Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Half The Sky

I have just walked away from an evening where I unexpectedly watched some of the series Half The Sky by Nicolas Kristof. Have you heard of him or the book Half The Sky? If you haven’t, research it right now and if you have, are you changed because of it?

Documentaries like this break me. I see the familiar streets of African and Asian countries that I have been to and I smile when I hear the familiar accents and words translated and my heart breaks again for these people, particularly women, who live in poverty and under oppression. My eyes swell with tears, my throat closes and my heart screams, “This is what you were made for!” To envision change for these countries and to work towards it until we see improvement, is what my heart cries. I don’t know exactly what that looks like for the rest of my life or even in the next few years but I know that I cannot ignore that call.

Perhaps because the New Year has turned and I am a whole year older than last year already, I have been thinking over my life so far and how different it looks from what I thought it would when I was much younger. Somehow the dreams that I had when I was young about becoming a nurse, getting married and having a family in my 20’s have never come to be and instead I’ve been living on a ship in Africa now for more than four and a half years and my future now looks more obscure than what I ever dreamed.
The thing is though, Africa has stolen my heart. I can’t really describe how much I love this continent. I have learnt more living in this place and learning the cultures of each new country than any other time in my life. I understand the bible 1,000 times more than I ever did because of what I’ve seen and experienced here.

When I walked away from the documentary tonight I wanted to bawl my eyes out. It provokes so much emotion on so many levels, anger against human traffickers and rapists, grief over the girls who have been beaten and abused, deep sadness for the families living in poverty, struggling to make ends meets and keep their children in school and a overwhelming sense of how blessed I am. I am able to be here with Mercy Ships because of supporters like you. As easy as life on board is, it certainly has its challenges, but more than ever I know that God has called me to give away my life in the Western world and I think some of my tears are reserved for mourning the loss of what I thought my life would look like and surrendering it back to God in pursuit of His plans for me. There is no greater satisfaction than knowing you are in the centre of God’s will for your life and that’s where I want to be.

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Everyone Has a Story

Another day has passed, another shift ended, another story unfolded throughout the day, tugging at my heart.

The last three days I have been working day shift as a nurse. I mean, actually as a nurse looking after patients on my own, not being in charge and not showing anyone how it’s done. I have hung NG feeds, measured medications, changed dressings, cleaned mouths with mouthwash, encouraged patients to eat and drink, checked blood pressures, heart rates, temperatures and documented it all in their notes, but the most important part of my day has been sitting down beside the one who hasn’t smiled yet and sleeps all day, to figure out what his story is.
I love getting to know my patients. I like to ask who is in their family, what they do for work, where they live, what they like to do in their time off. Some patients automatically engage and are easy to chat with and interact freely. There are others who sit in their beds, eyes downcast, frequently sleeping, staring out from blank faces void of emotion. These are the challenging ones. This is where I often find translation and a cultural barrier frustrating. I want to just sit down and have a good heart to heart, ready to hear their struggles or frustrations. Instead I have to channel all my carefully worded questions or encouragement through another person who doesn’t say what I’m saying word for word and is also filtering it through their own culture. Somehow it all usually works, although the conversations look different from those you’d have at home.

Today my challenge was simply to find out more about one of my patients so that we can love him as best we can in this place while he is away from his family. He had been laying in bed most of the morning with his blankets pulled up to his nose or over his head. (Many of them pull their blankets over their head and it’s quite normal at night time to see this.) Patients and caregivers around him were laughing and playing games and he just lay there under the blankets in his bed, almost as though he was in another world.
He had been admitted to the ward a few days ago and had the first stage of several surgeries completed. From one side of his face, you would never know anything was wrong, but from the other you could see that noma, a facial flesh eating disease, had eaten away one whole side of his nose and under his eye, leaving his eye with no support and tears constantly dribbling down the scarred remainder of his cheek.
He said he lived with his parents and had one younger toddler sibling, but that he didn’t miss his family. He had only been to school up until the age of nine when he had gotten sick and now that his face was distorted he couldn’t concentrate for long because his eyes hurt. He told me that he worked his own farm, growing beans, rice and peanuts, alongside zebu, chickens and goats. He sold his produce in the local market. I wondered if it was him that sat at the market stall. Did he hide his scarred, disfigured face? How did the people treat him? What sorts of comments had he endured in the nine years since his face had changed? I told him that he would be here for a number of weeks and that we would get to know him, he could get to know us and that if he wanted to learn how to read or write or even play the guitar we would do what we could to help him. He took the information in, nodding his head.
My friend and co-worker Amy, brought over a new packet of foam stickers with farm animals, fences and barns. She handed him a sheet of blank paper and he sat up, interested and immediately set to work. Minutes later he’d put together a little map of his farm at home, with numbers on the animal stickers of how many of each he had. As we asked him about it and exclaimed over it, a smile lit up his face. The little boy from the bed next to him also came over and joined in the craft he was doing on his bed.

