Saturday, November 26, 2011

Celebration and Goodbyes - A Week of Everything

Wow.  What a full, emotional week.

As we come to a close here in Sierra Leone, we have so many mixed feelings.  It's hard to think about saying goodbye to this beautiful country- full of fun loving people, ready to Tell Papa God Tenki at any moment, singing acapella no matter what your voice might sound like, and willing to give when their pockets are empty.  We've met countless patients, caregivers, day workers and neighbors that we have come to love.

But, the clock is ticking and our days here in Freetown are limited.  So, we must say thanks.  Last week we hosted a Thank You Event for all officials and "big-wigs" that have partnered with us to make this field service so successful.  This includes the Ministry of Health, directors of other organizations, doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, bank leaders, and the many others that have helped.  They have provided free berth space for us at the port, trash removal, fresh water, and mostly partnership.
As you can see, the Stewards Departments (Hospitality, Galley & Dining Room) put on an elaborate, beautiful spread of food and make it a very special event.

Many of these workers have been in the hospital during the duration of this field service, but now will reassign to departments such as hospitality (preparing the rooms for guests and crew), dining room (serving the food), galley (cooking the food), or crew services (cleaning the ship) since all the patients have been discharged from the hospital.

Wednesday night was CONFIRMATION & BAPTISM night.  Five girls at the Cheshire Home made the decision this year to go through the confirmation class at Bishop Crowther Anglican Church, their home church (within walking/rolling distance from the home).  We were privileged to not only be invited to be a part of this special evening, but four of us were asked to be Godparents for them.  We also helped them with the purchase of their fabric for white dresses, veils (requirement from the church) and stockings. 

There were 18 students in the class all together so we were thrilled to see Cheshire representing almost a third of the class. 

11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (18)
our goddaughter, Kadiatu ("Kadie") Christiana ,
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (13)
Kadiatu doing the Gospel reading
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Marie after receiving her candle representing Christ's light in her life,
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Kadija, receiving her confirmation Bible,
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Samantha following baptism.
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Here's the entire class with the Bishop
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Here are the five girls from Cheshire and their "opoto" (white) godmommies
11.2011 Cheshire Baptism (7)
And here's the whole gang that got dressed up and came from Cheshire to support these girls.  It was a night full of emotion.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving (as you know), and our Food Services departments worked hard to make it special for us.  As you can see, it looks pretty close to an American Thanksgiving plate.  No sweet potatoes with marshmellows or pumpkin pie, but we had just about everything else. 

11.2011 Thanksgiving (6)
11.2011 Thanksgiving (4)

And today, we had our Day Worker Thank You Event - what an afternoon of celebrating what God has done and how many lives have been changed during this year.  It was truly a special afternoon filled with authentic worship as we thanked God for providing these 200 amazing workers.  For many, they don't know what the future holds.  As this time comes to close, so does their reliable paycheck.  In a country with an 85% unemployment rate, this has been a huge blessing for them this year.  So, we join in prayer trusting that the Lord will meet their needs and open doors for them.  We also bid farewell with tears as we recognize that many we will not see again.  Working side by side, suffering, rejoicing, and sweating together, you come to love people in a deep way.  We will miss these beautiful faces.  But, we recognize this is part of what we signed up for:  lots of hellos, lots of goodbyes, constant change, constant choices of having to open your heart up again and again. 
11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (8) Fuse
Joseph and I - Joseph worked with the physiotherapy team.  Joseph is hoping to attend a DTS in South Africa next year.
11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (4)
Jane, the screening coordinator, with her two day workers, Henry & Thomas who have assisted in the screening process all year- making trips upcountry every two weeks to pick up patients scheduled for surgeries - LONG hours, lots of work, hearts of gold. 
11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (1)
Here are the day workers from Outpatients where Dan worked part of the year.  Helping in this department isn't always fun- dressing changes, crying, yelling, and pain.  11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (3)
Dan with Idrissa, one of our friends who worked at the Hope Center.  Idrissa shared with us stories of what his life looked like during the civil war and how he escaped by getting on a boat and heading to Guinea.  Idrissa has a heart of gold and is planning on serving with us again next year. 11.2011 Day Worker Thank You (5)
Dan with Mark & Titus, two hospital day workers.
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With 220 day workers invited to lunch, the lines were long, but there was plenty of rice, fried plaintains, beef with peanut sauce, spicy topping, onion stew, and black-eyed peas. 
After speeches, worship, thank yous and prayers, we celebrated with ice cream before we bid farewell to these precious friends.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Church is Always an Adventure in Freetown

This week I had to make a hard choice about where to attend church.

The children from Cheshire Home were doing their annual Thanksgiving Service at King Memorial United Methodist Church.  Thanksgiving here has nothing to do with turkeys, Columbus, or pumpkin pie.  Thanksgiving here means, "we are going to do a special presentation, we will had out offering envelopes for you, and you will fill them with money, and bring them to the front of the church while we sing, dance and clap." 

