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.