Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Place to Hope: The Hope Center

Hope.  It is a crisp helium balloon being filled.  Beautiful.  Ready to begin on something new.  On the heels of setting out for a brand-new glorious journey.  Hope isn't about the present, but it's that breathe of expectation for the future.

The Hope Center is a place for our patients and their caregivers to be infused with this height-soaring helium.  Where they get refilled and equipped to begin this new journey.

When patients travel from many hundreds of kilometers away, sometimes they arrive earlier than their admission date to the ship.  (Travel by land in Africa is unpredictable, treacherous, and full of surprises).  When this happens, our patients are housed (for free) at our Hope Center.  When patients are released from the hospital but still need dressing changes or physical therapy appointments and live further than an hour or two from the ship, they are sent to the Hope Center to continue their stay with us.

For some this is a couple of days until they are healed enough to receive their Final Discharge and they are released to go home.  For others, this could be months. 

While boredom in Africa is a relatively foreign concept, it can mean lots of long days just "hanging out." 

Here in Guinea, our Hope Center was created out of a dilapidated wing of one of the largest hospitals in Conakry.  Our Off-Ships team worked around the clock for a couple of months to reconstruct and make this a place of beauty, a place of refuge and rest for up to 60 patients.  When Mercy Ships leaves at the end of this field service, the hospital will receive this renovated wing as a place where they can continue to care for the people of Guinea.

We have a team of 22 dayworkers who rotate between early, mid and night shifts to staff the Hope Center around the clock- 24/7, 365 and shuttle the patients back and forth to the ship for their appointments.  We have crew members who help oversee the Hope Center - managing personal conflicts, making sure everyone is safe, healthy, and being cared for in a way that reflects Christ's love. 

And of course we visit!  The patients create great bonds with many of the crew members- especially those in the nursing field who have been able to work side by side with these patients and watch their transfomations taking place day by day.  But there are also opportunities for all crew to visit, and I am so blessed to be a part of this.

Mercy Ministries is a way to connect with the local community and serve those that are doing work in Guinea.  There are orphanage visits, baby rescue centers, pediatric ward visits, schools, prisons, and Jesus Films.  And twice a week we organize groups to head to the Hope Center for a time of stories, songs, crafts and games. 

It is amazing to see the eyes sparkling of those who just days or weeks before arrived with fear and shame smothering their spirits.  The chance to hope - the chance to dream of a life that looks different - has filled their airtanks with helium and they are ready to soar: some of them for the first time in their lives.

Lamarana when she arrived
Lamarana post surgery

Maybe that's what I love about it - it reminds me that no one is beyond having the chance to hope again.  Maybe I haven't suffered from a flesh-eating disease that has taken my nose or half of my face.  Maybe a tumor hasn't grown to the size of a cantaloupe that obstructs my airway and becomes the only thing people see about me. 
Our lovely Hasanatou
But I have suffered the same sort of despair internally.  At times my heart has been ravaged by a flesh-eating disease of self-protection that has turned it to stone and prevented me from loving authentically and deeply.  Sometimes something swells inside preventing me from speaking words of life and affirmation and the only words that can eek out are those of criticism and negativity.  Other times I shroud my face and refuse to reveal my struggles, my pain, my faults, my frailty. 

There is freedom that comes with the chance to hope again. Whether it is waiting for a surgery that could change you so drastically that people see you in a new light, or the chance to dream again, hope abounds at the Hope Center.

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