By Friday evening I had received eight envelopes from children at Cheshire Home.  This seems to be a very big deal.  I have tried asking some of our local workers what the meaning is behind the envelopes - is there a competition?  Do they keep track of who brings in the most about of money (the envelopes have always been numbered, and this time some of them have names of the children written on them)?  Do they get punished if they don't return their issued envelopes?  So far the issue remains unclear, but it seems that there is a lot of pressure to make sure your assigned envelopes come back full of cash. 

Another option was to head back to Pastor Angel's church, Mercy Baptist in Mayenkeneh town.  Today was a special Sunday as our friend, "Joseph" was getting baptized.  Joseph was raised in the Fullah tribe, one that is 90% Muslim. He became a Christian several years ago through the influence and friendship of another Mercy Shipper from South Africa, a man named Henry.  Joseph desires to serve the Lord and make His glory known, despite receiving death threats, unwanted visitors in his home, and being ex-communicated by his family.

In addition to Joseph making the decision to be baptized, five other church members had decided to be baptized this week as well.

But, I had already promised the kids from Cheshire I would be at their Thanksgiving, so to King Memorial I went.

Church was good- about 30 minutes by foot, the sweat was rolling down my forehead and my neck by the time I arrived (but I've learned to carry a handkerchief like all the locals for this).  We sat in the balcony of this church that seats about 600.  Well, I take that back.  In America this church would seat about 400.  In Sierra Leone, I think it would seat about 1000 if needed - you just make more room.  You sit right on the skirt or coattails of the person next to you.  The baby on the lap of the woman next to me this morning was touching my arm the whole service.

The First Lady of Sierra Leone, Mrs. Koroma, read the Old Testament reading today!  What a pleasant surprise.  The children of Cheshire all had matching shirts made and they sang their choruses from their seats.  The sermon was nice, the hymns were familiar, and the heat made it difficult to fight the gravitational pull on my eyelids.  But, the grins that came from the front row as they saw our little "bright" (white) faces in the balcony made it all worth it.

"Disability is not the same as inability" is their motto (Mottos are very important to culture here.  Every Sunday the church has a motto.  Every school has a motto.  Every organization has a motto).  So true.

As I was leaving church, Mommy K. found me.  This is Rugiatu Kamara, mother of Foday, Kadiatu, Haja, Salamatu, and Aisha.  She is a Muslim woman who lives with her family of seven in a one room hut outside the perimeter fence of Cheshire Home.  The father is around sometimes- I certainly don't see him all the time.

They sell nickel candies and plastic bags of water at the side of the oversized cemetery on Race Course Road (called so because of the proximity of the cemetery, and we are all on a "race to the grave," is the local explanation I have just received for the nomenclature.

Mommy K handed me Aisha and asked where the "lorry" was ("motor car," aka car), and I explained I arrived on foot.  "Okay, let's go," she tells me and we head off - me carrying Aisha on my hip, and her walking empty handed.  The children from Cheshire (including her three daughters) were being shuttled back to the home in a pick-up truck belonging to another foundation. 

Rugiatu stopped at a stand along the way to buy three lollipops.  I thought it was for her three daughters that sang that morning. but she handed them to me explaining they were for Kylie and Savannah.   Along the route I received many stares and comments while I carry this chocolate skinned precious baby.  "You take this one, eh?"  Trying to give away other people's children seems to be a popular event.

Halfway back to the ship, my sandal broke.  The leather strap between my toes separated from the base of the flip flop making it impossible to wear.  Immediately Rugiatu took it from me and gave me her own shoe.  She walked on the sweltering blacktop, garbage, and broken glass with only one shoe on.  I kept trying to give her shoe back but she insisted.  Even when we got to the street where I turn off, she wouldn't let me give her back her shoe.  Instead, she gave me the other one, put on my one functioning sandal (which was about three sizes too big for her) and set out for her home, two kilometers away, with her sweaty baby.  She told me she'll get my sandal fixed by Tuesday when I head over to Cheshire Home next.  I cajoled and begged but she would not relent.  This was her way of saying thanks.

Thanks for what?  What have I done do deserve this?  A few used clothes we gave for her girls? A few dollars for medicine when Salamatu "Isatu" was sick? A million twirls of the jumprope for Kadie & Haja?  A few hugs?  Is there any sacrifice in that?  I didn't burn my feet for her.  I didn't give beyond my means.

We have so much to learn about the sacrificial gift of Christ from the poor.  Giving when it goes beyond our comfort.  Loving even when it's not convenient. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where did I come from, and where am I going?


