19 December 2016

AFM Christmas - part 3 - Gingerbread Houses (and various other structures)

And then there was the Gingerbread House Contest....

Eli and the other 6th grade boys.  I like the team work and creativity...I do believe they may have been the first group to finish (but it wasn't a race)...

KJ and the Cash Girls.  I appreciate KJ's willingness to let it be the creative, fun, messy, sugar filled event that it's intended to be.  I'm very impressed with the structural stability of their house (and the cultural stability as well). 
A Few Other Favorites

Surely there will be more to come.

AFM Christmas - part 2 - Cookies & Crafts & Community

Christmas Cookie Bake
The best way to bake Christmas cookies...the dough is ready made by the galley...you just roll it out, cut it out (with whatever cookie cutters you can happen to get your hands on..dinosaurs, sailboats and dog bones included) and put it on the tray that is magically whisked away  bycookie fairies and baked...the tray is brought back with the cookies ready to be iced with icing that's been prepared for us!  I don't think it can get any easier... 
photo credit: jasper

Christmas Craft Night

Another incredibly delightful event.  20+ Christmas Crafts right at our finger tips...we just show up and create.  HUGE thanks to Shelly for coming up with the crafts, procuring the materials and lining up volunteers to run each station.  
photo credit: carol
photo credit: not sure...but not me

Community Performances & Such
The elementary kids have worked hard under Ms. Beth's leadership to prepare and perform multiple songs throughout the Advent Season.  There's something about children singing that has Christmas written all over it (especially when they are singing Christmas songs).  

Ms. Beth also taught the Kindergarten and Grade 1 Students a set of verses that they shared throughout the ship on Friday:

And just last night, 8 of the elementary girls lead us in worship as they danced to "Come and Worship."  A definite highlight of our Christmas.  Tremendous thanks to Ms. Suzanne for investing in them with her love and talent.
photo credit: beth

photo credit: KJ
Surely there will be more to come.

AFM Christmas - part 1 - Sinter Klaas, Winter Wonderland & Santa Lucia

Christmas time is here...happiness and cheer....

AFM Christmases have proven to be some of the best times on the ship these past 4 1/2 years.  This year is no exception!  Here's the beginning of a blog blitz of some of our favorite moments from the past few weeks...mainly pictures with a bit of explanation.

Sinter Klaas
The Dutch Tradition of Sinter Klaas!  He is supposed to arrive "by steamer" but this year Sinter Klaas arrived in Management Vehicle style (lucky guy - he didn't even have to have his temperature taken at the gate or wash his hands before coming aboard!).  Sinter Klaas and his helpers pass out presents to the children (and throw out the the delicious pepernoten - looks like dog food...but it sure isn't).

Winter Wonderland
Definitely the AFM shopping experience of the year! (I prefer to sit back and watch! Can you spot me in the 2nd picture?)  Dozens of crew set up tables selling all sorts of lovely items - our favorite tend to be the edible ones...Mama Agnes' homemade waffle cones (4th picture down) are always a winner in the Cash Family.

Santa Lucia
This is the one that always makes me cry.  The Scandanavian Tradition of Santa Lucia - the Feast of Saint Lucy - the Festival of Lights!  It's so beautiful...(tearing up just thinking about it!).  All of our crew from Sweden, Denmark and Norway (and any crew from other places with Scandanavian roots), dress in white and carry candles while singing traditional songs.  I hope the video works so you can get a taste of one of our favorite ship traditions...

Surely there will be more to come.

07 December 2016

the month that was November...

You may need to get your face close to the screen in order to see the numbers and words and pictures...but we wanted to share what's been going on in the Hospital of the Africa Mercy - what YOU'VE been a part of...

Amazing numbers.  Even more amazing?  The lives behind each and every number.  The patient served...the crew member serving...the families forever changed...the hope and healing experienced in very real and tangible ways.  And even MORE amazing?  Our One True God who sees and knows each and every single one...

Surely there will be more to come.

