Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Giving Blood

Just prior to leaving Sierra Leone one of the other local NGO's came to the Africa Mercy to hold a blood drive.  Generally we keep our blood handy and warm inside of our bodies in case patients onboard need it.  However, with the hospital on the ship closed as we prepared to sail there was really no reason not to leave some of our blood in country for others who may need it.

Dara post drainage.

Who doesn't love a cooler full of blood bags?
 Dara and I both gave (thankfully there is no photographic evidence of my contribution) and we pray that our blood, along with the blood given by many more crew, will put a dent in the huge needs still faced in Sierra Leone.

Chronologically Challenged

Don't you hate it when people blog out of chronological order?  Like when they are in Ghana and just celebrated Christmas and then post about their last days in Sierra Leone. 

So...about Sierra Leone.  We spent our last evening there on the dock as shore leave had been cancelled and we couldn't go any further than that.  As much as we were looking forward to the sail, it was a nice opportunity to 'stretch our legs' for the last time prior to sailing for 5 days. 

One of the huge advantages to living on this ship and spending a lot of time in West African culture is that our kids have begun to adopt the seemingly innate African resourcefulness and ingenuity.  This time it resulted in some stick ball - hitting rocks with chunks of wood found on the dock into the water.  Good times.

Malachi just crushed one into the depths.

Some crew and locals bumping the volleyball around for the last time on the dock.

Xavier having a go with his little stick.

Some of the Galley crew took advantage of thier dinner break to watch the
 sunset before going back to do dishes and post dinner cleanup.

The Africa Mercy at sunset the evening prior to departure.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Unwrapped Gift

Christmas is tomorrow.  We've got some presents for the kids under our three foot tall fake tree in the cabin.  As I look at those presents and reflect on my previous post and the promise to post some statistics, I'm struck by how meaningful a gift we've given so many in Sierrra Leone over the past 10 months.  A gift that you can't wrap, put a ribbon around, or a bow on top of.  Like the gift of sight.  Or the gift of not being shunned by your community because of a grotesque facial tumor.  Or the gift of being able to walk.  Or the gift of being able to eat your Christmas meal without intense pain caused by rotted teeth.  Or the gift of professional training so that when the big white hospital ship leaves you will be empowered to continue to bring hope and healing to your country.

Again, we don't do what we do because of the numbers but both for accountabiliy and because it's encouraging to be able to get a quick visualization of some of the impact that we've had here are some of our end of field service statistics:

Total Eye Surgeries - 1,384
Local Eye Professionals Trained - 23
Maxillofacial Surgeries - 516
Cleft Lip and Palate Repairs - 111
Mentor Sierra Leone Dental Officer - 1
Plastic Reconstructive Surgeries - 159
General Surgeries - 728
Physical and Occupational Therapy Services - 2,282
Dental Care of Tooth Decay and Infections - 34,251 procedures
Training of Locals in Dental Assisting/Sterilizing and Teaching Oral Hygiene - 9
Local Dental Student Practicum - 1
Orthopedic Surgeries - 185
Ponseti Casting (non-surgical correction for club feet) - 105
Train/Mentor West African Medical Personnel in Orthopedic OR - 3
Train/Mentor West African Medical Personnel in Ponseti Casting - 40

The above numbers are just a sampling of our statistics.  There are further statistics for each field above as well as for palliative care, mental health, church leaders conferences, food for life agriculture program, an anasthesia conference, midwife conference, sterilization training, and more.  Also, that only covers the range of things done by the Programs staff.  There remains a host of statistics (some not tracked) of services provided by the Operations (or support) staff that make the Programmatic outcomes a possibility.  Stats like number of toilets cleaned, square meters of floors swept and mopped, miles of railings wiped, number of meals prepared, number of Land Rovers washed and serviced, square meters of deck chipped and painted, number of light bulbs changed, number of functions hosted and served, hours of classes taught or attended, the total tonnage of produce and goods moved (much of it by hand), and the list could go on and on.

