Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ivoloina Lemur Park

This past weekend we had an opportunity to go to Ivoloina Lemur Park and nature reserve.  It was a wonderful trip (and special festival so free to get in!).  The lemurs were cute and interesting animals.  They grunt like little pigs.  Who knew?  We also had a wonderful hike to a small waterfall and around the surrounding area.  Our guide was very knowledgeable and went out of his way to help us learn.  In addition to the lemurs we were introduced to several common things in their 'natural habitat': cinnamon trees, clove trees, vanilla plants.  We also saw acacia trees, which is the wood Roman Catholics burn for incense during mass.

Vanilla bean hanging.  It takes a lot to turn it into what we use to bake with.

Here's the kiddos with their friend Caleb, who came along with us.

Here's a clove tree.

Our guide standing next to an acacia.

We actually got to hold the Chameleons!

A jackfruit tree.

Here we are at the waterfall (water trickle...)

Mamma lemur with a baby on her back.

The local villagers make these baskets - here's just a few being transported:)

Cinnamon tree.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Ups and Downs

The first week of screening has been fantastic.  Everything has been calm and orderly.  The Malagasy people are very respectful and warm.  Official numbers are not yet available but several thousand lined up from Monday - Friday.  It has been a joy interacting with those in the line and playing with the kids...bubbles have been a crowd favorite.  Friday I got to spend time coloring pictures, making paper airplanes, and kicking a ball around with a number of the kids that were waiting to be seen at the primary screening station.

It works like this: out of the many that line up, only a percentage will be there for medical issues that we can treat (even though we've announced in several ways what we do and do not do); the are seen by a 'pre-screener' who stands at the front of the line and determines if someone is a possible surgical candidate or not;  and those that are go through the gate and then began to be formally screened inside the facility (lots of questions, an exam, patient history, etc.).  After this process they are either given an appointment card, put on the waiting list, or, unfortunately, told that we cannot help them.  This last group is given the option to spend time being prayed for.  It is heartbreaking to seem them come so far and then be ruled out for surgery but there are some things we simply cannot fix.

Whether the 'no' comes at the pre-screening station or after the full screening, it is always hard.  This is especially true when we see kids that have terrible conditions that are terminal, outside of our scope of practice, or things that simply can't be helped (e.g. cerebral palsy).

So, it's Ups and Downs: the joys of knowing that there are many who we can help and thousands more that we cannot.  Please keep me, the screening team, and all who volunteer with the screening process in your prayer - and especially those who we cannot help.  Physical ailments are hard enough in someplace like the United States.  Imagine the challenges of having a disabled child, an inoperable condition, or a terminal ailment in a developing nation with little infrastructure and very, very little by way of healthcare services.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

A New Season

It would take far more words than most of you are probably interested in reading to chronicle all of the changes that have taken place in the past few months.  One change in particular we wanted to share with you.  Upon arrival in Madagascar I (Peter) will be transitioning into the role of Field Security Officer.

Seven and a half years ago I joined the Africa Mercy as the Food Services Manager, responsible for galley and dining room operations as well as supply ordering for those areas.  Eighteen months later I was asked to accept responsibility for two more departments - Crew Services and Hospitality.  I accepted the role of Chief Steward and the Stewards Department was created.  We have come a very, very long way in the past five years; from territorial squabbling, poor morale, bad food, and a lack of defined processes to the department of teamwork and excellence that we are today.  Many have had a hand in this incredible positive growth and I will be forever grateful for their efforts.  I am generally uncomfortable talking about my role in the successes of the department as I would prefer others receive accolades and recognize that all of our strengths come from God.  As I reflect on the past seven years, though, I have no doubt I was the right person for the job and anointed to lead for that season.

