Sunday, January 28, 2018

January Update


New Year, New Start
~January Edition~

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!
Prayer Points:
  • 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.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

September Update


What are we doing in Douala?
~September edition~

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. 
Prayer Points:
  • 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.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Where's Jenny? ~July/August edition~

Where's Jenny?

~July/August edition~
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: 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!)
Prayer Points:
  • 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

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Howdy from Texas!

It's been a busy and exciting 2 months since I left the ship in April. After an amazing 2 weeks in Australia, full of rejuvenation and friendship, I returned back home to Florida. Thank you to all who attended one of my Mercy Ships talks or who I got to meet with in person! It's so encouraging to share what God is doing through our ship and I hope it was an uplifting and informative time for each of you. As I always say, I could not do this without your support, encouragement and love that keeps me going each day along this journey!!

Many of you may have noticed on Facebook or Instagram that I'm currently in East Texas at the Mercy Ships headquarters (called the ISC, or International Support Center) for training. Mercy Ships requires this training for any long term crew members (which is someone who volunteers to serve for more than 1 year). You may be surprised to know that this training is actually 0% to do with my 'job' on the ship :)

Group photo board. We have a total of about 50, including 10 children and 7 ISC staff.
The best way to describe OnBoarding is as a preparation course. Essentially, "How to serve Jesus well in an international community on a ship in a developing country that is not your own without punching someone or jumping overboard". Pretty simple, right?!

Here's the basic rundown:
Week 1: FMS (Foundations of Mercy Ships)- what do we believe, what's our purpose and how do we accomplish that.
Week 2: Faith Foundations- what do we believe about God, how does that effect our lives and how do we communicate with Him.
Week 3: Personal/Interpersonal Development- what is my personality and how does it influence the way I interact with others.
Week 4: Working With Those We Serve- cultural competence, worldview, transformational development
Week 5: Final Wrap-up- crowd management, computer training, final project presentations

Whew, I'm tired already! This is just the surface of the topics we discuss, and there are also many side benefits to this training including meeting a group of crew who I'll be serving with for 1-2 years, interacting with the staff here at the ISC that don't get to visit the ship very often, and having a few weeks of time set aside to focus on learning and growing before arriving to the craziness of the AFM. We've also had a great time introducing a few of the non-American members to the culture of Texas including a rodeo, BBQ, picnic with games and lots of trips to Walmart!

Part of our group at Mabank Rodeo
Honestly, I wasn't really looking forward to coming here. I'd heard mixed reviews about what things were like and being on the ship for nearly 2 years already, I kinda thought I knew it all (that was definitely not the case, I can assure you!). Maybe Lesson 1 was that my pride needed to be knocked down a bit because I've already learned so much and have really enjoyed the time so far! Yes, not every class is mind-blowing, but the overall topics, the people and this beautiful campus have been such a blessing. Texas has been treating us well with some cooler than usual temperatures and lots of rain making everything green! I'm taking in all the grass I can before I don't get to see any again for a year, haha!

Sunset over a field on campus.
2 weeks down, 2.5 weeks to go! Then a group of 30 or so will head to Dallas together and board a few long flights to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands where the ship is in its annual maintenance period. And God willing, somewhere in the beginning of August we will sail to Cameroon! I probably won't have time to write again before we leave Texas but I will try to update again once I'm back on the ship in a few weeks.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Mercy Ships Bug

We have a joke on the ship about people that keep coming and going over and over again - You've caught the "Mercy Ships bug" - and I've got it bad! The only cure for this virus is to keep serving...This place, these people and the incredible mission of Mercy Ships have been deeply seeded in my heart forever and I cannot imagine doing anything else with this one life I've been given. The past two years have been full of so many indescribable experiences and I've learned more about myself, others and God than I would have ever imagined. 
I am overjoyed to announce that I will be continuing on the Africa Mercy for it's next 10 month field service in the country of Cameroon! Cameroon is a large country in Central Africa just two countries away from where we are currently in Benin. This is an exciting time to be serving as it's the ship's first ever visit to Cameroon. It will be exciting to represent the ship on it's first mission the Cameroonian people and to explore another country and culture on this awesome continent of Africa. I will continue to work in the hospital - again as the Orthopedic Team Leader and also as the Ward Team Leader during the months of plastic surgery. This will be a bit of a new role for me and an interesting challenge as we care for more plastics patients than ever before!

