Tuesday, May 24, 2011

All Aboard! Special Visitors' Week

While last week seems like it was rather mundane, this week is quite a frenzy of activity.  There are several special visitors and events taking place this week!

ACSI - The Association of Christian Schools International has representatives here for the final step of the accreditation process for Mercy Ships Academy.  This has been a goal for several years, and a work in progress since 2007 to become accredited as an international school.  This serves many purposes:  1) for the students to receive recognition when applying to colleges and post-secondary options (especially those from non-American origins), 2) for the teachers to get credit for years of service they provide if and when they go back to working for a different district, and 3) to have greater accountability for our school and the academic level that it works hard to maintain.  There are three representatives from ACSI onboard this week, as well as the entire Mercy Ships' School Board.

Kylie is showcasing her writing on diphtheria.

the halls are loaded with amazing schoolwork and projects the kids have been working on

Here's some artwork in the school library being admired by parents on open house night

Savannah holds up her self-portrait, done while looking in a mirror

A Dutch Film Crew - There is a film crew from the Netherlands here that is collecting interviews and footage for a show that will highlight the work being done with Mercy Ships and serve as a great way to generate knowledge and interest in Europe.  This is not the first film crew that has been here in the past three months (I think it might be the fourth??), so it is not uncommon to see a crew member being followed with cameras, microphones and directors making suggestions all the while.

International Board of Mercy Ships - Many of the big wigs of Mercy Ships are headed here this weekend to make decisions and see for themselves how things are going in Sierra Leone with the Africa Mercy.  They will be flying in from several continents over the next few days and we have already been warned not to plan on barging into any conference rooms hoping to be able to set up a board game- since there will be numerous conference calls (with those members telecommuting) taking place. 

The President! No, Obama is not coming - though he would probably draw more fanfare here than he would in the US (I think the ratio of Obama clothing items to people in Sierra Leone is 2:1). 
The Honorable Ernest Bai Koroma, the president of Sierra Leone, is coming to the ship this weekend.  This is a BIG deal and we have special instructions on where we can be, what we can where, and when we can move from place to place!  It is all VERY exciting!
Tonight we had the chance to listen to the Executive Representative to Sierra Leone for the United Nations, Michael von der Schulenburg.  He met our Managing Director in February and was willing to come and speak to all of us about the recent history in Sierra Leone, what the UN's mission here is, and the tension between providing help and promoting independence.  His charismatic and humorous style kept us all attentive (even Savannah) while he talked about the long road to development that Sierra Leone has ahead of her.  (him??)

Please be in prayer as we prepare for this busy week:
  • lots of travel details that could be affected by blowing ash over Iceland (again?? feels like de ja vu!)
  • lots of opportunity for God to be glorified through actions, thoughts and words
  • grace for those who are working around the clock to get all details put together

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Dan the Rescue Diver

All this time that Dan has been collecting hobbies, I didn't think of it as missions prep.  Who knew that these skills would come in handy? But, now I'm very grateful for the hours that Dan invested into scuba diving.  And so is the rest of the crew of the Africa Mercy.

This is the view from the side of the ship, yesterday.  You see, we live in a port.  With the flow of boats and the runoff from the urban river in Freetown, comes the flow of trash. 
Also known as rubbish. 

The ship has four generators onboard that are used to provide power to our ship.  Surgical equipment, lights, sterlizers, x-rays, lab tools, lights, washing machines, copy machines, computers, ovens, dishwashers, coffee pots, ceiling fans and air conditioning and more on this 499 foot long ship require a lot of power. 

The intake valves for these generators are underwater.  So, plastic and other trash blocking our intake valves has become an enormous problem.  If the generators go out, we are unable to operate. 
(Not just in the sense of the power is out and we don't remember how to live in a non-digital world.  But in the literal sense of no operations.  Period.  No operations means we are not able to do what we have committed to Sierra Leone to do: provide free surgeries for their people during this ten-month field service).
This is a big problem.
We have engineering and deck crew that work 24-7 jobs just like the hospital crew. Only, their jobs are to make sure that the hospital can stay up and running.  Manning the crises in the engine room is an around-the-clock job.  The generators and a/c issues have been huge over the past few months, and with the rainy season starting this past week, we have seen an enormous increase in trash run-off from the river.
When we arrived they were needing to send divers down three times a week to clean out the intake valves by pulling all the rubbish out of the vents so that clean water can move freely through it. 
However, they have had to increase the schedule to daily, or semi-daily. 

This is a tedious process.  Meet at deck eight dive locker, gear up, check equipment, create a plan with the other diver(s), and begin the journey down to the water some 50' below.

Sometimes they are lowered in the boats (especially if the current is strong).  The dive times are determined based on the tides of each day and they try to find a time when the currents are at their minimum.

Other times they walk down the gangway and jump right in.

The visibility is pretty atrocious.

Does this look like a task for the light-hearted?

Start to finish each dive is about a three-hour long task. 

Added to an already full work week, and this makes for some long hours, and lots of wet swim trunks.


It's not all bad -there is a fish (or something)

Ah, yes, sealife at it's best.
After they have cleaned the valves, they look pretty good- for the next few hours anyways.

