"It’s not about you. It’s not about me. The moon models our role. What does the moon do? She generates no light...Apart from the sun, the moon is nothing more than a pitch black, pockmarked rock. But properly positioned, the moon beams. The moon reflects the greater light.
What would happen if we accepted our place as Son reflectors?" Max Lucado
The Africa Mercy arrived in Guinea two weeks ago! We were welcomed to our new dock in Conakry with music, dancing, joy, excitement...and a massive downpour. It is wonderful to be back in Africa once again for my 4th field service with Mercy Ships and I'm looking forward to being a part of what God is doing here. I'm sorry for my silence the past few months as I've been sailing, traveling, resting and spending a few weeks home with family (please follow me on Facebook or Instagram for more frequent updates and to see what daily life is like!). After a busy year in Cameroon, this time was exactly what I needed to recover mentally, physically and emotionally and prepare for the next year of service. We have one more week until patients arrive on the ship so here is a quick introduction to my new home!
All of June and July, the ship was sailing or in the shipyard in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain to have maintenance and repairs. While this is somewhat of a rest period for parts of the ship like the hospital, for the engineering and deck crews this is the busiest time of year!
One of my favorite parts of sailing is a tradition called Worship on the Bow. This area of the ship is usually off limits to crew for safety reasons except for calm days during the sail. It's great for quiet sunbathing, naps or sealife sighting but once or twice per sail we set aside some time to praise God from the deck surrounded by open ocean! Almost the entire crew attends and things can get pretty rowdy when they pull out crowd favorites like Jabulani Africa or Days of Elijah :)
Here's our Captain John making a phone call on arrival day. For a sea-loving captain, it can be pretty boring to live on a ship that only sails for 2-3 weeks per year. Most of the year is spent making sure the ship is in 'ship shape' for sailing - and when that day comes, it's finally time to shine!
I've been to 4 African countries with Mercy Ships: Madagascar, Benin, Cameroon and Guinea. Guinea is by far the most needy of them all! The difference could be felt from day one just in seeing the port and surrounding areas - and Conakry, the port city, is one of the wealthier areas. Guinea has a population of over 12,000,000, of which 35% live below the poverty level. The ship was last here in 2012-13 and since that time, the Ebola outbreak hit Guinea very hard, nearly crippling the healthcare system and making outside aid organizations hesitant to work in the region. There are approximately 40 hospitals in the country with less than 100 surgeons and 10 anesthesiologists between them (those are very generous estimates since the actual numbers are hard to determine). The life expectancy is only 59 years. All that being said, we have much work to do here and are excited to see how God plans to use this ship and willing people to bring hope and healing to a place that so needs it.
Last week, we held a Mass Screening event in the capital city of Conakry. Over 6,000 people passed through the gates. It proved to be a challenging day, as crowds began to multiply before sunrise in hopes of relief from medical conditions rarely seen in any other setting. By the end of the day, 1,135 people were offered follow-up appointments to return for a more in-depth health assessment. In the coming months, the team will also continue to screen patients from four regions in the interior as well. Thank you for your prayer on this hugely important day that enabled us to find a huge portion of our patients for surgery this year!
Also happening during the time since our arrival is the annual cleaning and set up of the hospital. We have had an awesome crew working tirelessly to set up the wards, operating rooms, and other parts of the hospital to prepare for patients to arrive soon!
I can't get enough of these gorgeous sunsets from the deck of our ship out over the Atlantic Ocean! A different view of God's creation every day!!
As we've been setting up the hospital and preparing for the year ahead, I've had the chance to do a little exploring around the Conakry area. The surrounding streets near the port are mostly small shops and neighborhoods, but just a short boat ride away are several beautiful islands with hotels, restaurants and beaches. While I love most things about living on ship, the ability to get away for awhile and relax in nature is an added benefit, especially after a busy work week. Guinea has many beautiful sights and I hope to see more of them during my time here!
URGENT: One container of supplies, including the tents that go on the dock and other important equipment that should have arrived before the ship, has been diverted from Cameroon. It needs to arrive in Guinea ASAP and also be cleared quickly through customs to allow those teams to have a place to work when patients start arriving soon!
