“The First to Know…”…Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 12

During week 12, I realized something…

I’m always the first to know.

When it comes to our patients official radiology report, I’m always the first to know what their exam showed. What their official diagnosis  is. And sometimes, it’s not the best news…

I’m struggling with that fact.

With the fact that I’m the one who reads the report & then has to pass that news on to our doctors. Although this isn’t always the case, with our critical patients, I always page our doctors to give the results as soon as possible. And I’m finding that with every digit I dial, a small piece of my heart goes with it. Because I’ll never forget that moment.

I’ll never forget all the emotions that emerged as I read that report & how they crashed over me when I had to speak those words of bad news.

While we all try to stay positive in these critical situations, we also try to remain realistic.

It’s hard to confirm that the “worst case scenario” pathology that we were all praying wasn’t happening, is indeed what is going on. That realistically, there’s nothing more we can really do for this pathology. That everything we’ve done may not be enough. The patient will either improve, or they won’t.

But no matter the outcome, God has the entire situation under His watchful eye & in His hands. Our knowledge of these patients is not even a spark compared to His blazing flare of understanding. He knows every single thing they need.

It’s His will, not our own, that will be done.

“You hem me in behind & before, & you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.” -Psalm 139:5-6

And it’s because of that very reason, that we’re in the middle of watching yet another miracle unfold before us. This particular patient came to us extremely sick, so very close to deaths door. While they are not out of the woods yet…not by a long shot…they are still with us & they are still improving. And that, in & of itself, is a miracle.


I realized something else in week 12…

I’m in big trouble when it comes to our ortho kids…

BIG trouble. 

A group of potential Ortho patients stand on the dock.

Djazim waits on the dock for an appointment,

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Yasmine stands on the dock waiting for an appointment before surgery.

They had me totally & completely wrapped before they even made it into the room…& they knew it. Seriously, they could not be more adorable.

Some of the simplest things in life, things we all take for granted, these children have never been able to do…

Walk without pain.

Run.

Climb into a chair by themselves.

Kick a ball.

Valerie stands on the dock before surgery to correct her severely bowed legs.

Valerie stands on the dock before surgery to correct her severely bowed legs.

I can’t wait to watch these sweet kiddos discover what it’s like to walk normally & on straight legs. To watching them discover that walking doesn’t have to be…& shouldn’t be…painful. Watching them take of running for the first time in their life. Watching them climb into a chair…or up onto the x-ray table…by themselves.

Oh how I’m looking forward to all those moments.

-Please join us in prayer for all of our patients, both critical & non-critical alike. Pray for comfort & peace throughout their time with us. That their healing will be swift & without complications. Pray for all of our little ortho patients as they go in for their surgery & as they began their road to recovery. Pray for all of their caregivers & parents as they try to provide comfort.-

Until next time…

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

“The Miracle Continues…”…Mercy Ships in Benin – Weeks 10 & 11

I stand in total & complete awe of our God. 

He never ceases to amaze me.

The last time you heard from me, you learned about the miracle that unfolded before our eyes here on the Africa Mercy at the end of week 9. Well that miracle has continued through weeks 10 & 11.

Our aneurysm patient, whom we almost lost, has continued to make great strides in his recovery.

In week 10, over the span of a few short days, we witnessed him go from:

  • Unresponsive to responsive & able to follow commands…
  • From responsive & reclined in bed to being able to sit up in bed…
  • From being able to sit up in bed to being able to sit up on the side of the bed unassisted…
  • From sitting up on the side of the bed to being able to stand to join ward worship…
  • From standing for ward worship to slowly walking around the ward…
  • From slowly walking around the ward to slowly walking in the hallway
  • From slowly walking in the hallway to steadily walking down the hallway to visit his friends…

How? How is that possible considering he almost lost his life just a few days earlier?

Only. God.

“Behold, I will bring it health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.” – Jeremiah 33:6

And what an abundance of healing, peace & truth He brought. I think everyone on board could feel His presence as we began a new week. He renewed our hopes for this patient & our spirits for our purpose here.



Weeks 10 & 11 also began our orthopedic screenings.

All of these little guys & gals are such troopers.

The severity of their bowed legs & knocked knees is unbelievable.

Yes, I’ve seen lower extremities bend in that way before, but as the result of a horrible accident.

Yet there they are, laying on our x-ray table…with us twisting & turning them every which way trying to accomplish the view we need…in complete stillness & quiet. And every time they look at you, they give you the sweetest little smile. It doesn’t matter that their right knee & foot are twisted to left & their left knee & foot are twisted to the right…

(think 5th position in ballet, but backwards)

A group of potential Ortho patients stand on the dock.

…they’re still content & overall, happy.

I love seeing our hallway full of these sweet kiddos & hearing their bursts of laughter. I love to see their eyes light up as we give them their own sticker covered balloon. My coworker, day crew & I love to hit the balloon back & forth with them while waiting for are images to process. You would be surprised at how quickly they can move on those little bowed legs of theirs!

After a few really difficult & emotional weeks, it’s been so refreshing to look at these precious faces everyday.

I’m truly enjoying every single step taken upon this path. Even those that I’m unsure I will be able to take. Because with every step I take on this path, I become stronger…both in myself & in my walk with God.

And I’m humbled, grateful & honored that He laid this path before me. It’s a privilege to be traveling it. 

“You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” -Psalm 16:11

-Please continue to pray for our patients & their healing..especially these kiddos who are about to undergo surgery to realign their lower extremities! Pray for peace & comfort for all who are in the process of being treated & their families/caregivers.-

Until next time…

– Note: So sorry for the delay of my week 10 blog! I was struggling with a kidney stone last weekend, so my blog was pushed to the back-burner. Thank you so much to every single one of you who are reading & following my journey! It means more than you know! –

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

“A new hope after the storm…”…Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 9

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” -Romans 15:13

Yesterday morning, as I was filling our power injector with contrast, I saw something that I’ve seen a thousand times during the past 11 years…

A prism.

