Sunday, February 18, 2018

Out of the darkness

A Decade of Darkness: Lydienne's Story

For 10 years, Lydienne’s world grew darker … and darker …
lowly losing her eyesight from cataracts felt like a lifelong prison sentence for the 65-year-old seamstress. The blindness stole her independence because she was forced to rely on family members to be her eyes. Even simple walks to the market, down streets she’d known her entire life, became almost impossible to navigate on her own. All she could see were clouded shadows and pinpricks of light.
The blindness also stole her livelihood and her life’s calling. She could no longer work as a seamstress and had to depend on her younger sister for help. But the worst part was losing her ability to travel around Cameroon and evangelize, which she’d always felt called to do.
Without money to pay for cataract surgery, Lydienne almost gave up hope. But one day, her pastor told her, “The ship is coming. You will have your sight restored.” And immediately Lydienne believed with all her heart that the hospital ship would change her life.
She arrived at the Mercy Ships eye screenings, nervous and full of hope. On the scheduled day for her long-desired cataract surgery, she arrived at the ship bright and early in the morning. “God has His eye on me,” she said confidently before being led up the gangway.
Removing her cataracts was a quick surgical procedure. The very next day, Lydienne’s eye patch was removed. It was the moment of truth – had the surgery been successful?  And the answer was YES!  After a decade of darkness, she could see again!
“I went home shouting in excitement. I could see everything! Even seeing buildings again makes me so happy,” she said.
At first, her relatives couldn’t believe it, and they jokingly tested her to make sure she really could see. “They’ll ask me what they’re holding or ask me to read things to them. When I do, they all applaud. I don’t mind being treated like a child in this way – I can see it’s all in joy,” smiled Lydienne.
Now, with her eyesight and independence restored, Lydienne can resume her work as a seamstress. And she’s even more excited about being able to once again travel around the city, speaking with people about God’s love and sharing her own story with them.
“I believe my sight has been anointed. Even if my clothes are fading and getting old, I see them in the brightest colors now!”

Written by Rose TalbotPhotography by Saul Loubassa BighondaEdited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina

Sixty-five-year-old Lydienne came to Mercy Ships for surgery to remove the cataracts that had clouded her vision for over 10 years.

Without money to pay for cataract surgery, Lydienne almost gave up hope. But when she arrived the Mercy Ships eye screenings, she was nervous and full of hope.  “God has His eye on me,” she said confidently.

Lydienne awaits her turn to go into the operating room. The cataract surgery took less than a half an hour, but it changed Lydienne’s life.

The day after surgery, Lydienne’s eye patch was removed. It was the moment of truth – had the surgery been successful? And the answer was YES! After a decade of darkness, she could see again! “Even seeing buildings again makes me so happy,” she said.

Six weeks after surgery, Lydienne was all smiles at her Celebration of Sight. She sang and danced with unrestrained energy as she celebrated her renewed vision alongside eye team staff and other cataract patients.

“I believe my sight has been anointed. Even if my clothes are fading and getting old, I see them in the brightest colors now.”

