All comments contained within this blog are my personal observations while serving on the M/V Africa Mercy. They are not the views or opinions of Mercy Ships or partner ministries.»

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hi Ho, Hi Ho

I have been back in Scottsdale for a week. It has taken me some time to adjust back to 'normal' life. I thought I was doing okay until Monday morning rolled around and the staff of the church where I work got together for our prayer time.

Now, I'm not one to speak up for prayer needs. I struggled. Praises were being lifted up and I certainly had a lot of praises to report from my trip but I also felt the tears welling up and knew if I were to start speaking those very words being spoken would cause the dam to break and a deluge to flow. I sat there.

Then prayer requests started coming from people within the circle. My mind was no longer in the room. I struggled to bring my mind back from friends half-way around the globe. It was almost as though they had taken a firm hold and would not release my thoughts to come back to Scottsdale.

Kind of like my blogging experience, I knew I had to speak. It not for myself, but for the people still on the front lines serving on the m/v Africa Mercy and the people of Liberia who have no 'out'.

Not only did the tears begin to flow, but I am sure I sounded like I had laryngitis. The words were not harmonious in their delivery. Instead they were filled with emotion that I thought had been squelched by my arrival back to familiar stomping grounds.

I was not asking for prayer for myself, but for everyone who was currently running through my thoughts as I spoke. I could see the people I was talking about as if they were standing right in front of me shaking their head in agreement about their need for prayer.

I know this trip to Liberia has impacted my life more than any other mission I have been blessed to be a part of. I am not that person I was when I left at the beginning of February.

I can't sit down over a meal with the people who have the same experiences I have had and know what I have been through, but I can still keep up with their lives through their blogs. I find this a bit funny. When I was on the ship, Mark brought up a good point.

"We don't talk to each other about what has been going on, we just read each others blogs."

We didn't need to talk about the big stuff when I was there. When the gang of friends I became close with got together, we tried to keep the conversation and mood fun filled with a lot of good laughs. We dissected a certain hand jester that is common to the Liberians, laughing as each one around the table added their own twist to the movement. Or putting a young nurse on the hot seat by discussing how her 'man-hunt' was going.

As I read the blogs that tell stories of the new patients I will not know, I realize I have an inside track when it comes to lifting up prayers. The Lord allowed me to serve for a month and then return to my job. I am no longer in the heat of the battle in Liberia. I can be more focused on covering the ship and everyone on her with prayers. What an honor!!

So, keep writing your blogs. I will keep reading and lifting all of you up in prayer. My job has only begun!!!

Hi Ho, Hi Ho it's off to work I go.


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Alice in Wonderland

It was a very long trip back to Phoenix. I had a scheduled lay over in Brussels and a non-scheduled lay over in Chicago of five-hours. By the time we got off the ground for the final leg of my journey, I was wiped out.

I made it out and about yesterday. I have traveled a lot, to various countries and reverse culture shock still takes me by surprise. I am not sure if I went down the rabbit hole when I arrived in Monrovia, or if I returned to the rabbit hole when I arrived back in Scottsdale.

The things I took notice of one my outing yesterday were strange things like the cool air flowing through my shoes, all the new cars, sprinklers watering the grass, GRASS, street lamps, stores having electricity, the lack of pedestrians, very few children, no UN vehicles, no UN check points, no street vendors, a fire truck going on a call, lack of smiles on peoples faces, using my debit card to purchase groceries, a gas pump,,, this list could go on and on.

Looking at the above list, there are both positive and negatives from both countries.

I received an email today from Mark. He sent me photos of Alicia. She has her bandages off and looks amazing.

I didn't have a chance to say good-bye to her. She was discharged a couple of hours before I went down to see her. I appreciate these photos so much. This little girl holds a special place in my heart for so many reasons.

I am still working on photos to upload and will perhaps to that tomorrow after church.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Good night Monrovia!

This is my last post from Monrovia, Liberia West Africa. I am flying out tomorrow night to head back to Phoenix. I have very mixed emotions especially after my last evening here.

First, earlier today I had a blast going out on a motor boat into Monrovia harbor grabbing some shots of the ship as we passed. It was fantastic.

As you look out into the harbor, you see ship wrecks everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Even the ones that are not sticking out of the water have red markers to show where they are located. There must be about 12 or 13 in this small harbor.

We actually took the boat out to where there are two sunken ships very close to each other. I grabbed a wonderful shot of the tops of the ships sticking out of the water with the m/v Africa Mercy in the background.

We also sailed close to a container ship that 'tipped' over when they unloaded the containers improperly. Fascinating!!!