30 November 2016

Triangles and Circles

If you've talked with us for even a minute, you've heard us say that living here on the Africa Mercy is beautifully challenging.  Here are some thoughts that Nick shared with our Community of Faith that helps make some sense of why this place is a wee bit tricky.

Life on a Mercy Ship is part triangle and part circle.
The Triangle represents our Organizational Life.  We are an organization – we are a hospital ship.  And we have a mission.  We have designed programs to fulfill that mission.  The ship is the platform through which we deliver that mission.  And we, the Crew, are the people who organize together in order to enact that mission – we are an organization.
And organizations need structure.  They need workflow.  They need layered leadership.  They need a chain of command.
Without organization, the hospital doesn’t function.  Without organization, no one creates the duty schedules.  Without organization, no one tracks the supply orders; no one prepares the menu for meals; no one recruits & trains the volunteers.
Without the triangle, no one schedules the surgeons, or cleans the ORs, or keeps the financial records, or tests the water for drinkability, or maintains the electrical & plumbing systems.
We need the Triangle!  But can we get real for a minute?  The triangle bothers some people – let’s be honest.  Some people think the triangle comes with too many politics, too many rules & regulations, too many policies & committees.  Some people think the triangle makes the ministry feel too much like a business.
But the Triangle is how we are all here.  We all applied for & were accepted into positions within the Triangle.  And the Triangle is how we deal with medical crises and technical mishaps that arise.
In Guinea, my family lived up on the aft-end of Deck 7, and one night – I believe it was Christmas Eve – one of the local fuel trucks that was parked behind our ship spilled it’s load into the ocean right behind us!  An overhead announcement called for all Deck & Engineering Crew to rush to the dock for hazardous material containment.  It was late at night, on Christmas Eve!, and about 50 men & women from the AFM worked into the early morning hours to contain the massive oil spill.
Without layers of leadership, without emergency-response protocols, and chains of command, and policies and manuals and after-action reviews – in short – without the Triangle – none of this happens.
Three weekends ago, on a Friday night, a patient on the Wards was rushed into the OR with severe bleeding from the neck.  EMT were called.  An OR Team was assembled.  An emergency surgery took place late in the evening.  And, by the grace of God, a patient’s life was saved.
But, would you allow me to challenge your theology there for just a second?  Yes, it was by God’s grace that the patient survived.  And yes, He gets all the glory for doing what only He can do!  He preserved a life that night that by all explainable means should not have survived.  But we played a role in His grace.  His grace worked through us and our systems.  Do you realize the magnitude of that?  We are partners with God, co-laborers with His Spirit. (1 Corinthians 3:9, 2 Corinthians 6:1)  He frequently performs His divine miracles through our earthly hands and efforts.  Isn’t that amazing!?  2 Corinthians 4:7 says that God’s all-surpassing power – His divine glory & grace – dwells within us & works with & through us – we, who are but jars of clay, flimsy earthen vessels.
He is at work in & through the Triangle.
Then there is the Circle.  The Circle represents our Community Life.  And specifically our Community of Faith.  The Circle is how we exist here beyond work.  Beyond the badge.  Beyond the job title.  We are people.  We are individuals, beloved by God, redeemed by Jesus, indwelled by His Spirit, brothers and sisters with a common faith and an eternal destiny with each other through Christ.
The Circle is where we find our spiritual vitality.  There is spiritual equality in the Circle.  We can all pray for each other, all bear one another’s burdens, all encourage one another in our faith, all spur one another on towards love and good deeds.
