Mercy Ships

Mercy Ships
The largest NGO hospital ship in the world providing free medical care to the forgotten poor

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thank you Hope Methodist!

A big thank you to Hope Methodist Church in Eau Claire for welcoming me to share about Mercy Ships! It was a joy and honor to be with you.

Summer Joy

Summer is a time of maintenance for the ship when the hospital and the Academy close. I happily left the ship on June 2 for a visit home; meanwhile the ship sailed to the Canary Islands for dry dock & maintenance.  Although I would have enjoyed seeing the ship out of the water, I'm not sad to have missed the periodic black-outs and lack of air conditioning! Pictures below are from my cabinmate who did get to experience some of the dry dock. 

Who knew the propellers were so large?

Five flights of stairs to get on the ship! Yikes!

Instead, I experienced a summer of many joyful reunions. There were new babies to meet, friendships to rekindle, and family members to cherish time with. Summer also means fundraising, since I can't stay on the ship without the financial support of people back home. Happily I can report that I am over 80% funded for the coming year! Thank you to everyone who has given so far! If you still want to contribute (every little bit matters), you can do so at this link.  Donations made at this link go directly into my crew account and are used to pay my Crew Fees (monthly room & board), travel expenses, and health insurance. Your support means that all surgery and medical care is provided to our patients free of charge!

One of the highlights of my summer was competing in a team triathlon (my first) with my dad. He did the biking portion; I ran and swam.  Unfortunately the weather in Wisconsin was only in the 50s/60s that week. So my 8am lake swim was freezing! Luckily I have a special talent for swimming in cold water.

Team Triathlon with my Dad

Houston friends

Took my dog to the beach!

Camping with my best friend
Together again: Whitworth University roommates

What's Next?

On July 20, I leave the States to meet the ship in the Canary Islands. As the maintenance crew works to finish up their summer projects, the Academy Leadership Team (including myself as the Head of High School) will start our preparations for the coming school year and for teacher orientation week. After a week of teacher orientation, school will begin for students on August 8. Sometime around the beginning of August we will also set sail for Douala, Cameroon, our next port. The hospital will open shortly after we arrive. Our Mercy Ships screening team is already hard at work in Cameroon finding patients who need surgery, so we will have patients as soon as the hospital opens.  

The patients we serve suffer from the diseases of poverty. Small medical issues become large when treatment is not available or affordable. For those new to my blog, below you will find some photos that show the kind of work we do.

Christelle received transformative surgery for her face.

David's facial tumor was removed

Miracle's leg was straightened and now she can now walk, run, and play!

Thanks for joining me on this journey by reading this blog!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Grass, Giraffes, and Sleeping with the Windows Open

Every 3 years, the Association of  Christian Schools International hosts a large conference in Kenya 
and after months of fund-raising, the whole Mercy Ships Academy staff were able to attend!

When you teach in a school as unique as ours and in an organization where only a tiny percentage of the people are teachers, going to a teacher's conference is a big deal.  I am the only math teacher on the ship, so getting to "talk shop" with 30+ other math teachers at the conference was a welcome opportunity. I'd actually been saving up questions to ask!

Only in Africa can you stop to take a picture on the tarmac!

The theme of the conference was Teaching with Wisdom and many of the sessions focused on the questions like "How do we teach students to love God with their mind?" and "How do we help students grow in character, not just knowledge?"  This was my first Christian school conference and I was inspired to think about the role I play as a teacher to help my students get to know and love the Lord. 

The conference was hosted by ACSI (Association of Christian Schools International). They support international schools all over the globe as well as training local people to start Christian schools in their communities. My ears perked up when they talked about the need for teacher training, especially in Africa.  Many of you know that professional development for teachers is one of my passions; I have always envisioned myself doing that in Amercia, but who knows? Maybe Mercy Ships won't be the end of my time on this continent. 

A great time of bonding with my colleagues

Besides the camaraderie with other teachers, all of us were looking forward to getting off the ship for 5 days! We are used to living in a port where there are no trees or grass, just concrete, metal containers, barbed wire and lots of trucks.  My favorite part of being away from the ship was getting to sleep next to an open window and wake up to the birds singing.  Another highlight was spending a couple of hours sitting on a blanket in the grass, journaling and drawing.