As is always the case there is much left to do.  It is time for another season and a Chief Steward with a different gift pack to carry the torch of excellence into the future.  I am thrilled to be moving into the Field Security Officer role.  In this position I will be responsible for safety and security of our crew and facilities ashore.  The primary aspect is to conduct crowd control at our surgical, dental, and eye selections.  This is where potential patients, many of them driven to desperation due to a lack of available medical care, line up - sometimes by the thousands - to be screened by our medical professionals to determine if they are candidates for the specialized care we provide.  I will also liaise with local law enforcement and military.  

Though I have no doubts as to my ability to perform my duties with excellence, this is a dramatic change from the role of Chief Steward and I ask for your prayers in this transition.  I also request your prayers for my family as they are making some sacrifices for me to take this position.  Onward and upward.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tropical Vacation?

Most of you have heard that we are heading to Madagascar for our next field service.  We plan to arrive there towards the end of October after a couple week stop over in Cape Town, South Africa.  Some of you may wonder if a place like Madagascar really needs a big white hospital ship.  There is no denying the natural splendor of the country.  By all accounts it is a truly magnificent gem of flora and fauna.

However, there is also no denying that the nation is ranked 155th out of 187 countries on the United Nations Human Development Index (with lower numbers representing higher levels of development).  Like many countries that we have been - and perhaps even more so - the natural beauty stands in stark contrast to the poverty of the people.  Hollywood has
romanticized the landscape but the reality is that most people live in dire conditions.  It is a place where we can truly make a difference by bringing hope and healing.  Here is some more info on the country:

Off Africa's southeast coast in the Indian Ocean, Madagascar is the world's fourth largest island after Greenland, New Guinea, and Borneo. A stunning diversity of plant and animal species found nowhere else evolved after the island broke away from the African continent 165 million years ago. It has a mountainous central plateau and coastal plains. The first settlers were of African and Asian origin, and 18 separate ethnic groups emerged, derived from an African and Malayo-Indonesian mixture. Asian features are most predominant in the central highlands people, and coastal people tend to show features of African origin. Most of the population depend on subsistence farming, based on rice and cattle, with coffee, vanilla, and seafood being important exports.

French colonial rule began in 1896; independence came in 1960. In 1990, after almost 20 years of Marxism, Madagascar lifted a ban on opposition parties, and a new president was elected in 1993. Elections in 2001 resulted in a period of civil unrest, lasting for several months, until Marc Ravalomanana was declared winner of the presidential election. Environmental degradation is a major concern as damaging agricultural practices cause deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification. The island is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones, which brought destructive floods in 2004. (
We are excited for this new adventure and ask that you join us in prayer as we face many challenges ahead (short time frame, poor roads, rainy season, and the possibility of cyclones to name a few) and especially for the people of Madagascar.  

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Canarian Countryside

Gran Canaria has some beautiful areas.  Two weeks ago Elijah and I went out with a group for a 4 hour hike and last week Malachi decided to join Eli and I on a 3 hour hike with some guys from the ship.  Both hikes were organized by my friend, the amazing Robert Brugler.

The first hike was largely down hill from the ridge line down the valley to a town called San Mateo.  I picked a prickly pear along the way as I'd never tried one before.  For those who have never done so, I advise against it.  I was picking tiny cactus slivers out of my fingers for some time.

The second hike was to a natural rock monument called Roque Nublo.  Not as challenging as the first hike, this one was definitely more beautiful and we had a great time with the guys.

Picking prickly pears is a bad idea...

Elijah tuckered out on the bus ride back from the first hike.

This is the starting point for the first hike.  We hiked to the bottom of the valley.

Malachi at the end of the second hike.  Roque Nublo is behind me as I take the photo.

Roque Nublo in the distance to the left of the picture.  This is taken close to where we started the hike.

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Okay, it's been a while.  There was far too much over this summer to put into a post so I'll hit the most important part - our gratitude for all who blessed our lives this summer.  We received so much hospitality and generosity from family and friends that we can't possibly say thank you enough.  If I start listing people I'll leave someone out because there are simply so many. 

