them speak Liberian English as well as their own tribal languages. Korto only speaks her tribal language, so she just looks at you and starts talking, but none of it makes a bit of sense. To talk to her, I have to have one of our translators talk to another patient, have that patient talk to her, and then back through the 2 again. It's a job. Most of the time, she just looks at you, waves her hand, and laughs. I've been pretty sure for quite a while that she thinks I'm crazy. You have to wonder what these ladies are thinking. Many of them have never had any sort of medical care. They don't understand a lot of what we say to them, and I think a lot of what they learn as far as what's going to happen during the course of their stay is by observing what happens to the ladies that have surgery before them, moreso than understanding the details we tell them.

So at the end of day shift, it's the responsibility of the day nurses to take the ladies outside. It's definitely the highlight of working day shift. They sit in a big circle and sing for an hour or so. I'm pretty sure that that hour does more for them than all of the care they receive the other 23 hours of the day. After the surgery they've had, stairs are not a good plan, so we take them from the ward, which is on deck 3, up to deck 7. It's sort of like the front porch of the ship, it's just on the side, not the front. There is a roof over it, so you can go up there even when it's raining, which is pretty much all the time. We take them to deck 7 on the service elevator. It says on the door that there is a maximum of 10 people. I had never operated the lift, which is what the rest of the world calls an elevator, but how hard can it be? Shut the door, push the right button, and off you go. Well, that was true, but only to an extent. We got in, 9 patients and I (remember only some of them even speak Liberian english, which is still VERY different than American english. Swallow every consonant, speak with a lazy tongue, and you start to get close to what it sounds like), and headed up to deck 7. We got to the top and Korto was clinging to my shoulder, rolling and crossing her eyes, and moaning. She still managed to laugh the entire way. She is always laughing and smiling. For someone who has lived such a difficult life, she is very joyful. Well, we got to the top and the door slid open. There's a sliding door, but also a very heavy door that swings open. I was just turning the knob on the swinging door and all of a sudden the sliding door slammed shut, just missing my arm. Down we went. We got to the bottom, I started to open the door and the same thing happened. All told, we went up and down 3 times! It took no time at all before I looked around and noticed that there were 9 terrified women, who have never ridden in a lift before and they were all looking to me to figure out how to make the world stop jumping up and down. Here we are in a small metal box, moving up and down, getting dizzy, and they're not really sure how to understand that we leave one place and strangely show up somewhere else. Looking around in desperation, I noticed that there was a phone, so I called reception, hoping to have them call the ward and send someone down the hall to get help for operating the lift. Finally after the 3rd trip, we stopped and someone still at the bottom opened the door. It turns out that one of my co-workers had not waited long enough when we got to the top before she called the lift back down. By the time we stopped, the lift was offset from deck 3 by nearly a foot. Needless to say, as soon as the door opened, Korto nearly dove out of the lift and into the hall. I was amazed that she actually agreed to get back on a few minutes later. During the time we were going up and down one of the electricians showed up and told us that we really should only have 5 people, not 10. Lesson learned!

I said earlier that Korto always looks at me like I'm crazy. I've tried talking to her several times, but it's so complicated that it doesn't usually work very well. They way she just flips her hand and laughs, I figured she must be nearly exasperated. As I've spent more time caring for her, I've decided that even though we can't communicate with words, she's decided that we're pals. We use a lot of sign language. She does know a few english words and uses them as much as she can. One day a couple people were sitting talking. I walked over and just stood listening in. Her bed was already full of people sitting on it. She kept trying to get the attention of the lady in the bed beside her. Finally she did and motioned for her to move. The lady looked confused but moved anyway, then Korto patted the opened spot and looked at me, motioning for me to sit. When I did, she smiled a big smile of satisfaction, apparently happy that she had been able to make me welcome. The day we had the whole episode on the lift, ,on the way she was walking ahead of me and turned, calling "mama". That's the name used for nurses, mothers, grandmothers, anyone who is any sort of female caregiver. I walked up to see what she needed. She held out her hand so I held out mine. She took mine in hers, smiled an adorable smile, and continued walking down the hall holding my hand. Frequently at work if she notices that I'm not busy, she will call out Mama, and then pats the spot beside her, motioning for me to sit, and then just sits there smiling and talking. In my rough Liberian english, I tell her "no undertand". She just smiles and keeps talking anyway, often patting my back or knee. How can you not love a sweetheart who just wants your company even when you can't really talk or get to know each other on a deep level?

