28 February 2014

by the numbers.

Here are some fun numbers for you...there are some interesting facts we thought you might like to hear (we picked a few from the multitude that could be shared!). And the pie charts tell you about the patient and surgery numbers.  All were taken from the "Africa Mercy Programs Projects Progress Report (PPR)".

As of February 15, 2014, there have been...
  • 547 pairs of reading glasses distributed
  • Over 800 participants in Leadership Conferences
  • 1093 individual counseling sessions by our Hospital Chaplaincy Team
  • 367 participants in Health Care Education Courses
  • 25 participants in a Mid-Wife Course
  • 4,179 patients at the Dental Clinic
  • 26 participants in Various Mentoring programs (Ward Nurses, OR Nurses, Sterilization, Anesthesia, Surgeons)
  • 347 bibles distributed

  • What if you had been of those who received a pair of reading glasses and now you can see better for the first time?  
  • What if your Mama was one of the 570 who had cataracts removed?  
  • What if it had been your baby girl whose tumor was removed and now she's GOING TO LIVE?
  • What if your son had been one of the surgeons who was mentored? - now he's going to return to his home country and save lives because of the skills and knowledge that he has gained!

Praise God these aren't just numbers...they are lives.  Lives impacted and forever changed by God's love and work through the Africa Mercy.  And don't you love that you get to be a part of it?

Surely there will be more to come.

20 February 2014

a little girl's impact...alice - for the days when we need a reminder.

...on the days when we're missing family and friends like crazy....on the days when we just want to eat at Chick-Fil-A and stop by the gas station for a huge cherry coke....on the days when we want to sit in person with a friend across the ocean who is hurting....on the days when walking outside and being cold would be a most welcome experience....it's on those days when it's good to be reminded of why we're here...

Alice's story is serving as that reminder for us this week.  Thought you might like to read about some of the things God is doing in and through this beautiful treasure of a girl.

Thanks to Jennica and Natalie for sharing their stories and a bit of Alice's story....the following is taken from their blogs.
Jennica's Blog

