"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
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.
What a journey it's been since leaving the Africa Mercy in Benin almost 4 months ago! I could write a book on all that's happened since then, but I'll keep it to some short bullet points (and pictures, of course!)...
I started my journey with a 2 week adventure/debrief/recovery time in AUSTRALIA! This is not a country that was really on my radar before coming to the ship but with all the Aussies I've met and the chance to catch up with some old friends, I knew this was an opportunity I could not pass on. It was a whirlwind 2 weeks between Melbourne and Sydney - and a time I will NEVER forget. Just what I needed before heading into a busy summer in the US!
Next stop was home to Florida for some time with family, friends and supporters. Thank you to all those who came out to hear about my time with Mercy Ships. It's such a blessing to update you all, and I felt so loved and encouraged to continue doing this work God has called me to.
Of course, no trip to the US is complete without seeing my favorite human being - my niece Lora! A quick visit to North Carolina, full of quality time, exploring, play and laughter was just what my heart needed. It was great to find that even though we've only spent about 4 weeks of her life together, we could quickly get reacquainted and have a wonderful time!
I've written a blog post previously about my time in Texas at the Mercy Ships headquarters for training (you can find it here: http://shinebrightmercy.blogspot.com/2017/07/howdy-from-texas.html) so I won't go into it too much. This is my whole group who did training together and will now spend the next 1-2+ years together on the ship! It's been so nice to have a new extended 'ship family'.
From Texas, 35 adults and children from my group all traveled together to Las Palmas in the island of Gran Canaria, Spain (which is a small island just off the coast of Morocco in North Africa) to meet the Africa Mercy where it was just finishing it's maintenance and drydock period. We missed the drydock time - which I'm happy about because there is a lot of construction happening on the ship and no AC! But it's also interesting because it's the one chance to see the ship completely out of water. Pretty crazy!
About 2 weeks after I arrived, it was time for the ship to set sail (not that we actually have 'sails' anymore, haha) for a 13 day voyage to Douala, Cameroon! This is my second time sailing with the Africa Mercy and it's one of my favorite parts. After living on the ship for 2 years without it moving very much, I love to see her out in the open ocean. It really is such a picture of the vastness of God's creation when you look out in every direction and only see water as far as the eye can see. Plus, we usually have some incredible sunsets that are just breath-taking! (bonus: sailing also means we're one step closer to a new field service and the work we are really made to do!)
Praise God for a safe, smooth sail from Las Palmas to Cameroon! The ship arrived in port on Wednesday, August 16.
Ongoing setup and preparations in the hospital and off-ship sites (HOPE center, dental and eye clinic, screening...)
Safe and efficient transportation of almost 200 patients from all over Cameroon to the port city for the first week of screenings
Travel protection for the over 100 new crew member who will arrive in the next 2 weeks
Continued good relationships between Mercy Ships and the Cameroonian government as we partner together to work in this country