I returned to my office and wrapped up the rest of the work I had to do, well, most of it. The communications department had planned to go out to dinner this evening, but I almost canceled because of the work I thought I still had to do. I threw caution to the wind and we headed out.

We went to sunshine beach, but by the time we arrived the sun was calling it evening. We had two tables carried down to the surf and sat talking. I was given a card with the best photo ever taken of me on the front. The photo was taken at the Hotel Ducor with about eight kids hovered around me and my camera as I showed them some photos I had taken of them. I love that photo!!

Chad, our intranet guru, was the only male and feeling a bit out of the female conversation headed down to the waters edge. I pulled out my camera and took some long exposure photos of him. He turned and walked back during one of them and with that one little action, we not only had our evening of entertainment sorted out, we also became the floor show for the rest of the people enjoying their evening on the beach.

Here is the good photo of Chad that I took.

This one photo led to photos like this:

It was quite amusing to watch us all figure out what to do and how to get the best images. I had a hoot!!! This was the best evening by far I have had here in Liberia. Good friends, good location, good food and great fun. What more could I have asked for?

Thanks for taking this journey with me. Although I have heard from a couple of people, much to my surprise, who have not been reading my blog because they wanted to wait for my return and read it all at once. They said they did not want the suspense.

Although I will not be writing any more on my adventure, at least that is my plan, I will be uploading some of the 1,000 plus stills I took here. So, don't un-check the RSS subscribe feature just yet.

Well, now you can read to your hearts content. This journey is finished, but I will pick up again the next time I step foot on this beautiful continent that has a strong hold on my heart.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Closing down...

It seems like it was just yesterday when I was rushing around at work trying to get my projects finished before heading out to Liberia. Now I find myself doing the same thing on the other side of the world.

Literally everyone I have gotten to know repeats the same mantra, "You can't leave. You just got here." Even those I only know by their familiar face fall right in step and voice those very words to me. I have gotten to know some awesome people here. From my roommates whom I rarely saw, except by the sudden illumination of a flashlight in our "mole hole"; to Esther and Chad whom I kind of shared an office with.

Then there were people who play such an important role to the floating hospital ship like Carole in the dinning room to Val down in the depths of the hull keeping the boutique nice and tidy. Although it was only last week that I actually found the boutique, I enjoyed my visit and got some nice lotion out of the trek.

I filmed some highly important people like the President of Liberia and Don and Deyon Stephens, the founders of Mercy Ships, to people who live their lives in the shadows of society.

I lived on a first class ship and visited a former five-star hotel that had been gutted and housed squatters seeking safety from the 14-year civil war.

While driving down the road seeing people thrust their thumbs up and people yelling "Mercy Ships we love you" or simply "Mercy Ships" spoken as tremendous smiles spread across their faces.

I have had amazing food, cooked by a wonderful chef who really takes pride in the food he serves to having a wonderful pizza on a beach at sundown with a good friend and great conversation.

Patients have greeted me with trepidation that grew into joyous anticipation upon my arrival to the sorrows of saying farewell to a little child and watching his father standing guard at his bedside who would watch his son die on an early Sunday morning.

I have taken some amazing photographs that are vivid and full of life but will never show the true beauty of Liberia that will forever live in my memories. If only there were a way to share those will folks, I would be thrilled.

The following are some snapshots the are in my head were seen from the car as we drove into town:

...Watching a mother cradle her baby, lean over and coo at the baby only to raise her head and laugh a hearty laugh.
...A child riding a bike out on a Sunday afternoon carrying no packages. You must remember, this is still a war torn country and that is just not seen. It was very encouraging to see this.
...A man rollerskating across the bridge. Same reason as the boy on the bike.
...Young men standing as they get their tennis shoes shined.
...The countless smiles of the people of Liberia.
...Moses, the security guard at the Hotel Ducor who was the security officer when the hotel was in it's prime and 30-years later finds himself guarding the same property where only his memories recall the former glory.
...A little girl dancing down the beach as she sang a song to herself, all the while keeping the bucket on top of her head perfectly balanced.
...Three young boys pointing in awe as they stood on top of a rocky outcropping tracking a jet ski that was being ridden by a UN guard.
...Being waved at by two of three fishermen in a traditional fishing boat when they saw me taking their photo.

I could go on and on with the specific memories. But I think perhaps the biggest memory I have is God's faithfulness to me and the people who I have shared my time with, both crew and patients. All I can do is stand on awe and wonder at His loving kindness. Yes, even in the sorrow that happens in this life. He never wavers!!!


Sunday, March 2, 2008

In Memory...