Normally, I would barely pay attention, but yesterday it was a powerful reminder from our Heavenly Father.

That after every storm, there is a new hope. That His promise remains.

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Week 9 on the Africa Mercy started like every other week & in many ways, it was. Patients were discharged, others continued to heal & new patients were admitted.

But what began as a normal week, quickly turned into something more.

Thursday evening around 7:45, I received a page that I was needed in radiology for a stat CT. They believe a patient has had a stroke after her surgery to remove a thyroid tumor. 

While waiting for the scanner to boot up & for the patient to stabilize for transport, I wanted to go ahead & touch base with the radiologist who reports for us. I wanted to make sure that there was a radiologist available to read this exam as soon as we completed it. Time is precious with stroke patients. I was able to get in touch with them & they were prepared & ready to read the exam.

Or so I thought.

I completed the exam, sent the images over to the connecting drive & contacted the radiologist with all the patient information. Then I waited…& waited…& waited…

The report never came.

I had failed, plain & simple. I’m the only one on board who has the access to send images to the radiologist & the doctors were counting on me to get this exam reported. And I couldn’t. I had let them down. Did I really? No, because I did all I could at that moment. But I still felt like I was failing our patient & doctors. Shortly after 1 am, the doctor decided to call it a night in regards to waiting for the report & I headed back to my cabin. Even though the doctor had accepted the fact that we would be waiting until morning for the report, I set my alarm to wake up every 30 minutes to check my email for the report. Morning came & still no report. Even though I was still feeling like a total failure, I wasn’t able to stay in that mindset for too long as we had quite a few patients coming in for their screening CT & I was by myself in the department. Thankfully, everything went smoothly that morning with us only having one hiccup in the form of a blown vein.

Afternoon came & again, still no report. Undoubtedly something had happened on the radiologists end that had prevented them from reading the exam, but I was still checking my email every 30 minutes to an hour, just to make sure that as soon as I received it, I could pass it on to the doctors.

Not long after I had finally made it to my cabin, around 8pm, an announcement came over head:

“Attention all crew, attention all crew…Emergency Medical Team to OR 3 immediately…Emergency Medical Team to OR 3 immediately.”

I’ve never gotten down from my bunk as quickly as I did in that moment. I quickly threw on my scrubs & was on deck 3 in less than a minute…maybe even 45 seconds. Having a cabin that is merely 22 seconds (while casually walking, not running) from deck 3 definitely has it’s perks. I got the department unlocked & all of our equipment booting up. As the boot up & warm ups were in progress, I headed next door to lab where I could hear our senior lab tech, Jenny, running around. As I rounded the corner, I almost ran into one of our anesthesiologist, Brian, who was bolting into lab to donate blood. I knew then that we must have an active hemorrhage…

To add to the intensity of an active hemorrhage from a major artery, we had a pipe burst & half of the OR was under a inch or so of water. So when I say I almost ran into Brian, I mean I literally almost ran into him. He had taken the quickest way to the lab, which involved running through the flooded hallway, so he was slipping & sliding his way into lab. He jumped up onto the table & was in the process of donating in no time.

And to add yet another level of intensity to this situation, the patient has a blood type of B+…which is a rare blood type…especially on a hospital ship…docked in Africa.

( Side Note: Here on the Africa Mercy, we crew serve as the blood bank. We are the only ones who donate blood for our patients. Anytime there’s a need for a transfusion, if there are limited units available of that blood type, the crew who are matches head to the lab to donate. )

Jenny was still by herself at this time, as I’m not even sure it had been a complete five minutes since the over head page, so I asked if there was anything I could do to help her while the scanner was warming up. She immediately sent me to find 2 of the crew that she knew had this blood type, as she had no time to check the computer at that moment.

I quickly ran up to deck 6, while skimming the rest of the ship on my way, where there was a on board ladies retreat going on, hoping to find these 2 crew we so desperately needed. I finally found one of them & was back to the lab as Brian was finishing up his donation. Again, he was off the table & out the door in a matter of seconds before he turned around & remembered that he needed to take the blood he had just donated with him.

What a incredible thing to witness. To watch someone who just donated blood, take that very unit of his blood with him back to the OR to start the transfusion immediately.

Soon, we were sending another over head announcement:

“Attention all crew, attention all crew…Anyone with a blood type of B+, please proceed to the lab immediately.”

I finished the CT warm ups & got the department open & ready in case they needed to bring the patient our way. By the time I was done, which again, was not more than a few minutes, if that, our hallway was full of people. Everyone who was B+, or thought they might be, flooded the corridor…some in pajamas, some in street clothes, some in scrubs. They each began filing into the lab to donate. An OR nurse was in the lab, ready to run the unit of blood to the OR as soon as it was completed…just to run back to the lab to get the next unit.

Just a few minutes later, another over head announcement was made:

“Attention all crew, attention all crew…If you’re able, please stop what you’re doing & join us in praying for the patient in OR 3. The IOC is also joining us in prayer.”

WOW.

That’s one announcement I never thought I’d hear. Even here at Mercy Ships, a organization that is founded on the model of Jesus.

I stood in amazement as I watched people come together in prayer for our patient. In our hallway, those who were lined up & waiting to donate blood, came together in prayer. Those who were working on the busted pipe, stopped for a moment to pray together. The patients in the ward, all who are hurting & healing themselves, came together in the middle of the ward to pray for their friend who was fighting for his life.