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Little Cecilia

Stepping into a Brighter Future: Cecilia’s Story

With her fluffy pink dress and shiny shoes, three-year-old Cecilia is an undisputed princess—and no one is prouder of this ray of sunshine than her father, Emmanuel. She’s brimming with delightful energy, and Emmanuel is always one step behind her, ready to help her in the right direction. But, until recently, Cecilia needed more help than most little girls.
“She smiles all of the time,” said Emmanuel, “but she needs help to walk.”
Her legs appeared normal at birth, but as she grew, one of her knees formed abnormally. She was diagnosed with knock knees—a condition that causes the knees to angle together, and makes it nearly impossible for the legs to stay straight. Over time, it can cause serious pain and impair walking. Cecilia’s parents watched their bright-eyed child grow from baby to toddler—and her knock knee continued to worsen.
Finally, Emmanuel brought his daughter to Mercy Ships in search of a miracle. They left behind Cecilia’s mother and baby brother in hopes that when they reunited, Cecilia’s legs would be straight and her future brighter.
On the dock, father and daughter sat together on a wooden bench together while the monsoon rain poured down. Their warm smiles didn’t betray their long journey or hours of waiting.
“I’m so thankful for Mercy Ships coming to serve my people, who are in need,” said Emmanuel.
The family spent over a year waiting for a surgery that took little over an hour on the Africa Mercy. It was a simple procedure that would have enormous effects on little Cecilia’s life.
Cecilia was a source of joy in the hospital wards, and it wasn’t long after her surgery before she bravely took her first steps with her miniature walker. The only one smiling bigger than her was Emmanuel, who said her future now looks “bright and full of possibilities.”
Cecilia’s recovery time onboard the ship was filled with laughter as she played with bubbles and had her nails painted by nurses. Six weeks after surgery, it was time for her cast to come off! Her rehabilitation helped her grow comfortable walking on her straightened leg. When the time came for Cecilia and Emmanuel to go home, the volunteer team sent them home with lively singing and dancing.
Now, Cecilia can step forward into a life of limitless opportunities. She may only be three years old, but Emmanuel is already dreaming big for his little girl.
“My dream for her is to grow up and become a doctor, so she can change people's lives,” Emmanuel said. “Just like the doctors here have changed hers.”

Written by: Rose Talbot
Edited by: Karis Johnson
Photographs by: Shawn Thompson
 used with permission from Mercy Ships

Three-year-old Cecilia’s knock knee has grown painfully inward for over a year.

Cecilia’s father, Emmanuel, is always ready to offer a helping hand.

Big smiles celebrate a big moment as Cecilia takes her first steps after surgery with the help of her father!

Cecilia’s bright pink cast matches her colorful personality.

Even with the new sights and sounds of the hospital environment, Cecilia only needs to hold onto her dad’s finger to be reassured that everything is alright.

Cecilia takes careful steps to recovery with the help of Stefanie Neeb (DEU), the volunteer rehabilitation team leader.

Emmanuel stood by his little princess every step of the way.

Cecilia now stands straight and tall—ready to step confidently forward into her future!

Sunday, February 4, 2018

a sweet little girl

A New Reason to Smile: Fadimatou’s Story

With a beaming smile and large, striking eyes, Fadimatou’s cleft lip isn’t the first thing you’d see. But, thirteen years of looking different from everyone else took its toll on her confidence and self-esteem.
Adorned in beads and colorful fabrics, Fadimatou enjoyed dressing up and ‘acting pretty’ like other girls. But, any glimpse of her smile was quickly wiped away by memories of teasing and ridicule—a reminder of the lies she’d been told too many times, that she isn’t pretty and shouldn’t smile. Her place in society, her sense of belonging among her 14 siblings and even her identity as a twin was questioned because of her cleft lip.
Filled with desperation, her journey with Mercy Ships began when she and her father made the 18-hour trek from their village to the coast of Cameroon. Ahead of them was her once-in-a-lifetime chance at transformation.
Her father had to wait 13 years to find help for his little girl, and after she was approved for surgery he proudly walked Fadimatou up the gangway. A surgery that took an hour to complete on the Africa Mercy resulted in a life changed forever.
Fresh out of surgery, her emotional transformation began. Fadimatou, who once could barely keep eye contact, was now hungry for interaction. Each day, her physical scars healed alongside her wounds of torment, shame and embarrassment.
While she once did everything she could to go unnoticed, Fadimatou now has a reason to hold her head high. Filled with pride and hope for the future, she's now shining with a newfound confidence she’d never had before.
Story by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Karis Johnson
Photos by Saul Loubassa Bighonda and Shawn Thompson
used with permission from Mercy Ships

We catch a rare, but stunning glimpse of Fadimatou’s smile on screening day as she awaits the chance to be seen by a surgeon.

A surgery that took an hour to complete on the Africa Mercy resulted in a life changed forever.

Fadmiatou looks into the mirror at her face for the first time since surgery.

Fadimatou continues to be one of the most colorful patients on the ward. Her cleft lip is long gone, along with her shame and embarrassment.

While she once did everything she could to go unnoticed, Fadimatou now has a reason to hold her head high.