We are privileged and honored to have played a part in the lives changed according to the numbers listed above, to live in this wonderful community of brothers and sisters, and to have been called by God to take part in His unfolding story through both of those things.  We pray that we will be able to continue to give the gifts of God's unconditional love, physical healing, and the hope of Jesus Christ through our roles in Mercy Ships. 

Thank you also for the gift that you are in our lives whether you're family, long time friends, or reading this blog for the first time.  In the end, it is relationships that we cherish most.  Thank you for walking this journey with us.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Goodbye Freetown

It's that bittersweet time again.  Another field service is coming to a close.  Sierra Leone, specifically the city of Freetown and its residents, have, seemingly without our acute awareness, grown to be a part of who we are.  This is true in spite of (or perhaps largely because) this field service has been a difficult one fraught with hardships and challenges.  I seem to add a new item to the 'if it can go wrong it will' list daily. 

Nearly ten months ago we were wading and struggling through the quagmire of emotions elicited by the tragedy and mess that was the first screening.  I certainly can't sum that up here.  If you haven't already, please read the previous post 'Shattered' for some background.  Not long after that came 'Redemption' at the second screening, which was as beautiful as the first was gruesome. 

So much has happened in between; so many phenomenal people, so much work, so many relationships built, so many people gone, so many problems solved, so many left to tackle, so many forays into the beautiful mess that is Freetown.  It's so strange to feel that I could write three blogs for each day and not even scratch the surface of our experience and at the same time be constantly at such a loss for what to say.  How do you communicate a smell, the unique feelings of common experience that is ever so uncommon, the bond forged through shared adversity?  I'm sure it can be (and has been) done but not by someone of my limited literary ability. 

We have spent so much time in West Africa that our souls have become enmeshed with the people and culture here.  I pushed Xavier in his stroller for a walk yesterday just 'up the street'.  Our jaunt involved copious amounts of Deet laden mosquito repellent to prevent malaria, a walk down a ships gangway onto a rat infested dock, a bumpy stroll out of the dilapidated port gate onto a narrow road made even more so by the cornucopia of container trucks in various states of disrepair, many of which had people sleeping underneath them on mats or homemade hammocks.  We then proceeded up 'Bad Boy Lane' where we were greeted (to the unaccustomed, accosted would probably feel like a better description, although not so for us anymore) by lots of people touching us, shaking our hands, patting Xavier's head, and calling "white boy, white boy, why don't you walk (translation of the Krio version that we hear)?" as three years old is well past the cultural threshhold of being expected to walk unaided in busy, crowded streets.  We got to the top and turned onto Fourah Bay Road, a cacophany of smells, sounds, and colors there to greet us.  We joined the throng of people going about their evening business and thoroughly enjoyed our stroll down a road where 18 inches of clearance between you and the cars that are passing is considered a big gap, public urination is socially acceptable, and having your head on a swivel to be aware of your surroundings is par for the course. 

We will miss so much about this place and her people. 
In the mean time there is still much to be done to finish preparations for sailing.  And then there's the sail - one of our favorite parts of serving on the Africa Mercy.  After that, a couple of weeks in Ghana and then on to Togo for our next six months of adventure.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What If?

Well, I'm not always the most politically correct person around, a fact that does not come as a surprise to those of you that know me.  As we approach the end of our 10 month field service in Sierra Leone I'm beginning to think about doing a post on some end of field service statistics (of course said blog post thoughts are due entirely to my lovely bride who helps keep me on the straight and narrow and blogging about things in something like a timely manner).  That blog will be coming soon.  At any rate, a thought occured to me.  What if?

What if I didn't post about the number of surgeries that the Africa Mercy has performed in the past 10 months?  What if I didn't post about how the work that Dara and I do is integral to successfully bringing hope and healing to the poor?  What if not one single person in Sierra Leone came to a personal relationship with Christ in the past 10 months as a result of the work that Mercy Ships does and the witness that we provide?  What if I told you that this field service has been rife with demoralizing challenges and frustrating circumstances?  What if I I let on that this beautiful community isn't always forgiving, merciful, graceful, and caring?  What if I told you that there are people here that I don't like?  What if I told you that there are days that I struggle to find contentment in what God has called me to and I'm unsure not of the calling but in my ability/willingness to continue to surrender to His will?  What if......?