How incredible it is to know that even though most of the 400+ crew was not able to be there to help in person, that they are with you in prayer. That those of you on deck 3 were not fighting this battle alone. That they are lifting up your patient to God…and that’s the best place to be together. As I said a few weeks ago,

The absolute best thing we can do for our patients is to lay their healing at His feet. Because He simply uses us as an extension of Himself. It’s not us who do the healing, it’s Him. It’s not at all about us & the patient, it’s about Him & the patient.

 So knowing that everyone was gathered in prayer for our patient at that moment, was incredible. Because when two or more of us are gathered in His name, He is with us. And He was absolutely with us that night. 

As they were getting down to collecting blood from our last three B+ crew members (two of which could only give half units due to donating not too long ago), Brian came out to let us know that the bleeding was now under control & the patient was stable…still critical, but stable.

I’m not sure what time I actually made it back to my cabin, but as soon as I got there, I collapsed to the floor, tears streaming down my face. I was so overwhelmed by everything that had taken place in the last 24 hours. Overwhelmed that through the grace, mercy & help of God, our possible stroke patient was improving & they were successful in getting this massive hemorrhage under control. I couldn’t help but wonder…Did I do enough for these patients & our doctors? 

As I climbed into my bunk, I couldn’t help but continue to think of the events that had unfolded before my eyes. About everything I had witnessed.

It was the most amazingly beautiful mess of chaos I’ve ever seen.

Working in the ER for several years, I’ve seen my share of chaos. I’ve seen people come together to do whatever needed to be done in order to save our patient. I’ve helped hold pressure on an ruputed artery, I’ve helped perform CPR on patients of all ages…I’ve seen more than I ever imagined…

But I’ve never witnessed anything like the events of Friday night.

Job titles didn’t matter. Nationality, race, religion…none of that mattered.

All that mattered was our patient. Doing what needed to be done in order to save him. And we were successful.

Once again, not much sleep was had Friday night & emotions were high on Saturday morning. As some of us who helped care for this patient sat down to eat breakfast together, we couldn’t help but shed a few tears at all that had happened, & so very quickly.

But for me, & I think for them as well, it was more about how everyone came together so quickly. How even with our busted pipes, our limited resources & staff, we were still able to save this patient. How everyone who was a vital part of saving him, just happened to be in the right place at the right time. How we could feel the presence of our Savior throughout all the chaos. It was overwhelming. It’s still overwhelming.

So as I was preparing for this patients scan yesterday morning, I couldn’t help but notice the rainbow of colors…& I knew God was telling me…

It’s ok…I’m here. Your patients, your fellow crew & you have never been out of My care. Today is a new day, & within this day lies new hope, new mercies…

 “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.” -Lamentations 3:22-23

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” -2 Corinthians 4:16-18

“Then God said, “I am giving you a sign of my covenant with you and with all living creatures, for all generations to come. I have placed my rainbow in the clouds. It is the sign of my covenant with you and with all the earth. When I send clouds over the earth, the rainbow will appear in the clouds.” -Genesis 9:12-13

Thank you Father for that wonderful reminder. 

Because still, I hadn’t heard from the radiologist. I still did not have a report to give them for our possible stroke patient…& now, I’m scanning someone who almost lost his life, just hours before. They would absolutely need a report on his scan. But how was I going to get them one? 

Dr. Gary (Parker) mentioned to me in passing that we once had a radiologist in Australia who would read STAT exams for us, that maybe his contact info is still in radiology somewhere. So as soon as I had a opportunity, that became my mission…to find this radiologist & contact him. It wasn’t the easiest thing, but finally, I was able to get in contact with him. And he was an absolute God send. Within an hour or so, he had replied that he would be honored to help out & read these exams for us. And within  a few more hours, I had the reports. As soon as I received them, I couldn’t fight the tears that formed in my eyes. It was truly like a enormous weight was lifted off my shoulders. That feeling of failure was also lifted. Now our doctors had the extra pieces of the puzzle & knew what needed to be done. 

I’m so very thankful to God for sending me not only a symbol of hope, but an angel disguised as a radiologist.

We must remember that He has equipped us with everything we need to complete the path He has laid before us. Even during the times we feel like, “What am I doing here? Am I strong enough to handle this?”.

Are we strong enough to handle this?

No. But HE IS.

And because He lives within us, we ARE strong enough to endure all of the overwhelming moments. We ARE strong enough to continue down this path, no matter how steep the climb may be. We ARE strong enough to complete the mission He has set out before us. We ARE strong enough to serve those around us in His name.

And my fellow Africa Mercy crew, I really am truly humbled & honored to be serving beside you all. In Him, we are strong enough & we can handle anything…& when we come together in His name, for His purpose, we’re even stronger. Keep up the amazing work…you’re changing lives & making a difference in the lives of those you’re serving, as well as those around you.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” -John 15:16

• Patient Update | 30 October 2016 |

Our possible stroke patient is improving by the hour.

Our hemorrhage patient is also stable, still in critical condition, but stable. I went to check on him before heading to bed last night. When I walked in, I was met with his eyes! He was responsive, able to move all extremities & follow commands. In the world of medicine, he should not be alive. But in God’s world, he’s alive & responsive. We’ve witnessed a true miracle. 

Patient Update | 04 November 2016 |

Our possible stroke patient is still improving daily. She was able to walk to the department for a follow up exam earlier this week.

Our hemorrhage patient is also improving daily. His recovery is nothing short of a miracle! By Wednesday, he was sitting up on the side of his bed. On Thursday, he was not only able to stand, but to WALK down the hallway to visit his friends. 

Every single one of us cried as we watched the miracle before us take his first steps after almost losing his life. 

