Saturday, December 14, 2013

Love in Action

The amazing Communication team has put together this phenomenal video called 'Love Is'.  It is absolutely worth watching and reminds us of why we are here, and the privilege that it is.

Love Is

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Camping in Congo

Well, I guess we've ticked that one off of our Bucket List.  Seriously, how many American kids (or adults for that matter) can say that they've been camping in Congo?  We had a blast hiking, whittling sticks, roasting hot dogs, climbing trees, and listening to the chimpanzees keep us up all night.  And what camping trip would be complete without a few mishaps?  You'll have to check the captions below to find them...

Xavier got car sick on the ride out.  Peter's has was the chosen receptacle. 
Campfire - the boys had a blast with this.

Peter and Xavier taking it easy and looking at the sky

Elijah and his friend Elliot out hiking

Just a cool photo of the forest/jungle

Elijah found a funnel-web spider

Roasting hot dogs

Malachi and his friend Nathaniel spent a couple hours whittling sticks
Doesn't look too bad but it sure did hurt!  Xavier as swinging on a vine and a large branch came loose from the tree it was attached to and fell about 30 feet onto Peter's head.

Tree walking.  Malachi and Nathaniel had a great time climbing around in one of the big trees.

Nathaniel, Elijah, and Xavier checking out a termite hill.

The trail-head for the hike.  A ladder followed by about a 100 yards of steep incline.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Patient Story - Emmanoel

Elodie refuses to sleep. She wants to be up in case her son wakes. Tonight, her hair is pushed back, and she keeps one hand on her son’s leg at all times. She has to be exhausted; yet, she is acutely alert. What is it about mothers that “kicks in” on long nights like these?

If not for his surgery this morning, Elodie’s son, Emmanoel, would have died by suffocation before his third birthday. A tumor in his mouth cut off his airway to the point that he was passing out three times a day. Emmanoel’s shallow and labored breathing sounded like a perpetual asthma attack. Every breath he took made those around him feel restless and eager to do something – find an inhaler, an EpiPen, an ambulance . . . anything.

In the last year and a half, Elodie and her husband, Maurice, had tried everything. At first, doctors told them that their infant son had “just malaria.” But, as Emmanoel grew, his breathing worsened. In early 2013, they took him to Kinshasa, the capital of neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. It was there that doctors identified the culprit – a tumor growing from Emmanoel’s palate was slowly suffocating him. He needed an operation, they said, but it was not a surgery that they would do.

With each day after their return home, Emmanoel’s intermittent breathing worsened, and he began losing consciousness. His blackouts became so regular that Elodie no longer rushed him to the hospital. Maurice also stopped sleeping at night because he was afraid Emmanoel would suffocate before the dawn.

Maurice and Elodie were out of options and resources, and their son was almost out of time. Now losing consciousness three times a day, they feared that, eventually, he would pass out and not wake up again.

Soon Maurice was no longer the only one up each night – Emmanoel could not sleep either. His body would wake him up, gasping for air. The result was a sleep-deprived, short-of-breath toddler sitting in his weary father’s lap.

Between sleepless nights at home, Maurice worked in Pointe Noire’s shipping port. On a hazy Friday in early August, he saw an unusual ship pull in – it was rumored to have a hospital onboard.

For the next three weeks, Maurice and Elodie counted down each day until Mercy Ships doctors would begin seeing patients. That day came on Wednesday, August 28th, when Emmanoel and his parents waited in a line of more than 7,300 people to be seen by Mercy Ships. Before Emmanoel reached the front of the line, he had already passed out at least once and required the attention of the Mercy Ships Emergency Medical Team.  

Emmanoel was scheduled for surgery onboard the Africa Mercy, and, within a few days, he became one of Mercy Ships’ first patients in Congo. “I don’t know how he survived this long; I really don’t,” Dr. Mark Shrime, Emmanoel’s surgeon, said during the operation.

In his adult-size hospital bed, two-year-old Emmanoel looks even smaller than usual tonight. He’s hooked up to lots of beeping machines. Elodie sits at his bedside like a determined watchdog. Maurice has gone home for the night to care for Emmanoel’s older brother and sister. During rounds this evening, Mercy Ships surgeons and nurses huddled over Emmanoel’s bed. “See all of these nurses?” a crewmember asked Elodie. “He is in very good hands. You should try to get some sleep.”