Here's the deal - reality is that at times I feel as though we have to 'sell' ourselves through these blog posts; that people reading it will be more inclined to pray for us, financially support us, and believe that we are really being effective for the kingdom if we can 'prove' it through patient stories (especially those that involve a commitment to follow Jesus), statistics, stories of personal sacrifice and surrender, etc.  Now, to be fair, the fact that I sometimes feel that we need to 'sell' ourselves is not a reflection of who you are as a reader but rather of my sometimes cynical views of the body of Christ, especially in the western world.  It is a gross generalization.

Also, I recognize that there is incredible value in reporting statistics, stories of lives changed, etc.  There certainly isn't a lack of desire on our part to communicate those things.  We want to share that joy with you.  We want to be accountable to our worldwide 'family'.  But what if we didn't?  Can or should someone's effectiveness for the kingdom be communicated and validated through numbers and statistics?  Does bringing someone directly into a saving relationship with Christ make someone more valuable?  Do we need to prove ourselves to you or is simply living a life of obedience to Christ and sharing our joys, victories, struggles, failures, doubts, contentment or lack thereof, thankfulness, heartache, worship, etc. enough?  Because the reality is that we do have times and seasons of struggle.  There are things about this ship and community that chafe us.  We work 'behind the scenes' and witness primarily through trying to walk in obedience, loving others, and being an example by ministering within the body here onboard.  In the years that we have spent here I have seen no more effective witness than living a life that glorifies God and displays true sacrificial love to all, beginning with those closest to you. 

What if that were enough?  What if we lived our faith rather than just talking about it?  What if...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Words of Encouragement

We were incredibly blessed to receive the following comment from our friend Dr. Neil Louwrens on one of our blog posts in March:

"I was privileged to be the Crew Physician in April of 2010 aboard the M/V Africa Mercy in Togo, West Africa, and observed first hand the contributions of Peter to the entire well being of the ship community. Let me make it very very clear to all who read this blog: the role of the support staff in the execution of the ongoing mission of the M/V Africa Mercy, and therefore by direct implication, the whole Mercy Ships as an organization, is entirely, and inextricably dependent on the efficient functioning of the support services such as that which Peter provides. I have worked alongside Peter, as Crew Physician, in efforts on board to curb transmissible diseases to crew members from local volunteers and he was very responsive to the solutions offered. Correction. He was 'immediately' responsive, and through his leadership, aided by the Captain, instituted sweeping (literally) measures that brought about beneficial and tangible change, ensuring a continued healthy (and well fed!), and happy crew.
It is true that the medical team tends to 'steal the show', but that is inherently important to the 'face value' of the organization and is tied to its needs to illicit the support of the world to continue it's ministry. But we know as believers, that you don't judge a book by its cover, and that behind the scenes are the true heroes. Peter, and his supportive family, are some of those unsung heroes, and I would ask that you seriously consider supporting him financially as he and his beautiful family serve on your behalf, and His behalf, in a foreign world of heartache and pain. Thank you for your support, and may God bless you and your family!"

Thank you, Neil, for your kind words and encouragement.  We pray God's blessing on your life as well. 

We also pray that those of you reading this will consider his words and visit our support page.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

"I'm Thanksgiving for cookies"

So, as we went around the table at dinner tonight asking everyone what they were thankful for, Xavier says, "I'm Thanksgiving for cookies".  It was hysterical.  Three-year-olds are awesome and I'm thankful for ours.

