Wow… I’m not even sure where to begin to share all my experiences over the past few months. To say it’s been a challenging few months would be an understatement. However, with all challenges I and Mercy Ships as a whole have faced, God has shown Himself so big and so faithful through it all.
So what have I been up to since I left my cozy little life in Georgia 2.5 months ago to join the Africa Mercy once again???
Well, I left in August for the Gran Canaria Islands to meet the ship. At that time the Africa Mercy had no idea where she was going. This fact of course made me question why I was still going to serve on the ship. My position is the Hope Center Manager. If we aren’t in country, providing surgeries to patients then we don’t have a Hope Center and if we don’t have a Hope Center, I don’t have a job.
Why didn’t we know where we were going you might be wondering.
Ebola has devastatingly changed West Africa and has also taken away our ability to provide Hope and Healing to West Africa. Our plan was to go back to Guinea and Ebola changed that. Our next plan was to go to Benin and Ebola changed that plan as well. The next plan was to go back to Congo and once again Ebola changed that plan. All of the hearts that make up the Africa Mercy were quickly breaking and in a place of disbelief and helplessness. You see, our physical hearts might be here on the ship, but our emotional hearts are all over West Africa with our friends and our families. Sadly, the Africa Mercy isn’t equipped to treat infectious diseases. We are a surgery ship and had we gone back to West Africa we would have only been a magnet for those infected with the horrible disease and in the end we only would have done much more harm than any little bit of good we might have been able to do.
So there I was in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria on a ship without a home and not even a plan of a home. I left my home, my amazing job, my lovely friends, my beautiful family and all my belongings to step into the unknown… I can’t even begin to tell you how many times the question; “why in the world have I come here?” passed through my mind. However, there was still always a peace in my heart, my mind and deep in my soul that I was exactly where I was meant to be. Although some days it was super hard, I still managed to make a daily decision to trust in that peace while we were in the ‘waiting’.
Since we had no Hope Center for me to manage, I didn’t have a job at first. There wasn’t anything for me to do. There was no place for me to belong. I was just there…
I’m not even going to go into how intensly this brought on the battle in my mind of not belonging, not being important, needed or noticed. After a week I was reassigned to the sales department. There I worked in our starbucks onboard and worked the register for our ship shop. That only lasted a few days because they were overstaffed so once again I was jobless and not needed and not belonging… again, I won’t bring up the mental battle of not belonging or being important this brought on. Thankfully, they found another department to reassign me to. I was reassigned to the deck department. I became a deck hand ‘deckie’ on the ship (never imagined having that title in my lifetime). I painted, sanded, scrubbed the decks, painted, vacummed rain, assisted in moving containers, painted, loaded pallets on the crane, painted, lifted lots of heavy things, tied down the land rovers. made some awesome new friends and then painted some more. Yes, I finally belonged somewhere. Yes, I had a job and something to do to pass time. Yes, I actually enjoyed it most days. However, I still couldn’t help but wonder why in the world I was there. I gave up my life to do busy jobs on a ship in paradise. Yeah, I know that doesn’t sound like something to complain about, but that wasn’t at all what I signed up for or ever imagined having to do. I still found myself stuck in the ‘waiting’…
Finally!! After a few weeks of being onboard our Managing Director, Roland, announced that we had finally found a home! Madagascar! WHAT?? SERIOUSLY?? MADAGASCAR?? NO WAY!!! It was an amaizng day! We have a home! We are FINALLY going to be on our way to do what we all came here to do! Nope… not exactly… Yes, we were going to sail to Madagascar, but first we had a 2.5 week sail to Cape Town, South Africa. Not only that, we also had to spend 3 weeks in Cape Town. Again, I know this all sounds like an amazing adventure and it was, but I didn’t sign up for this kind of an amazing adventure. I signed up to assist the ship with bringing Hope and Healing to the people of Africa. So even though it had finally been decided to go to Madagascar, we still had 1.5 months ahead of us before we arrived. Once again still in the ‘waiting’…
Then we arrived in Cape Town and that’s when my life truly changed forever.
During the sail to Cape Town, I was reassigned once more. The communications team onboard asked me to assist them in managing all the PR Tours we had planned to do in South Africa. To be completely honest, I wasn’t too thrilled about the whole idea, but I said yes anyways. They are a great team so I figured that even if I didn’t love the job, I would love working on the team. Oh how I was completely wrong. Yes, I did love the team as I knew I would, but I also LOVED the job! I won’t go into too much detail about the tours because it might bore you just a bit, but I will share a little.