The Circle is what we look like to outsiders while we accomplish the mission of the Triangle.  That’s what Jesus told His disciples in John 13:35 – it’s not only what you do it, but how you do it that matters – they will know that we belong to Jesus by our love for each other.  The Circle is how we treat the other members of the Triangle: with common dignity.  With common respect, regardless of position.  With common value.  With common honor.
In the Triangle, the Captain and Managing Director lead.  Their word carries the most weight.  They are ultimately responsible for the safety of the Crew and the success of our mission here.  But in the Circle, they are simply men – our brothers in Christ – our equals in our common journey of faith with Father God.  Even our Triangle leaders need a safe place to study God’s Word with others, and search the deep questions of the faith with others – in a Circle setting.
I’ll go even further than that: I am the Senior Chaplain.  In the Triangle, it’s my responsibility to step up and be the spiritual leader of this vessel.  That’s what my position requires of me, and it is my honor & joy to get to do that in this amazing place, among you amazing people!
But I need a Circle, too.  I’m not perfect.  I need a safe place to confess my sins to other believers here.  I don’t have my life all perfectly fit together – I need a Circle of believers who can pray for me and support me in my own faith-journey – and that’s you guys.
The TRIANGLE is our Organizational Life.
The CIRCLE is our Community Life.
  • The TRIANGLE is how we all got here.
  • The CIRCLE is how we exist together here.
  • The TRIANGLE is how we get the job done.
  • The CIRCLE is maintaining our spiritual vitality.
  • The TRIANGLE has hierarchy – ranked positions.
  • The CIRCLE has equality – brothers & sisters.
  • The TRIANGLE has formal leadership.
  • The CIRCLE has informal leadership.
The TRIANGLE makes up half of our mission: to bring hope & healing to the world’s forgotten poor – through free, world-class medical programs.
The CIRCLE makes up the other half:  to follow the 2000-year-old model of Jesus – through spiritual transformation in Christ-centered community.
The complete mission of the Africa Mercy requires both!  Our mission is incomplete without both halves of our mission statement.
This is hard to do.  Most people don’t live where they work.  Most of us have never shared a communal life with our co-workers, our supervisors, our HR rep, our Bank Clerk, our coffee shop employee, our pastor.
This is unusual.  It’s difficult to hold the tension between organizational life and community life in balance.
Circles & Triangles: these two shapes normally do not fit together.  You cannot put a circular block in a triangular hole.  You cannot put a triangular block in a circular hole.  It doesn’t work in geometry.  But it can work here.
In fact, successful life onboard requires one to manage this tension well.  It is a tension to be managed (a good thing!), not a problem to be solved (a bad thing).
All of us, as members of this organization – as position-holders within the Triangle – we have to be willing to submit ourselves to a Circle onboard, or else our whole life and experience onboard will be in the Triangle.  It really will be like we just live & sleep at our work, and our lives can become very one-dimensional.  When that happens, we tend to reach the end of our service time here exhausted, used-up, burned-out, mad at Mercy Ships, and distant from God.  I don’t want that for you.  Mercy Ships doesn’t want that for you.  And God certainly does not want that for you.
People weren’t meant to live in the Triangle.  Our most healthy lives are lived in the Circle – in community with others who love us, who know our faults and blind-spots, and who graciously support us along in our journeys of faith with Jesus.
We need the Triangle in order for our work to be effective and efficient: we need hierarchy and positional leadership.  We need people to make decisions!  We need people to lead the way for the team!
But we all need each other to thrive in community, and to complete both halves of the mission that we have all been called here for: to provide free, top-notch medical programs that serve the world’s forgotten poor – that’s the Triangle half.  And by following the 2000-year-old model of Jesus, to bring spiritual transformation to lives – through Christ-centered community.