Some of the other things that we're thankful for:

- friends and family both near and far
- green bean casserole on Thanksgiving in Africa
- sailing and the fact that we get to do it again in a few weeks

- an amazing God of forgiveness, patience, redemption, grace, justice, mercy, and love
- my beautiful, patient, and incredibly wise wife as well as my phenomenal children
- the privilege of serving God on the Africa Mercy amongst this amazing 'family'
- supportive, encouraging, and sacrificial friends
- for the Stewards Department and the honor of leading such fine group of men and women

- for the school onboard and all of the teachers that sacrifice their time and give of themselves to help me get a great education
- a chance to travel around the world and learn about and interact with different cultures
- for the close community on the ship and my friends that are always nearby

- animals
- the ship
- tasty food

- fun places to go like the beach, the Seaman's Mission, and Fil-O-Parc
- toys
- my friends

- cookies (as previously mentioned)
- my friends
- for my Daddy

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Random Photo Blog

Monkey Business

Well, apes, actually.  I must confess that I've lived 34 years without knowing the difference between monkeys and apes.  Our guide at the Tacugama chimpanzee sanctuary outside of Freetown was only too happy to explain the difference.  Actually I didn't even ask, which leads me to believe that perhaps I'm not the only who was unsure of the difference.  Monkeys have tails, apes don't.  Who knew?

The Tacugama chimpanzee reserve was officially established in 1995, although the founders had been working towards it for a number of years (you can find the full story here).  The purpose of the reserve is to provide a safe home for orphaned and endangered chimpanzees.  Many chimps are orphaned as a result of poaching and the illegal animal trade (more info here). 

We had a wonderful time and learned an incredible amount of information both about chimpanzees and the rehabilitation process.   
Our little ape (and a big one, too)

Friday, October 7, 2011

A Quacky Christmas

One of the couples onboard is preparing to leave to transition back to America at the end of November.  They are a wonderful couple and like another set of grandparents to our kids.  They are busy cleaning odds and ends out of their cabin and Denise brought a set of rubber ducks to Xavier at dinner tonight.  They are not, however, just any old rubber ducks.  It is a rubber ducky nativity set.  Really.  No joke.  Here is the picture to prove it.

Complete with three wise men, Mary and Jesus, Joseph, angel, and sheep ducks.
 I'm not really certain if this is sweet or sacrilige or, as one person at the dinner table put it, "I'm not sure if this ruins my faith in humanity or restores it."  At any rate, Xavier loves the ducks and is having a blast squirting water from the wise men at Joseph.

If anybody happens to have a floating stable and manger around, we're in the market.

Diver Rescue Drill

Captain briefing the response team.
 We had a wonderful time yesterday doing an extrication drill of an injured diver from the water.  The scenario was that one of our divers (who work incredibly hard at keeping our intakes clear as well as working full time jobs) injured his head during a dive and needed to be extricated.  I suppose most of you don't want all of the technical details but suffice it to say that patient extrication included a forklift, steel stokes basket with homemade bouyancy attachments (pvc piping attached to the frame), and a very MacGyver-esque rigging harness.  Technical rescue in West Africa requires a certain level of ingenuity.  Our Ship Safety Officer did a great job putting the stokes and lowering harness together along with input from the Captain, our neighbor Dan, and yours truly (my input was fairly minimal).

Donning PFDs
 Four of us from the fire teams volunteered to go in the water to assist the uninjured diver with the patient.  We had a great time, although the water isn't exactly pristine.  There's a strong possibility that Han Solo's quote from the garbage compactor in Star Wars made an appearance, "What a wonderful smell you've discovered". 

Rescuers in the water.  I'm the lovely bald head on the right.
The extrication went very smoothly and I have high confidence in our ability to rapidly and safely extricate a victim in the water should (God forbid) the need ever arise.

Patient coming clear of the dock.
The best part of the whole ordeal was coming home.  Dara was waiting for a call from the surgeon to have a small nodule removed from the right side of her mouth but said not to worry about the drill because Grace would be home with the boys after school if she got called down.  I came back from being in the water to find our friend Nikki with the boys and Grace and Dara both gone.  Grace had knocked her tooth off again (third time) and Dara had been called down to prep for surgery.  When it rains it pours.  Grace's tooth was glued (non exactly the technical dental terminology) back on without incident and I was able to be there for Dara's minor surgery (local anasthesia only).  Unfortunately, she torn one of the stitches shortly after coming home and had to go back down later in the evening to get numbed up again and get a few new stitches.  Everyone is doing well now but it was a pretty busy afternoon.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Just Another Day in Paradise

The Team House.  Sounds like some kind of off the grid, military hideout, doesn't it.  In reality it's where our Off-Ship Programs staff live (who, by the way, are awesome!).  It's about 6 kilometers and usually about one to one and half hours away.  Today we made it in thirty minutes.  Definitely a record for us. 