I’d like to introduce you to one of the most beautiful little girls I know. Meet Alisteria, or Alice as she is affectionately known. She is an eleven year old girl from Uganda. She was flown here with her dad and Dr. Isaac back in August and has been with us ever since.
Here’s a little background on Alice. When Alice was nine years old she was hanging out with her grandma while she was cooking in their village. Alice had a seizure and fell into the fire, burning the right side of her face. Her parents rushed her to the local clinic. When she got there, all the staff ran outside because they were terrified of her appearance and the smell of burning flesh. Eventually they took care of her and transported her to a larger hospital. She spent a few months there and had a couple skin grafts done. Eventually her family could no longer afford for her to be in the hospital so they snuck away in the middle of the night and went home. Her parents tried their best to take care of Alice in the village. They cleaned the wounds as they had seen in the hospital, but they didn’t have any clean bandages to put on. So they placed the old bandage back on after cleaning. This ended up causing an infection to the skin around her right eye. Then the flies came. To ward off the flies, her parents put gasoline on her face. This began to eat away at her skin and damaged her right eye even more. Her parents were losing hope, were terrified that they were going to lose her, and had even dug her grave in the village. Then Dr. Isaac came into the picture. This Ugandan man is actually a trained veterinarian but also runs a home in Uganda for children that have mental or physical disabilities, children that have been abandoned by family, and children like Alice who need help. He came alongside the family and helped take care of her. He had heard of Mercy Ships and e-mailed the screening team, seeing if Alice could come to the ship for surgery.
She came a day later than scheduled. The day she was supposed to come she was literally sick to her stomach with fear of getting on the airplane and flying to Congo. Can you imagine? Your whole life you’ve lived in a grass hut village in the middle of Uganda and now you’ve traveled to a huge city, you’re getting on this big metal contraption, you’re going to be flying in the SKY, leaving your friends and family for months, and staying on some ship where they will be cutting on you, poking and prodding on you. All this after already dealing with her injuries for two years. The bravery of Alice and her father to get on the plane the next day is beyond me. But I am so glad they found the strength and courage!
Photo Credit Ruben Plomp
Alice was the first patient I ever took care of in Africa. She came my first shift. It was myself and another nurse, Kari, who had her that first day. I was being oriented to the ward and the hospital was slowly opening up after screening day. Alice was so shy. She wouldn’t make eye contact with you, she didn’t smile, she didn’t speak to us. Her dad knew a small amount of English, Alice knew maybe two words and the rest was a Ugandan tribal language. The only person she would speak to was her dad. Her dad is an incredible man. Very soft spoken and reserved but incredibly dedicated to his daughter, loving towards her, and patient with all of us. We tried to get Alice and her dad feel more at home by playing games, coloring, making friendship bracelets. The only games she would play with Kari and me, after loads of coaxing, were “keep the balloon off the ground” and “move the magnetic alphabet letters around on the wall”. 
Alisteria with stickersAt first we were doing twice a day dressing changes on her eye, trying to combat the infection and get her ready for surgery. Alice wouldn’t make eye contact with you when the bandages were removed. She would stare down cast at the floor and not make a peep. She sat so patiently and quietly while her wounds were cleansed and re-bandaged. We would always put stickers on her bandage after we were done. You could see a small shadow of a smile pass over face as she got to pick what was going to decorate her head. 
But slowly and surely Alice began to emerge from her shell. The constant love and attention that was shown to her by Kari, myself, and countless others- everyone in the hospital, everyone on board that came to visit her- slowly began to extract her from her shell. I still remember the first real smile I saw creep across her face. The beauty in that smile, the way it light up her face. It was amazing. The first time she laughed, the first time she ran up to me saying “Jenny!!!!” when I came to work, these are moments I will remember and cherish forever.
Alice had a long journey on board. We cultured her wounds around her eye and found MRSA in them which landed her in isolation for a month. This was about one week after her arrival. It was really hard on her but especially hard on her dad. Here is dad used to being outdoors in Uganda, used to being in control, head of the family, working, visiting friends and family… suddenly stuck in an isolation room. Needing to entertain his daughter and himself 24/7. They colored countless coloring pages while they were in that room. I visited multiple times and would play memory with her, blow up balloons for her, and try to entertain her for an hour to give dad a break. It was so fun to spend time with her and develop a deeper relationship with her.
Alisteria and her dad
Alisteria and her dad
Once the infection cleared and she was moved out of isolation back onto the ward, it was like a different person emerged. Here’s this bright, vibrant little girl running around like a banshee on Deck 7, pedaling with all her might the scooters, running around the ward until someone had to loving reprimand her, tell her to calm down a bit! We found out that she is incredibly ticklish and loves to tickle back! Her smile rarely leaves her face now. She started picking up French words, Lingala words, English words. Her speech is such a hodge-podge of different languages, it’s rather amusing! She has an air of confidence that comes from children who are completely loved, deeply cherished, and unconditionally accepted. When I worked, I would have a little shadow following me. She was my little helper and so serious about assisting me in the little ways that she could.
WP_20140211_007All told she had 3 surgeries. One to her face and two to reconstruct her right ear. I’m happy to report that she has a beautiful ear now. Her eye infection has cleared up. The wounds around her eye have almost completely healed. Alice and her dad leave Monday for Uganda. She will be out of my life physically but will always remain in my heart. She survived. She beat all the odds, all the opinions that she was done for. She lived. You cannot look at this face and tell me that she is ugly. These scars have formed because she survived. No, she’s done more than that. She’s thrived. Marinate on that for a bit.
For the last few weeks she has been at the Hope Center. Every time I go to visit I am greeted with her screeching “Jenny Jenny Jenny Jenica Jenny!!!!” It warms my heart to no end! Yesterday Kari found me in midships and told me that Alice was on the dock, had been discharged from outpatients and that they are working on getting flights home for her and her dad. I went down to the dock to see her and say good-bye. She was so excited to see me, so excited to go home and see mamma and 1 brother and 2 sisters. So excited to be in Uganda again. You could tell Dad was pleased too in his quiet reserved way. I sat on the dock fighting back tears, snuggling with her, playing music off my phone with her, praying over her and her future in Uganda. At one point she looked up at me with her good eye and told me “Jenny, I love you,” and kissed my cheek. I’m telling you, I seriously almost lost it!
Today I went to the Hope Center to see her one last time before she leaves. I gave her a few photos to remember her time on board. I wrote a note to her hoping that one day when she grows up she will be able to read it. (Uganda is an old British colony, so English is spoken there). In my note I reminded her how loved she is by our heavenly Father, her earthly father, myself and everyone else at Mercy Ships. I told her how thankful I am that she danced across the pages of my life for these six short months. I remember when I first met her in August and heard she would be here until February thinking “man, that’s a long time!” and now here it is. I will miss her so much, but I am so glad she is going home healed! I am so glad she is going home full of confidence, vibrancy, love, adoration, self assurance. Will you please join me in praying that these feelings continue all the days of her life? That God will bless her, that she will be accepted and loved for who she is, for what she has to give, for the story she has survived already and an amazing future that is waiting for her.