Surely there will be more to come. 

10 November 2016

Mercy Ships Core Values according to Eli

And now it's Eli's turn to contribute.  Again, this was a school assignment (God bless the Academy for giving us so many things to share). Eli was happy to share it because it meant he didn't have to write anything else for the blog...

Values of Mercy Ships - Eli Cash - 2016

      A value is a word or phrase that you model your life around, whether it is money, love, or God. Values also influence your decisions.  Mercy Ships has four main core values, love God, love and serve others, be people of integrity, and be people of excellence in all that we say and do.

      The people on the ship are supposed to love God; we show this by going to the community meetings and participating in worship. The crew also shows this by participating in mercy ministries, because the Bible says that when we serve each other we’re serving Christ as well. Finally we show that we love and serve God when we came to the ship, God called us to go to the ship and we came.

      The crew is also supposed to love and serve others; they do this when they get each other food or snacks from the ship shop or the dining room. The crew also does little things for each other like holding open the door for the people behind them in the hallway. And finally the people on the ship show that they love and serve others by doing surgeries on the people who get cleared for surgery after screening.
      We also are people of integrity here on the ship. We show this by not stealing from the ship shop and cafĂ© when we know that we can do it without being noticed. We also show this by getting only one of the food items that is under the one-per-person sign. The crew shows this in how they return the borrowed books from the library on time.

       The fourth value is showing that we are people of excellence in all we say and do. We can show this by being polite to other people by saying thank you to the dining room staff, or holding the door open for the people behind us.  We also show this by doing our very best in the jobs and tasks we find ourselves doing.  

     The four core values of Mercy Ships can be shown in different ways.The Africa Mercy is a great place and we can make the best of the good conditions given to us by not only following but living these four values.
Eli, School Picture, October 2016
Surely there will be more to come. 

03 November 2016

A Giant See-Saw for a Home

Caroline wrote the following for a school assignment.  She gave us permission to share it here (reluctantly...but permission, none the less!!)

Have you ever seen a giant see-saw with hundreds of people on it? Well, I live on one.  It's a ship called the Africa Mercy. The Africa Mercy is a great place to live for the following reasons: our destinations, friendships, and community life.
Guinea, 2012
The ship goes to many exotic places - that is one of the main reasons why I love the ship! First, in August 2012 until June 2013 we went to Guinea.  There was an amazing hotel and pool with these adorable little kittens. There was also an amazing park which provided a great field trip spot and a good place to play.  Then, in August 2013 until June 2014 the ship went to Congo which had an amazing beach very close to the port. There were also with many restaurants with low prices and good food. In October 2014 we went to Madagascar.  It was so awesome we went for two years.(JK we went cause we had nowhere else to go because of the Ebola crisis in West Africa) There was a very grassy soccer field where we played Frisbee and there were many amazing spots that people went to for  relaxation during the weekend. Most recently, in August of this year (2016), we have arrived at Benin! Here there is an amazing treat called fanice! It is absolutely delicious. If you are looking for an international traveling home then you should move to the Africa Mercy!
At Arbre d'Vie Orphanage a few weekends ago
 I love the ship because of my friends who support me in smooth times and rough as well. First of all, I have met kids from all over the world. It is almost like visiting the world in one day. For example Maya, who is from America, and Anna, who is from Liberia, would have never been my friends if I had not come and lived here. Secondly, I see my friends almost 24/7 which makes our friendship as strong as steel! We ripstick on the dock a lot and we usually play Frisbee on Fridays! Unfortunately, being an MK (Missionary Kid) has its down sides. Often times my friends go back to their home countries or get reassigned. It makes me feel very sad; sometimes I sit and wonder why people have to leave. Still, I love the diversity of my friends.

Caroline and her sweet friend Elsa (one of those hard good-byes)
Although, the ship is very large we are all a very close community. To begin with, unlike other places, we have a school right here onboard. We have this funky celebration called Jabulani day were everyone dresses up using the basics of a theme. It is totally breathtaking! Also, everybody knows almost everyone else. I trust a lot of adults and I feel comfortable enough to just walk up to someone and say "hi" even if I do not know them.

Crew of the AFM, Congo
Obviously, the ship is one of my favorite places on the planet! I feel like everyone is as close as a giant “family” that travels together all around Africa. God bless the Africa Mercy now and forever!

Surely there will be more to come!

