Tonight I had the privilege of listening to the Founder of Mercy Ships, Don Stephens, get up in front of the Africa Mercy crew and speak to us. He brought us back to the beginning of Mercy Ships and walked us through the history of the three ships previous to the one we are sitting on and looking ahead to the one that’s being built in China as we speak. Three crew members (Keith Brinkman, Gary and Susan Parker) were also awarded their 25 years of service awards, a little late, as each of them have actually served from 26-29 years at this point. Honestly, as I sat at the back of the room, my heart swelled. I am so proud to have given so many years of my life to an organisation that speaks life, not just into the people that we are here to serve but to each other.
I remember sitting in the International Lounge, as I was tonight, in 2009, during a community meeting when the 5 year awards were being given out. Person after person and then a few families too were called to the front of the room, spoken encouragement to and given their awards. I had signed up for 6 months and 5 years seemed like an eternity to me. I was a young nurse, just starting a career that I loved. I had come to give 6 months of my time and then return home to normal life, but something in me caught fire that night and has not stopped burning. I wondered if I was cut out for living 5 years of my life in this place. Well, so far I have surpassed that and I can’t believe how quickly time has passed. This ship is my home. This community is my family. The hospital and people of Africa are my passion and love. They are now a permanent part of me that I will always carry with me.
So often I have looked around at my community and felt sad about the missing faces of friends who have come and gone over the years. We joke that the only constant with Mercy Ships is change. How true that is, but the work is always the same. It is the faces of my patients who spur me on, who have changed me from the inside out. I don’t even know when it happened and can’t really articulate what it is, but if you had the chance to walk inside my hospital ward I could tell you the story of each of my patients. If you could see their faces, scarred and misshapen and see the way that they are transformed, not just physically but from the inside, you might understand. I wish I could show you their faces every time they look in their mirror to stare at their new reflection staring back. I would love you to see their hands raised in praise to God during morning devotions, the thanks spilling out of their hearts for this free surgery and a chance at a normal life. I would point out to you the community at work in the ward, in a room full of patients who previously didn’t know each other and had probably never seen the other patient’s conditions before, but now they walk and share life together. See the two ladies in bed 2 and 3? They are lying on their beds, heads propped up on their arms, facing each other talking, like two highschool girls on a sleepover. See the uncle of the little boy in bed 7? He is the baby whisperer and how no matter how upset the child is, if he takes them and rocks them, they are soothed. The man in bed 12, on doctors rounds, he grabbed the surgeon’s hands and began to cry. He explained that he didn’t think he would ever be able to have surgery, but now he had been given this gift and he is so thankful. The little 3 year old girl in bed 10, just wandered over to see why the little girl in bed 6 was crying. She came right up to her bed, gently touching the girl, looking up at the dad caring for the crying girl, as if to say, “What is it that’s making her cry? Can I help?” Or that time after church in the ward when one patient, about my age, had tears streaming down her cheeks as she walked back to her bed. I walked up to her and tapped her on the shoulder with a concerned look on my face and opened my arms, she eagerly wrapped her arms around me and we stood there, embraced by each other, her tears soaking my scrub top.
It’s these moments that catch my breath in my throat and make me proud to be a crew member of the Africa Mercy, to be a nurse and to be here.
An update on Olivia: she is continuing to heal. We have tried a new dressing technique for her face which is working well, but still the progress is slow. Her donor site on her leg has made a dramatic improvement. Thank you so much for praying, but please do not stop yet! We still need you to continue!
And while you're praying, could you pray for my health? I've been sick four times in the last five months and would love to stay healthy!