Cameroon here we come!!

As part of my new commitment to Mercy Ships, I will be attending a training program at the Mercy Ships headquarters in East Texas in June and July called OnBoarding. These 5 weeks will include classes about Mercy Ships, culture, interpersonal development and theology that are made to prepare crew members for long term service on the ship. As of now, my 10 month stints qualify me to be a "short term" crew member. After much prayer and consideration, I've felt like it was time to commit "long term" to this ministry. For now, that means 2 years starting in July but it's relatively open-ended time frame - or as we say here, TGS: till God says! Now, I will essentially be an employee of Mercy Ships, which brings both increased benefits and increased responsibilities. However, I still have to pay to volunteer ;)

Once again, I ask for your help to make this mission possible! I need your continued prayers more than ever. Every year on the ship brings new challenges- spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. While I still love this place and the work I get to be involved in, the huge needs we face in every country we visit becomes increasingly harder to bear. I must remind myself over and over again that "we cannot change the whole world but we can change the whole world for one person". Pray that as I face these challenges, I will seek the answers and comfort only God can provide and continue to trust Him in every circumstance. And begin praying for the patients we will meet in Cameroon; that God will bring the right patients at the right time and He will make himself known in that country as we share His love there.

I cannot say enough how your support has encouraged me and pushed me to continue on with this work. God has placed in me this passion; I am willing and able to continue serving but I cannot do it without your help! I will need to raise approximately $400 per month, plus travel expenses for the next 2 years. Below is the link to donate online and the address to send donations. If you are feeling called to donate, would you consider joining my monthly support team? I have committed for 2 years and I would be honored to have you join me in this commitment. It's easy to enter your information online and you can even set up automatic payments so you don't have to remember! Thank you for your continuing help to make this mission possible for years to come.

Online donations: 

Donation by mail:
(Send a check made out to Mercy Ships to this address with #4015 in subject line)
Mercy Ships
PO Box 1930
Lindale, TX 75771

Right now as I type this, I'm getting ready to leave the ship and the country of Benin. In order to have some time at home with friends and family before I am due in Texas in June, I am leaving a few weeks before the end of the field service. 'On the way' home, I'll be stopping in Australia to visit a friend from home who is living there for a year! I'll update more when I am back in the States, but for now, thank you so much for following along with my journey and continuing to support what Mercy Ships is doing in Africa!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017


In Madagascar last year, we ate a lot of ice cream! Ice cream is one of my favorite foods; so when you can walk for 15 minutes and get a delicious scoop of creamy goodness for less than $1, it happens a lot. It's also a great excuse to spend an afternoon off the ship in the fresh air and sunshine after work or on a day off. I think I even made it a mission to try every ice cream shop in Tamatave while we were there, and I got pretty close (you'd be surprised how many places have ice cream!). Anyway, one of my favorite spots to stop was actually a pizza restaurant with a freezer out front. The ice cream wasn't that great and you could only get it in a cone (gross) but it was super cheap and would cool you off on a hot day. But the best part about this place was that you could order a scoop of ice cream with every flavor they had mixed together - it was called mélange, which means mixture in French. Ever since I heard that word the first time, I loved the sound of it and I always felt fancy ordering "the mélange" at this shop.

Related image
This is not THE exact Mélange ice cream, but it's close to what it looked like!