It was such an amazing summer.  We got to travel to Yellowstone, spend some time with some fellow Mercy Shippers, catch up with old friends, and hang out with family.  We truly are blessed.

We're royal diamond shellbacks since we've crossed the Equator at the Prime Meridian at sea.  We thought we'd add another 'line crossing' to the list.

Monday, May 19, 2014

No, it doesn't

I was leaning on the railing of deck 8 yesterday looking down at the dock.   A crowd of Mercy Shippers had gathered to say goodbye to a departing crew member; hugs all around and arms waving until the land cruiser was no longer in sight (probably a fair number of leaky eyes as well but I was too far away to be certain).  A crew member leaning on the railing just a few feet down stirred me from my reverie.  He had arrived a couple of weeks ago he said and asked how long I had been on the ship for. 

“Seven years”, I replied. 

“Does it get any easier”, he inquired, “saying goodbye to people?”

“No.  No, it doesn’t”, was my immediate and definitive reply.

Xavier ran up at that moment, "Daaaaaad, you said you'd take me inside" - so I did.  Had our conversation continued I’m sure I would have told the new guy about how it is still worth it to develop relationships and touched on a number of the joys of living in this community, and those things are true.  But the conversation didn’t continue and I’ve been mulling over my knee-jerk, unfiltered response to him: “No.  No it doesn’t”. 

Saying goodbye becomes familiar.  You learn to accept it.  Perhaps to a degree you even become calloused to it.  Some simply stop doing it all together, avoiding goodbye parties and send-offs on the dock.  Others regrettably choose to not build relationships because it hurts less to say goodbye to those you don’t really know.

But it doesn’t get any easier.  Not even a little bit. 

Already in the past few weeks some friends and good acquaintances have left.  In the coming days and weeks some best friends are leaving.  And my heart hurts.  If I think about it too much my throat gets tight and my eyes get shiny.  I’m not angry.  I don’t feel abandoned or not cared about.  I rejoice in their decisions to follow God’s call for the next season of their lives.  They will go with my blessing and love, and with Dara’s as well. 

I write these words as a means of expressing how much they mean to me – to us – and also to strip the candy-coating off of saying goodbye.  It sucks.  That doesn’t mean that it’s bad, or that we should avoid it, or that relationships aren’t worth it.  But it still sucks.  And no, it doesn’t get any easier.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Taking Out The Trash

We see some interesting things living on a ship.  I took this video from the aft end of the Africa Mercy the other day.  A whole new perspective on taking out the trash.  My boys would LOVE it if they were allowed to do this!

Sunday, April 27, 2014


I got an unexpected and humbling piece of mail a few days ago.  I was debating whether or not to blog it as it could come across as prideful. I decided, though, that it gives me the opportunity to both celebrate God's power in my life and to thank those of you who have been supporting me through my academic endeavors these past two years - especially my incredible wife and children who put up with me being unavailable often working on homework and writing papers.  Thanks, too, to all who have been supporting my studies through finances and prayer.  One year left to go...

Saturday, April 12, 2014


Time to ketchup (catch up) again:

We celebrated Malachi's birthday with a viewing of 'Cloudy With a Chance of Meathballs 2', cake, pizza and presents.

New age, same vintage joyful smile
It would seem that I haven't lost the knack for good homeade pizza

Elijah recently participated in the work experience program onboard.  He got to take three days off from school to work in the Deck Department as a deck hand.  All of the Junior High and High School students applied for positions in departments onboard and got to work in them.  It is a great program, which Dara organizes, and a highlight of the year for a lot of the kids. 

Eli decked out (pretty punny, huh?) in his deck hand work clothes

This one was just a fun picture of Dara and the boys on the couch together.  Man, they're getting BIG!