The team live in a fairly large house in a protected community that belongs to the Swiss Government (I think).  Believe me, it isn't nearly as sumptous as it sounds.  Actually, while we find it quite nice, most even moderately affluent Americans would be hard pressed to let go of twenty bucks to pay for an overnight stay. 

I digress.  We spent the day there with our awesome friends Tracy, Donovan, and Jordan.  The day was a smashing success with good weather, some tennis,

a BBQ (that we got charcoal for from a lady with a bag of it on her head), a dip in the pool, and of course a monkey.
Those of you reading this who live or have lived in a developing nation (especially in West Africa) get this.  Those of you who do not or have not, I only wish that you could begin to imaging the richness and depth of the events of this day because there is simply no way to expain in words how very different a little drive to a friends house for a swim and BBQ are from any experience you've had or can imagine.  I hope that doesn't come off as arrogant or cheeky.  It isn't intended that way.  I truly wish that you could know the absolutey incongruous, unfathomable joy that comes from 'enjoying' the 'simple things' in a devestated, post civil war, warm climate culture, African environment.  I guess you'll just have to start asking God to call you to Africa (even if it's just for a visit - we'd love to see you!).

The Word of God

There were a group of men and women on the ship this morning who brought with them many historical artifacts containing the word of God.  They are in West Africa with just a small portion of thier artifacts doing some teaching and lecturing.  They were invited to come to the Africa Mercy and were onboard for about two hours this morning.

Their texts ranged from cuneiform tablets to a 16th century Bishops' bible.  There were 40 artifacts in total.  It was incredibly interesting and I wished that I had more time to study them.


Imagine this; 5 boys between the ages of three and eleven, a six man tent that takes up the entire living room area to the point that you can't walk around it and have to push the couch into a niche and climb over it to get to the bathroom, a s'mores camp'fire', and a three a.m. wakeup call.  That was our night last night.

Elijah and Malachi both invivted a friend over (Xavier makes 5 in the previously mentioned group of 5 boys) and we set up the tent in the living room of our cabin.  With the table shoved up against the wall and the couch turned on it's side pushed into the niche by the bathroom we just had room for the tent in the cabin as long as you didn't mind crawling under the corners of it to get from one side of the room to the other.  The boys had an awesome time.  Honestly, my patience tank was pretty low after getting lots of 'help' putting up the tent and Dara did an amazing job entertaining a VERY hyper group of boys. They played spoons, the pillow game (lots of animal noises and whacking with pillows), and some other card game that I don't know the name of.  They also played charades and a flashlight game. 

After that there were s'mores of the camp'fire' (a pile of blocks that we shined a red flashlight on) with marshmallows on chopsticks.  Dara was giving them fire safety instructions and asked why they should not wave their marshmallow around if it caught on fire (theoretical of course, as there was no fire involved) and one of the boys says, "because it will set of the fire alarm".  I love living on this ship.

Amazingly they were asleep by 10pm.  Unfortunately, they were up at 3am and didn't go back to sleep.  I had the joy of getting up with them (although not until 6.30).  I'm sure the six of us were quite the sight traipsing into the dining room in our pajamas. 

On the whole, an awesome camp-in (planned, or course, by my incredibly creative [and beautiful] wife).

Monday, September 12, 2011

Buoyant Education

Last week we had the pleasure of attending the Africa Mercy Academy open house (just in case it isn't clear, our living on a ship is the source of the buoyant in the blog title).  Our kids have been involved in the Academy since we came onboard over four years ago and Dara is a teacher so of course we've seen the Academy plenty of times.  The open house, however, is a wonderful opportunity to stop by all of the classrooms to check out what's going on and be challenged by whatever activity the teacher of that room has come up with.

