Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Friends from Around the World

One of my most favorite part of life with Mercy Ships is our international community of friends.  We have anywhere from 25 to 45 nationalities on board at any given time (I know this because calculating this is one of my side jobs for the big boss).  When we have over 40 nations on board,  my heart swells a bit.

International diversity has been something that has fired me up for as long as I can remember.  As a teenager I had photos of children and adults from all over the world plastered on my walls  - I just couldn't get enough of the beauty and creativity of the Lord in making each one of us unique.
I'm drawn to collections of flags, churches that pray for the nations, learning different languages, and of course international travel. University of the Nations, YWAM's headquarters in Kona, understands this too, and has this fountain at the center of their campus.

The idea that God loves the NATIONS - he calls the NATIONS to himself - that every TRIBE and TONGUE will be gathered around His throne in worship tells me that He is the author of celebrating diversity.  I think that is what resonates deep in my spirit as well.

Here are the countries that have been represented on board the Africa Mercy this past year:
Of course with different cultures you celebrate differences in language, dress, customs, greetings, holidays, and religion.  Even within the Christian believers from all of these nations we find so many differences on how we express our faith - for some worship is loud, spontaneous and vocal.  For others its a very somber, reverent moment between you and the Lord.  We have tried to embrace a bit of this on the ship with various expressions of worship throughout the year.

I love it when we have a night of African worship where it is not just a possibility to have the freedom to worship freely, but an expectation that you will worship with all your being.  "Shake Your Body for Jesus" is an actual song that you sing in church in Sierra Leone and you get up on your free, move around the sanctuary busting any move you've got while you are singing at the top of your lungs.

When we gather together for a birthday with our African friends, we don't just eat and play games and watch movies.  We have a rich time of singing, celebrating the Lord for what He has done in the past year, and a time of prayer to bless the birthday celebrant.

A couple of months ago I was struck with a flu that left me without energy and appetite.  I spent most of two weeks in bed.  Two of our African "brothers" (they are friends, but really they are my little brothers) would come over to pray over me. The first one said to the second one, "sing a song for Grande Souer" (big sister) and, on the spot, he sang an acapella song about God being the healer.

I love this.

Another thing I love that we are able to enjoy (and digest) about different cultures is FOOD!

Our wonderful Gurkhas not only provide amazing security for us on the ship, but they are amazing cooks.  They bring a little piece of Nepal with them every time they are home between their assignments on the ship.  Often in the crew galley, our communal cooking kitchen, you will smell the rich aromas of fresh chai tea simmering in a pot, fish curry fusing its flavors together, or the buttery smell of fresh tortilla-like flat bread that accompany their dishes.

They have a tradition of cooking a meal for the entire crew during a sail from port to port, so we look forward with expectation to a night of curried eggs, flat bread and Nepalese curried fish or chicken.

On occasion they make and sell momos in our snack bar (at the low low price of $0.20 a piece!).  These treats are similar to potstickers with bits of meat and vegetables steamed in a noodle wrapper with incredible sauces to dip them in.

And then from another part of the world, we have the West African dish of fufu.  Now, I must say - if you rush out to try fufu, I can pretty much guarantee that you're not going to love it.  It's more of an acquired taste.  Actually, it's kind of tasteless.  Fufu comes from pounded yam or cassava - they stem the starchy root and then pound it (and pound it and pound it) in a huge wooden mortal and pester until it achieves the desired consistency.
So when one of our Togolese friends was leaving to return to Togo, he threw a fufu party for us.
With fufu, hand sanitation is very important because often you eat with your right hand (your left hand is reserved for other things....).  So, you rinse, lather up, and rinse in the next bucket.

There are plenty of beverages on hand.
and if you just want to quench your thirst, grab a sachet of water, and down it.

Ghislain prepared the whole meal for us:
The purplish dough substance is the fufu - it gets its purple tint from the type of yam grown here in Guinea.  The peanut sauce stew is in the two round tureens and then there's a jollof rice dish in front.
Load up your plate with a ball of fufu and some stew and you eat it by joining your 2nd-5th fingers together and pushing them down into the fufu like a knife, separating the small chunk in between your fingers and your thumb.  Slather that with the rich, spicy peanut sauce, and shuttle it to your mouth in one quick swoop.  

After the third time of tolerating fufu, we grew to LOVE fufu and the girls are ecstatic to be here!  I think Kylie had three bowls full!!

The thing about fufu is that it is a bit like eating raw rice - it keeps growing and growing in your tummy (a perfect food in a country where this might be your only meal for the whole day).  While it is incredibly labor intensive, it is cheap and filling.  

After fufu, we all fill ready to strike a pose and have some fun.

With full bellies and warm hearts we celebrate with our friends.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A week in the life (on a hospital ship)

What do we do on the ship?  Isn't it boring?  Don't you feel trapped? Sometimes.  Yes, we are limited in our shopping and our excursions.  But, here are just a few things that we participate in or lead during a sample week:


Foley's Fitness - Three mornings a week the amazing Bill Foley, a retired state trooper leads us in thirty minutes of brutal core and cardio conditioning in our international lounge.  About 30 people brave the darkness at 6:00am, stumbling into the International Lounge with bedhead and sleep in their eyes to shape up.