Only. God.

Please continue to pray for them & their healing! •

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

“Goodbye; One of the hardest words to say…”…Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 8

It’s astounding how in the course of 8 weeks, complete strangers can become your favorite people to do life with.

How in so little time, they become like family & you can’t imagine not having them by your side for the rest of your current journey…& life in general.

And then, the hard part comes…

You have to say goodbye.

Here on board the Africa Mercy, crew are constantly coming & going. Every week we lose a few (or a dozen) & gain a few (or again, a dozen). And while I love having the opportunity to get to know those who are new, I have a soft heart for those who I met first.

There’s a group of 9 of us who all arrived the same weekend & pretty much bonded instantaneously. From our personalities to our beliefs, we’re pretty much on the same page. And to say it’s a blessing would be a total understatement, because we’re all together, 99% of the time. And not just because we’re on a ship docked in Africa…although that may be a slight factor.

We truly enjoy spending time together. Whether it’s at meals, in midships or out exploring Benin…we enjoy each others company. We can be talking & laughing, playing a game or simply just sitting around in silence, each of us working on something individually.

Then the time came this past weekend for 2 of our group to leave…

“NOOOOO!!! How is it already time for them to leave? We just got here!” – The reaction from every single one of us.

Everyone (except me because I was on call & therefore, could not leave the ship) went out to dinner Saturday night & while they were gone, I made a apple crisp & some chocolate chip cookie dough dip for us to enjoy when they got back. We all met up to enjoy some time together, eating dessert, chatting & laughing…you know, our usual. We then gathered around to play a game, like we have fairly often over the past 8 weeks. (Again…we’re on a ship docked in Africa…what else is there to really do after 8:00 on a Saturday night? Exactly.)

We snapped a picture together & then proceeded with our game. It wasn’t until I finally made it back to my cabin & began to look at & edit the picture, that the realization really hit me…

That was our last group picture together. 

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Front: (L to R) Sietska, Des, Liz, Heather-Ann, Catherine | Back: (L to R) Joy, Michelle, myself & Mo

I don’t say that with a single ounce of drama, simply realness.

When will we all be together again? Are we all planning to serve with Mercy Ships again? And if we do, will we all be serving at the same time?

Chances are no, we will not. So we must accept that difficult fact. That most likely, we will not all be together again at the same time, in the same place.

And that’s one truth that is extremely hard to come to terms with.

Because these friends are not just friends, they are your family when you have given up time with your biological family. They are that ones that are there for you night & day, for anything.

If you’re homesick, they’re there to step in to remind you that you’re loved here & to help you feel at home.

When you have a hard day & you need to talk, vent &/or cry, they’re there with open ears that listen, open arms to hug your neck & strong shoulders to lean on. 

When you’re not feeling your best, they’re there, almost constantly, asking if you need anything.

They’re there. Always. (And willingly.)

I’m not sure words can express how abundantly blessed I feel to simply have these wonderful, kind, compassionate, giving, loving, caring, Christ-like, hilarious girls in my life. They’ve taught me so much in the time we’ve been together.

God has reminded me recently that it’s not about the quantity of something, but the quality.

I know that sounds completely cliche, but it’s true.

The past 8 weeks have not been defined by the amount of time that the 9 of us spent together, but by the quality of that time. 

And while I’m sad that our time as 9 has come to an end, I’m so incredibly thankful for every moment I was able to spend with Heather-Ann & Mo. I treasure the time we had together this field service & I can’t wait to reunite with them again…hopefully on the “soon” side…

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Heather-Ann; Sweet. Kind. Compassionate. Gorgeous blue eyes. Knitter of socks & master of Peanut Butter cookies.

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Mo; Loving. Caring. Wise. Cute as a button. Storyteller Extraordinaire. Coolest cat of the group. Aka: Grand-Mo Wiggles.

Heather-Ann & Mo,

Thank you for every word of encouragement you gave to me these past 8 weeks. The kind & generous heart within each of you is palpable just by being around you. Your passion to serve those around you is evident in everything you do. Thank you for all the laughs & especially for all the love.

The ship isn’t the same without you. Miss y’all bunches & love you always!

Sietska, Des, Liz, Catherine, Joy, & Michelle,

I love you all & look forward to the remaining time we have to serve Benin together!

I’m so thankful & grateful to have you all by my side, traveling this path with me.

#MercyShipSisters #SquadGoals

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

“Laying it at His Feet; When there’s nothing you can do…”…Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 7

The past few weeks have been a mix of wonderful & difficult on board the Africa Mercy.

There have been a few patients that have really tugged at my heart. Because not only are they absolutely precious, they are the ones that we’re unable to help medically.

And it’s just as devastating as it was 5 weeks ago.

Everyone here on board wants so badly to treat everyone we see, everyone who walks/drives for hours or days to come see us, everyone who has put all of their hope in us being able to help them. But that’s just not possible. And through every one of these situations, God is teaching me that we’re not the ones who treat & heal them anyway…He is. That it’s not about US & the patient, it’s about HIM & the patient.

The absolute best thing we can do for our patients is to lay their healing at His feet.

That doing so is infinitely greater than anything we can do personally. After all, He simply uses us as a extension of Himself. We are not the ones who are treating & healing, He is.

But even still, it’s difficult to watch these patients walk away.

It’s difficult to watch the scans of these patients appear. Because you know as soon as you see the images below, that there’s nothing we can do here at Mercy Ships for this pathology. That it’s most likely cancerous & has metastasized throughout the rest of their body. That most likely, all we can provide is palliative care & spiritual support.