Got There As Fast As I Could

As the saying goes for those not from the Lone Start State: I wasn't born here, but I got here as fast as I could.  I will always have a lot of Seattle in my blood but I have also come to love East Texas.  I recently spent three weeks there as a firefighting instructor for maritime Basic Safety Training.  It was a fun three weeks.  A huge thank you to the Thompson clan for opening their home to me.  I don't actually have any photos of our fireground training this time but below are a few others that stand out from the trip.

Yeah, snow (well, frozen rain really) in March in East Texas.  Crazy weather.

Ed Woolever treated me to dinner at 'Circle M Crawfish' in Big Sandy, TX - and it's as redneck as it sounds, complete with a tractor auction on the of course I loved it.

Boiled shrimp, potatoes, and corn.

Fried Catfish and shrimp.

Friday, March 28, 2014


Last week wasn't awesome.  I (Peter) was frustrated - okay, I was angry - on a number of fronts.  The other day one of the writers onboard asked if I would be willing to share a brief story about my time in Africa or on the Africa Mercy.  Writing it provided the perspective that I needed to shake out of my funk.  Thanks, Gracie.

Here it is:

How do you describe a changed life?  Where does one begin to express the depth of gratitude for a transformed heart?  Mercy Ships is about changed lives.  It is not what we do, it is who we are.  In the past seven years onboard the Africa Mercy I have seen physical, emotional, and spiritual transformation that defy reason and logic; miraculous healing, lives mended, hearts born anew, brokenness made whole.  My heart leaps for joy each time a Mercy Ships crew member impacts the life of those we are called to serve, in whatever capacity that may be.  Words cannot adequately express the glory of this process.

It is not these changed lives that I struggle most to describe, though.  It is my own.  When I first arrived in West Africa I was assaulted by experiences and sensations that I had no frame of reference for; physical destruction, ravaged bodies, trash-strewn roads, filthy water, oppressive heat, and a worldview and approach to life that was completely foreign to me – even after cross-cultural training.

Time, relationships, and the unrelenting love of those we come to serve have worked a gradual metamorphosis of my heart and paradigm.  The circumstances of life in the West and Central African nations that we serve is much the same as it was seven years ago when I first arrived.   However now I see beauty, opportunity, unfathomable joy…  I weep for the times that my vision falters and mourn the loss of a day spent doing anything other than reveling in the glorious adventure I am fortunate to be a part of.

Regardless of how long I stay or where I go next, these years will always be ones that I can celebrate as transformational.  West and Central Africa are not comprised of ‘developing nations’ to me.  They are where I learned that pain and joy are not mutually exclusive; to savor the lingering heat of pepper sauce at the back of my throat, and that plantains will sooth the burn; that many of my assumptions about the world and the teachings of Christ were, at best, narrow; to recognize the trickle of sweat down my back as a reminder of the blessing of this journey; the snap at the end of a handshake; the privilege of learning to see things from a new perspective; and knowing that I need to be transformed by Christ through those we serve at least as much as they need to be transformed by Christ through us.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Guitar Hero

Elijah has been getting guitar lessons from one of our friends, Nick Cash.  Having awesome guys like Nick giving of their time to do something like this (for free, no less) is one of the awesome things about community.

Elijah has been learning incredibly fast and joined Nick in doing worship for our Monday morning community meetings.  We are so proud of Elijah and his commitment to learning this skill, and we are blown away by how incredible he is at it!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Shipping Container Swimming

Okay, so it isn't exactly a shipping container, but it's pretty stinkin' close.  Several years ago someone donated money to have a swimming pool installed on the Africa Mercy.  Though it isn't much to look at (it pretty much is a shipping container with the top cut off that was placed on top of the deck and then a platform was built around) we are so very grateful to have it.  We make use of it frequently and it is a fantastic place for the boys to get some energy out - when there aren't a bunch of people sitting around it who cringe at getting splashed by rambunctious kids.  It is a pool...

Here are some photos of us using the pump-action water guns that Santa brought for Christmas.

Elijah taking aim

Malachi preparing for an attach

I think I missed my calling as a Navy Seal

Xavier leading the charge