There was Social Studies trivia, French trivia, world map labelling, emotion face coloring, story writing based on Egyptian (I think) symbols, word assignments (is it a verb, adverb, adjective, noun, preposition, pronoun, etc.), and some math fractile thing (sorry Mr. Farrell for my lack of both proper terminology and enthusiasm regarding all things math), to name a few. 

The kids were all excited to show us their classrooms and it's always great to have another opportunity to connect with their teachers in a school setting (we get plenty of opportunity to connect in community).  We are so blessed to share life with and entrust our kids to teachers who love God, are passionate about our children's eductation, and model lives of love and integrity.  We can't imagine a better educational environment for our kids. 

Thank you Jesus and thank you teachers!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Patient Story - M'Mai Souma

M’mai covered her chin with an orange rag tied behind her head to make herself more socially presentable. The tumor that protruded from her mouth resembled a whole leg of lamb held between her teeth. The rapid growth of the tumor was alarming. In only two years it had grown so large, it was about to suffocate her.

A young Muslim wife and mother of two small sons, she had been trained as a seamstress. Her leadership skills and ability to connect with people helped her to run a successful shop where several young people were learning to sew. But she stopped working when customers shunned her because of the growth. Verbal abuse from those around her made her feel ashamed, and she withdrew into the house. However, her husband, her sons, and a couple of neighbors continued to be supportive.

She tried traditional African medicine at home, but that didn’t work. The tumor kept growing, and those around her expected her to die. Desperate to find someone to remove the growth, she sold her sewing machine to pay for a trip to see a witch doctor. She was gone for six months. Her family thought she would not return. When she did, she found her husband had taken a second wife, her room had been rented out, and she had to sleep on the couch – a rejected woman.    
Still hopeful, M’mai went to a clinic run by missionaries Jonathan and Anja Erickson in N’Zao, Guinea. Jonathan has brought many patients to Mercy Ships in the past, and he knew volunteer surgeon Dr. Tony Giles well. M’mai sent a photo of herself to Dr. Tony and went to the screening that he and his wife, Ann, were holding in the area. He referred her to the Africa Mercy for surgery.
Jonathan drove M’mai and ten other referred patients the 1200 km to the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He stayed with them for a month – providing translation, encouragement, and spiritual comfort.

The volunteer doctors removed the growth from M’mai’s mouth, and she anxiously awaited the therapy that followed. Therapist Sally Peet gave her exercises to practice several times a day. Determined to have a normal face again, M’mai did the exercises faithfully, all day. The next morning, Sally was happily surprised to see how much the swelling of M’mai’s lips had gone down. “My star patient!” she joyfully announced. “She’s so diligent and does her exercises! What an amazing transformation!” And, indeed, the transformation was amazing! Even M’mai was transfixed when she saw her “new” face in the mirror.

There were other transformations, as well. Her confidence returned, she was ready to be sociable once more, and smiles played easily across her lips. While she was recuperating, she spent some time in a Bible study and decided she would give her life to Jesus, saying she didn’t want to return to her old life.

“I would like to start up my sewing shop again,” she said. Her time on the Africa Mercy had not only restored her physical life, but had also opened up a new spiritual life, as well.

She will return to the ship in September for more surgery, if she needs it, and will then be ready for a new beginning at her tailor shop.
“I am so grateful to Mercy Ships,” she said, her eyes twinkling. “And I’m thanking God for what He has done.”
Story by Elaine B. Winn
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell and Claire Ross  

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Clean Up On Isle 3

Actually, I think it was row 12.  So the only flight that our family was not all seated together was the first one from Seattle to Chicago.  Grace was at the front row in our section, Dara and Xavier were just a row in front of me about 10 rows back from Grace, and Malachi and Elijah were in the same row as Dara and Xavier but on the other side of the isle.  On that row there was another passenger sitting in the isle seat on both sides.

A few minutes into the flight an attendant stopped by my seat to let me know that, although the seat belt sign was still on as we had not yet reached cruising altitude, she allowed Grace into the lavatory as she was out of her seat and pointing at her mouth to indicate it was full of vomit.  I thanked her for her kindness and later went to check on Grace who said she was feeling better.  She actually ended up puking in an air sickness bag at landing as well but we didn't learn that until later.