Yesterday when I worked it was beginning to seem as if her repair was failing. She had a little leaking starting again. I've not seen her look so blue before. She didn't sleep the entire night and could not bring herself to smile. She knows painfully well what it means to go back to the leaking. I think that it was just due to a spasm, but how do you do sign language to explain a spasm? After a while, I sat beside her, and just said "I pray?" With a very somber look she nodded her head. I prayed in english. I know she didn't understand a word I said, but from some of the conversations I've heard through the other ladies, I believe that even though we don't speak the same language, we both trust the same God. I guess she could tell by the tone of my voice when I was just about finished, because when I said Amen, she said it right along with me and gave me a look of gratitude. I'll have to check in on her today or tomorrow, just to let her know she's being remembered.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Dress Ceremony

My heart is so very full today and at the same time broken. I'll write about the fullness first. I've just come from the first Dress Ceremony on the Africa Mercy. Three women were presented with new African dresses just before going home, now 2 weeks post-VVF repair. I happened to walk into the room where they were getting ready and they were all putting on their dresses and head wraps. At first I thought there was something wrong and then realized that it was squeals of delight I was hearing. It sounded like girls at home getting ready for the prom.

All of the staff and other patients gathered in one of the wards and the drums, singing and dancing was started down the all by the princesses for the day. They paraded down the hall dancing and singing with bright smiles on their faces. Once they got to the ward the party really started and there was a long time of singing, dancing, and praising. Nearly everyone in the room was either beaming with delight or moved to tears and unable to sing. Each of the ladies then took the opportunity to offer their thanks to God for His faithfulness after many years of living in the condition that they were. I have to say that is definitely the most fun I've ever had at work, and it wasn't even my shift! To hear their stories is such a humbling experience because of the emotional and physical pain that they've endured makes any complaint I could come up with pale in comparison. That brings me to the broken-hearted part.

About 10 minutes before the ceremony started I had to go to the ward to look something up, and I ran into Jianjay, who had the second VVF repair here on the ship. I asked how she was feeling and with a smile she said that she feels well, but the urine still keeps coming. I had no words to say to comfort her other than how terribly sorry I am. I know from things that she said in the ward that she trusts in God, but today my heart felt so heavy for her. When I went to the dress ceremony, she was sitting there on the bed of one of the other patients, still finding a way to smile and singing in worship. Even though she did not have a successful repair, she's still grateful for the things God has done for her. Some days it's just so hard trying to reconcile the happy and the sad.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Two Weeks!

I've tried several times to add some pictures to this post, but apparently it's not going to happen today, so I'm posting what I have to say and hopefully in the next couple days I can add more pics.

I can't believe I've been in Liberia for two weeks already! In some ways it feels like it's been months and in other ways, it seems like I just got here yesterday. It's funny how you feel so new and confused about ship-life, and then within a few days you're the one showing your new cabin-mates around. It feels a little like being in a time warp here on the ship because we're not only removed from home, but we're also somewhat removed from the people of Monrovia, living just off the dock. Compared to home, it would seem that coming here to serve is definitely "roughing it". When you go out in the community, though, it's painfully apparent that we on the ship are still living like royalty! It's a bit difficult to justify both perspectives and figure out where you fit or exactly what your purpose is. There's no way that we on the Africa Mercy can even make a dent in the struggles of this country. It's obvious that all we can do is try to share God's love with those that we come in contact with and then let Him do the rest! To be honest, it's so devastating that I'm glad it's ultimately His job and not mine because I would probably give up and not try.

Surgeries have gone well this week and I'm starting to get the hang of working in the ward. I still have a way to go, but it gets easier every time you go to work. It's a foreign experience to have one of the biggest challenges be communication. We have translators that are very helpful, but not all of the patients and translators even understand each other. We have one lady in the ward who only speaks Mandingo and there are no translators that do, so she just smiles and follows along with the rudimentary sign language we try to use. How incredibly intimidating and scary it would be to be in such a strange place, having surgery, feeling pain, and not be able to speak with those that are caring for you. One of the ladies that came to the ship earlier this week had never left her village, never ridden in a car, never slept in a bed, never walked up stairs, and didn't believe her granddaughter that there was actually something as ridiculous as a floating building! Almost all of the patients have to have lessons on how to use a toilet and be reminded that they're to flush. It's a concept most of them have never encountered.

Life on the ship is going well, too. It's fun getting to know people from all over the world. I love hearing different accents and expressions. Sometimes the expressions that different people use can be quite entertaining because what may be a comman phrase in one country may be pretty crude in another. I hear about bits all the time. My roommate, Shonagh, is from Scotland. She fell up the stairs a few days ago and bruised her knees. She called them her rude bits. She also gets bits (stones) in her shoes. When she got a sunburn she had to put sunsreen on her red bits the next time she went out. It's fun learning from each other, both phrases, nursing practices, and perspectives on life.