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As I’ve said before, the amount of suffering these precious people go through is palpable just by looking into their eyes. No words are necessary to understand the pain they feel every moment of every day. To understand what they have to endure because of their medical abnormality & the lack of healthcare they so desperately need.

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There’s no way to describe the emotions you feel when you meet these patients for the first time & look into their eyes. There’s no way to describe what happens within your heart, no way to prepare yourself for the feelings that will come over you.

You can’t help but feel like God is allowing you to look through His eyes, to see what He sees, to feel what He feels about His children.

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That despite all the abnormalities, despite others deeming them cursed, that they are still His.

That they are nothing short of beautiful & precious in His sight, because they are.

The images you see above belong to 15 year old young man. As you can see, his large facial tumor has eaten away & destroyed a good portion of his facial bones, is now growing into his brain & is slowly crushing his trachea.

When I first laid eyes on this sweet young man, with his tumor protruding out of his nose & mouth, I had to fight back tears. Then as he sat down on the CT table, he shook my hand & thanked me for helping him. I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. 

As we proceeded with the CT & his images began to appear, my heart dropped & shattered into a million pieces. I knew then & there that we would not be able to operate. That there was far too much involved with this tumor. And as I saw the unfathomable narrowing of his airway, it really hit me…

Suffocation would most likely take his life. And soon.

How was I supposed to walk back in there & not completely fall apart? How was I supposed to appear hopeful to this young man, who is not too much older than my baby brother, knowing that this could possibly be my first & last time meeting him? To be able to make an impact, no matter how small, in his life? 

Through the strength God reinforces us with. Through knowing & trusting that He has prepared us for these very tasks, even if we’re not sure how. Through praying for comfort & peace, not for ourselves, but for our patients & their families. 

And my prayer for our time with those patients is still the same as it was 5 weeks ago…

I pray that each of us shined the Light of our Savior while in contact with those who were told “No”. That even though we are unable to help them medically, that we were sufficient in helping them spiritually. That us serving them, even if it was only for a short time, allowed them to see that they have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be embarrassed about, that they are not cursed & that they do matter…not only to God & our Savior, but to us as well. That we love them & accept them for who they are, with or without their abnormality.

That as Children of God, their abnormality will never & could never define them. That they are loved, cared about & just as important as any other.

I hope & pray that we provide those things for them.

I pray that each of us continues to learn that while we may not be able to help them medically, that we can still do what’s best for each of these patients by laying them & their healing at the feet of our Savior. That we can still support them, encourage them, pray for them.

We can still make a difference in their life. We can still love them as Christ loves them.

We were reminded in church tonight that God has chosen us for this calling. That we’re here because we were called to Jesus, not just Mercy Ships & Benin. That many times our calling is full of joy & suffering intertwined.

That Jesus believes in us, that we are capable of making a difference, not only in Benin, but in the lives of those around us. 

Because even though our hearts break often while living out our calling here at Mercy Ships, all suffering has meaning in God’s Kingdom.

He can bring good out of anything…even suffering & heart break.

What a precious reminder that we are fully equipped to handle anything, as long as we keep Him as our center & lay everything at His feet.

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We also had the privilege of having the founder of Mercy Ships, Don Stephens, & the board of directors here with us this past week.

Mr. Stephens is truly one of the most humble people I’ve ever met.

He was recently nominated for the Congressional Gold Medal & when congratulated on this enormous honor & achievement, he politely declined the recognition & averted the attention to the patients & volunteers.

“Thank you for mentioning the award, but you said that we deserve it…& I would push back strongly. The only thing we deserve is Hell, & everything else is grace. So we don’t deserve it at all & that’s why when we were nominated, we specifically put the focus on you. You are the hands & the feet, the ones that are making the difference in Africa. And if it will help us raise funds & recruit others to serve, then may God bless it & may He have His way. But it’s not about us, it’s about you & what you’re doing, & the poor that we are serving. It’s about Africa.

And additionally, I think mainly it’s about Jesus.” -Don Stephens

https://mercyships.org/blog/congressional-gold-medal )

But it’s him who followed his heart & the call of our Savior to begin this wonderful organization. Without him following his dream to provide healthcare to those in the poorest of nations, we wouldn’t have this opportunity to serve in this way. Because of the work he’s done over the past 38 years, Mercy Ships has been able to directly impact more than 2.5 million people & provide services valued more than $1.3 billion.

So thank you Mr. Stephens, for following the call & passion God placed within your heart. We wouldn’t be here without you.

“Prayer in action is love, & love in action is service. Try to give unconditionally whatever a person needs in the moment. The point is to do something, however small, & show you care through your actions by giving your time. We are all God’s children so it is important to share His gifts. Do not worry about why problems exist in the world – just respond to people’s needs. We feel what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean, but that ocean would be less without that drop.” -Mother Teresa

Until next week…

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

Africa Mercy; The Tour – Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 6

Welcome to the Africa Mercy!

( This post is 6 weeks overdue, but better late than never! )

When you first board the Africa Mercy, you enter into the reception area. It’s here that  you receive your badge, call for taxi’s, exc…

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Directly behind reception is the dining hall. This is the place my friends & I meet up to not only eat, but to catch up with each other & discuss how our day has been. We’ve also been known to sit for an hour or so after dinner is over, in continuous fits of laughter.

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Opposite of reception is our Cafe, Ship Shop & Starbucks…where you can get a latte for 75 cents. Until recently, the Starbucks on board the Africa Mercy was the only Starbucks in Africa.

This is also the location of #WaffleFriday, again, where you can get a waffle for 75 cents. Needless to say, this is easily one of our favorite places on board.

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Above the Cafe & Starbucks is MidShips, our other favorite, the place we all gather after hours & on weekends to decompress, chat, read, play games, & surf the net.