And here are some thoughts from Natalie's Blog:

A few weeks ago, I was sitting with some friends at one of our favorite local restaurants.  We glanced up, and noticed some vibrant red flowers in view on a balcony ledge.  

"Do you think those are real?" one friend asked me, looking up towards the brightly colored blooms that strongly contrasted the beige exterior of the building.  
"Maybe..." I replied, not giving them a second thought.  
"Nah... they're too beautiful to be real." she commented.

We quickly discovered that they were in fact fake flowers, and the conversation moved on to discussing more important things (like the 100F degree temperature differences between our hometowns and our current location in Pointe Noire.)  My friends continued chatting as I shifted in my chair and closed my eyes, soaking up the warm sun and breathing in the African air, unable to stop thinking of her last phrase about the flowers.  I just couldn't seem to stop thinking about it....

It's a sad shame really.  The truth is, when we see something beautiful, our default response is to assume that it's an altered, somehow artificial or edited version of the real thing.  Artificial sweeteners are better than real sugar because they have less calories.  Fake flowers are better than fresh flowers because they last forever.  Astroturf is better than grass because it holds up better.  Photoshopped photographs are better than unedited because the blemishes have been cleared away.  Flipping through a magazine, the best looking food, landscapes, and even people always elicit the response of "That/those/he/she is too beautiful to be real."

While my friends had moved on from discussing perpetual summer to listing their current reading lists, I sat there confused, and kept thinking about beauty and our pesky instinctual reaction to doubt it's reality.  Why so confused, you ask? 

We know what the Bible says about beauty and what's important:

  • "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."  1 Sam 16:7
  • "Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." Prov 31:30
  • "I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well." Psa 139:14
  • "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4

One of our surgeons often says that "everyone has the right to look human."  While all of our surgeries restore physical function and often prevent death, they all also give the additional bonus of restoring physical appearance.  This gives them a literal chance at a new life since those who look less than beautiful are shunned and outcast.  We rejoice in this, but is this somehow agreeing with societal claims that the altered/edited version is better?  Are we somehow proving the point that what's on the outside DOES count?  

Meet Alice.  A sweet young girl from Uganda.  Like many of our plastics patients, Alice was severely burned at a young age when she fell into a fire.  The fire consumed her head, face, and neck, leaving only scant areas of skin and hair unscarred.  Alice spent the past 6 months with us, recovering from 3 surgeries that left her with a more mobile neck, new eyelids and a new ear.  Monday, her and her dad will fly back to Uganda to be reunited with her mother and siblings.

A few weeks after her surgery, I was changing the dressing on her head/eye for several days in a row.  This particular day, she was in bed for most of the morning, quiet and not wanting to play.   After I changed her dressing, I told her I had a surprise for her so I made her close her uncovered eye and when she opened it, I handed her a mirror.   I had added flowers and a pink bow to her bandage.   She stared in the mirror grinning ear to ear for literally hours and then suddenly came alive dancing and singing and laughing, prancing around the ward showing off her bandage while everyone told her how beautiful she was.   We went up to deck 7 later that day, and her papa was on the phone.   I wasn't paying much attention until he handed her the phone and she squealed "Mama, I'm beautiful!!!"  