03 October 2016

All God Does Is Good

A lovely nurse named Cara wrote something on her blog a few weeks ago about one of our patients.  It has stayed in my heart and mind and I want to share it with you:

Iyebiye kan // Precious one

"Today is our third day of Maxillofacial (MaxFax) surgeries on the Africa Mercy for the 2016-2017 Benin Field Service.  And I am one happy pediatric nurse! We have a recovering and adorable 6-month cleft lip baby named Patricia, today we operated on a beautiful six-year old cleft palate named Minabelle and tonight we welcomed an 8-month baby boy (also cleft lip) named Israel. I’ve already kissed Patricia’s hair more times than I can count and gave her a bath on Monday night that made me far happier than it made her. I have shaken Israel’s hand twice in welcome, enjoying the way he regarded me with solemn and inquisitive eyes.  I got to spend time reassuring Minabelle and her mom this morning not to be afraid and then again this afternoon promising that we would care for her, that we had her bleeding and her airway and her pain under control.
But there is one sweet baby in the corner of our ward, in beloved Haingo’s old bed, who has stolen my heart in a special and particular way, one who is especially precious to me.
Her name is Bignon.  
Just like Haingo, Bignon is a cleft lip and palate baby, too – and our first medical admission of the season.  Bignon weighs 4 pounds and is three weeks old.  Bignon’s mother arrived exhausted and defeated, with a dehydrated and lethargic baby who barely had active reflexes and didn’t even have the strength to cry during her blood draws.  Yet already during Bignon’s first 24 hours aboard, both mother and baby look far more full of life than they did the previous day, both full of food and receiving rest and good care.
On Deck 7 today, during fresh air time, I asked one of our day crew to ask Bignon’s mother if the baby’s name means anything. 
“It does,” our translator told me.  
“It means ‘All God Does is Good'”. 
I had chills. How fitting. How perfect. How well that name illustrates the powerful story of this fragile little baby and this brave, brave Mama.  Can you imagine someone laying your baby in your arms, after hours of laboring, and seeing how small she is, seeing her bilateral cleft lip for the first time, being frightened and unsure of what caused this enormous, obvious, difficult defect —
AND YET still turning your eyes to heaven and choosing to name this darling little girl “All God Does is Good”? 
If I had faith like that, if I had trust like that, how different my every single day would be. How different my relationship with God would be, my relationships with my loved ones and my relationship with myself would be.  It is nearly beyond my comprehension to imagine what depths of peace you would feel in knowing, knowing THAT intensely that God had everything, every hardship, every struggle, every curveball under His control and that He was making choices for you and your family that ultimately were good, no matter how scary they seemed at first?
That kind of faith is the kind that they say moves mountains. 
Upon our return to the ward, my heart still full and my throat still lumpy and my eyes still stinging, I watched Patricia and her Mama greet little Israel. I watched Patricia’s mom showing off the nasal bolster, pointing at the steri-strips, gesturing to the nurses and talking fast and excitedly.  I watched Bignon’s mom coming over, showing off her own little clefty girl, her own pride and joy. I could hardly tear myself away. Three cleft lips and their mothers having a party in the back of the ward in our incredible unit on a floating hospital docked in Cotonou, Benin.
Indeed.  All God Does is Good."
Amen.  If you'd like to read more of Cara's heart and thoughts, here's the link.
Surely there will be more to come.  

09 September 2016

smorgasbord - benin, screening, set up and open house!

For your reading and looking enjoyment: a few pictures, 2 links (alongside the first 2 section headers - click on them, you'll be glad you did...but you may need tissues if you read Kayla's) and some 6 word phrases (a smorgasbord of treasure and delight!).

  • Colorful, zemidjan filled, beautiful, beloved Benin.  
  • So very thankful to be here. 
  • Much to be seen, tasted, smelled. 

Screening -- Kayla's thoughts
  • Heart achingly breakingly beautifully tough work.
  • Thousands lined up...hope is rising. 
  • Wish we could help them all. 
  • Well done good and faithful screeners. 
  • Each form represents possibility: life change.

Hospital Set up
  • Before and after, what a difference.
  • Hours of cleaning, unpacking, setting up.
  • Every moment an act of worship. 
  • Getting it ready for honored guests. 

Hospital Open House
  • Hands on learning is the best.
  • Such fun happening on deck 3.
  • Injections, surgeries, sutures and lab work.
  • Maybe we have a future surgeon?

Surely there will be more to come.
(or "Surely there is more to come" if you really want to stick with the 6 word phrases).