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 Down the hall from MidShips is the laundry room. Each washer/dryer has a signup sheet with different times available, so each week, we all sign up for a designated washer/dryer at a designated time.

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And down the hall from the laundry room is our on board academy for the children who’s parents are serving with Mercy Ships.

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Down below the academy is the library…which I absolutely love! I can go spend an hour just looking. It’s so peaceful & quiet, which is always welcomed while on board with 400+ other people.

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Now on to the hospital…

Deck 3 is home to our wards, operating theaters & all other supporting departments, like lab, supply & radiology.

 

My home in the radiology department is on the opposite hallway from the wards, just separated by a tiny little corridor.

 The department is a super quick 22 seconds from my cabin, which is absolutely wonderful!

And speaking of my cabin…

I’m blessed to be in a 4-berth cabin, which means I only have 3 roommates (we have up to 10-berth cabins). This also means that we have a small love-seat & refrigerator, as well as a window looking out into the port. Again, a total blessing.

And that’s pretty much it! It’s amazing how little space you actually need to house 400+ crew, 40-50+ patients, 5 operating theaters, & all the support services…it’s tight quarters, but in a cozy kind of way.

Not pictured:

– The Crew Galley, where we are able to cook & bake if we like.

-The Port, where our admissions, rehab & screening tents are set up.

-The International Lounge, where we have all of our meetings & worship services.

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

“Trusting God during the Trials…”…Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 5

Oh the things the Lord has taught me this past week.

Through friends, through patients, through evil, through life.

This week began with a imaging study on one of our ward patients. He came to us with his back completely covered in one large nevus (mole). This nevus would have most likely turned into cancer in the coming months/years, therefore, he had it removed.

Sounds simple enough, right?

Sure, it was a simple operation, but this is what needs to be understood about this case. When I say his back was completely covered by one large mole, I literally mean his ENTIRE back. From his scapula to his lumbar, flank to flank.

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Totally. Completely. Covered.

So when I say he had it removed, what I really mean is, he had 90% (plus or minus) of the flesh of his back removed in one operation. Down to the muscular layer of tissue. Gone. The only thing covering this enormous wound is a transparent, sterile bandage (think a enormous tegaderm…or the transparent bandage we use to secure an IV).

Yet when he came to radiology, even though he was in a great deal of pain, he was nothing but gracious, kind & thankful. He literally walked to the department. And when our day crew, Ifede, started to translate what we were going to do during his exam & letting him know that we were going to work as gently & quickly as we could, because we understand the amount of pain he is in, this patient gently responded with,

“You may do whatever you need to do, I can handle whatever it may be. I trust you.”

I TRUST YOU.

God literally knocked the breath out of me with that response.

What is it like to have such a trust in someone you’ve just met?

This patient hasn’t been with us too long & yet, he totally, completely trust us. Then I realized that all of our patients have this trust. They all come to us full of trust, full of kindness, full of gratitude, full of faith. All before they even have a chance to know us. They put all of their trust in God to care for them through us, His children.

The bible tells us in Psalm 91 that if we rest in the shadow of the Almighty with trust, that He provide us refuge. That He will shield & protect us from fear.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”                  -Psalm 91:1-16

So why do we struggle with trust? Why are we, as Christians, so hesitant to put all our trust in God?

Because surely, if our patients are able to put total & complete trust in Him, & in turn, in us…we can do the same, right?

Last week, my hometown experienced fear & evil first hand. Through a teenagers thoughtless actions, we lost some members of our community (Rest in peace at the feet of our Savior sweet Jacob!). There are lives that will be forever affected by this tragedy. And while we are still processing everything that has occurred last week, God knows the reasoning behind it all. It was all a part of His plan after all. We must remember that there are things in life that we will never truly understand. We’re not meant to. We’re meant to put our trust and faith in Him, His timing, His plan. For all of those things are perfect in Him. Although it’s hard to comprehend at times, everything happens for a reason. That reason may become clear fairly quickly after the tragedy, other times, it may take years. There will always be events that we never truly understand.

And again, that’s where faith and trust comes into play.

Just as our patients trust in our plan to treat them, we should trust God’s plan for our life. Because in Him, & Him alone, will the plans for our lives come alive. Just as our patients have had to endure years of rejection & pain, they still trust that God has a bigger & better plan for them…& we must do the same. We will have to endure rejection from this world & the pain that life brings, but we must continue to trust that everything we endure is part of His plan for us, part of our growing in Him as His children.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought & never fails to bear fruit.” -Jeremiah 17:7-8

To be truly blessed & to bless those around us, we must keep our faith & trust in Him.

For when we place ALL of our trust in Him & ALL of our worries & insecurities at His feet, we truly allow Him to work in & through us. Which is our purpose on this earth…to live for Him, to share His love, grace & mercy with those around us. To shine His light into the darkened world. To serve others in His name. To bring Him glory.

We are His & He is ours. 

Wow. What a thought.

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, &  I am helped; my heart exults, & with my song I give thanks to him.” -Psalm 28:7

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

“In a months time…”…Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 4

I can’t believe I’ve been on board the Africa Mercy for 4 weeks! It seems like I just got here a few days ago, yet it also seems like I’ve been here for so much longer. It’s such a oxymoron-ish feeling. With every passing day, we feel more & more at home aboard this hospital ship. All routines have been adjusted & schedules have been established.

My friends & I are truly settling into ship-life…the constant (& sometimes quite extreme) rocking of the ship, all our different meetings that take place each week, the ever rotating door of people leaving & new folks joining us, laundry schedules, what foods to hoard & when, & if 2-minute ship showers were an Olympic event, we would win the gold. We’ve discovered what time of day is best used as our quiet & alone time, & when we can find each other hanging out in midships.