We were only in Kenya for 5 short days, but we did have time for one excursion. Given several pre-planned choices, I of course chose the one that including seeing baby elephants and feeding giraffes!
At the elephant orphanage we learned about how they care for elephants who have been orphaned due to poaching, disease, and other disasters. The elephants are bottle-fed for several years in the nursery.  When they are old enough to survive on their own in the wild they are moved to another site where they can mix with wild elephants during the day. After 1-2 years, a wild herd will adopt an orphan elephant and teach it how to become wild again.  I was so inspired by these stories of redemption for these baby elephants.

The baby elephants were so excited to get their milk!

Selfie attempt not working so well

At the Giraffe Center we learned that giraffes are slowly losing their habitat.  Many giraffes have been relocated from places of diminishing habitat to this reserve.  The center seeks to educate the public and especially school children about the importance of conservation and protecting wildlife.  The best part of our visit was getting up close and personal with the giraffes. They use their long, sticky tongues to eat right out of your hand.  They are huge, but gentle, allowing you to pet their faces.  Although, as per the warning on the sign, watch out for headbutts if a giraffe thinks you are withholding its special treats!

Our trip to Kenya was a gift: refreshing, restorative, and energizing. Thank you to everyone on the ship and at the ISC who participated in our auction, bought cards, or donated in other ways. We are so grateful!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Bit of Culture

One of the best places to learn about the culture of Benin is the History Museum in the town of Ouidah, about 1 hour west of Cotonou. Ouidah was the center of the West African slave trade and thus a visit to the museum is very sobering. It is located inside an old Portuguese fort where thousands of slaves were held prior to being sent to the Americas.  At the museum you hear about the crocodile filled moat around the fort which prevented slaves from escaping and you see the small courtyard that housed hundreds of slaves at a time before they were forced to march to the coast to board the ships. Along the way from the museum to the coast you can see the "tree of forgetting." Slaves were forced to walk around it 7 times as a symbol of leaving their old life behind; they were instructed to forget everything about their previous life. After a 4 km walk to the coast you can see "The Gate of No Return," a monument built to commemorate all the West Africans captured as slaves.  

Although today they have a president, historically Benin was ruled by kings, many of whom profited from the slave trade. The quilt below shows each king, the years of their reign and an animal or other symbol which represents them.

My favorite part of my visit was learning about the Beninese pictorial proverbs. The well-known symbols are sometimes used to send messages. Below you can see an example of 6 embroidered proverbs with the explanation that goes with it.  

We don't count the toes of a person with only 9.
Not all truth needs to be said aloud. 

The hand that gives is always on top.
It is better to give than receive. 

Before acting, weigh the pros and cons. 

There are never two captains in the same boat. 

The fire of a pipe may go out, but the eternal light is never extinguished.
The reed bends but does not break. 

A snake attacks a frog, but a passerby arrives and the frog is saved. 
In case of danger, God will bring you a Savior. God does not forget anyone. 

There are many more pictorial proverbs!
Entrance to the Ouidah History Museum with friends Floor and David

Inside of the Portuguese Fort
Cannons: this photo is for you, Dad!

Visiting the Fort with my friends, the Barki Family!
Behind us is the courtyard where as many as 500 people spent days or even
months waiting for the ships that would take them to the Americas.
The Gate of No Return

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fabric Shopping in Benin

Imagine endless rows of brightly colored fabrics in shop after shop. The sheer number of different designs is overwhelming.  At first, they all look the same, loud colors and funky designs, but after awhile I start to get my bearings. Sorting through the stacks, I begin to find the patterns that I like. Of course I gravitate to the purples, but also bright yellows, turquoises, and pinks catch my eye. I'm surprised to find designs that include batteries, tires, and even vacuum cleaners. 

The myriad of designs says "patchwork" to me as I envision the quilt I could make with such a fun assortment of fabric; however, the fabric is sold in 6 and 12 yard sections only. 

My friend Jamie and I tried to convince one of the shop owners that he should try selling smaller lengths, but such an idea seemed incomprehensible to him. Here, both men and women wear entire outfits made with just one type of fabric.  At weddings and other celebrations, all the guests might wear outfits made out of the same fabric, thus it would not be abnormal for someone to order 100 yards of the same fabric. 

