Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Mile 18 - the marathon of Mercy Ships

I recently heard life on the Africa Mercy compared to running a marathon. Now, I obviously have no experience with running marathons (or really much running of any sort) but I think it's a parallel many people can understand.
In a marathon, you start off strong and feel like you can accomplish the world. For the first few miles, anything is possible and you know you're going to beat this race! Then about Mile 12 or so, the adrenaline is wearing off and the exhaustion kicks in. It gets really tough but you push through to get over the hump. Then about Mile 18, your body just wants to quit. Your mind knows the end is coming, but your body is tired and ready to collapse. It takes all the willpower you can muster to keep pushing to the end at Mile 26! The hope is that when you arrive at the finish, it will all have been worth it and you'll forget the pain that got you there. (Now this is based off the marathon runner who made the comparison. I have no idea if this is actually how it goes; it sounds pretty true to me. You runner types can prove me wrong if you'd like!)

All that is to say, right now on the ship a lot of us are feeling like Mile 18. The 'field service' cycle for Mercy Ships looks something like this: Arrive in a new country sometime around August, stay for 10 or so months until June, then spend June and July in a bigger country where repairs and maintenance are done on the ship. We've been in Madagascar for 6 months so far and we'll leave in another 3 months. For those of us who are here the entire field service (or longer), this is the hardest part to push through. The excitement of arriving and new people and lots of life-changing surgeries has worn off and life becomes routine. Anticipation is building for the next country the ship is getting ready to serve in but there's still a few months left here before that can happen. It's an emotional roller coaster that I've heard countless Mercy Shippers lament about whether it's their first time on the ship or they've been here 10 or 20 years!
There are some great lessons to be learned in times like these when I choose to be intentional and look for them (which my friends here will laugh at me saying that, because I hate being introspective!):

Patience is top of the list. We have a lot of patients but I need a whole lot more patience...yes, pun intended! This period on the ship involves a lot of decision making - from leadership, from individuals, about patients and surgical plans and policies and the future. This has forced me to see how often I'm not very good at being patient. I want answers now and I especially want those answers to go the way I want! Worst of all, I find myself being impatient with God. Why can't you show me your plans NOW? Why am I not growing in my relationship with You NOW? Why don't you heal these patients so they can return home NOW? Can't you fix the problems of Madagascar that we know You're powerful enough to change NOW? I'm learning that my lack of patience is based on a lack of wisdom and trust in God. I've been studying the book of James (talk about one wise guy!) and in James 1:5 it says this,
"If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."
Having wisdom doesn't mean I will have all the answers, but it does mean I will be wise enough to wait on the Lord...patiently. Have you ever noticed the 'without finding fault' part? God doesn't expect perfection - He will never be upset with me for lacking! It's never wrong to ask for more wisdom, and He will give it generously. Isn't that awesome?!

Another thing I'm learning is that each and every patient is just as important as the first. When I first arrived on the ship, talk was all about the first surgery, the first plastics patient, the first discharge, the first VVF dress ceremony and so on. As time goes on, we look at the numbers and statistics and talk about how many amazing things God is doing through this ministry, but we can often loose sight of the most important goal: sharing the love of Jesus to each person. Every single patient we have the opportunity to treat deserves the best care we can provide. Whether the first patient or the last, whether the surgery is simple or complex, whether the results are good or bad, whether they believe in God or should not make a difference because God has brought them to the ship for a reason and He allows us the privilege of speaking into that person's life. Even if we never see the impact it may have on that person, we are planting seeds with each interaction.

I've also been learning to spread my focus to more than just the patients. Our ministry is not limited to only that. Each day I have the opportunity to reach out to the caregiver under my patient's bed, the day worker translating for me, the galley worker who made my dinner, my roommate who is having a rough day and the lady on the street who no one sees. What a privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these children of God...if only I would take the focus off myself for a few moments.

One of the hardest adjustments to make in this place is people coming and going all the time. I was warned of this from the very beginning, but that awareness doesn't make it any easier. We have crew on the ship anywhere from 2 weeks to 20 years. There's an average of 20 or so new people who come every week - that also means 20 or so people leave every week! It's very difficult to find the balance between my need for relationship and having strong friendships, but also being open to meeting new crew and getting to know them even for just a short time. The key is realization that short term people are an important and valuable part of this work. Not only could we not do the things we do without all these crew members, they also bring a freshness and excitement to this place. Even just in a few months here, it's easy to become jaded and forget the beauty of the miracles that happen daily in this place. But new crew bring fresh eyes to see them again and reminders of the way it felt when you first experienced these things as well. Basically, it's worth it and I need to recognize that DAILY!

I could go on and on with the lessons I've learned through this time, but I'm sure you have important things to do and don't want to read this blog all day :) The last lesson I'll leave you with is this: Rest is OK! I know this one applies to everyone out there no matter where you live or what 'your job' is right now. We have this impression that we're going to miss out if we don't rush through life and fill our days with every opportunity that comes along. That's especially tempting here in Madagascar where there are always places to go, people to see and work to be done. I'll let you in on a little secret: the work will never end and the things to do will still be there tomorrow! But you will be better able to handle those things if you rest properly. Even God rested after He created the world and commanded us to Honor the Sabbath (a whole day every week!).

Going back to my earlier analogy - life is not a sprint, it's a marathon. There will be times that we're staring up at a hill not sure if our legs will carry us anymore; it's then that we must focus on the finish line and reason we are running at all.
Thanks for letting me share my heart and still loving me through my brokenness <3 p="">