The sense of community on board is unbelievable. Everyone speaks to everyone, everyone encourages one another, prays for one another…because we know that we are all here for a common purpose & that together, we are stronger than individually.

| “Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another…” – Hebrews 10:24-25 |

| “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” – Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 |

And it’s incredibly refreshing. So often in healthcare, you come across those who are only in healthcare for selfish reasons, not because it’s their hearts desire to serve & help others. So having the opportunity to be surrounded by those who have the same passions & goals as you, is absolutely wonderful & does your heart good.

AND OUR PATIENTS!!!

Gladys on the dock before receiving treatment for her neglected club foot.

Gladys on the dock before receiving treatment for her neglected club foot.


Israel sits on the dock before being admitted for cleft lip surgery.

Israel sits on the dock before being admitted for cleft lip surgery.


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Herve on the dock before receiving treatment for his bilateral neglected club feet.

Let’s face it, they have us totally wrapped. I mean, LOOK AT THOSE FACES!!!

Honest to goodness, we have some of the sweetest patients I’ve ever come across in my 12 years of healthcare. So polite, so grateful, so kind. I had the opportunity to spend some time in the wards on Friday after we finished our radiology exams & I loved every single minute of it. I decided to make all of our pediatric patients a personalized “Sticker Book” to keep throughout their stay with us & to take with them when leave. Stickers are a huge deal here on the Africa Mercy, to kids & adults alike. Think “Pokèmon Go”, everywhere they go…the OR, rehab, radiology…they collect stickers. But then, they end up tearing their sticker or losing it, which almost always results in tears. So I figured I would make them a collection booklet so that they can keep up with all the stickers they are rewarded. And since I am my parents child, I colored grass, palm trees, water, the sun, & birds so they could create their own little safari with the abundance of animal stickers we have.

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Don’t judge…

You would think I just gave them all the new iPhone 7.

No. Joke.

I felt like Santa in September.

As soon as I handed them their sticker book, their eyes would light up like you wouldn’t believe! And when they saw that their name was on it, that it was theirs & theirs only, & that they got to keep it, their excitement was enough to bring tears to my eyes. When I brought out the balloons & bubbles, it was mayhem! The best kind of mayhem you can imagine. There were smiles all around, both for pediatrics & their parents/caregivers. Some of these patients are not yet allowed to go to deck 7 (where we have swings & a basketball goal, a general play area for our peds patients) in the afternoon, so this was a treat for them as they got to participate. One little one, who’s name happens to be Miracle (I mean, COME ON!!! So precious!), was quite unhappy when I arrived. At only 2 years old, he was both bored & hurting…he currently has pins extending out of most of his fingers…& they we’re unable to get him settled. But that changed when he received his sticker book. And then, just as soon as he had perked up, he was unhappy again because he was unable to hold on to his book & stickers due to his bilateral hand splinting. So I moved on to balloons. He quickly got down off his bed & came with me out to the center of the floor, where he kicked the balloons for 30 mins, his smile never leaving his face.

It’s 30 minutes & a smile I’ll never forget.

I’m always blown away at how much we take for granted.

I’m so very grateful to God for presenting me with this opportunity. An opportunity to serve others in His name. To grow as His child. To truly realize that He is all I need in this world. That all the accommodations I’m used to are not necessary for living a meaningful life for Him. That all you really need to reach people for Him is a kind smile, an understanding eye, a listening ear, & a loving heart.

One month down, nine to go…& I can’t wait!

Until next week…

| Picture Credit: Miguel Ottaviano | All photos used with permission from the patients & organization. |

*A tour of the Africa Mercy is coming up soon! Stay tuned! *

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 3…

As of Monday, we were officially open as a hospital as the first surgeries began. We began the week with a prayer circle down & around the hallways of the hospital. Dr. Gary Parker, who has volunteered with Mercy Ships as a maxillofacial surgeon for decades, came over our announcement system & led us all in prayer before his first surgery case. It was an amazing start to our week, as we gathered together & prayed for our mission as an organization. The bible tells us in Matthew 18:20 that, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”…& there’s no doubt that He was with us as we gathered hand-in-hand.

I LOVE walking down the hallway & seeing patients in the ward! Absolutely love it. It makes our purpose here real. The past two weeks of prepping was necessary but kinda left us all feeling like, “What’s going on & what are we doing?”. Trust me, none of us really knew what was happening day-to-day the past few weeks.

All that seemed to evaporate Monday.

As the first patients arrived Sunday night to be prepped for surgery Monday morning, we finally started to feel like, “Ah, THIS is why we’re here”. And what a feeling that is. It’s very surreal to sit here & think about how God brought us all together for one purpose…to serve the people of Benin & to share His love, grace & mercy with them.

And I’m SO grateful for those who answered His call & are here serving with me. Everyone here is amazing. Negativity is practically nonexistent! The motto, “We’re all in this together…”…is something that is truly lived out here.

These girls for example…

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While we all clicked pretty instantaneously when we arrived, this week I feel like we’ve become even closer. We’ve almost reached the point of reading each others minds. They’ve become what I hashtag as #MercyShipSisters. We’re together everyday, every meal. Our meal times are our time to catch up with one another. We keep each other laughing constantly, which is a wonderful blessing. The Mercy Ships experience can be hard & trying, your heart breaks at least once or twice everyday…but then you get together with your friends, who are becoming your family, & you’re able to talk & discuss, & then move on to continuous fits of laughter.

Don’t tell them, but I’m starting to love having these girls in my life.

They have such amazing hearts & their love of God & serving others is evident just by  being around them. I’m so very grateful to God for bringing us all together to serve. I love traveling this path with these lovelies by my side.

