Systemic Sorrow

There is a sorrow welling up in this community that has placed us all on the edge of an emotional cliff and we might just be one goodbye away from becoming an inconsolable puddle of emotions.

In a community where every friendship has an expiration date and every home a lease agreement, we have managed to hold on to Madagascar longer than expected.  God’s provision led us to this country in October of 2014 after months of waiting and delays due to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.  His grace let us stay here an extra year.

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The result of this extra year means we are that much more invested into the lives of our patients, our day crew and Tamatave as our home. One can never get used to the aching that occurs when over and over pieces are torn away from the heart.

In the last few weeks we have said goodbye to patients and family members, some of whom spent a good portion of both field services on this ship.

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©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; Dyllan with Grandmother

We are saying goodbye to our local day crew who are some of the hardest workers I have ever seen and who have become cherished friends.  We are saying goodbye to crew members who are finished serving onboard the Africa Mercy after years of service.

We are saying goodbye to home – a place that has our favorite restaurants and hidden beaches to escape the stress of life. It’s a place that has memories both good and bad of two challenging yet rewarding years of life.  It’s a place full of exquisite beauty in nature

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and in people.  And it’s a place where God is working and moving even though our time here is done.

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©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest; New OBF ladies waiting for surgery at the HOPE Center

Tonight we are also saying goodbye to three rock stars.  We are honoring and saying goodbye to our Mercy Ships Academy graduating Class of 2016. This is a class of three individuals who are going to take this life by storm.  It’s a class that has a vision and perspective of this world far beyond the eighteen years they’ve seen – a class of true world changers.

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Photo Credit: Walter Pretorius; Mercy Ships Academy Class of 2016

©2016 Mercy Ships Photo Credit Justine Forrest;

In a community where friends, families, coworkers and counties are constantly circulating around a revolving door I’m not sure I even know how to begin to convey the exhaustion that is brought on by not only an incredibly long and trying field service but also the emotional drain of so much sorrow. In the book “Call of the Wild,” Jack London writes

There was nothing the matter with them except that they were dead tired.  It was not the dead-tiredness that comes through brief and excessive effort, from which recovery is a matter of hours; but it was the dead-tiredness that comes through the slow and prolonged strength drainage of months of toil.  There was no power of recuperation left, no reserve strength to call upon.  It had been all used, the last least bit of it. Every muscle, every fiber, every cell, was tired, dead tired.  And there was reason for it.

“And there was reason for it.”

These words could not be more true. So I ask you to take a minute to pray for our crew that we will find rest and comfort in our Sovereign God who holds all things in his hands and in all things works for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest – Matt 11:28

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Fear and Terror

Maybe I have no place entering the debate on matters I am hardly aware of as I sit on a ship in Madagascar completely separated from the world.  Maybe this is not what or why I blog and shouldn’t get into it.  Maybe the only thing I have to be afraid of here is that my purse is stolen out of my tuktuk.  Maybe at the end of the day what I have to say doesn’t reach anyone who will listen.  Maybe this is all true but maybe it isn’t.

I see fear every day.  Patients travel across their country to an idea that is completely foreign to them for a surgery that may or may not be possible.

Photo Credit Ruben Plomp, Screening day 1 Top 5

Patient screening. Photo Credit – Ruben Plomp

Earlier this field service a 26 year old patient ran away from our outpatient facility before surgery because he was completely frightened of the unknown.  After returning with his father and being comforted by our crew this patient received surgery, has recovered and been discharged with new life.  He was able to overcome his fears and his life will forever be changed as a result.

In the last few weeks and months I too have been terrified.  Not of terrorist attacks or potentially dangerous refugees.  Not of being in Madagascar working a job that I pay to do.  Not of sickness or danger or physical threats.  No, I have been terrified that the body of Christ has so turned against itself we are no longer a united front against the enemy and in this weakness we are letting the enemy win.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. – Ephesians 6:12

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Abraham Lincoln from Mark 3:25)

Yes, there are some very controversial issues – gay marriage, abortion, refugees – but when these issues start tearing at the fabric that is the body of Christ the enemy has taken hold of whatever power we have to fight and torn it to shreds. No, we don’t all have to agree but the more we fight with one another the less the enemy even has to work.

But even this does not deserve fear since I know that in the end the enemy is defeated and God does and will reign sovereign.

We live in a world of fear and terror.  Whether it’s a patient afraid of a big white ship or a kindergartener afraid of his first day of school, fear is one of the most natural reactions as human beings.  However, what in life do we really have to be afraid of?  There is a scene in Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry’s boggart turns into a dementor proving what Harry fears most is fear itself

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or perhaps the more famous Franklin D. Roosevelt quote

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

While this is obviously full of wisdom I think there is another answer.

First, what is fear?

Fear (according to Merriam-Webster): noun – an unpleasant emotion caused by being aware of danger; a feeling of being afraid; a feeling or respect and wonder for something very powerful

The scenarios mentioned above fall into the two first definitions.  Fear of danger or being afraid.  I however think we should focus on the last definition “a feeling of respect and wonder for something very powerful.”

What are we to fear?

The answer is given to us over and over again in Scripture.  We are to fear God.

Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands. – Psalm 112:1

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – Proverbs 9:10a

 

This is not a fear that makes us hide under the bed or build a bunker to survive a nuclear war.  This is reverence and respect knowing that God is the almighty creator of the universe and everything in it, and he has chosen to commune with us.  God chooses us.  This fear is to motivate our actions not out of terror but out of devotion.  We do not have to engage in the first two types of fear since we know that God triumphs in the end and if God is for us none can stand against (Rom 8:31).

