Friday, June 8, 2018

At Sea

Not sure when I will have Internet to post this but figured I would get it down. We are once again at sea. I am in my happy place. It never ceases to amaze me how incredible it is to be at sea.
I am aware of so much around me. The gentle vibration of the deck beneath my feet as the engines hum along. How my cabin rolls from side to side with each swell of the sea that passes under the ship. That always amazes me. The power of the sea. You look our over the vast blue and watch as these small swells of only a few feet come ever so gently to the side of the ship and the pass beneath it. And yet those small swells move this enormous ship. It is constant and never stops and gently rocks you like a child in its mothers arms. I never tire of it.
     Out on the bow there is  the intense warmth of the equatorial sun shinning down on you from the bluest sky you have ever seen. And the nothing....miles and miles of nothing. No land, no traffic noise, no demands, no birds, just miles of nothing but sea and sky, the breeze in your face and peace in your heart.
On the stern in my hammock I gently swing from side to side. Behind the ship the propellers stir up a ribbon of white foam and turquoise blue. It stretches out behind of slowly dissolving into a smooth line of flat water marking where we have come from. A slight breeze, quiet conversations with friends, and a constant eye on the horizon watching for the spout from a whale or a dolphin jumping from the sea. I have not yet seen either on this trip but yesterday dolphins were seen so hope bubbles up in the heart and I wait.

My work days are filled with boxes and crates. I have moved over to general supply during the sail. So orders are made and me and my guys spend our mornings filling those orders. Supplies for the dining room, the galley and the ship shop mostly. Orders are usually similar but vary from day to day. Today there were crates of tomatoes, potatoes, lettuce and fruit. Rice and onions and cooking oil too. All of has been weighed and stored and tied down. So now it must be calculated how much is needed, untied, moved from deck 2 to deck 5 or deck 6 and then everything else retied so it will not fall over and make a mess as the ship moves.

My evenings are fun time during the sail. Some of the crew members have planned fun activities to keep us entertained so we do not get cabin fever. There has been spy vs spy, karaoke and a mocktail party with the captain. Tonight is movie night and there will be popcorn. The little things are fun and create time for the crew to bond with one another.

Soon these days will be over, but for now I will savor each one of them. They are gifts. Each one to be unwrapped and discover what it holds. Each one different than the one before. I love the gift of time, which seems to slow down here during the sail. Time to savor life. Time with friends, time for games, time to spend in the word and with the Lord. Time to listen. Time to be thankful.
And that is what I truly am. Thankful for all of it. Thankful to be here, thankful that He chose me.
My cup runneth over.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Salamatou And Mariama

Sisters Salamatou and Mariama relished the historic moment they were able to race around their village. Each has spent their lives watching others run and play as their windswept legs caused by malnutrition held them back. What could have been a lifetime on the sidelines is now the starting point for the rest of their lives. Ready, set, go! 




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Pictures and text from Mercyships writers and photographers. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Patience for a miracle

The following blog was written by my co-laborer Susy Horta. Some of you have been praying for these patients for a while now. Now you can put some faces with the stories.  Pictures by Mercy Ship photographers.

Patience for a miracle

During my time here, most of our maxillofacial patients come the day before of their surgery, go to surgery, and after a couple of days or maybe a week they are ready to go to the Hope Center and come to the ship for their follow-up appointments. A few of them may have complications after their surgery, maybe a wound that won't heal properly, maybe an infection, but thankfully those are a few exceptions to the majority.
These are the stories we like to witness and also the way we want things to happen in our own lives. We like things to happen as they "should", in the right time and in the right way.
I, personally, am not a patient person. As an ICU nurse I always want to find a way to solve problems, and keeping things under control, planned and successful is my way of thinking of a good day.



 But today I want to share about two families that have taught me what patience and endurance are. The moms share the same name, both are muslim, and speak the same native language. They both have beautiful baby girls and these babies have been our patients at the hospital and the Hope Center since before I came to Cameroon, that is, more than 5 months.
One of the babies, Mass-oudatou, has been in the infant feeding program since she
arrived to the ship, and her cleft lip was repaired after she had enough weight to go through surgery. But, she needed her cleft palate to be repaired too, but for that she had to be big enough, as it was a more risky surgery than the first one. During the months of feeding her to be ready, her suctioning ability decreased and that brought respiratory problems, so we ended up having to help her by feeding her through a nasogastric tube. 
She is funny and makes the weirdest and cutest faces all day long. Her surgery was finally done last friday; after months of waiting and struggling, she finally will breath, eat and talk normally.