Being around them reminds me Philippians 2:1-11, which states, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”…This is the mindset of our group. I love it & am so very thankful for it.

Seriously, our #MercyShipSquad is GOALS!!!

Another thing that has truly touched my heart this week is hearing our patients worship our Savior in the mornings. Every morning around 10-10:30, the wards fill with praise from our nurse, day crew & patients. I’ve gone to join in a few times & it’s a amazing thing to see. Even though most of these patients are recovering from surgery, they still take part in worship. The sight of that really does your heart good. It’s quickly become one of my favorite parts of the day. (I’ll upload a short video soon!)

Please continue to pray for our doctors & surgeons as they continue with surgery this coming week. Pray for minimal pain & anxiety within our patients as they undergo their treatment & begin their recovery. Pray that God will continue to guard our hearts & lead us to those who need us most, that we will not become weak or tired. Pray that throughout their time with us, that our patients will see a constant example of the love & goodness of God & our Savior within us. That we may help restore their spirits, that through their time with us, they will come to see themselves in a new light.

“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:16

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Up next is a tour of the Africa Mercy…Stay tuned!

Until then…

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –

Mercy Ships in Benin – Week 2…

As I sit here & think back on this past week, I find that there are no words to describe what my heart is feeling. There are no words in the dictionary that can accurately portray my thoughts.

Because what we see here at Mercy Ships is indescribable. You can read the stories, look at pictures & watch the videos, but until you’re actually here, there’s no way to truly understand this experience.

This week was the end of our screening here in Cotonou. Thousands of people filled our line at our screening center over the past 3 weeks, hopeful that we may be able to help them. Hundreds received a “Yes”, followed by a surgeon screening card (a guaranteed consultation with one of our surgeons) & a new hope of treatment & a second chance at a normal life, while thousands received a “No, I’m sorry but all those surgery slots are filled.” or “I’m sorry, but we’re not equipped to handle that type of medical treatment”, & left full of sadness.

Because unfortunately, we’re not able to see & treat everyone. And it’s heartbreaking.

The amount of suffering these loving, kind people go through is palpable just by looking into their eyes. No words are necessary to understand the pain they feel every moment of every day. To understand what they have to endure because of their medical abnormality & the lack of healthcare they so desperately need.

This week also began our surgeon screenings. Our doctors arrived last weekend & began meeting with patients bright & early Monday morning. As the surgeons meet & evaluate the patients, they send them our way to have imaging done. We began the week with Plastics (burn contractures, syndactyly, polydactyly, gigantism) & all these little guys & gals captured my heart! Most of them were under the age of 13 & were so very cute. And sweet. And obedient. Plus, you’ve never seen a child SO HAPPY to receive a sticker in your life! I’m really looking forward to watching them recover…to watching them discover that they can now move their fingers & toes independently…to watching them realize that they are no longer bound by their burn contractures, some that are so severe, they’re unable to stand up straight, straighten their arm, or lift their chin. It will be a completely new sense of freedom to them! And I can’t wait to see their amazing progress.

Next up was our MaxFacs (maxillofacial – cysts, tumors, growths, exc. on the head, face & neck) patients. Every one of these patients also captured my heart. My mind can’t even begin to understand the amount of pain they must go through everyday. Yet, each one came to us in radiology with a smile on their face…well, those who are still able to smile. Some have lost that ability due to their abnormality. Again, you can read the stories, look at the pictures & watch the videos, but until you’re actually here, seeing things in person & with your own eyes, there’s simply no way you can really understand the feeling you get within your heart when you look these precious people in the eye. There’s no way to prepare yourself for what you will see. For in their eyes, you see every emotion possible. Joy, nervousness, sadness, insecurities, thankfulness, love, hope…so many things. And every time, it completely grabs your heart.

Then, you have those moments after you complete their scan & realize, “That is so very vascular, I don’t think we’re equipped to handle that here”…and then your heart breaks all over again. Because someone will have to break that news to them. They come into radiology hoping (& I think, truly believing) that this is simply a pre-op scan, but sometimes, it turns out to be a “I’m sorry, but we can’t help you…”…but again, they don’t expect that. It’s so hard to hear them say “Thank you!” continuously throughout the exam & then watch them wave bye to you, huge smile on their face (if able), knowing that most likely, there’s nothing we can do medically to help them. I’m finding that those moments are the ones I’m struggling with most. Yes, hundreds will be treated & healed while we are here in Benin, & I know God is going to use us in a mighty way in the lives of those patients. But I pray that each of us shined the Light of our Savior while in contact with those who were told “No”. That even though we are unable to help them medically, that we were sufficient in helping them spiritually. That us serving them, even if it was only for a short time, allowed them to see that they have nothing to be ashamed of, nothing to be embarrassed about, that they are not cursed & that they do matter…not only to God & our Savior, but to us as well. That we love them & accept them for who they are, with or without their abnormality. That as Children of God, their abnormality will never & could never define them. That they are loved, cared about & just as important as any other.

I hope & pray that we provided those things for them.

Please join us in prayer as we begin surgeries this coming week! Pray that He would guide the hands of our surgeons, as well as provide comfort & peace within our patients as they begin their recovery. Pray that He will strengthen & protect our hearts, so that we can be our absolute best while serving! That He would continue to lead us to those who need us most. That we would be a constant example of His love, grace & mercy. 

Until next week…

•••So sorry for the delay! I had some technical difficulties over the weekend that required my attention! #LifeOnAShipDockedInAfrica 😊•••

•••••Edited to add: All images, both pictures & radiographs, are used with permission by the organization & patients. 👌🏼😊•••••

– Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. –