Monday, February 28, 2011

"Unity, Freedom, Justice"

The blog title is the Motto of Sierra Leone.  From an outsiders perspective it seems contradictory considering the prevalence of discord, slavery, and injustice in the nation's history.  Then again, perhaps it is precisely because of those things that the nation chose a motto that cries out for the things Sierra Leone seems to need most. 

Trouble seemed to start for Sierra Leone shortly after it's 'discovery' (people had been living there for at least 2,500 years) by the Portuguese in 1462.  Not long after it became a major slave trading post, which it remained until the abolition of the slave trade in 1807 (The film Amistad, involving slaves taken from Sierra Leone, can give you a glimpse into that world).  There is a plethora of history that follows, including the government sale of diamond mining rights to Sierra Leone Selection Trust (run by the De Beers company) in 1935.

Sierra Leone gained independence from Britain in 1961.  In 1991, after 30 years of tumultuous political instability, the nation erupted into a 10 year civil war that left 50,000 dead and hundreds of thousands wounded or displaced.  Amputation of limbs and other body parts was a fear mongering tactic used by both the rebels and government forces during the war.  In a nation of about 5 million, there are few who were not directly impacted by the ravages of the war. 

Dara, Malachi, and Xavier were on the dock today and spent some time playing with a 12 year old boy.  Dara asked him about his family and he said his mother and father were both killed in the war.  She asked about brothers and sisters and he said that they were killed, too.  Our hearts are so heavy with a burden of love for these people.  There is so much pain, suffering, and sorrow running just under the surface. 

Also, 60% of the nation are Muslim, 30% practicing indigenous religion, and 10% profession Christianity as their religion.  There is a spiritual heaviness here and the light of Christ is desperately needed to brightly shine.  Thankfully, the Mercy Ships' model is well suited to bringing the reality of Christ's love through action and example in a place where proclamational evangelism is not effective.  We are in no way fearful to verbally proclaim our faith and we pray for the opportunities to do so through established relationships but recognize that displaying the love of Christ unconditionally speaks louder than any sermon we could ever give or tract we could distribute.

We pray for God's Kingdom to come into this nation and to individual hearts during our time here and long after we have departed and we are thrilled at being a part of this portion of the journey of Sierra Leone. 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Finally Home

Freetown Sierra Leone-

Morning in Freetown as seen from the harbor on approach.
This morning we arrived in Freetown after a gorgeous, smooth two week sail.  This is the first time our family has been to Sierra Leone but that doesn't change the fact that we are home.  In many ways the United States is home.  Certainly the Africa Mercy is home.  But we're not really home until we're in West Africa.  The season we had in South Africa was amazing.  We will cherish many of the memories we made and friendships we built.  But it wasn't home.

Floating alongside the dock, we are unable to leave the ship until we've been cleared by immigration.  Standing on the weatherdeck, however, drinking in the smoke stained air is like breaking the surface after too long under water and drinking in that first frantic draught of life-sustaining oxygen.  Our souls are connected to this region through God's calling on our lives and there is a quiet longing to be here when we are away that only increases the closer we get. 

Police band playing on the dock for our arrival.
The kids in their African shirts for arrival.
Already, just from the view from the outside decks, I am struck (once again) by the incredible contradiction that West Africa is.  It is incredibly vibrant and beautiful while also mournfully drab and impoverished.  The contrast is difficult to reconcile.  Actually, I've pretty much given up on trying.  There doesn't need to be a reason or explanation.  It just is.  And we love it - not the poverty, rampant disease, lack of access to basic health care, sewage in the streets, bellies swollen with hunger, and conditions that deprive most of what many in the developed world would consider necessary to basic human survival and dignity.  We love the amazing people that live with joy in a world that most of us would probably not be able to maintain our sanity.  Certainly, as a hospital ship, we love the ability to come here and minister in both physical and spiritual ways but we are also the recipients of untold acts of ministry.  We learn so much about the character of our God through a widened world view and the lives of those He has called us to.  We are not here to 'save' the people of Sierra Leone.  That is God's work.  We are here to be equal shareholders in the kingdom of God with the body of Christ in this nation and to demonstrate the good news of Jesus Christ through love in action and, through building relationships, if called by the Spirit verbally sharing the message of salvation.