In the quiet of the morning, Sadie passed. He was a little four-year old who touched many lives on the ship.

Live By Faith
Written by: Chris Rice, Scott McLeod, Trace Scarborough

I can’t feel You movin’ inside
I don’t hear Your voice whisperin’ in the night
And I’ve never seen You with these eyes
Am I a fool, am I just a fool?
They ask how I follow what I can’t see
Why I trust in a love that my arms won’t reach
I don’t need You, don’t need You, to prove it to me
I’ll be a fool, yes I’ll be a fool
‘Cause blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe
And blessed are the hands that keep givin’ but never receive
Blessed is the heart that gets broken but keeps holdin’ on
Holdin’ on for another day
‘Cause that’s what it means to live by faith
So I cry for Your help while the world looks on
And they laugh at my hope when all hope is gone
But I’ll just keep prayin’ when answers won’t come
Am I the fool, am I just a fool
For standing alone while they mock Your name
“Well if your God is so good, tell us why all the pain?”
I’m not sure, not so sure that God is to blame
So don’t be a fool, please don’t be a fool
‘Cause blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe
And blessed are the hands that keep givin’ but never receive
Blessed is the heart that gets broken but keeps holdin’ on
Holdin’ on for another day
‘Cause that’s what it means to live by faith
In a world where our questions are haunted
‘Cause life’s not as fair as we all wanted
Where the innocent die, we ask why
And still we await the reply...
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe
And blessed are the hands that keep givin’ but never receive
Blessed is the heart that gets broken but keeps holdin’ on
Holdin’ on for another day
‘Cause that’s what it means holdin’ on for another day
‘Cause that’s what it means to live by faith
Yes that’s what it means to live by faith
That’s what it means to live by faith, to live by faith...

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hodge Podge

I found this website this morning and thought you might interested in seeing the stark contract to what Monrovia was like before the war and after.

Click HERE to see what the luxurious Hotel Ducor was like in the 70's compared to now.

Yesterday I was able to follow up on Alica. She is the 15-year old girl who had gotten an infection in her bottom jaw which compromised its growth and had taken away her ability to open her mouth.

When I first met here, she was extremely frighted over all the new things she was seeing as she entered the ward. Now, when I look into her eyes, I can see a glimmer of the real Alica.

She has been going for walks, but is giving the doctors a bit of trouble when it comes to exercising her mouth. She enjoys playing with the building blocks on the ward and wastes no time in extending her hand to me when I walk in the ward.

I was in the OR filming video and taking stills during her surgery. I have on photo just before they bandage her chin and every time I look at it I say, "Look at her chin. She had a beautiful chin. She HAS a chin!!!" I can't wait for her to see it.

When I was walking out from my visit with Alica, I stopped by a bed where a mother lay sleeping next to her bundled up 7-week old baby boy. He had just had a life changing surgery to repair a cleft lip and pallet. As I watched him sleep I was so thankful that this little one would never know the trauma of life with this deformity. There was also a possibility he would not get enough nutrition to grow and thrive.

Eyes, remember when I spoke about God "seeing" when he created in Genesis? There are a lot of people walking off the ship on a daily basis with their site restored. Dr. Glenn Strauss is astonishing. He performs cataract surgery on 20 patients a day!

Every morning people show up on the dock for their surgery. There are four off-site eye clinics running every week where patients are evaluated and scheduled for surgery.

When they walk off the ship, they can see. For many this is the first time they have been able to see in years.

The smile says it all!!

On Monday there will be the first VVF screening for this outreach. VVF stands for vesicovaginal fistula. This is a devastating injury created by an unrelieved obstructed labor and affects women living in impovrished countries. It is a problem throughout Africa.

As a result of their injuries, women with VVF leak urine, and sometimes feces, causing family, friends and entire communities to reject them. Most are relegated to the edges of society and isolated from people all together.

When the women arrive, they are a walking shadow. The surgeons can bring them back into the sunlight with a surgery that will restore their humanity. It is not a simple surgery, but the change in the women when they have come through the healing process, both physical and emotional, is dramatic.

When the women are healed they are all given a new dress. This has tremendous meaning for them. It is the start of a new life for them. Before they leave the ship, they sing and dance up and down the hallway of the hospital. Their demeanor is completely changed.

While I will not be here to witness this change in these lives, I look forward to hearing stories and seeing the photos of the women I will see on Monday.

With the difficulty of this past week, I did not want to leave you all thinking that the m/v Africa Mercy is not a happy place. Yes, there is sorrow at times, but the life changing services provided to the people of Liberia during this outreach is tremendous.

Lives are being changed here, and my life has been changed also.