Our main goal as a ship in South Africa was to recruit. One of the ways we did this was to setup a tour through our hospital that allowed people to as close to real life as possible, experience a patients journey through their life changing surgery on-board. Long story short, our team, with the help of many crew volunteers accomplished this goal far more beautifully than we ever imagined. Below are just a few comments that came from the tours:
“You have created not only a great way of sharing what we do, but somehow found a way to allow people to connect with the real heart of what we do. I know without a doubt that through these tours, the transformation we desire to see will go beyond patient lives and crew members lives and now extend to these visitors lives too.” -Hospital Director
“I did not have dry eyes for too long, so emotional. I think the concept is very well thought through and we should keep it for future usage.” -Managing Director
“It really exceeded my expectations of what I thought was possible. This truly was a team effort and just shows what we can achieve even in a very short time scale when we work collaboratively together. May this be a sign of things to come for the rest of the field service…..expectations exceeded and glory to God for what He provides in this place.” -Deputy Chief Medical Officer
You are probably wondering why our time in Cape Town changed my life forever so I’m going to tell you.
God showed up every second of every day. Even in the moments I thought I was ok without Him, He still showed up. He allowed me to see Him, feel Him and experience Him in ways I never have before. He allowed me to see the bigger picture. He allowed me a small glimpse into heaven. He answered my cries. He made me belong. He gave me purpose. He picked me. He allowed me to see that He has never forgotten about me and far before I ever even had the thought of volunteering on the ship again He had it all planned out. He changed my life.
Through the tours I was able to see hearts deeply touched and impacted. Hearts of long term crew, short term crew and hearts of visitors. I was able to witness the moments God planted a dream in someones heart. I was able to see the tears streaming down faces when they experienced the moment God choose them. I was able to join in the laughter, excitement and joy of those who were just simply speechless after the tour. I was able to see Jesus shared with over 5,000 people during our time of tours. I was able to see myself and other tired crew members brought back to why we’re really here. Why we do what we do. Why what we do is so important. And I was able to be a part of the reminder to us all that God did pick each and every one of us to be exactly where we were in that exact moment. Even if we were stuck in the ‘waiting’ we were exactly where He wanted us. I also grew as a person and even more-so as a leader. It was such a beautiful time. I still might not have been the Hope Center Manager, but I was right where He needed me to be and that place had purpose.
I also went cage diving with Great White Sharks, hung out with penguins and went to the top of Table Mountain in South Africa and all was INCREDIBLE!!!
I also had a surprise visit with a man very dear to my heart whom I haven’t seen in almost 9 years!
So we finished up our stay in Cape Town and next was an 8 day sail to Madagascar. FINALLY, we really are almost there! We set sail and all was perfect in my world. Well… that perfection quickly changed to “God, I’m not sure I can make it”… The seas were rough and the Africa Mercy was rolling back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. I love sailing and I love the little rolling to rock me to sleep at night, but this was much different than any other sail I’d experienced. One night we reached 31 degree rolls. We could no longer walk without being tossed back and forth between the walls. We couldn’t eat because our time was spent trying to hold on to our plate, utensils and cup while we were also trying to brace ourselves from our chairs sliding back and forth. We could no longer shower because it was just impossible to stand with a shower curtain being the only thing for you to grasp a hold of. I couldn’t work because my office is down on deck 3 where you feel the rolling very intensely and there are no windows to look out to help you from getting sick. We could no longer sleep because lying in bed just became a game of not hitting your head on the ceiling or falling out of bed as we rolled back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. We no longer had coffee because the coffee maker rolled right off the counter, straight to the floor. Every morning everyone had to spend some time just cleaning up from all that had fallen and broken during the night. Although we secured our areas very well, things still managed to break free during that awful sail. “God, why??? We are all so exhausted. We need a break. We need sleep. We need coffee. We need something…” To be completely honest, I was so exhausted and over it all that I started to question God. I questioned if our leadership made the right decision in sending the Africa Mercy to Madagascar. Things were just going so badly that I couldn’t imagine we were following the Lords calling. And then we arrived in Madagascar…
Madagascar is exactly where God intended us to be all along. We’ve been here 2 weeks now and my heart is completely at home. The country is beautiful! The people are beautiful! The crew is beautiful! Our Day Crew are beautiful! All is quite perfect here! All the waiting and rough sails were more than worth it to be right here where God brought us. I am finally the Hope Center Manager! We have started screening! Our halls are filling with patients! There is much joy and excitement throughout the ship and it’s just so beautiful! There is so much to share about Madagascar, but for now I’m still processing and soaking it all in so I will just share some pictures.
And this is some of our first patients arriving to the ship! 🙂
And I’ll end with a beautiful Madagascar sunset…