Elodie nodded in the direction of the comment but kept her focus on Emmanoel. The translator laughed, “No, I don’t think she will do that,” he said in English. But there was no need to translate Elodie’s disinterest in sleep. The tenacity of parents with sick children is the same in every language.

Emmanoel has never been able to speak. When he had the tumor in his mouth, he could only make certain noises. He called Elodie “ch-ch-ch.”

“I can’t wait to hear my son say my name,” Elodie says. Perhaps the hope she has for the future is the source of her “motherhood adrenaline” tonight . . .

That night was the last sleepless night for Elodie. Today, she is well-rested and energized by the sound of her child’s voice. In three weeks’ time, Emmanoel has become a different child, smiling on the dock in the arms of his doting parents. With each day, Emmanoel continues to heal and grow and breathe. He has learned to say three words in French, starting with mother and uncle. He isn’t able to say father yet, but Elodie insists that Maurice doesn’t mind. Instead, Maurice is happiest to hear Emmanoel say the word demain, which means tomorrow.

Tonight, as the sun sets over Congo, Maurice and Elodie will sleep soundly once again . . . because their child will live to see tomorrow.

Maurice and Emmanoel

Elodie and Emmanoel

Dr. Michelle (anaesthitist) and Elodie

Story by Catherine Murphy
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Josh Callow, Ryan Cardoza, Catherine Murphy, and Michelle Murrey

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Coming 'Home'

Home...  Ask our kids where that is and you'll get several different answers: Washington, Texas, the ship, cabin 6315, Africa.  However, if you ask them where they're from it's a unanimous - "Washington".  However they have spent very little of the last seven years there.  Our decision was to budget for making it back 'home' every three years.  This coming summer is three years since the last time we were back together as a family.  To be blunt, we can't afford to financially.  Just as honestly, we can't afford not to emotionally.  We love our life here and continue to be blessed by our calling to be a part of the ministry of Mercy Ships on the Africa Mercy, and we need a break.  We would love to reconnect with family and friends, for our kids (especially Xavier) to experience 4th of July, and for Dara and I to recharge our batteries a bit.

We recognize that many who read this blog are already supporting us - thank you! - and that others are struggling themselves financially.  Also, some are unable to commit to a regular monthly support payment.  Perhaps, however, some would like to make a tax deductible end of year donation or would like to support a specific initiative. 

The biggest challenge is airfare.  We are several thousand dollars short.  If you are able to help out, please visit this website to give through Mercy Ships (tax deductible in the US).  Any amount helps!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Coming of Age

Last Sunday we held a brief ceremony for Elijah as he is now a young man.  We wanted to celebrate his coming of age with the community here on the Africa Mercy.  He came to the front with me (Peter) and was surrounded by several of the men in the community that already have significant influence in his life.  Below are the words that I read:

"Both in this community and in our family 13 is a coming of age year.  At 13 young men and women must follow the dress code, are expected to attend community meetings, and have greater liberties onboard.  Elijah turned 13 in June.  Dara and I are incredibly proud of him.  God has given him a wonderful gift pack and we look forward to seeing Eli continue to grow in those gifts, using them to help build the kingdom in a way that only he can.   

Though this brief ceremony is a bit late in coming, we wanted to take the opportunity to both recognize his move from childhood to being a young man and to ask you, as a community, to stand with him and with us as a family.  I want to publicly affirm him as a man and tell him that I know he has what it takes.  Ladies, I would like to ask you to hold him up in prayer and respect him as a man, allowing him space to grow and mature.  Men, I would like to ask you to pour into his life, sharing with him your wisdom and teaching him your skills.  Don't be shy in asking him to help you with a project or teach him a craft.  Elijah loves hands-on activities and I know that there are things that you are skilled at that I am not.  He needs to learn from you.  More than anything, he needs fellow adventurers on the journey, especially ones who know the trail better than he and can help him find his way.

As you can see, some of the men who are already directly a part of his life are standing with him.  I would like to ask a few of them to pray for Elijah, speaking life over him and his future, and I would like to ask you as a community to join them and continue to support and encourage Elijah on his journey."
Several men prayed over Elijah to close the ceremony.  It was short but poignant, and although Elijah wasn't particularly excited about standing up in front of the whole community, I believe he was deeply blessed by this in ways that he will not fully realize for years to come.