Later on Amy blew up a balloon and in good humour drew one of the patient’s faces on it, dressings and all. She drew one for each patient, then batted the balloon to them in their bed. The whole side of the ward was laughing and commenting in Malagasy at how each balloon face looked. When she finished his and hit it across the room to him, a big smile spread across his face. These small moments seemed triumphant. He sat up in bed, cautiously interacting with the day crew who had been translating the conversation with him. As I watched him over the next couple of hours, he smiled and laughed and played, not all was fixed but for a few moments there were no troubles written on his face.

This boy has many weeks of life in this hospital ahead of him as he endures a few more surgeries and the healing in between. I’d love it if you kept him in your prayers. I can’t wait to see the way his life will be transformed, not only physically but by the constant medicine of laughter and love. When you pray for him, call him Hery.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Light in the Darkness

In front of me is a stage, there is a lead singer with a guitar, two singers to one side and three singers to the other. Behind them is an electric guitar player and a drummer. The stage they are standing on is big with 5 huge speakers on each side. They are singing gospel songs that I know and begin to sing along with.

I am standing about 100m back from the lapping waves, facing the ocean across from where I can see the Africa Mercy, the big white ship, glittering in the lights. The ship is anchored to the dock far off across to the right of my view of the stage. Standing in front of the stage, on both sides of me are roughly hand-made wooden stalls, selling mostly food and drinks. On my left is a little fair ground with a man-powered Ferris wheel, a small roller coaster and other rides. They are all lit up and the coloured lights shine in the darkness surrounding us.

As one song finishes and the next ones begins the language changes from English to Malagasy and I come back from my little dream world and realise I really need to work on learning the words to the Malagasy songs.
I am standing with a friend from the UK who joined me on this little adventure. We met two local friends on the street who work on the ship as Hospital Chaplains. They stand beside us singing. Other than us, there are a few people standing behind the sound desk, and a few people scattered here and there on the outskirts in the darkness, unreached by the light from the stage. The space in front of the stage is completely empty, yet the team on the stage continue to sing as though the space is full of people praising God.

Faith, obedience, hope, determination and love are a few of the words that spring to mind when I think of the team singing out into the darkness and empty space.

A group of churches in Tamatave decided to hold gospel meetings in this space every day for three weeks beginning December 21st and ending January 11th 2015. I had ended up there because one of the singers on stage is a friend of mine who works with me and he had asked me to come. You just never know what to expect exactly when you say Yes to a request like that, but I’m always up for an adventure.
When the singing finished, the band left the stage, all but the lead singer, Marc, another of our Hospital Chaplains working on board. He began to preach in Malagasy. Now I’ve learnt a few words in Malagasy but only the usual greetings and a few words here and there, but certainly not enough to understand a message. My other friend, Nathaniel, who’d asked me to come along, came down from the stage and greeted us. He stood next to us and translated the whole message, the light from the stage illuminating his face as his mind worked quickly translating from one language to the next with no breaks.
Marc preached about Job and his perfect life and how it was stripped away from him yet he continued to praise God. He spoke about Jonah listening to God’s voice and his disobedience and then obedience and the salvation of the people that came because he listened to God. Marc asked the band to come up on stage and Nathaniel made his way across the sandy ground in front of the stage. Marc continued asking the people, whoever could hear him, all the way over to Shoprite, the local supermarket across the way, and anywhere that the microphone could be heard, for them to put up their hands if they would like to know Jesus. There was still no gathering in front of the stage, but Nathaniel turned back around towards us and when he got close, he whispered, “Look around. Look at the hands.” I turned to the right and left and saw there had been small clusters of people gathering in the shadows during the message. There were arms up here and there throughout the small groups of people. No huge crowds pushing for room stage front and centre, but hungry hearts. Marc led them in a prayer and I couldn’t help but feel extremely proud to be there in that moment.

I admire the faith that this team walked through that evening, if I had been on stage singing with hardly anyone to be seen in the crowd I might have felt as though it wasn’t worth the time, yet God came through. He gathers His children. He draws them into Himself, one by one, we just need to be faithfully obedient to His call.

What is He calling you to this new year?

Yes, the New Year has turned. Happy New Year friends!


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