The Anastasis sailed away today, on her way to India to be scapped. It's a pretty sad day for a lot of people that lived on her for many years. I never lived on the ANA, but even so, it looks a bit sad when you look out the window. Before, when you looked out the port side windows you saw a beautiful old cruise liner. Now the dock almost seems off balance, only seeing a ship on one side. Even though it's sad in some ways, the new ship is a blessing in the fact that the capacity of the hospital has nearly doubled! The opportunity to be able to reach that many more people is defnitely a good thing!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Jamaica Road

The pictures above have nothing to do with the rest of what I have to say, but they're a couple good shots of the Africa Mercy on the day she arrived in Monrovia. In the sunset picture, the one on the left is the Anastasis, the ship that's being retired.

I've been meaning to write about last Sunday for the last few days, and I finally have time. I really had no idea where to go since there are a lot of options. I also had no idea what to expect when I got there. Jamaica Road is a church that's only a mile and a half or so from the ship, so that sounded like a good option to me because I could walk in the neighborhood a little bit. As I've said, it's rainy season, which is the "cool" part of the year, but we were all roasting in the short walk there. The temperature isn't terribly high, but the humidity is incredible.

Once we got to church we had to wait a while to go in until Sunday school was over because the building is only one room. I learned that compared to several churches in the area, this one is a pretty nice building. They actually had a roof, block walls, and a cement floor. There were no doors or windows. A friend of mine went to a church that had a roof and a little bit of the framing, no floor or walls. Everyone was so friendly and welcomed us in right away. Shortly after the service started, the lady leading the service asked all visitors to stand. ( I appreciated the fact that during the walk to church someone had warned me about what was coming.) As soon as we stood she had us all come to the front of the church. The congregation proceeded to sing a song of celebration and dance to the front to greet us one by one, shaking each of our hands. After that first time, you are no longer a visitor, and become one of the ones that gets to welcome new people next week. The worship time was wonderful! We sang and danced for quite a while, dancing forward a couple times for the offering. (and I thought the walk to church was warm!) I'm told that most West African churches collect 2 or 3 offerings, dancing forward to give for each one. They may not have much, but they're thrilled to be able to give what they do have.

I'm discovering that I don't necessarily like being far from people from home, but I do love being a couple time zones ahead. It's cool that even though we don't all "do church" the same way, we're all worshipping the same God. As I worship with people here in Monrovia, I get to pray ahead for those in Indiana, Michigan, and Indiana that still haven't started their days! (Except maybe the pastors doing final sermon preps:)

The Africa Mercy

This is a picture of a few of the girls that I arrived in Monrovia with. Kassi on the left is my roommate. Behind us, you can see the back of the ship. I've had lots of questions about what ship life is like, so I'll try to describe it. There are around 450 of us living on the ship. There are 8 decks. Decks 1 and 2 are the engine rooms and off-limits to the rest of the crew. Deck 3 is the hospital. They're still putting the finishing touches on it, but hopefully it'll be ready for surgeries at the beginning of the week. I also live on Deck 3. Deck 4 is housing. Deck 5 is a dining hall, reception, the ship shop and snack shop, offices, and Starbucks. I guess one of the big wigs on the Starbucks board is also on our board, so all of the coffee onboard is free from them. There's a big open staircase that runs between Decks 5 and 6 near the internet cafe and Starbucks. I hear a lot of people calling that the town square. It's almost like it's a little city. Also, the gangway enters on Deck 5 beside reception. Deck 6 is the International lounge, which is where we have all of our community meetings, and then some family, VIP, and guest cabins. Deck 7 is more offices and then an open area where you can go "sit on the porch". Deck 8 is the top and is a flat deck that you can walk around on some, but right now there's a bunch of stuff still up there that was strapped down during the sail here from England.

I'm living in a cabing that has 3 berths, 2 people/berth, so there will be 6 of us total. Right now there are 4 and our 5th arrives this evening. She's also from the States, but I don't know where. So far I like the girls I live with. I share my berth with a girl from Canada. The other 2 girls are from Canada and Scotland. We have a bunk that folds against the wall, a narrow closet and two shelves. Backpacking in the past was good preparation for packing light and making do with not so much stuff. We can only do laundry once and week and can only take 2 minute showers. That means you have to get wet, suds up, and then rinse off. No 30 minute steaming showers, or you run out of water to drink! Sometimes they have to go on water restrictions, so I'd rather conserve than do competely without. It's not bad, but it is different getting used to things. Most of us came to Africa expecting to be very hot. That's true outside, but inside there are places on the ship that get very cold! I think the hospital will be fairly warm because the Liberians won't tolerate the cold well when they're used to tropical weather.