Fishing village just near the ship
Sunset over Freetown.
We welcome you to celebrate with us the amazing ways that God will work in our lives and the lives of the people of Sierra Leone for the next 10 months.  We also ask you to pray for us to maintain a strong witness, discern those God intends for us to reach out to as we cannot possibly meet the depth of need, and for our health and personal relationships with the Lord to remain strong.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Elijah's Epiphanies

I like to read books.  The book I'm reading right now is 'The Peanut Butter Hamster and other animal tales'.  The book I will read next is 'The Hairy Brown Angle and other animal tales'.  Then I might read the Chronicles of Narnia (again).  Do you like to read?  What book do you think I should read?  Why?

- Elijah

Malachi's Musings

I'm back on the Africa Mercy.  I want to take you on a tour.  First, we'll start in my cabin and then go out.  If you go aft from my cabin then you'll see some stairs.  If you go up them you will be on deck 7.  There are some class rooms and an outside play area.  The play area is sort of medium sized.  It's big enough to play a small game of soccer.  There are two swings that hang from the ceiling.  Then you can go up the outside stairs to deck 8.  Deck 8 is an outside deck.  On the aft section there's a big crane and a bunch of work equipment and containers.  Then there's the pool.  You have to go up some more stairs to get to it because it's on a raised platform.  Forward of the pool there's some land rovers, the stack (where the smoke comes out from the engines), and other areas that I'm not allowed in.

Then, if you go back down to deck 7, back down to deck 6, and keep going aft from the stairs we went up, there's the main part of the Academy.  There's the 'big' room and some classrooms and some cabins.  Then we'll walk back forward, past our cabin, and you come to the Midships Lounge.  The Midships Lounge is on both the port and starboard side with a little walkway connecting them and a railing where you look down onto the Town Square on deck 5 below.  The Midships lounge has chairs, tables, couches, board games, and the internet cafe. 

Below in the Town square is the Cafe, snack bar, and ship shop.  The cafe has a bunch of round tables that you can sit at.  You can buy Starbucks coffee but I'm not allowed to have it.  In the snack bar there's and chips and sodas and stuff.  The ship shop has key chains and little snacks and other things like tooth paste. 

If you go forward from the Town Square you can see some offices with people working in them.  Then there's reception and the gangway, where we go on and off the ship.  Further forward is the dining room where we eat.  That's as far forward as you can go on deck 5.  In the dining room there's these really steep stairs that go up to the International Lounge where we have our community meetings.  If you go back down the steep stairs, past the dining room and down more stairs you're on deck 4.  That deck just has cabins.

Then you go down again to deck 3 - the hospital.  It has wards and operating rooms and a pharmacy and other hospital stuff.  Deck 2 is the boutique, weight room, storage areas, and I don't know what else.  Deck 1 is the Engine Room.

There's other parts but I don't really want to talk about them.  I hope you liked my post.

- Malachi

Back in the Saddle

Okay, so I've been wretched at blogging as of late (last blog a month ago and no pictures for longer than that).  Thankfully, we have finally moved back on board the Africa Mercy after 5 months ashore in South Africa while the generators were being replaced.  Actually, they're still trying to work the kinks out on that and we're scheduled to sail Tuesday.  Pray for us.

At any rate, as I said, we're back on board and now have access to a much more reliable internet connection and the advantage of being back in a familiar environment.  So, I really should be posting more often.  Feel free to harass me if that doesn't happen. 

So, a few things have changed.  I've moved into a new office.  It's smaller but I now have a window (two of them actually) so it's definitely worth it.  Some changes have been made to the management structure of the Hospital, the results of which we'll see soon enough.  The pool is finally open, although it will close soon as it has to be emptied for sailing.  Speaking of which, we hope to set sail (we don't really have any sails) Tuesday.  We will likely make a very short stop in Cape Town (like 24 hours) and then on to Freetown, Sierra Leone (about an 18 day sail) for a 10 month field service.

It's awesome to be back on board and we're so excited to finally be heading back to West Africa and getting back to doing what God has called us to. 

Hope you'll continue to ketchup with us.