Filled with pride and hope for the future, she's now shining with a newfound confidence she’d never had before.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A 30 year burden

Thank You for your part in changing lives. This is Christina whose tumor started growing at age 23. Today Christina is 53, and no longer lives with this burden thanks to free surgery on-board the Africa Mercy.  

Letting Go of a 30-Year Burden

You can hear Christina’s contagious laugh from across the room and instinctively know that she’s a woman who never lets circumstances rob her of joy. But, her smile is interrupted with a facial tumor that has been slowly growing for over 30 years, with no hope of being removed.
Christina first noticed the tumor, which was then just a small growth on her left cheek, when she was only 23 years old. She was a young bride, raising a family with her whole future ahead of her. The tumor was painful, but surgery to remove it was not an option. She and her husband, Emmanuel, worked as farmers—their maize, yam and beans put food on the table, but didn’t provide enough money to cover hospital expenses. All Christina could do was take medicine to ease the pain, and resign herself to the reality that this would always be a part of her life.
As Christina’s children grew, so did her tumor, eventually stretching from her ear to her jaw. But, her exuberant spirit and love for those around her never faded. When asked about her positivity she simply said, “The spirit of God is touching me, giving me peace.”
When she first heard of Mercy Ships, she couldn’t believe her ears—a ship with surgeons that would remove her tumor for free? Her children barely saw her without it in the last three decades, let alone her grandchildren. She knew she had to take the chance. Leaving her family behind, she traveled to the ship in hopes of receiving surgery on board. Even when her appointments were postponed, Christina waited patiently, peacefully, with a twinkle in her eye. Change was coming. She just had to hold on.
Finally, her surgery date came. After several hours in the operating room, the tumor was gone! “Look at me!” she said after the operation, turning her face so you could see the graceful slope of her neck, now tumor-free. “My family will not believe it.”

Her bubbly laugh and genuine interest in those around her made Christina a favorite to patients and crew alike on the Africa Mercy. And after her surgery, she returned home without the burden she’d carried for 30 years, and with a new hope for the future.

Story by: Rose Talbot
Edited by: Karis Johnson
Photographer: Shawn Thompson
used with permission from Mercy Ships

Christina’s tumor has been growing since she was 23 years old – without hope of ever having it removed.

Christina is all smiles relaxing on Deck 7 as she recovers from surgery.

Christina’s signature smile could not be more contagious as she prepares to return home to her family after surgery.

Christina beams as she shows off her neck — tumor-free for the first time in over 30 years!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Baby Paul

I remember the first day I saw him. He was in the arms of another nurse on the ward. He was so small. His small frail body slight protruding from the blanket he was wrapped in. My heart fell. I was instantly frightened for him. He was so tiny. He skin thin and papery looking. His eyes looked larger than they should as they sunk into their socket. I feared the worst for him, instantly crying out to God in my heart for this tiny little boy. How was it possible that he was even alive?
I soon heard his story. Paul came to us when he was 3-months-old and weighed just over 2 kilograms.(a little over 4 1/2 pounds) Born with a cleft lip and palate, he could not eat and grew weaker instead of bigger and stronger. He was unable to latch on to breast feed and had quickly been loosing weight since his birth. The infant feeding program onboard the Africa Mercy changed Paul's life!

Everyone that met him prayed for him to live. He desperately needed surgery to fix his lip and palate but first he had to gain some weight. He would not survive surgery in his current state.
Enter in our amazing dietitian. Paul was soon on formula, being fed through a tube that entered his stomach via his nose. Soon he moved up to a syringe and then to a bottle with  a special nipple to help him nurse better. It was still a struggle, but slowly, every so gradually, he put on weight. Eventually he qualified for his first surgery. His lip was repaired, but not his palate. He needs to be older for that surgery to be successful. However now he can latch. Now he can feed and gain weight.

"Paul wasn’t the only one being transformed. Hope bloomed in his Mother Francoise’s heart as she watched her baby slowly growing stronger. She dared to hope that this baby that people had once called “monster” would survive … this baby that was now adored by crew members and other patients. She said, ‘When I look at my baby, I can only cry – but it is tears of joy. Even I am gaining weight, now that I can eat and sleep!”
When I look at my baby, I can only cry – but it is tears of joy. Even I am gaining weight, now that I can eat and sleep!’"