Further screening continues this week for patients who were pre-selected at the mass screening. Four other screening events in different cities all over Guinea will be held in October to fill any remaining spots.
Over 100 new crew members have come onboard the ship since our arrival in Guinea. Pray for smooth transitions and quick training for many people in new positions.
Surgery begins September 4! Pray for the patients and crew who will care for the hundreds of surgeries that will be done in the next 9 months.
9 months ago, a big white ship sailed into the Port of Douala, Cameroon with some lofty goals and even bigger hopes and dreams for the future! And now, just days before that ship will sail towards the open seas once again, I wanted to give a final update from this beautiful country I've called home for almost 1 year. No amount of words, numbers, stories or images truly can capture the miracles we've seen God doing here but I've chosen just a few to summarize an amazing year: Cameroon Field Service: September 2017-May 2018 Surgeries: 2,743 for 2,508 patients Mentoring Participants: 89 Training Participants: 1,433 Dental Patients: 9,220 Bibles Distributed: 675 Balloons, stickers and bubbles distributed: countless :)
One of the most memorable patients I had the honor to care for this year was Fanta. She was a plastic surgery patient who had a large mass growing under her arm. Interestingly enough, Fanta is a nurse here in Cameroon but as this mass grew larger over the years, she was unable to work or care for patients anymore. There were two things that stood out to me about Fanta from the moment I met her: her expert style in using her dress designs to hide this tumor from the public and her gorgeous smile that shone brightly even through the struggles she has faced with this disease. As she left the ward after recovering from surgery, she could not stop thanking the doctors, nurses and God for bring Mercy Ships to give her hope for the future again!
Bernard's neurofibroma started growing when he was just 4 years old. While his parents tried to get him help, the local doctors told them he needed a specialist that would cost too much money. The 19 year old does not let that get him down though, pushing against the odds to stay in school and achieve his goals. His teachers told him about Mercy Ships and encouraged him to be seen - however, he was hesitant to tell his friends, not believing anyone could truly help him. After receiving his free surgery and returning to school, his classmates barely recognized him! Bernard said, "Before the surgery people would keep their distance, but now people approach me. It's given me more confidence and self-esteem, and I now have more opportunities than I had before! Thank you, Mercy Ships!"
One of our favorite transformations on the ship come from cleft lip repairs. Often they are babies or small children, but every once in a while there is an older patient who never had the chance to have their lip repaired like Fadimatou, from the very far north region of Cameroon. After a short surgery and a few days recovery in the hospital, these patients can return home without fear of rejection or being treated as 'cursed' any longer. And we get to enjoy the gift a many beautiful smiles in return! Below: Left- Remember Baby Paul? (one of our first patients back in September who was treated in our Infant Feeding Program to help gain weight) Right- He finally had his 2nd surgery to close the hole in roof of his mouth just before his 1st birthday and he's now home again, fat and happy!
Another Cameroonian patient with an amazing smile was Zidane! He had an infection on his ankle that ate down to the bone and forced his foot to be stuck in an abnormal position. After several surgeries and a skin graft, he was able to put his foot flat on the ground for the first time in years! We had several teenage boys in the ward together around the same time who became fast friends. And what was their favorite Rehab activity? Playing basketball out on the dock with the rim attached to a wall of containers!
One of the programs I don't mention very often is our Ophthalmic Surgeries. However, it is not because they do not have a great impact - consistently operating on over 50 patients per week for a total of 1,500+ surgeries this field service in Cameroon! The majority of patients come for cataract removal, a common problem related to diabetes, poor health or old age. Imagine slowly losing your vision over time but having no power to do anything about it, knowing that one day you will be blind. With a surgery that takes less than 5 minutes, Mercy Ships is helping the blind to see, following the model of Jesus.
We could not do anything we do without the help of our awesome Day Crew! This is the group I have worked with most of the last 9 months. They are a fun, intelligent and hard working bunch of Cameroonians who have helped with translating, caring for our patients and keeping the ward running smoothly. Over 200 day crew are needed all over the ship to make it possible to serve in this country. I am so thankful for them!!
