Monday, September 28, 2015

Behind the Scenes

The following story highlights Emma Davis, one of the students in the Basic Training course I recently instructed here at the International Operations Center.  Though we no longer serve on the ship in Africa, we continue to work behind the scenes to bring hope and healing to the poor through excellence in training.

On a mission: Cranberry grad to sail to Africa 

Cranberry High School graduate Emma Davis holds a child during a mission trip to a small village called Mapasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa. Davis will travel on the ship the Africa Mercy in August to Tamatave, Madagascar.

As a child growing up in the Cranberry area, Emma Davis says she didn't know anything about nursing and would have been squeamish about anything a nurse would do. 

But that was then. And this is now. 

Now, the 27-year-old Cranberry High School and Edinboro University graduate is training in Tyler, Texas, preparing to travel half-way around the world in August, as an adult intensive care unit nurse. 

Davis will embark aboard the Africa Mercy, part of the fleet of the global charity Mercy Ships. She will be part of a team of medical professionals granting free health care to the people of Tamatave, Madagascar, the huge island nation off the east coast of Africa. 

Davis' journey from high school to become a third-world ICU medical missionary, has been anything than what she expected. 

"I loved health class in high school," Davis said. "Then God spoke to me and I thought I was going to have an easy route, but I was wrong." 

God's way of preparing Davis as a medical missionary after graduating college in 2010, landed her at UPMC Hamot in Erie, equipped with the only trauma center in the tri-state area offering trauma-neuro-surgical care in an ICU. 

"It was totally God to put me in a trauma unit," said Davis. "It was the best experience I could get, combining both specialized and general care at the same time. With the high acuity of patients right off the bat, it made me look at the big picture so much more than if I'd been a floor nurse." 

After moving to Erie for her job at Hamot, Davis was invited to a Christian group called Erie Young Adults, and began attending Erie First Assembly of God Church, both of which had a deep impact on her life. 

"I had found community and it wasn't in a bar," Davis said. "They taught me how to take the Christianity I had learned as a child and make it my own personal faith." 

Having grown up in the church, Davis knew all about Christianity as a religion, but not as a personal relationship with Jesus. 

Her new church encouraged mentorships for young adults and Davis was cautiously interested, and agreed to be mentored.

"I have trust issues, so I was leery," said Davis. "But I felt it was a God thing and went in being totally honest and open. I took what she said and applied it to the Word of God to make sure it lined up, and it did." 

As Davis continued to grow in her faith, she began to feel she was supposed to do something more with the talents and training she had as an ICU trauma nurse. She began to think about medical missions. 

Davis had been on mission trips in high school. She traveled into Appalachia several times with a friend from Heckathorn United Methodist Church in Seneca. Those were service-based mission projects helping the impoverished in a variety of ways. 

Years later, in 2012, and with a renewed faith, Davis saw that a friend on Facebook was going on a medical and nutritional mission trip to Africa. She felt this was her opportunity to do something more with what God had given her. 

"I had always wanted to go to Africa," Davis said. "The country was calling me, pulling at my heart." 

She joined her friend on a mission trip to a small village called Mapasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in central Africa. 

Davis volunteered at a medical and nutritional center, mainly helping with a feeding program helping children from infancy through teenage years. The project wasn't as medically-based as she originally thought, but she was able to "be around some of the surgeries," and the experience had a powerful impact on her life and desire to serve. 

"Everywhere you looked there was poverty," said Davis. "It's so different from what you see on television - to be standing in the middle of a garbage pile where these people actually live. And the medical care in third world countries is shocking." 

"My role in Mapasa was not as a nurse," Davis said. "But it was such a culture shock, I'm not even sure I could have been (a nurse on that mission). God opened my eyes to what was going on in the world, and after that experience I didn't know what I'd be doing next." 

Davis may not have known what she would do next, but she said God knew. 

About two years ago Davis saw a segment on "60 Minutes" on Mercy Ships, a Christian-based medical ministry that operates a fleet of hospital ships providing free health care to poor people in nations all over the world.

"I started bawling," said Davis. "It was perfect. I thought maybe I will do that someday." 

Davis said it wasn't an easy process. It was about a year later when she joined with her church in a time of fasting, and things began to happen. 

"I was really hungry and just wanted a sandwich," Davis said. "But instead I went to study the Word, and Mercy Ships just popped into my head." 

Davis prayed and consulted her mentor. She filled out an application and it took months of hard waiting, struggling and trusting God. But in April, she finally received the call that she would be an adult ICU nurse for a year of field service on the Mercy Ship "Africa Mercy," heading to Madagascar in August. 

She's now in her five-week basic training to orient her to life on a medical ship and long-term service in a third-world country. 

"I'm learning all the on-board training stuff for staff committed to at least a year or more," said Davis. "I'm learning all about Mercy Ships' core values, about living in a community and how much we need to rely on God. We're spending a lot of time in prayer and I'm also learning about west African culture." 

Mercy Ships has an impressive track record of international outreach ministry. 

Since 1978, the nonprofit organization has served more than 2.5 million people. Free medical services and materials have been provided in developing nations valued at over $1.2 billion. 

Annually, Mercy Ships has over 1,600 volunteers who help in locations around the world, 900 of which serve in Africa. 

The Africa Mercy alone has had more than 3,400 crew members from 72 countries serve onboard since its launch in 2007. It has five operating theaters, 82 patient beds and berths for an average crew of 450. 

When Davis arrives in Madagascar in August, she can't be certain what her daily routine will be, since as an ICU trauma nurse, nothing can be truly called routine. 

Types of cases she will likely deal with are maxillofacial in nature. Often, Mercy Ships provide medical care for patients needing tumors removed, plastic surgery for severe burns, and treatment for mouth deformities such as cleft lips or palates.

"It's hard to have expectations," Davis said. "I'm just excited to see how God will reveal himself to me, to our patients and to all the people I'll be working with. But I do expect to see physical, emotional and spiritual healings." 

Davis has committed to serve on the "Africa Mercy" for a full year. She could extend that to two years or even longer, depending on what God speaks to her over the next 12 months. 

"I'm most excited that the ship is faith-based, living the 2,000-year-old model of Jesus," said Davis. "The culture may be different, but we can give them hope for a future showing them Jesus, especially those with those incredibly large tumors. They've been so ostracized from society. I can't wait to get over there and just love on them." 

Credit: E. CURTIS HANNA Staff writer | Posted: Saturday, June 20, 2015