This will be my first attempt at blogging. It has been a 10 month journey so far with Mercy Ships. It began with a question. You know, those little nagging things that should have an easy solution but are just a little elusive for you. I asked God, “What is the power of the Gospel?” As I look at our society and even myself I know there has to be more. When addiction rates, debt ratios, divorce rates and suicide are just as high in the church as outside of it, it raises more questions. How can the power of Jesus bring freedom and change to this world? How are people who are losing jobs, homes and family supposed to believe and find hope in a place that doesn’t really look any different?   The first thing I felt was this: Do I look any different? It had to start with me. I have been involved in missions for 18 years now and thought to myself, “Sure, I’m different. I go around the world and serve my church.”  As I worked deeper into this question it became apparent to both Tiff and I that we were supposed to take it a step further. If living for Jesus brings freedom from this world we should be free to follow anywhere. Was it true? Well, we had to sell cars, a boat and find people to rent our homes. We had to sell a lot of our “stuff”.  Not to say it was easy but it is possible if you are willing.  So, we started our journey. dec 2010 (112)

We showed up to Gateway and I was prepared for starting and being a part of something exciting. I thought making the change and selling everything was the whole process. When we showed up in Texas we would “arrive” and then just have to sit back and enjoy the ride. I was sorely mistaken. This was just going to scratch the surface of what God has in store for me.

Gateway was a swirl of emotions for me. Some good, some bad. I was glad to have started and be somewhere I had no doubt I was supposed to be. I was frustrated that just about everything didn’t live up to my expectations. Classes weren't what I expected. Time off and people didn’t fit into my world view. My pride started getting hurt and I started to let bitterness creep in. I know this doesn’t sound like a very good missionary story and I should probably clarify that right now. I’m not sure I’m a “good missionary.” I am a man trying to seek out God’s will for my life and  probably stumble more than I run and fall down more than I win.

01.2011 Gateway Classroom Phase - Texas (11)

After four weeks in Texas we left for Sierra Leone. Maybe I would “arrive” there. Maybe this would be the situation I was looking for. We packed up our family and headed overseas. Now, we have done this several times as a family and I look forward to the travel. It was a bit different though to head out and know that we had no return tickets. We were not planning on being back to the States for around 18 months! 01.2011 Gateway Classroom Phase - Texas (195)

We finally arrived and I started to get  a LITTLE bit of a glimpse of the direction God had for me. We met amazing people as we started construction of the Hope Center. And were able to get a feel for life in the local culture. Power was intermittent. We had A/C shut off and we worked in the heat.

02.2011 Sierra Leone Scenery (81)

All of this time God was working on me. I was in Africa and I was “doing”. Would I stop there and let that be enough or would I continue to seek Him and see where he wanted me to go? I would like to say I always do, but I too must  “choose this day whom I will serve.” Some days it was Jesus, some days it was Dan and his dumb pride and ego.


Seeing the ship arrive was probably one of the most profound moments in my life. As it was pulling up, the hope and joy that seemed to radiate once again confirmed that this is where we were supposed to be.  Now you have read many stories of people we have been able to help and I am absolutely certain that because of the care we have given we have saved lives. Through it all the question before me is: “What is the power of the Gospel?” Right now I know it to be this:  Plain and simple, it is the power of a testimony. It is the story of a life changed. A life becoming something different and better because of the power and grace that can only come from Jesus. I am trying to live that testimony. Each day I must choose to move forward. Some days I do better than others but I absolutely learn something every day.  It is my choice to serve that can maybe change me into what God is wanting. It is this story and this change that can maybe bring hope to those around me. This is the power that can change our friends, family, communities and the world.

osman compressed

Just as a boy can show joy and have hope when his leg gets cut off, maybe we can learn to show the power of a Gospel that can actually change lives and bring hope to those around us.

Friday, November 4, 2011

While They Wait....

What is the Hope Center? 
The Hope Center is our off-the-ward housing for patients, pre and post-operation.  Often our patients come from many hours away and aren't able to arrive the morning of the admission due to transportation scheduling.

So, they come early.  Other times a patient isn't critical enough to be on the ward any more, but they have follow up appointments including dressing changes, x-rays, physical therapy and more.  For those that live far away, it does not make sense to send them on their way home in between these visits.  So, they stay.

While they wait they often feel well, and are looking for something to do.  

This year it has been a blessing to have the Hope Center literally right up the street.  As you exit the port, it is the first building on "Bad Boy Lane" (ominous, I know) aka Savage Square.  
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As often as we can, we try to go up to the Hope Center to spend some time with the patients and their family members.  If anyone comes onboard for surgery under the age of 18, they must have a caregiver with them.
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This past week we went to the Hope Center during "family night" as a great way for our girls to connect with what is happening, outside of school.
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We held some kiddos, gave some hugs, and played some soccer.
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Here are the girls with cousin Emily and Aminata, Sorie, Joseph, and Al Hasan
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