The real fun came just as we began our final approach.  Malachi says (I later learn from Dara), "I think I'm gonna throw up".  I hear Dara telling Eli to get a bag for his brother, which he does not do quickly enough.  Soon I can see the results of Malachi's efforts pooling beneath his chair as the lovely aroma of fresh bile wafts through the passenger cabin.  I see the woman sitting next to him doing something, which Dara later informs me was her partially opening an air sickness bag and throwing it at Malachi.  Very kind of her, I'm sure, but all it really did was ensure that he got puke all over his hands and lap as well as he tried to expell the remainder of his stomach contents into a half opened bag.  She spent the rest of the flight (mercifully only about 10 minutes) leaning as far towards the isle as possible, looking queasy and irritated.

We waited for the plane to clear (all the while Elijah's looking like he may add to the festivities with a sympathy puke) and the flight attendants were very helpful (thank you United Airlines), giving me wet cloths and garbage sacks.  I cleaned him up the best I could and took him into the terminal to a nearby bathroom to fisnish the chore (now a thank you to O'hare airport for the awesome little utility sinks in the men's room).  Thankfully, Dara is a phenomenal packer and thought to bring a change of clothes for him.  His shoes were plastic and he wasn't wearing any socks so that was an easy clean.  The backpack was a bit of a chore (which was as his feet as he wretched).  But, by the end of it all, we had a very fresh smelling eight year old and a sack full of vomit scented clothing. 

He ended up doing the old technicolor yawn a few more times on the next flight but managed to get it all into a bag each time.  Thankfully, that seemed to be the end of it and no recurrences since. 

Who doesn't love international travel with four kids?  At least it makes for good blog material.


Well, as Grace already mentioned in the previous post, we're back onboard the Africa Mercy.  Rather than write a ton of blogs on all of the things we did this summer I though I'd just get you all caught up (ketchuped?) briefly.

As already mentioned in a previous post we had the wonderful opportunity to take a family vacation to California including trips to Disneyland and Lego Land.  On the drive back to Washington we needed to stop for lunch and did so in Livermore, CA.  Dara said as we exited, "Mary and Dave live somewhere in Livermore, I think".  Mary and Dave are relatives on Dara's mom's side that we haven't seen in years.  We called Dara's mom to get their phone number and gave them a call from the Jack in the Box we were eating lunch at.  Their house was four blocks away!  God was so good to arrange this 'coincidence'.  We spent a wonderful afternoon and evening reconnecting before heading back on the road.

For the remainder of the summer we spent time with family and friends, spoke at several churches (thank you to Cross View Church, Life Point Church [both Lake Stevens and Everett sites], and Central Christian Church), ate tons of great food, and had several fun day outings.

The final week we spent at Warm Beach Camp, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude for their generosity, hospitality, and kindness.  We were there for their annual Family Camp, which includes morning and evening bible/preaching/informational sesssion for both kids and adults as well as a host of incredible activities to be enojoyed in the afternoons (and sometimes late night).  There were several missionaries there and we were honored to be given opportunities to share about Mercy Ships and our involvement in it during the week.  We were inspired, refreshed, and made some great new friends (most especially Mike and Trace Graham).

All in all, eight weeks of God's grace and mercy shown directly and through the lives of those around us.  Thank you, Lord.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Back Home on the Africa Mercy

After our fun and hectic summer we have returned to Africa. We have had a safe and mostly uneventful journey. The only problem was that two of us were sick on the plane, but both feel better now that we are on the ship. We are very glad to be back in our own beds and are excited to see our friends here on the ship again, but we will miss our family and friends in the States. We want to thank Grandma Velda and the Rottinghouses for giving us places to stay and the Dubuque's for entertaining our kids. We also want to thank everyone who made our summer wonderful with your service, friendship, and prayers. See you in another 3 years! - Grace

Sunday, July 3, 2011


I can't believe our last post was on the 8th of May.  There's far too much to put all of it into this post so I'll briefly summarize and we'll add a few new posts soon to elaborate on some areas.

