Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry and Bright 2015 - Christmas on the Africa Mercy

Christmas is a BIG deal here on the Africa Mercy. I believe it serves two purposes. First, it keeps us too busy and distracted to be homesick. Second, they try to cover most Christmas traditions, even from different countries, so everyone feels included. There’s an event happening nearly every day of December! I’m pretty sure it would be almost impossible to be a part of every event – but what’s great about it is even if you miss a few (like for work shifts) there will be something else to make up for it later. The variety is amazing and each event becomes its own special AFM tradition. I picked a few to highlight so you could get a glimpse of what celebrating the birth of Jesus looks like on a ship in Africa!

Deck the Halls – the weekend after Thanksgiving, a large group gets together to decorate pretty much the whole ship! There are lots of Christmas trees, lights, garland and decorations to go around transforming this place in just a few hours. I wasn’t able to participate because I was working but it was fun to see all the boxes coming out as they prepared. Just like at home, there’s a special magical feeling once things are decorated and the season can officially begin!

Door Decorating Contest - To add a little cheer to the rest of the ship, many people decorate the doors of their cabins or offices. It became such a thing that they started making it into a competition and there were some really amazing contenders this year. I helped design and build the door of our ward at work. We were taking care of orthopedic patients so we wanted the theme to include something along those lines :) Even though our door didn't win, it was fun to see all of the creative decorating ideas and it made the ship so festive!

Cookie Bake – We have an amazing social activities coordinator (KJ) who puts together all the Christmas season events (and pretty much all the activities on the ship the rest of the year as well)! This is a huge job, which she does very well; however it’s way too much for one person. So each event has volunteers who help coordinate things. I volunteered with my friend Kathy to run the Christmas Cookie bake! Trying to get all the pieces together in the days before was a bit nerve wracking but we had some great helpers who made a huge difference. We couldn’t have done it without them! It turned out to be tons of fun and people seemed to really enjoy themselves.

Christmas Concert – One of my favorite parts of ship life is living in community with families. Some jobs require a commitment of several years and a whole family will move together to fulfill these needs. There’s an academy onboard the ship and they do all they can to make life as ‘normal’ as possible for the kids. Several of the Christmas activities have special parts just for them. One evening there was a Christmas concert with choirs (adult and children), instrumental pieces, and special music. Felt just like something I might go to at church back home!

Winter Wonderland – One of the most anticipated events of the year is Winter Wonderland. Imagine a Christmas craft fair and a bake sale combined with an African twist and that’s pretty much what Winter Wonderland is! I was working again for this one, but I did stop by for a few minutes to get some delicious treats and beautiful Africa ornaments. 

Gingerbread House Contest – I was not able to participate in this one but I did see the final products (and tasted some of the losers). Teams signed up to decorate a house out of REAL gingerbread pieces and the top 3 favorites were chosen to display. It’s hard to see in the picture but 1st place was a Cabin in the Woods, 2nd place was Malagasy Christmas and 3rd was Wizard of Oz Christmas (complete with wicked witch crushed under the house!).

Advent Services – I never knew what advent was growing up as it was not something our family or church mentioned very much. As I’ve gotten older, I love the idea of spending the month of December in ‘expectation’ of Christ’s birth and it seems much more meaningful that just celebrating one day. I like to imagine that it helps to take the focus of all the ‘Christmas stuff’ and put it back on Jesus and what the season is really about. This year, the focus of our advent was God: the Giver of Good Gifts. Each Sunday we’ve been talking about a new gift that God has given to us including Power, Peace, Purpose, Provision, and Promise.

Carols by Candlelight - Another one of the most anticipated AFM traditions is Carols by candlelight. Many churches have some sort of candle light service usually on Christmas Eve, but this one was more unique than any I've seen before. Usually, it is held on the dock outside the ship. Rain forced us into our warehouse instead. Lots of people came, including the few patients who are left in the hospital over Christmas. This year, it was put together by our Australian crew who added a lot of fun and Southern Hemisphere Christmas humor (including an appearance by the AFM Wiggles!).