Safety and good weather during the 2 week sail from Cameroon to Las Palmas, Spain in the beginning of June
Rest and rejuvenation for many exhausted crew members after a long, busy and hard field service
Successful shipyard period in June and July for ship maintenance and repairs
Lots of crew members will be coming and going over the next few months, either for vacation time or leaving to return home - pray for safety, smooth transitions, enjoyable times with friends and family and successful support visits
Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships.
We're already one month into 2018 - I can't believe how time has flown! I arrived back to the ship just before the new year after a few weeks visiting home for the holidays. Surgeries took a quick break over Christmas but were back in full swing on January 2. My ward, where we've been doing plastics and reconstructive surgery, took a few weeks longer break because the patients take several weeks/months to heal and we were out of room!
Even though we haven't had many new patients lately, it's been lovely to spend more time with our current patients and get to know them better. January is a common time for birthdays here (since many people don't know their actual birth date, they choose a date instead) so we've celebrated a few birthdays on the ward with some of our special patients. For many Cameroonians, there isn't extra money for celebrations so some of these patients have never celebrated their birthday with a party. They are surprised and a bit shy about having all the attention on them as we sing, have cake or special treats and hang balloons or other decorations to celebrate! Sometimes they will give a little speech, as one dear lady, Rose, did. She had a large growth removed from her face and has had some trouble healing since the surgery. On her birthday, she got up and shared that she is turning 40 years old and she has spent the last 39 years with this deformity but this year, for the first time ever, she will be free of it and wants to spend the next 39 years praising God for taking it away! What an awesome way to start 2018 and her 40th year!! Each one of us has the opportunity to start this new year with a fresh outlook on life, like Rose. Maybe you don't have a deformity, but something else you've been holding onto that God is asking you to let go of in this New Year. Give Him the chance to give you a New Start this New Year!
In other parts of the hospital, the work continues to reach the poorest of Cameroon. One of the most incredible transformations comes from a little 3 month old baby named Paul Pascal. He was brought into the MaxilloFacial ward when we first arrived because he was so malnourished from a severe cleft lip and palate that the doctors didn't know if he would survive outside. His mother Francoise says, "I didn’t understand why it was happening or what I could do to help him. I couldn’t breastfeed him properly. No matter what we did, he kept losing weight. We were so scared...we thought he would die." After months of constant work from his mother and our Infant Feeding Program, he gained enough weight to have his lip repaired. Now a chubby, round cheeked 6 month old, Paul can look forward to a restored future and his mother can again have hope. Below: (left) Paul Pascal when he first arrived to the ship. (right) Paul's mother working with Lee-Ann our dietician on feeding with a syringe.
In the general surgery ward, the last 3 weeks were filled with Thyroid patients. Patients like Djenabou who have had goiters for 20+ years and have hid in shame because people call them "monsters". Not only are these enlarged thyroid glands hard to look at, they are extremely dangerous - causing abnormal hormone levels and blocking a patient's airway until they suffocate to death! The nurses on this ward love to share the many stories of the first time a patient wakes up after surgery and sees themselves without this large growth. They say their smiles and happiness can light up an entire room! Above: 4 crew members who donated blood for Djenabou's surgery pose with her during her recovery. We have a 'walking blood bank' here on the ship with our blood donors coming straight from the volunteer crew!
Outside of the hospital, our Medical Capacity Building team has been working hard to transform the local health system through training and mentorship. This photo shows the WHO Safe Surgical Checklist in use in a local Cameroonian operating room. This checklist was designed several years ago by the WHO to help reduce surgical mortality. It has been in use in Western countries for years. Teams from Mercy Ships go to each hospital in the countries we visit to train nurses, surgeons and anesthesia providers to use the checklist and show them how it can make huge impact on surgical treatment. Other teams work in the local cities providing training courses in anesthesia, biomed, clubfoot treatment and neonatal resuscitation. These training courses allow the work of Mercy Ships to continue to many years, long after our hospital ship has sailed away.
Quick patient update! Do you remember Justine who I wrote about in the Orthopedic email?? Well she is finally heading home after 5 months of surgery and rehab! Her grandfather, who has been here with her the entire time, says that her parents have not seen her straight legs yet. What a joyous reunion that will be when she returns home to her village with her feet pointing forward for the first time in many years!!