 This little man has beat the odds. God has answered the prayers of many and Paul does not look like the same child any more. Gone are the sunken eyes, the darkened circles around not only his eyes but those of his mother as well. His tiny arms and spindly legs have been replaced with round fat little legs and arms. His face has filled out and he is on his was to being a healthy baby. He has a few more months to wait for his final surgery to fix his cleft palate, but we fully expect him to arrive back for that surgery hitting new milestones on his growth chart. Praise the Lord for answered prayer and sparing the life of this sweet little boy. He now weighs a whopping 6.4 kilograms.( around 14 lbs)
He will return before our time here in Cameroon is over for his second surgery to repair his palate. Please continue to keep this sweet little boy and his family in your prayers. 

(a portion of this blog written by Rose Talbot)
Photos by Mercy Ship Photographers

Monday, January 1, 2018

the year in review

What a wonderful year 2017 proved to be.

January began with the blessing of an unexpected trip to Alabama. A chance to spend a few days with good friends and soaking up some of God's artistry. Sunrise over Lake Martin with a cup of coffee and a dear friend is a memory I will cherish for years to come. In January I also began to seek the Lord and ask if he was calling me to serve with Mercy Ships.

February was a time of decision. I made the decision to go to Mercy Ships in the Spring to serve for 2 1/2 months. It was also a time of spending time with my Mom. There were many breakfasts and movies and just time hanging out. A time to prepare both our hearts for the upcoming separation.

March brought my first sight of the Africa Mercy. Docked in Benin, West Africa. I arrived in the evening with her all lit up. It was good to be back on a ship. It had been 12 years since I had last served on a ship. It was comfortable and familiar. It was a time to be in awe of God's provision and plan for my life. How did I, Jennifer from Virginia, out of thousands of people in the world who wanted to be here, get selected to be part of what God is doing here in Benin?

April was a tough time for me. Benin is a place of wonderful people and rich in culture and history. But the memory that haunts me most occurred in April. A young boy sick with a high fever and having seizures ( not a patient of ours) was taken to a witch doctor for treatment. The method chosen to rid this child of his fever, likely caused by malaria, was to pour some kind of acid into his eyes and force him to walk on hot coals.  This photo was taken after he had been taken to a local hospital for treatment. Tragically although his illness was easily treated, he vision will never be regained and hands and feet forever scarred from severe burns. For me , a lifetime reminder of the cost that is paid by the innocent when evil has its way. I don't know for sure the outcome of this young child, but I do know that if he is still alive his life will never be the same. This is why what we do matters. Not to just bring good medicine and surgeries to those who could not otherwise have it, but to bring light to the darkness and destroy the lies.

May was a time of farewells. I left Benin in the end of May to return to the States. This meant saying goodbye to new friends that had quickly become a part of my heart. It is always a surprise to me how quickly someone can become part of your heart, part of your story. The people I met in Benin were amazing.
 People from different walks of life, some from differing religious beliefs, but all with a heart to serve. A heart to help. A desire to give something to someone who cant give back.

I met people from all around the world and have made friendships I know will last far into the future.

It was in May that I was asked to consider coming back to the Africa Mercy for another field service. After prayer and consideration I made the decision to return for another year.

So back to America I went. The hard part was yet to come.

June was a wild month.  There was much to do and little time to do it. When my plane touched down in the states I had just 7 weeks to prepare to return the the ship. The hardest part by far is the decision to leave those I love the most to follow my call. My family and friends mean so much to me, and leaving them for long periods of time comes at a high cost for me. But I truly believe that no cost is too high to follow the path the Lord has for me. That being said, it does not mean that it is easy. The month of June I spent as much time as possible with my Mom and best friend. There were trips to see other family members and friends. Speaking engagements, fundraising, and packing to do. A large garage sale at the home of a friend help me dispose of the majority of my belongings.
June was also spent enjoying a bit of what Virginia has to offer. Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains, spending time with my best friend Lori and her dog chase. Saying goodbye to my home of 11 years. Who knew it could be so tough.There were too many goodbyes. I am blessed beyond belief to have made so many good friends during my season in Virginia. Too many people to name them all.  The toughest part by far was leaving behind my best friend Lori and my Mom. The only thing that makes it bearable is knowing God himself holds them in the palm of His hand.