It's still one of my favorite French words to say and it seemed appropriate to describe the past few months in 'A Ward' as a Mélange. For the first 6 months of the year, I worked in 'B Ward' but in January, I moved to A Ward to fill a gap. The wards are basically all the same except for which type of surgical patients are housed there. A Ward is home to General surgery, however, the 'general' ward also gets a piece of whatever else needs space at the moment. This is something I had not experienced during my time in B Ward where the patients had been almost exclusively from plastic or orthopedic surgery. Here's a taste of what the mélange of A Ward is like:

When I first arrived in my new home, we had a combination of the last few plastic surgery patients (the ones who have complications, infections or multiple surgeries can stay up to 2 or 3 months) and a surgeon who specialized in goiters, or enlarged thyroid glands. The thyroid is a gland located in the front of your neck and is important in many hormone functions. For many reasons, including genetics, disease or poor nutrition, the thyroid can start to grow too much creating a large tumor-like mass that is often not working properly. Occasionally this causes hormone issues, but mostly it is a benign issue until it grows so large that it puts pressure on the airway and suffocates the patient. The physical deformity can also cause the patients to hide away and become outcasts, many times losing jobs or being abandoned by their family. While the surgery to correct the problem is not too difficult, damaging or removing parts of the gland can cause lifelong health problems if not done properly. Without the hormones from the thyroid gland, some patients will have to go on medication for the rest of their lives or followup with blood tests occasionally for monitoring. The doctors on the ship have developed a good technique for avoiding this problem but it is one of the risks of this type of surgery - the alternative, though, is to not perform these surgeries and risk many patients suffocating from this deformity.

Some of the A Ward nurses gather in the hall with the last few plastic surgery patients.

Several goiter ladies during screening.

Mama Adiza had the largest goiter we'd ever seen. She had difficulty eating, sleeping and even breathing.
She had a new lease on life after a very difficult surgery to remove her enlarged thyroid!
After a few weeks of thyroid patients, we had a gap between general surgeons so A ward was mostly full of overflow Maxillofacial patients. As I've mentioned previously, Maxfacs covers a variety of deformities all effecting the head or neck. Many of the surgeries are high risk and complicated, but those patients thankfully stayed on their own 'D Ward'. We got to care for things like cleft lips, removal of parotid glands (a gland in your cheek) or small facial growths. These things don't sound too complex but they definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. Even after being on the ship for 16 months and seeing all that I've experienced, I'm the first to admit that I don't know much about these types of surgery and I had a lot to learn!

Cleft lip patients recovering on A ward after their surgeries.
Next up we had a specialty brand new to me - and new to the majority of the ship since it hadn't been done here since 2013: Pediatric cataract surgery. The eye surgery program has been running on the ship since January. The majority of the patients are adults who get cataracts from old age or diseases like diabetes. A few of the patients are children who were born with cataracts or developed them at a young age from infection or genetic predisposition. Since most cataract surgery takes about 5 minutes and is done without anesthesia, the patients do not generally stay in the hospital. But for the children, it is necessary to use general anesthesia to perform the surgery without them moving. These kids would come in the night before their surgery to get prepped, then stay one night post-op to recover and monitor them, and get discharged the next day. I don't know anything about eye surgery so it was an interesting area to learn about. Thankfully, we got a little education before and there were always one or two of the ship's eye nurses around to help us. Even though it was very different to what I'm used to, it was so exciting to see the children come in with little to no vision and leave being able to see - some for the first time ever!

Anna and Dorcas are two sisters born with cataracts who received surgery on the ship. Patients with cataracts may seem like they are not looking straight at something but it's actually because they only have peripheral vision and have to turn their eyes to see around the cataract. After surgery, they must retrain their eye muscles to look straight and focus on objects.

Anna and Dorcas with their mother at the final eye checkup.

Finally, at the beginning of April, our general surgeon gap ended! Once again, A Ward is full of hernia and lipoma patients. While these surgeries are minor, the benefits are great. Us nurses try to have a lot of fun in the midst of the chaos - sometimes 6-10 patients coming and going each day! And it's such a privilege to see the relief on each patient's face as they realize this problem that has plagued them for so long has now been removed and they can go on with their lives again.
Hernia patients ready for discharge with the General Team Leader, Jane (left) and my friend Mary (right).
So that's the mélange of A Ward. It's been exciting to try some new things and mix up my experiences here on the ship. This time has made me appreciate how different we are...every person here - patient, crew, translator, caregiver- is in this place at the exact time God has prepared for them and in the exact area that fits their talents and skills. While life serving on the ship has its challenges and stretches me in many ways, it's wonderful to see how we all fit together in this crazy puzzle of Mercy Ships and how God holds it all together in a way that brings Him glory!