And in case you forgot, I really do work in the hospital, I promise! We aren't allowed to take our own photos in the hospital for patient confidentiality, and the focus of our photographers is to take patient photos to use for stories and such. But every once in a while, I sneak into a shot to prove I'm really here :) This happens to be me distracting one of our little patients by walking up and down the hallway with his ball. Fred has now had surgery to fix his cleft lip and has returned home with a fresh, new start!
We have just passed the midpoint of the field service which means there is much more work to be done! Pray for strength, endurance, health and provision for our crew.
Continued good relations with the customs officials. We are still having some issues getting our needed supplies which have been delayed many times.
Please keep in prayer several patients who are having trouble with healing. Pray for patience and wisdom for those caring for them and finding new techniques to help them recover well.
Preparations have begun for the next field service in Guinea. Surgical planning and assessments are currently being done.
It’s full steam ahead aboard our hospital ship - legs being straightened, tumors being removed and lives being changed on the Africa Mercy! We've been in Cameroon just over a month and the hospital has been open about 3 weeks. Over 100 free surgeries have already been completed in the areas of Maxillofacial, Orthopedics and Women's Health. Throughout the year we will also be doing Plastic/Reconstructive surgery, Pediatric General and Thyroid surgery, as well as hundreds of eye cataract removals and thousands of dental procedures! It's been a busy but rewarding month; we are already experiencing what is unique and beautiful about the country of Cameroon.
When I last wrote, we had just arrived in Cameroon after almost 2 weeks of sailing. While I love sailing, our arrival into any country is always an exciting time, and made even more thrilling when it's a country the ship has never been to. The anticipation and expectation felt onboard is almost tangible! The port of Douala is actually on a river, not the open ocean so we sailed for several hours up the river before finally making it to our home for the year (we even had a military escort!).
Once we stopped moving, it was time to get to work cleaning and unpacking 5 patient wards, 6 ORs, and 3 dockside tents. It took lots of scrubbing and tons of soap to get it all done in less than 2 weeks! It's so rewarding to see a shiny hospital ready to welcome patients. We also spent a few days training all the new nurses and day crew (local Cameroonians who will be our translators). I think I've finally learned all their names!
"Our nurses make up approximately 25 percent of the Africa Mercy crew, with over 102 currently on board. They are the heart of this ship, caring for patients with trained hands and warm smiles that quickly make the wards feel like home. Whether they stay for two weeks or two years at a time, they play an integral role in the fabric of our ship community."
"Three-year-old Cecilia’s smile has stolen the heart of everyone who sees it - and she bravely beamed her way around the wards as she practiced stepping with her miniature walker. The only one smiling bigger was her father, Emmanuel, who says that now her knocked knee has been set straight, her future is looking 'bright and full of possibilities'."
Ernest’s eyes tell of a pain and sorrow beyond his years due to a large facial tumor that he has had for over a decade. At only 27 years old, Ernest has spent his prime hidden from the world- but then he heard of a big white surgery ship that could help him. “Many men from my village have tumors like this but they were too scared to come to the ship. They told me I would die. I can’t wait to go back and show them that Mercy Ships has given me new life.”
During our first Dress Ceremony in Cameroon, the Africa Mercy community celebrated the healing of five women from obstetric fistulas and years of shame. The women’s health ward was transformed with bright fabrics and drums beating to commemorate the occasion. Our guests of honor, who were beauty personified in their colorful dresses and radiant smiles, shared their stories -- and their hopes for a new future.
The hospital has provided over 100 surgeries in less than a month and there many more patients arriving each day. Pray for wisdom of the doctors and surgeons onboard to know how to best care for each patient.
The obstetric fistula clinic is scheduled to open in a few weeks. There is much work to be done to be ready to house post-op patients and train local nurses.
Smooth transition and organization for the dental and eye clinics which have recently opened and are currently seeking more patients.
Courses in our Medical Capacity Building program will start soon and they need to find the right participants for each class.
There is some political tension in the west regions of the country. Pray for safety and peaceful outcomes for the Cameroonian people on both sides of the disagreement.
Continued good relations between Mercy Ships and the government and media of Cameroon, especially that they would see Jesus in everything we do.