July started in California attending the wedding of my niece. It was a fun time of spending good time with her Mom, my sister. Many hours spent in California traffic made for lots of sister talk time. I really enjoyed my visit with her and the wedding was beautiful, complete with a mariachi band playing the theme to beauty and the beast for my niece. Fun memories. July ended with my arrival in Gran Canary Spain to meet the Ship. She had just re-entered the water following her time in dry dock, so I was sparred the discomfort of the ship with no A/C. Not  a lot of fun from what I was told. What I did get was almost 2 weeks in Spain to get to know new crew members, prepare for sailing and see a little bit of Spain. The picture above is from a day trip spent driving around the island. Four of us spent the day seeing the sights, tasting the food, and  sipping cappuccinos under majestic cathedrals like the one pictured below.

In August the ship set sail and I was once again in  the center of pinch me moments. There is nothing quite like being at sea. The gentle roll of the waves, the breeze in your face, the smell of the salt, the warmth of the sun. It is a wonderful chorus for the senses orchestrated by God himself. The way the sea changes color as the sun drifts in and out from behind the clouds . The thrill of dolphins showing up to ride the bow and whales spouting as they swim past the ship. A huge high light of the trip was crossing through the Prime Meridian. That is where latitude and longitude meet at 0 degrees. It is not a place on the globe that many get to see. I was super excited to get to be one of the people in the world who can say they have done it. Unexpected blessings from God.

August also ushered in our arrival in Doula, Cameroon. We arrived with a military escort and our advance team and day crew dancing and singing praises to God. It was a festive time and everyone was super excited to get to work. It is the Ships first time in this country and we are eager to be about the Fathers business.

 The rest of August and beginning of September were spent preparing the hospital to open. There is much to do. Every inch of the hospital has to be cleaning and sterilized multiple times before the first surgery can occur. I was lucky enough to be part of one of the teams working in the Operating rooms. We had a fun group of people and managed to have a good time doing hard work.

As October rolled in we began to see more and more results of the surgeries being preformed. Healing occurring. Hearts being changed. One of the most dramatic was a young man named Ulrich. Although the healing in his legs is dramatic, too me what is truly miraculous is the change in his heart. You can see it on his face. It makes every sacrifice to be here worth it. Praise be to God for what He is doing in the hearts and lives of the people of Cameroon and the crew of the Africa Mercy. For we are changed and healed as much as those we come to serve.

November came and went in a blur. It was a hard month for me. Troubled by illness not once but 3 times I was feeling weary and worn down. It could not have come at a worse time. November also brought a huge change in my working environment. A new computer system to control inventory supplies for the entire ship was introduce and I was part of a handful of people responsible for helping to implement the new program. It was difficult and stressful but with the Lords help, and a lot of tolerance from my co-workers we are making it through. It has begun to get much better.
It was also a month of reflecting on all we to be thankful for. I can honestly say my cup runneth over. I am blessed in so many ways, including new friends made along the way.

And finally we come to December. It has been a great month. Filled with a lot of fun and celebration. There have been several excursions off the ship. I have been blessed with some down time to rest and enjoy some of Cameroon. I have had the pleasure of visiting a chimpanzee sanctuary and hold a baby Chimp. It was such a sweet moment and I still can not believe I got to do it. I also got to experience a day trip to a local beach.  A 2 hour trip led me to beautiful brown sand beaches and the soothing sound of the ocean that I have not heard since our arrival in August. It was medicine for my soul and a great time to meet and talk with my heavenly Father. Celebrations were all around. We celebrated Christmas as a large international family with many traditions from around the world being introduced on the ship. There we songs from around the world and new and different foods to try. This month also gave me the opportunity to try something I have wanted to do for many years. Ballroom dancing. I have been taking lessons on the ship in my off time for a few weeks and last night we rang in the new year trying out our new dance steps. It was tremendous fun! And almost everyone still has all their toes.