The other baby is Mairamou. She is one of a kind. Sassy, smart, brave and with a mass on
her face that could not just be cut away. As tiny as she is, removing the mass would mean a huge blood loss, and her life. So she has been also through months of nutritional suplements to gain weight, medications and radio ablations to shrink the mass as much as possible. In the beginning of her treatment, the mass was so big that we also needed a tube to feed her. And finally, two weeks ago, she went to surgery (no pictures yet) and it went really well!!
As you can see, these are not fast and easy cases. These kids have won our hearts while they wait to finally go to surgery. And their moms have waited too.
I am sure that during these long months the moms have had hard days, but every time I see them, either in the hospital or at the Hope Center, they smile. They have been learning french and english at the same time. They help other mothers and patients to adjust while they stay with us. They call me "momma Susy" and "Tauntine Susy" (auntie Susy). They get tired, it is hard to stay in a hospital for weeks and weeks, but they don't complain. They let us see when they are sad, they let us comfort them and they let us help them. 
They are smarter than me, more patient, braver, they learn, they wait, they laugh, they endure. They love me. They make me laugh. These are not weak and sad souls, these are people with less opportunities than us. And that is why I’m here. To bring hope and healing through health care, but also with friendship and the gospel. I can’t feel sorry for them, they won’t let me. I admire them and want to help in any way I can to bring them closer to Jesus and the life He wants for them.
But God has used their lives to challenge me to be braver and to exercise my patience. I have been praying for months for the funds to continue serving with Mercy Ships until June/2019, and He has been taking His time to answer. I have had very hard days praying and not seeing any answers. God has been challenging my faith. How do you have faith and joy when there is a possibility of losing your dream job/ministry? 


Well, these moms have taught me to enjoy the waiting and also to believe in the one that promised me "plans for a hope and a future". These moms trust us, they trust the surgeons, they trust the dietitians, they trust our local translators. They have seen how much we care for them and their babies, so they trust that we will keep doing our best to help them. 
How much do I trust God? The one that gave His only Son to save my life? The one that has provided for my parents for more than 30 years? The one that brought me here and has sustained me for five months? The one that says "I will never fail you nor abandon you"?
Donations have started coming, quietly and full of love. And with each one of them, I cry with joy and gratefulness, and I pray harder. I pray harder to see the whole miracle happen. 
What are you waiting and praying for? Are you tired and about to give up? Don't do it, your dreams are worth the wait, God is worth the wait.
Also, what miracle are you helping to come to life? I have been part of these babies' miracles and it has been an enormous honor, that is why I chose to serve longer with Mercy Ships, to be an active witness of the miracles God wants to bring to West Africa. Would you be part of these miracles with me?



"You cried to me in trouble, and I saved you; 
I answered out of the thundercloud and tested your faith when there was no water at Meribah." Psalm 81:7 NLT

Saturday, March 24, 2018

March

So Here is a little update for you.
March looks a little different in Cameroon than in Virginia. There the snow is flying and folks are praying for spring and warm weather. Here the short rainy season has begun. Most days we get some amount of measurable rain. I am usually unaware as both my living quarters and working quarters are without windows. That is the price you pay to live at or below the water line. Haha. Usually when I go upstairs for meals I peek out the windows and get an idea of what the day is like. One of the nice things about rain is it washes most of the dust and pollution from the air.  So this week the air quality has been good and Mt Cameroon has been visible for the first time in a few months.  So I was sure to get some time outdoors to enjoy being able to see our volcano and enjoy the warm weather.

Other things that are happening....Surgeries continue to roll on. Some major facial surgeries occurred this week and patients are healing. As I went from ward to ward with supplies this week I watched different ones exploring their new faces in the mirrors they are given. You can see the disbelief on their faces as they try to comprehend how different they now look. It is a joy to be able to witness such moments. Another man this week was able to open his mouth for the first time in 19 years. The moment was recorded on video. I hope to be able to share it some time in the future. The first thing he did was shout for joy and raise his hands to the heavens. I cried my eyes out as I watched it unfold. May God get the glory for his transformation.
Many of you are asking about my plans to come home. I still can not answer those questions fully but hope to be able to in a week or so. It is looking very likely that I will come home for a short time and then return for another 2 years. I am very exciting about the possibility of this but it is ultimately up to God. I would love to return and continue to be a part of the amazing work that is happening here. It is so fulfilling to be even a small part of changing peoples lives. Being a tiny part of the miracles occurring in the hearts and bodies. Many ask why not do it at home? The simplistic answer is it is just different here. My hands are not tied. I am not only allowed to share my faith with my patients, co-workers and friends, I am encouraged to do so. There is nothing that can really describe the moments when you see a spark ignite in the heart of someone. When the understand that they are truly loved. That there is something more. That life and eternity can be different. That they are not excluded for being different.