I would like to ask that those of you reading this also commit to praying for Elijah during this pivotal year, and for us a parents and as a family.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Yeah, again.

The gorge.  Again.  Yeah, we love it.  And it's cheap.  Elijah, Malachi, and I (Peter) have been working on shaving some time off of our hike.  Today we jogged half of it and shaved five minutes.  Dara and Xavier stayed down on the beach and played, where we met them at the end of the hike.

This was our sixth time to make the hike so we decided to go off the trail for a while.  We ended up with wet feet, dirty clothes (and bodies: see the picture of Elijah's leg below - that's not a tan), sore legs, and big smiles!  It was awesome to trek off the beaten path a bit.  I had forgotten how much I love trailblazing and exploring.  It wasn't easy going with tall grasses, dense thickets, and marshy areas.  So in other words, perfect.  There's also a strong possibility that a number of Lord of the Rings references were made, including: "Short cuts make for long delays":)

I'm very proud of the boys.  They've been troopers and are as committed to pushing hard and improving our time as I am.  I'm so thankful to the Lord for this beautiful place where we can enjoy the splendor of His creation while doing something that we all enjoy. 

There's a beautiful little stream that we followed for a bit.

The last leg before reaching the top is quite steep

That's not a tan.  His leg was all the same color after he jumped in the water.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Is This Our Life?

Have you ever had one of those moments when you are caught off guard by something that you have experienced so many times before that it has become largely unnoticed, part of the soundtrack of your life?  Surprised, you marvel at finding new wonder or poignancy in this routine and seemingly insignificant task.  I experienced one of those serendipitous revelations this morning.

Xavier and I were in the dining room for breakfast.  Nothing new there.  In each corner of the dining room there are large monitors that display 'notice board' messages for the community.  They are simply informational PowerPoint slides that run on a loop.  We make a habit of reading these as they are updated regularly and contain useful information.  As I was doing so the uniqueness of what I was reading in comparison to life before Mercy Ships struck me like a chunk of lumber.  Here are a few of the slides:

Yep, we're all invited.

Definitely useful!

The beaches aren't exactly safe...

Pretty cool opportunity

Eli and Malachi have continued their entrepreneurial venture
I found myself reminded of what an amazing blessing and opportunity living in this community and being a part of this work is, and how crazy it probably seems to some people.  It is such an interesting juxtaposition of typical activities in atypical environments.  The boys collect trash from outside of cabins; carry it down the gangway, across the dock, past the patient tents and forklifts; and toss it in the large dumpsters.  Even the use of the word "rubbish" in the slide indicates the multi-cultural aspect of our lives as it is the British English term for trash. 

Is this our life?  Yes, yes it is.  And we are incredibly grateful for the adventure that God has called us to, even when it seems routine.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hoofin' It

In each port we try to find a low-cost, adventurous opportunity.  In Guinee it was Roome Island, which I've blogged about before.  Here it is 'The Gorge'.  It is a beautiful area about 30-60 minutes from the ship depending on traffic.  We have been there three times already.  The biggest expense is fuel, which we try to defer a bit by asking others that come along to chip in.

We usually leave the ship at 10:00 and get there around 11:00.  The first two times we parked at the top, hiked down to the beach (about 3 miles), ate a packed lunch, played for a couple hours, hiked back up, and drove home.  I (Peter) usually have about a gallon of water, food, and other 'essential' outing items plus Xavier on my shoulders for most of the hike.  He's 45 pounds these days so it's a solid workout.

Yesterday we decided to start at the beach and hike up.  Xavier stayed at the beach with Dara so it was Elijah, Malachi, Will (one of their friends), and I.  I decided that with only two liters of water and no five-year-old on my shoulders I'd push the boys a bit and see if we could set a good clip.  We made the hike from the beach to the top in 38 minutes, which was a strong pace with a few stints of jogging thrown in.  The last 100 yards or so is pretty  close to vertical.  There are 'stairs' cut into the hillside.  It's a killer.

At the top there are some tables, chairs, and a small business that sells cold drinks.  We plopped down into the chairs, exhausted.  Malachi, white as a sheet, looks at me and says, "I think I'm going to throw up".  He held it together, though.  We bought a couple sodas, had a quick lunch, and headed back down.

