I took my last doxy yesterday which means I left the Africa Mercy four weeks ago. It also means that despite being mauled by numerous insects repeatedly I seem to be malaria free. In the last four weeks I have celebrated Christmas and the New Year with my family and tried to not miss my “family” on the ship to terribly. I’ve gone back to work and tried to reestablish what “normal life” looks like. I knew coming home would be hard. I under estimated just difficult it truly is. I have also spent the last four weeks trying to articulate what this experience has meant to me, what I learned and what I hope it means for the rest of my life. So here it goes….the lessons I learned aboard the Africa Mercy (round 1):
The first thing I learned or perhaps just observed when arriving on the ship was how much love this community had. I was brought to tears on a daily basis possibly due to the emotional strain but more so because the love of Jesus was shown all around me. Whether I was being prayed for in the Monday morning meeting as a new crew arrival, being checked on after I burst into tears at reception for not having my yellow fever card filled out properly or just being welcomed by my cabin mates I have never felt so loved and welcomed into a place. I was reminded of the verse Psalm 133:1 “How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity.” I began to study this verse and learned that this is a picture a community – a family where the members show genuine concern for one another making it possible to live united. I saw this every day.
Following this I began to learn how it was possible to live united in such a community – I learned the power and importance of community worship. The spaces onboard the Africa Mercy are tiny. I was living in a cabin with five other girls, my “personal” living space which I shared with another girl was the size of a walk-in closet. Everybody lived together, worked together, ate together, fellowshipped together but most importantly worshiped together. I saw that without the last none of the rest would have happened. I realized that without the common bond of Jesus this environment would fail.
For the first time I understood why in Hebrews 10:23-25 the early church was commanded “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – all the more as you see the Day approaching.” As a group grows the only way it can hold strong is under the unity of a common bond. So what breaks down all the barriers whether they be language, social, cultural? What is the only thing strong enough to unite this large and diverse a group? The only bond that strong on this earth is a common love and desire to serve Jesus and in that light we must not lose sight of our purpose but push one another toward the foot of the cross where our hope is found.
For it is only in the presence of the Lord that this Africa Mercy family can function as a unit – we are all made for corporate worship. The pictures of heaven we see in the Bible are of the multitudes praising the Holy God. John Piper has a whole series about being created to worship and the fact that we have the most joy when we are worshiping the Father because we are fulfilling our purpose. There was one night in particular that I saw this picture of heaven clearly – A group of believers from all over the world all praising the same God singing to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ: “Holy, Holy, Holy/ Is the Lord God Almighty/ Who was and is and is to come/ With all creation I sing/ Praise to the King of Kings/ You are my everything/ And I will adore you” Kari Jobe – Revelation Song [see youtube video for song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGgX_oqdib4]
After this there was really only one other significant lesson I believe I learned and that was to love. I guess this is somewhat related to the first but it is the difference in receiving love and giving love. One of the reasons I first got into the laboratory field was because I wanted to be in a medical profession without ever having to see patients. I didn’t want to deal with their problems, I didn’t want to get to know them and I didn’t want to know who they were. As a Med Tech I could help heal without being emotionally attached. However, I think this carried to most areas of my life. I was always one to be friends with everyone close to none (or few at the most). While on the ship I think I learned to love or at least the importance of showing love even if it is still an area to work on. I got to “befriend” the patients and share in their lives. I spent time with them, played with them, let them do/rip my hair and eventually I began to love them.
The night before I left the ship one of the people I wanted to spend time with was one of the little girls on the ward and she was probably one of my hardest goodbyes. After that I wanted be with my “parents” on board who I truly loved and will always consider my biggest support system. Then the rest of the girls who I spent so many hours with watching movies and eating chocolate. I formed bonds of friendship in love that with hopefully last a very long time.
The ten weeks I spent on the Africa Mercy did change me. I hope and pray that the things I learned will stick with me for the rest of my life. I hope and pray that they will influence every area of my life from now on. I pray that I never lose sight of these truths and I thank you all Africa Mercy family for being a part of this journey with me.