We left the Africa Mercy on June 9th and arrived at Dara's Mom's house north of Seattle one landrover ride through Freetown, one Sierra Leone water taxi, one Poda-Poda, three flights, one car ride, and 41 hours later.

Jet lag actually wasn't too bad and we were over it in a couple of days.  A couple days after arrival Dara's Mom held a welocome dessert for us at her house with family an friends.  It was great to ketchup (catch-up) with some wonderful folks we haven't seen in three years.  We've also had wonderful opportunties to spend time with, obviously, Dara's mom as well as my parents and our brothers and sisters (except Dara's brother Dwayne who is in Florida and my brother Greg who I hope to kethup with this week). 

On Father's Day, June 19th, we surprised the kids by loading them up in the van and telling them that we were going to California for a vacation.  We hadn't had a family vacation in about 6 years.  We hit Disneyland and Legoland.  We struggled with the decision to go as a family that lives off of the financial support of others, especially as our giving is down and the economy is so bad.  We prayed about it a lot and felt a clear 'go ahead' from God.  I cannot begin to tell you how rejuvinating and special it was to have two weeks as a family away from the hustle and bustle of West Africa and the confines of the ship.  To see the kids enjoy Disneyland and have such a stress free time was priceless.  More on that later.

So, we're back now.  We're looking forward to a week with not much planned and then things start to get busy again.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Work Experience - by Grace Koontz

     In April I got to do a work experience. That means that for three days I spent time working on board the ship instead of going to school. All the kids from sixth to eighth grade get this experience. The high schoolers spend a whole week working. For my work experience I helped out the Deck department. The Deck department is in charge of keeping the crew safe. They make sure that life saving equipment such as the life boats, life jackets, fire extinguishers, fire dampers, sprinklers, and EEBDs (Emergency Escape, Breathing Devices) are in good condition and ready to use. They also make sure that the ship's courses for voyages are plotted correctly, steer the ship, and man the mooring lines (the ropes that tie the ship to the dock). The other main responsibilities of the Deck department are to keep the Africa Mercy's decks clean, painted, and free of rust. Another important aspect and very time consuming one is loading all the food and other cargo sent by container. I learned a little bit about how all these things are done and got to try some of them myself. I enjoyed  needle gunning  and hammering the decks and going to areas of the ship that I would not normally get to go. This has been a very interesting and educational experience and I am looking forward to learning about another department next year.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Down Time

In addition to our beach trip a few weeks ago, we were able to go to a local pool last weekend.  We had a very relaxing day and had the place pretty much to ourselves. 

I had fun tossing the boys into the water.

Looks like a hamburger bat is actually one of the turtles that the boys found.

Xavier had some fun in the pool, too.

Stay back!

Here's Grace working on her backward dives.

Rub a Dub, Dub

So we don't exactly have baths onboard so we make do by using a big Rubbermaid tub for Xavier to bath in and just fill it about halfway with water.  The following photos need no further explanation:

Clownin' Around

Dara is still having a great time teaching the Nursery students onboard.  Her class is made up of 7 kids (all 1-3 years old) from the US, Togo, and Ghana.

She has the kids on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 9 - Noon.  Our cabin is the classroom for the first hour.  Having 7 kids, a teacher, and generally a parent helper or two in a room that is about 15' x 20' and includes a couch, table, and 6 chairs is a bit tight, to say the least.  At 10:00 the head up to deck 7 to join the preschoolers for the next two hours.

Dara finds it incredibly rewarding, though often challenging, to be able to sow into these little lives and show them the love of Christ.  They bless her in incredible ways.

Here a few photos of them having some fun:

Different Worlds

Not too long ago we had an opportunity to go to one of the local beaches near Freetown.  Here are some of the photos of our drive there:

And, after two and half hours to go about 30 kilometers it looked like this:

Now, to be fair, it was a national cleaning day so there would typically be less garbage on the streets and A LOT more cars.  None the less, the contrast is startling.  It is a stark reminder of both the incredible need in Freetown as well as the incredible natural beauty waiting just beyond the city.