We start surgeries this coming week once the hospital is completed. The first surgeries will be VVF(vesico-vaginal fistula) repairs. These are women who have tried to deliver their babies at home, which is common practice. (Actually they are considered weak if they go somewhere else to deliver.) For various reasons the labor goes poorly and they are often in labor for 4-5 days. Obviously the baby dies, and the mother is left with terrible tissue damage. It forms a fistula, or tunnel, between the birth canal and their bladder, so then they leak urine all the time. Of course it smells and they become outcasts. Usually their husbands and the rest of their families want nothing to do with them. Having the repair allows them to return to life with the rest of their community. I think the plan is to also do some eye cases and orthopaedics over the next couple months. I'm nervous because the work will be very different than at home, but I'm also excited to get started.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Here we are...happy landing on a chocolate bar

Angie, that title's for you.
It's amazing to finally be able to say that I'm in Africa. It still doesn't seem real, but when I look out the window, I'm sure of it. The flights went well, and I'm pleased to say the jet lag has not been too bad. The time difference is only 4 hours. I'm hoping to be able to post pictures sometime soon, but it was dark when we arrived at the ship last night. When we landed, the pilot said that the Liberian government will fine people taking photos in public places. I think that has to do more with govt. and UN buildings than in public, but one of the people on the ship said that taking photos in public is also a good way to get your camera stolen, so we'll see how it goes.
There are so many things I could write about. I'll try to share some of my initial observations. The first thing was that I've always thought of Africa being mostly brown. Parts of it are. We flew over the Sahara and it was like an ocean of brown. Liberia is lush green with lots of tropical trees. It's rainy season right now, so I'm sure that makes everything more green. The hottest part of the year is our late fall and early winter. I can tell you thouth, that rainy season is still hot and very humid. For those of you familiar with Harrisonburg, the view from the plane looked much like standing on the top of the hill at EMU. You look across a very flat expanse to a range of mountains. Beautiful!
When we arrived we had more than an hour drive to the ship, which by the way, looks much larger in person than it does it pictures. I think that there is a more affluent part of town, but we sure didn't see it. Just on the drive here, you have to be amazed at how many people there are with so little. We are so rich in the U.S. The airport was an intersting experience. It was very hot and humid. Baggage claim was an experience! (the good news...7 of us were on the same flight and we all got all of our bags!) As we were going through immigration the officials were very stern , but then every one of them said, "Oh! Are you with Mercy Ships? You're our favorite group. Go on through." They didn't even ask to see our passports or anything. It's nice to feel so welcome.
One of the more amusing things I noticed was broken down vehicles. It wasn't so much the vehicles, but the flares that they used to alert on-coming vehicles. Ours are like an orange flame or sparkler. Here they pull a big clump of weeds, roots and all, from the ditch and then put several of them in the road behind the car. Not high tech, but it gets the job done just as well.
Right now I have 2 roomates, but I think we're supposed to get three more in the next few weeks. The cabin is split into 3 different smaller rooms that are partitioned off. It's a little tight, but not so bad.
Surgeries will begin in a week. The transition phase from the Anastasis to the Africa Mercy is still going on. Some departments have had more difficulty than others. That's something to continue praying about. It seems like there's a lot to be done in the next week to have the hospital fully up and running. It will be nice to soon feel a little more comfortable with where everything is on the ship and then to actually get working and taking care of patients.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Journey Begins

Well, it begins! I'm leaving tomorrow for Monrovia, Liberia on the west coast of Africa. I'll be living and working on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship owned by Mercy Ships that provides help and healing to the world's forgotten poor. The opportunity to help reach out to those who would probably not receive care otherwise is an honor. I don't know exactly what my role will be other than working in the ward, but I look forward to the experiences of the next 11 weeks.
It amazes me to look back at what the last 16 months has held. I went from thinking in early 2006 that I would probably leave the country in a couple months to thinking in early 2007 that this whole thing was not going to happen at all. As I look forward and look back, it excites me to see how God has worked out this whole time of service. For the better part of a year, it looked like a mess that He didn't plan to work out. I had prayed and wondered for quite some time. Finally I decided that if I had not received an acceptance letter by Feb. 28 of 2007, then I was to move on. Guess who e-mailed me on Feb. 28?! There was over a year of wondering and waiting and now the last 3 months have been so amazing to see how even the littlest detail worked out. It's been great confirmation that this is the path I'm supposed to take right now.
I said earlier that it begins, but the beginning was actually a long time ago. I don't think it was a coincidence that during those times of doubting and waiting I did the study by Beth Moore entitled Believing God twice. I guess I needed a lot of reminding that I needed to believe Him even when it didn't make sense. It was a tough year wishing that I knew the timeline, but now it seems to be coming together better than any plans I had on my own. The prayers, encouragement, gifts, and financial support have been so greatly appreciated. Thank you!!! It has been been pointed out to me that I'm going for a lot of people, so the ways that you have supported me, will be reaching people in Liberia even though you don't meet them. I'm excited to be the hands and feet for a bunch of people. So...the journey began a year and a half ago, but now the travel portion of this adventure begins. I'm excited to see where it goes from here!