Christmas Shoes - One of my personal favorite events new to me this year was Christmas shoe gifts. On Christmas Eve night, everyone leaves a shoe outside their cabin door and then goes around in the night to pass out gifts! We don't have access to a lot of 'stuff' here so this tradition focuses on small or handmade gifts that may not be worth much but mean a lot to receive. I didn't think much of this one until I was actually a part of it. As I went around passing out gifts, there's such a fun atmosphere around the ship. Families, couples, groups of friends all spreading love, cheer and surprises to wake up for on Christmas morning! 

Coffee and Pastries/Christmas Brunch - And finally, on Christmas morning, I had the pleasure of helping in the cafe to serve pastries and coffee while everyone waited for Christmas brunch (the most celebrated meal of the year, I'm told!). It was so fun to wake up early and greet everyone Merry Christmas! There were children in pajamas, friends opening presents together and the beauty of community far from their own families but creating family together.

Guys, that's not even all the events that happened. I figured that was long enough though! I wish I could say Merry Christmas to each of you in person but if I cannot be home, there is no place I would rather be than living in this amazing community with friends I've grown to love. That baby born in Bethlehem was the first "missionary" who left his home in heaven, and I am honored to continue that tradition serving in Madagascar! And as a final surprise, here's a quick video I made as an update to my church in Florida. Hope you enjoy! 

Sunday, December 13, 2015


Let me interrupt these fun holiday posts for just a second to talk about something that's been on my mind the past few days.
In our weekly Community Gathering on Thursday, the speaker talked about this word 'Kairos'. I don't believe I had ever heard of it before but it's an important concept that I wanted to share.

Kairos is a Greek word used many times in the Bible. It is one of the two Greek words to describe time. Most people know 'chronos' which is Greek for minutes and seconds time. Literal and straightforward passing of moments like on a clock (chronological time). Kairos, however, is very different. The Webster's dictionary definition of kairos is "right or opportune moment". In Greek, it is used to describe an opportunity, season or fitting time. Kairos is qualitative and not easily measured.

Here are some examples of Kairos in scripture:

  • Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity (kairos), because the days are evil. Ephesians 5:15-16
  • Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time (kairos) we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity (kairos), let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:9-10
  • And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time (kairos) as this? Esther 4:14

On his blog, Pastor J.R. Briggs puts it like this:
"Kairos is pregnant time, the time of possibility – moments in our day, our week, our month, our year or our lifetime that define us. It is a crossroads. It has the ripe opportunity to make you bitter or better. It is a teachable moment. It is the right or opportune moment. They are rarely neutral and always leave an impact on us."

So what does this have to do with Mercy Ships? I wish I could explain it better but I'm not that great with words. Basically, there are a lot of really big things happening with Mercy Ships right now. Most of them involve the building of a brand new ship specifically made for our purposes (instead of remodeled into a hospital like the current ship) and the capacity in the next few years to have 2 ships operating to reach many more people than currently possible! We also have a prime position in the future of global health because providing safe surgery is becoming a huge goal for many developing countries.

But of none of these things would be possible without God who shows Himself to us in so many miraculous ways each day! The right people, the right places, the right time...there's a million little stories of things that many would call "coincidences" but I would prefer to call them God's kairos moments.

I love how Briggs said in the above quote "pregnant time" because that feels so true. There's this sense of expectation all around. Like we've been waiting nine months for a baby to be born and the time is coming near. Every update on the new ship, media story or financial partner feels like one step closer to the kairos God has in store for Mercy Ships - and it's the coolest feeling to be a part of right now!

And it feels extra special during this season of Advent - waiting for the Christ child who came at a kairos time in history over 2000 years ago. The world did not know a baby would be the way to salvation. But God knew. Mary did not know that the little boy she carried would be crucified and resurrected to redeem a sinful world. But God knew. The shepherds did not know the infant they worshiped that glorious night would one day return to fulfill the longing and waiting of all these years. But God knew.

My prayer is that this Christmas season, as we look expectantly toward that baby and all that his birth represents, that we would trust God's kairos time. May we lay all our questions and fears and insecurities about the future down at that tiny manger and believe that He knows. And may we look for the kairos moments in our lives each day...moments that define us and leave an impact on the world around us.