There is also the joy of what God is doing in my heart and spirit. As he shows me areas in  my own life that need changing, refining and growth. New friendships  and new experiences. Learning to live with less and focus on things eternal rather than things of the world that so easily entice me. It is a daily journey and somehow seems easier for me to see or understand here. And here I am often better able to see how my gifts and talents can add to the equation. Don't get me wrong. I KNOW that all of these things are possible at home, and there are needs there too. But somehow there is a peace and a belonging that a feel here that make me know that I am where I should be for as long as God chooses me to be here.

There are hard parts to being here. Times of loneliness. Missing those I love more than I can convey. It can be challenging to witness the level of suffering we see on a daily basis. There are many we help, but so many more that we can not. Pray for them, and pray for me as it is hard to bear. There are times when I miss the freedom to jump in my car and go where ever I want. It is not easy to do that here. There are police check points, bad roads and corruption that make those things difficult. But then there is the beauty of Africa, people who are kind and generous despite having little. People who have much to share in the hearts and minds and spirits, and we are joined together by a common goal.

It is also hard to be away as I read updates from home that are hard. Things I wish I could be a part of. Things I wish I could fix. Situations that only God can take care of. Unmet needs, wandering family members and the loss of loved ones. How I wish I could be there to walk through those moments with you. To pray with you, to give generously. For now, I can only do it from here. But know that I do. I go before the throne of God, and by His spirit I pray and intercede for you. I pray that each of your needs is met. That your pain and loss is comforted. That the Fathers love for you is never doubted.

For King and kingdom,
Jennifer




Ulrich's Joy

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” someone asked 12-year-old Ulrich.
“I want to be tall like my friends,” he answered with a smile.
Even experienced nurses onboard the Africa Mercy had never seen a case quite like Ulrich’s.  He was born with dislocated knees and a condition known as Quadriceps Contracture—a condition in which the leg muscles don’t develop at the same rate as the bones, causing the legs to bend drastically backward.
His mother, Georgette, tried desperately to find Ulrich the surgery he needed. But the cost of surgery and the severity of his condition defeated her hopes. “Surgeons wouldn’t touch him,” Georgette recalls. “It was hard to see him hurting. When he hurts, I hurt.”
Despite constant stares and ridicule, Ulrich adapted to his condition. He learned to walk with sticks made from sturdy branches. He even learned to climb trees higher than any other boy in his village! “When they couldn’t reach the tallest papaya, they’d call me! I’d be able to get it,” said Ulrich.
But his determination to be like other boys took its toll. He developed pain in his hands and joints from supporting his body weight and from walking long distances. “I was worried that if I was feeling such pain now, it was only going to get worse as I got older,” he said.
It broke his heart that it was increasingly difficult for him to help his mother by helping out around the house, collecting firewood, and fetching water. “I was scared to grow up like that. I didn’t want this to be all my life was ever going to be.”
The day Ulrich arrived on the Africa Mercy for his free surgery, volunteer surgeon Dr. Frank Haydon (USA), who has volunteered with Mercy Ships for eight years, was shocked. “He moved like an insect … like a cricket. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Just when I think I’ve seen the worst case in my career, I meet the next Ulrich, and it keeps me going.”
After several complex surgeries, Ulrich woke up with two straight legs in casts. He had a hard time believing they were actually his legs. The first time he stood up, he reached up to see if he could touch the ceiling. “The first time he walked, he went straight into his mother’s embrace. It was the first time he had been able to hug her since standing tall,” said volunteer nurse Kirsten Murphy (USA).
And now, Ulrich is walking straight and tall into acceptance and into his dream of an education.
"Before, when I would walk in the street, people would stare at me. They thought I was just a handicapped person, and they treated me differently. Now, they will look again,” smiled Ulrich.
Before Ulrich left the Africa Mercy, he slowly walked up to Dr. Haydon and handed him a very special gift … his old walking sticks. He won’t need them anymore, thanks to mercy.
Written by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Karis Johnson and Nancy Predaina
Photographs by Saul Loubassa Bighonda, Shawn Thompson and Marina Schmid




Saturday, March 10, 2018

Adama

We as a ship spent the last few days in a prayer campaign for this young women.I would ask that you help those prayers continue on into the days ahead. Her name is Adama. She had a cleft that extended from her face into her skull and brain, giving the appearance that her face was divided in two. She has already had multiple surgeries on her brain, skull and facial soft tissues and she's been an inpatient for more than 90 days due to difficult healing - longer than any other patient by far this year. She just had her 6th surgery. She has been through much to say the least. Would you please pray for her. Pray for healing. Pray for strength, endurance and courage. Pray for encouragement. Pray that the light of Christ would be seen in everyone she encounters. Pray that this 6th surgery she just endured would be successful and her healing would be complete. Pray specifically against infection or complications. Most of all pray as the Lord leads. Thank you for taking the time to go to the throne for this woman. May His name be glorified.

(A portion of this writing was taken from other writers post. authors unknown and Photo by Mercy ship photographers)

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.”