Because this issue has become so huge, the engineering department is working hard with the deck department to create a better solution: bigger cages around the intake valves? Nets? A pulley system?  High powered cleaning with the fire hose?  No suggestion is ridiculous at this point. 

Earlier this week they put a new system in place to cover the valves.  That one was a combination of aluminum, mosquito nets, and magnets.  It was too close to the valves and trapped in lots of scum and dirt.  They have fashioned new cages for around the valves and just this afternoon they put one into place.  We are waiting to see if it is effective or not. 

While they work hard to make sure we don't lose the generators, the A/C issues are getting a bit neglected. Our cabin reads 86 degrees currently.  This is a tad bit warmer than my liking.  (However, the one perk is that Dan's not complaining about my cold hands and feet these days!)

So, we are praying for our divers.  They are getting dirty.  Smelly.  Covered in slime.  For the sake of the cause.  This is one dirty job for which we are grateful.
Olly on a previous dive

Monday, May 2, 2011

A Week of Royal Events! A Resurrection, Birthday, Jubilee Anniversary, and Wedding: Hoorah!

What a week of events we have had!
First, we celebrated Easter in a grand way.  In addition to the girls having a five day weekend from school, we had lots of fun and poignant times of reflecting on the price paid for us by Jesus. 

There was a room transformed into The Garden (of Gethsemane) complete with the 14 stations of the cross to prayerfully consider all that Christ did for us.  On Good Friday morning we had a service together reminding us of the pain and anguish that Jesus willingly took on for our behalf and we had the chance to nail to the cross our own message for the Lord. 

Saturday all the kids (young and old) gathered together for some hard boiled egg dying,

and Sunday brought Sunrise worship on deck eight (out in the open air), and a full church service together indoors complete with children's performances of singing, sign language, ballet, and worship. 

We shared communion together as one family, one body despite our many differences in denomination, age, background, positions, languages, and ethnicity. It was beautiful.  The galley and dining room crew treated us to a gorgeous Easter brunch, and the afternoon concluded with an Easter egg hunt for all children (again, young and old).  It was a privilege to be able to celebrate Easter in this environment.

Tuesday brought another fun time- another birthday for one of our Gateway friends!  Since we have grown to know this group of thirty so well, we have continued to eat together, chill together, and celebrate each other's special days.  Anna had her birthday this week and we had a high tea for her.  We had around 30 people in our living room, ate yummy homemade scones and banana pudding and mini apple pies, and had hot beverages.  Just Dance on the wii became our entertainment after we had thoroughly gorged ourselves on goodies.  It was an evening of many laughs!  So fun!
Savannah having a cuppa

Wednesday it was Sierra Leone's turn to celebrate!  The Golden Jubilee has arrived: 50 years of independence from the British.  This event has been well in the making since long before we arrived, and the town is decorated, cleaned and proud.  Every Saturday for the last month (and once a month before that) there have been mandatory National Cleanup Days where everyone is REQUIRED to get outside and clean up trash - including scooping muck out of the sewers.  All this is piled high in the streets - some of it gets scavanged away by residents, and the rest is removed by Army trucks. 

The rocks, trees, walls, and sidewalks have been spray painted white, royal blue and green in honor of the occasion- many strings of triangular colored flags hang from houses, shops, and other public and private buildings.
The famous "Cotton Tree," where freed & released slaves gathered and prayed to christen this new area "Freetown"

A large group of Mercy Shippers gathered in the dining hall on Wednesday to sing the National Anthem to all our Day Volunteers, who stood and sang along with the group.

National Anthem of Sierra Leone
  There was an invitation extended to the Queen of England to attend the celebration held at the National Stadium (which got quite wild and we were advised to stay away from), but she was previously occupied with big events at home.

the festivities at the National Stadium

Which brings us to Friday - the Royal Wedding!  How fun to be here, in the midst of lots of Brits and caught up in the Wedding of the Century.  Those on shift work or with flexibile schedules made themselves cozy in front of the tv screens in the lounge on Friday morning to watch it live on BBC.  Others of us (who had to work during the day) attended the "Street Party" Friday night where we watched the taped version (thank goodness for a VCR and a VHS tape!).  It was very fun to watch it with "insiders" and get wrapped up in the excitement of seeing the trees in Westminster Abbey and wonder what Beatrice was wearing on her head.
British cupcakes (slightly more buttery and less cake-like - yum!) for the wedding watchers

We were also impressed by the quality of the wedding - to have millions of people watching a ceremony that spoke honour (yes, intentional spelling) of Jesus and to glorify Him in all they said was very inspiring.

"Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire,"  quoted from 12th century St. Catherine of Siena, is the best thing I have heard all year.  It challenges me and sharpens me to really focus on what it is that God has prepared beforehand for me, and begs me to walk in this.    "A generous God who so loved the world that He gave himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ," the Bishop of London says, is before whom William and Kate chose to be married.  This is the same generous God that provided a way for us to be in Sierra Leone.  And the same generous God that gave himself so freely so that we might live. 

I am so proud to serve this generous God.