We must then look at our actions and our fears and determine if we are running away or fighting one another when we should be united in a reverent fear of the Lord.

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  – Hebrews 10:25

 

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if it’s not one thing its a propeller

It was roughly a year ago that I arrived back on the Africa Mercy in Tenerife with the expectation of sailing to Benin in five days.  Well as you may remember or can read here not only did we not sail in five days we did not sail to Benin at all.  Roughly two months later we arrived in Madagascar to begin an incredible field service in which we saw the Lord move in amazing ways through incredible crew, day crew and patients.

Well as it is often said, the only thing that is constant in Mercy Ships is change.  Yes we are still sailing to Madagascar but seeing as we were scheduled to set sail on 3 August and are still in a dry dock berth with the propeller and shaft disconnected we are once more in a period of delay.

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Surrounded by frustrated nurses and other medical professionals who are again eagerly waiting to begin the work they are so passionate about we tend to wonder why.  Why are we once again stuck when all we want to do is serve the Lord who has called us here?

But where is here?

I was sitting in church on Sunday and the pastor was preaching from some of my favorite verses in Jeremiah 29.  A lot of people will know Jeremiah 29:11 by heart.  They have seen it on an inspirational greeting card or as part of a graduation message “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”  However, the verses that precede this have become some of my favorite in the Old Testament and are often overlooked when quoting verse eleven.

The Israelites have been uprooted from their home and exiled in Babylon for 70 years.  While the normal reaction would be to sit and pray to be returned home or to remain in a small community waiting, God commands them to invest in their new home.

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7

While I am not saying we are in exile and we certainly will not be here for 70 years, at least I hope not, we are in an unexpected location apart from what we perceived our calling to be.  God knows what he is doing.  He knew that we would be in Durban for the next few weeks and I am sure he has a mission for us here just as much as we thought we had a mission in Madagascar.

Sometimes I have such a vision of what I think I am supposed to be doing that I miss what God is actually asking me to do.  I miss that he is saying just surrender to me here.  Be with me here.  Meet with me here.  Be a light to the people here.  Be a light to those around you whether they are crew members, DORMAC workers in a Durban shipyard, the people of Durban or the people of Madagascar.

Why am I limiting God’s call on my life to a specific job in a specific location?  No I don’t think I am supposed to build a house here in Durban but I am called to invest wherever I am for however long that season may last.  One of the most crucial lessons I have learned in recent years is to bloom where I am planted.  Right now I am planted in Durban.  Yes I’d rather be sailing on the ocean or securely tied to the dock in Toamasina, Madagascar but this is where I am and my attitude is the only thing I can change about the situation.  So for the next few weeks or until whenever we arrive in Madagascar I will chose to meet with God here and invest here in my current location.

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Mercy Ships is…

Mercy Ships is community

Community is a place…

Where a box of cereal is left outside your door because your friends know that is the way to your heart

When somebody is having a birthday you can crash without anybody looking at you strange

You can end up taking a day trip with a group of people you have never met and have the time of your life

When you start watching a movie with 4 people you may end it with 24

You can post a desperate plea for a needed item on facebook and have the item by the end of the day

Community is a place where at any given time you can walk down the hall and hang out with somebody who is a nurse or a teacher or a writer or a student or a receptionist or an engineer or a cook or any job you can possibly think of.  Community is a place that everybody plays a part  – no matter how small or big you may feel – and with that I want to thank each one of my amazing lab techs who came to serve this past year in Madagascar

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Claudia – I have to start with you.  You believed in me enough to give your job to me.  You stuck around through months of delays so I would have at least a few weeks, or more like days, overlap when the hospital finally opened.  You patiently showed me spreadsheets and documents I didn’t understand that would later save me so many times.

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Kathy – you came when the ship was still in South Africa and we were assigned to the same dining room team.  You understood my “jam hands” comment and we bonded over our inability to pour sauce from one pan into another without making a mess.  You helped me set up the lab and transition into this role.  You were so patient with me as I figured out what the heck I was doing.  You let me draw my first blood unit off your arm and brought award winning Olaf to the lab (who by the way is still up on the wall).

Laura – I had just two weeks to train you and hand you the pager before you were no longer the new tech.  You were gracious and took on the challenge and then helped train Lise.  We could talk about movies and TV shows and your future and what that was going to look like and what surprises were going to befall you while here in Madagascar.

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Lise- I wouldn’t trade our time together for anything.  To be honest, there were times in the beginning I doubted that you’d ever be ready to carry the pager but in the 5 months that you were on the ship I saw you transform into not only a capable, confident tech but also a capable, confident woman of God and I am so thankful that I got to be part of this journey.  Your joy was contagious and the sheer fun you brought to the lab will not be easily replaced.

Leah – you brought so much pleasure, laughter and life to the lab.  You held down the fort and did all of the rest of our work and all 20 something crosshatches for Sambany (ready the account here) during those crazy days.  You had confidence and encouragement for me at just the right time and I don’t think you will know the impact that has had.

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Amie – you came to fill in that final hole in the schedule.  You were patient with me in the midst of total chaos when you first arrived and still at the end when all the work disappeared.  You had a great attitude through all the extremes of this place.

Photo Credit Kayla Hess

Photo Credit Kayla Hess

Thania – You sought out the ship to come and gain experience but you brought so much with you already.  You came at a time when the lab was so busy we barely had enough hours in the day to finish the work.  You lightened this burden to make life possible.

Photo Credit Justine Forrest

Photo Credit Justine Forrest

I thank the Lord for all of you and how you each played a part in this past field service.  You each touched my life in so many ways and I learned so much from you.

Thank you

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