In that moment, something shifted.  She had a new found confidence and joy when she shifted from hearing others say she is beautiful to actually believing and knowing it was true for herself.  The bandages were still on, the incisions hadn't healed, her hair was still gone, and most of her scars were actually still there too.  She didn't look all that different than before, but on the inside, she was a whole new kid.  

So, by doing her surgery and correcting her outward appearance, did we just jump on society's beauty obsessed bandwagon?  Maybe.  Because here at Mercy Ships, we ARE obsessed with beautiful things.  Surgeries might change the outside, but we know that only God can change the inside... and when that change happens, that is a beautiful thing!  What a privilege it is to come along side Him to pour out His love, reminding these sweet little patients how beautifully they were created.  

Too beautiful to be real?  Nope!  The most beautiful things are the most alive, and Alice is more alive now than she's ever been.


Surely there will be more to come. 

12 February 2014

introducing the newest addition to the dining room team...

...Caroline Cash!
She's not REALLY the newest addition to the dining room team - she just volunteered to help in there the other evening -- and she LOVED it.  Ever since we saw "My Mercy Box" Caroline has been wanting to get in the dining room and help!

A couple of Sundays ago Caroline and Nick were playing ping pong in the dining room (cause there's a ping pong table in the corner of the dining room that gets pulled out and unfolded sometimes between meals!), and Caroline saw Mr. Luke (one of her friends from Ultimate) coming in to start his shift.  She asked Nick if she could ask Luke if she could help...Nick said "Sure!"...Caroline asked...Mr. Luke said "Sure!" and a lovely few hours of work and service followed!
Thoughts from Caroline:  
"It was fun. I got to put out the food and store the hot stuff in the hot stuff thing and flip the switch on the stove.  I helped Mr. Luke put food in the elevator and then we ran downstairs and met the elevator and got the food off!  I got to help cut the bread and I got to wear an apron and I helped wipe down chairs and tables AND I got to MOP!  (my most favorite part)."

She really had a blast!  And can't wait to do it again.  We're thankful for the opportunities that our children have here - they are learning so many different things on so many different levels in so many different ways and from so many different people.  It's such a gift to be a part of a community where people don't just tolerate children - they welcome them and involve them and allow them to use their gifts and abilities to contribute to the Kingdom of God (reminds us of a certain Christ Community Church that we're privileged to call our home church).

Surely there will be more to come.

02 February 2014

Yaya...an update

We've got some incredible Yaya's in our life....
  • Yaya #1 = Toni Cash, Mrs. Amazing  
  • Yaya #2 = the waiter at Grillz, our favorite restaurant in Conakry, Guinea 
  • Yaya #3 = a little boy who was a patient in the hospital last year. 

We want to share a bit of an update on Yaya #3.
His story is rather remarkable...and was featured in "The Surgery Ship" -- a documentary that was recently aired in Australia (you might be able to find it/watch it if you search for it on the interwebs...) 

Here are 3 posts that give insight into Yaya's life and experience on the Africa Mercy:

When we think of Yaya, the thing that is especially remarkable is remembering how our crew fell in love with this boy.  He experienced Love in this place - the Love of Jesus expressed through nurses, doctors, physical therapists, administrative assistants and others who LIT UP when they saw him...who cried when he left...who have continued to keep up with him...who are SO EXCITED to see him when the ship returns to Guinea in the fall (btw, that's the plan!).

So we've prayed for Yaya and hoped for the best for him...and now we've found out that he's doing well!  He is in school...walking around...playing football....enjoying life in ways that a little boy should.  
Michelle shared these pictures on her blog.  Look at those legs!  

What a difference a year can make....a year when God intersects a little boy's life with a hospital ship that provides free life-changing surgery and free life-changing physical therapy and free love, hugs, smiles & stickers.  And, even though it's his legs that are now straight, we know it's not just Yaya's life that has been impacted...

God's work through the Africa Mercy makes a difference.  We're honored to be a small part of it.

Surely there is more to come.