Communications Meeting - Monday mornings we kick off the week gathering together as a community for updates, fellowship and teachings. 

Work Experience - Kylie and the other junior and senior highers had a special week in school where they applied to work with a department for several days.  Kylie got her first choice of being a writer with the Communications Department.  She was able to shadow them and write about the Plastics screening day that happened at the beginning of the week as well as following existing patients.

Plastics Screening - This Monday we had more than 60 potential patients come to be seen by our plastics surgeon who arrived last week.  He will assess these patients with burn contractures of the eyelid, neck, axilla (armpit), elbow, wrist, knee and ankle.  Those that would see improvement in their range of motion and or a dramatic change that allows them to work or live well in their society again were scheduled for surgery.  Kylie was a part of this as a junior writer, and I was a runner for paperwork, waiting with patients for X-rays, and other menial tasks.
Running Club - open to all Academy students and any others that want to be a part, one night a week for 45 minutes the kids have relays and fun running or walking back and forth on the dock and earning points towards their cumulative mileage for the field service.

Computer Class - immediately after running club, I have been teaching some beginning computer classes - how to write a blog, how to create a digital newsletter, using Microsoft products such as Outlook, Word, and Excel.  This is a real joy to teach the beginnings of computer use to crew members that have no or little computer experience.


Dock Open House - this Tuesday was a little bit different in that the four departments that work in large inflatable tents on the dock opened their doors to the crew so we could all see what happens in Outpatients, Rehabilitation, Screening and Admissions.  Kids and adults enjoyed participating in balance games in the physiotherapy area, a screening bingo in identifying which patients belong to each type of surgery, a photo booth and more.

French Class - weekly our Petit Frere (little brother) Innocent leads both beginner and intermediate French lessons (complete with homework) for those that desire to brush up or acquire this language that is so widely spoken throughout this region.  Togo, Guinea, Benin, Congo-Brazzaville, Cameroon, Gabon, Senegal, and Cóte d'Ivoire are all French speaking nations.


Parent Teacher Conferences - Also this week we were able to play both ends of parent teacher conferences in that we sat in as parents for conferences, and in between those I was the teacher for ten other families to discuss how their children are doing in math and ways we can move forward.

English Lessons - Three afternoons a week I meet with a day worker who has never attended school.  He was banished from his home village when he became a Christian and started working in labor jobs to make ends meet at a young age.  We are using "Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons,"a book I used both with Kylie and Savannah.  It's been a joy to see the "lightbulb" go off, and watch as W-O-W becomes "wow!" I find I LOVE adult education.

Small Group (cancelled) - this week we had to cancel it because (as you can see) the schedule was full.  But normally we meet on a week night and worship, read a chapter from the Bible together, discuss, and pray for each other. 


Health Fair - Near the end of the week, all the K-8 students had two mornings of health fair where they had presentations and hands-on exhibits with the dental team, nutritionist, and doctors who presented a lesson on tropical diseases and on cardiology.

Ballet - Thursdays girls are blessed to have an amazing ballerina and instructor (and mom of three boys), Miss Gretchen, who arrived with her family this fall and has been teaching the girls since she arrived.  They look forward to ballet all week long!

Piano Lessons - One of the many benefits to living in community is that we have a wealth of talents and gifts present in the same building.  Since we are all volunteers and we all basically live on the same status quo, everyone is willing to share these gifts and talents at no cost to those sharing life with them.  This ranges from karate to African drum lessons; ballroom dancing to ukulele club.  The girls get to benefit from piano lessons by piano enthusiasts and while they don't look forward to them, it's so great to have the option here and the shared pianos to practice on or play.

Dinner Date - Every once and awhile we need to get out and have a date, too!  We discovered a Vietnamese Restaurant in town and found sitters (also a free perk of fellow volunteers!) and had a night out on the town.

Community Meeting - Another chance to get together as a community for updates, a teaching and some worship. (The highlight of the Thursday evenings is usually the ice cream that follows in "Town Square.")


Diving - Every other week Dan gets to submerge under the ship and go to work cleaning out the intake valves so our air conditioning and generators keep running.  This is a not very glamourous job, but something he looks forward to.

Hope Center - Friday afternoons I head up a group of crew members to spend time with our future or former patients at the Hope Center.  We head out with a bag full of crafts, games, and our singing voices and practice the motions of He's Got the Whole World...  This is a highlight of the week for me as I get to interact with these precious folks that have made their way to the ship for surgical reasons.

Zumba - We had a special treat this week to have a certified Zumba instructor onboard as a guest.  She lead four classes this week full of energy (sweat) and us trying to find our groove.  it was a great way to break up the week and burn a few calories!

(Did I mention our jobs, too? Oh yeah, we work...)
Work Schedules - Dan's working these days in our Maxilo-Facial & ICU ward three shifts a week, in addition to two shifts a week in the PACU, our recovery ward.  I'm teaching junior high math in the mornings, working for the screening team in the afternoons, getting some HR work done during the spare moments, and then balancing these other things.