We made the beach in the same time that we hiked up (going down isn't really any faster than going up on a steep incline).  We hung out there for a few hours along with Dara and Xavier and some other Mercy Shippers that were there.  All in all a great day.  We all slept well last night.

Malachi, Will, and Eli at the top

The hike back to the beach
The boys and their friends at the beach

Dara and her friend Melissa found a bunch of washed up jellyfish

Malachi with a little jellyfish

More beach fun

The sign of a true Mercy Shipper - never leave home without it

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Overnighters

On Wednesday, August 28th around 7,000 people lined up outside a school in Pointe-Noir, Republic of Congo.  The most ever in Mercy Ships history.  They came in a steady stream starting at about 04:30 in the morning; the desperate, the hopeful, the brave.  They came for the opportunity to get an appointment and ultimately be scheduled for life-changing surgery onboard the Africa Mercy.  An estimated 6,300 came through the main gate, with several hundred being told the we can't help them before they got that far.  Of that 6,300, roughly 4,200 have medical issues that we can address.

Much advanced preparation went into planning and setting up the selection day logistics.  Many worked behinds the scenes for weeks and months.  One of the most important aspects of selection day is making sure that the line forms correctly from the start.  Lose the line and you lose control, as tragically happened in Sierra Leone several years ago.  A group of twelve of us went out to the site Tuesday night at around 9pm to insure that it remain secure through the night and setup the line.

It was a fairly uneventful night and we had a great time hanging out together.  We began to wonder if the people would ever come.  At 4am there were only about 50 people in the line.  At 6am the fun began.  I have never seen so many people arrive so quickly to a selection.  It was as though someone opened the floodgates and they all came at once.  The line grew with alarming speed and the security team had to make some quick adjustments to keep things orderly.  The overnight crew was released at 9am to head back to the ship.  We were all pretty dead on our feet by then after having been up all night.  We left before all of the pictures were taken and appointment cards were given out.  In many ways we missed out on the seeing the fruits of our labor.  But that is often the case for many.  Dara selflessly volunteered to watch several other families' children so both parents could be involved in selection day.  I came back early on selection morning but she didn't get to go at all.  Neither did quite a few folks who stayed behind to keep the ship operational.  I offer my thanks for their service.

Though my interaction with the people in the line was fairly limited, I am still impacted by the amount of need and the number of desperate individuals that we must say "no" to.  As was the case in my time as a firefighter, you act decisively, keep calm, and do your job.  It is back 'at the station' that it really hits home.  We're going to help a lot of people, but there are so many more that we cannot help.  I have an image stuck in my head of a woman whose body was so bent and twisted that she had to walk on all fours like an animal.  It must have taken her hours to get to the site.  There was nothing we could do for her.  My heart breaks for her and others who did not find the hope that they were looking for.  Please remember them in your prayers.  We are a source of hope but we are not The Source of hope.  
My friend John carrying a terminal patient that we cannot help to the exit gate.  Photo courtesy of Jay Swanson. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Bienvenue au Congo

We arrived in Pointe Noir, Republic of Congo on August 9th.  Pointe Noir is one of the more developed areas of the country.  Indeed, it has been something of a shock to us to be someone so developed compared to what we are used to in West Africa.  Some telltale signs of development here are: decent roads, much less roadside trash, steel scaffolding instead of bamboo, much nicer vehicles, and greater availability of products (though at insanely high prices).  The development here is not representative of the entire country, though.  There is still a high level of need in rural areas and a lack of general medical infrastructure.  Training of local health care professionals will be a large focus for us during these next 10 months.

It is difficult to believe that we have only been here a bit over a week.  Our arrival and setup have been incredibly smooth.  It feels like we've been here for a month.  The kids are back to a school routine and doing well.  Grace is with her grandma right now and leaves for France next week.  All in all, a decidedly atypical start of a field service; different, but good.

We're looking forward to getting to know our way around Pointe Noir better and looking forward to the Hospital opening after surgical screening on the 28th of August.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Another Teenager!

Elijah turned 13 on June 17th.  Where has the time gone.  He is a phenomenal young man and we are proud to have him as a son. 

He had a blast and ended up having several parties since family only gets to see him every few years.

Unlces, cousin, aunt, and grandma!

Fun with the cousins.

High ropes course.

Lunch at Ixtapa - favorite Mexican restaurant.