 A personal celebration for me this month as well. I crossed over a milestone. I have been working on loosing weight since last January. As of December I have lost 40 pounds. I feel better and am happy to know I am healthier than I was a year ago. Thanks to all who have encouraged me along the way. My goal is to continue on this healthier path in the new year.

Thanks to everyone who has supported me in many ways this year. Some of you have lifted me in prayer, some have encouraged me on my darkest days. Others have given sacrificially for me to be here. Some have written or emailed and others have called. Some sent packages and others just sent love. Each and everyone of you have played a part in my success. In my walking where God has called me. I can not thank you enough. Words which sometimes seem to come so easily just seem to fail me when I try to express just what it means. So I pray. I pray that one day, God himself will reveal to you just what it has meant, not only to me, but to those I have come to serve.
For King and Kingdom,

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fanta's Story--no not the drink

Conquering Fear: Fanta’s Story

It’s hard to work if you’re a teacher who’s afraid of children, a jockey afraid of horses, or even a nurse afraid of surgery, like 44-year-old Fanta. Despite working in the medical field for over 17 years, Fanta was too frightened to undergo surgery to remove a 10-pound Lipoma tumor under her right arm. For nearly 10 years, she learned to strategically hide the tumor under draped shawls while she worked, refusing to have surgery to remove it.
“How can I expect people to respect me as a nurse and not be scared themselves when I am too afraid to do anything about my own problem?” Fanta said.
Since she was a young girl, Fanta saw nurses at her local hospital in their uniforms taking care of people, and she knew she wanted to be a nurse, too. But, after hard work and a long journey to achieve her dream, her watermelon-sized tumor made it hard for her to wear the uniform she’d longed to wear as a girl. As the tumor grew painfully large, she knew something had to be done. However, working in the local hospital only heightened her fears of having surgery.
“My colleagues told me I would die if I tried to have it removed, and that I had left it too long,” Fanta said. “I see the surgeries, I see the blood, and I hate the thought of not being in control of my own body.”
When she heard about Mercy Ships through her hospital, she was filled with hope instead of worry. During her consultation with Mercy Ships, she felt more at ease than she had ever felt before.
“The nurses at the ship are so compassionate and loving,” Fanta said. “They kept reassuring me that everything was going to be more than okay, and something in me trusted them!”
It only took a three-hour surgery onboard the Africa Mercy for Fanta to realize how much her fear held her back for the past decade. Her lighter arm and brighter smile made her wonder why she’d waited so long.
“I can now lift my arms with ease! I will be able to dress like the other ladies at my hospital,” Fanta said. “My husband has already bought me some new fabric so I can make more dresses that show off my arms!”
For patients like Fanta, Mercy Ships removes more than just tumors. After her free surgery, Fanta’s fear and anxiety were dispelled as quickly as her hope was restored.

Story by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Karis Johnson
Photos by Saul Loubassa Bighonda
used with permission from Mercy Ships

To avoid scaring her patients, Fanta strategically hid the tumor under draped shawls while she worked, refusing to have surgery to remove it.

44-year-old nurse, Fanta, was afraid to undergo surgery to remove the 10-pound tumor that had been growing under her right arm for a decade.

“The nurses at the ship are so compassionate and loving,” Fanta said. “They kept reassuring me that everything was going to be more than okay—and something in me trusted them!”

"I am so thrilled to be out of surgery I can barely believe it. My arm is so light,” Fanta said. “As soon as I can, I am going to wear strappy tops to show off my new arm!"

Since she was a young girl, Fanta saw nurses at her local hospital in their uniforms taking care of people, and she knew she wanted to be a nurse, too. But, her watermelon-sized tumor meant she couldn’t fit her arm through the sleeve of her uniform. Now, she wears her scrubs with pride.

Her lighter arm and brighter smile made her wonder why she’d waited so long. “I can now lift my arms with ease!” said Fanta.