The fabric market is a key part of life in Benin and it is a common outing for those of us on the ship. There are many local tailors who sew custom made outfits at very affordable prices.  The longer the ship has been in Benin the more brightly colored African outfits you see being worn by fellow crew members. 

So many to choose from!

So much fabric!

The shops proudly display their fabrics outside beckoning you to come in.

This is the dress I got made.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Happy New Year's & My Plans for 2017-18

Photo Composition: Brian Blackburn

Happy 2017!

The new year always gets me reflecting on life and what God has been teaching me. 2016 was a year of growing in confidence and joy in who I am and in the life that I have. My big news is that I have decided to extend my commitment with Mercy Ships. So I will stay for a 3rd year and travel with the ship to Cameroon. 

Living on the ship is a good fit for me; I love the community and the work that we do. Teaching and being head of high school keeps me very busy, but I still find time to get off the ship and explore the interesting places where I live.  I am especially grateful to live overseas and experience a widening of my perspective as I live and work with people from 35+ other nations. By staying for a third year I can provide leadership in the Academy in the upcoming transition. Our current principal will finish his service at the end of this school year. So next year we will have several new teachers as well as a brand new principal. With so much transition I can provide some continuity as head of junior high/high school. 

Since I am extending my commitment, I need to raise money for living expenses for an additional year. I currently have my expenses covered through the end of this school year, so any money that is donated now will be put toward my third year.  I will need to raise about $10-12,000. If you are interested in being a part of the ministry of Mercy Ships through supporting me, you can give online here.

I continued to be amazed by the generosity of the body of Christ around the world and God's provision for me financially.  It's weird working full-time with no salary of any kind. But I have everything I need. When I first considered volunteering with Mercy Ships the thought of raising support almost kept me from applying.  But this journey has only been a positive experience. Thank you to all of you who have been a part of that. And thank you in advance for those of you whose gifts will enable me to continue this work a little bit longer.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

This Month in Benin

As October comes to a close, here is a glimpse into life in Benin and what I have been up to.

There is a large outdoor produce market within walking distance of the ship. My favorite thing to buy is pineapple! 

This is a typical street view of Contonou - it is a bustling city with lots of cars, zemijans (motocycle taxis), and people everywhere. 

Benin - the place where nothing is too big to carry on your head. 


I have gotten out of the city a few times to enjoy a little bit of nature. Unlike Madagascar, the beaches here are not generally considered safe, so it is harder to find places to spend time outside.  There is a portion of beach in a town called Grand Popo about 2 hours from the ship (almost to Togo) where we were able to visit. 

Beach at Grand Popo
Yay for trees!
             Some fishermen off in the distance             

There is also a restaurant with a dock on a lake where you can swim and kayak. That is my favorite place so far and I hope to go back sometime soon.

It's a 10 min boat ride to get there.

There were donkeys so of course I had to pet them!

Meanwhile, on the ship, we still have routine fire drills (every other week) which involve sitting on the dock (in whatever bit of shade you can find) while the fire fighting team practices their drills. Fortunately, these drills happen after school gets out, which means the fire drill becomes a nice afternoon reading break. 

On Friday afternoons, you can find the Academy staff celebrating Frappuccino Friday in the cafe on board. Behind us on the wall, you can see the portraits of our fistula patients from Madagascar.

My absentee ballot finally came in the mail and I was able to vote! One of my students gave me this awesome henna tattoo. 

Living on the ship means having to say good-bye. Some people come for as little as 2 weeks, while others are here for years. This month I said good-bye to my friend Penelope. She has been on the ship for 5 years! I can't imagine how hard it must be to leave this community after so long! From left to right, this is Heather from Canada, Penelope from South Africa, Jenelle from Seattle, and me.  I can always count on these gals to stay up late doing a puzzle or play a board game! 

This year on the ship has a very different feel. It is much harder to get off the ship because we are not allowed to walk through the port. Last year I could hop on my bike and be in town in less than 10 minutes. Going into town here means waiting for a bus to shuttle you the short distance to the port gate. The cost of living is also much higher here, which means most of us stay on the ship much more than last year.  The upside of this is increased community on the ship and time to develop other hobbies.

I have been taking time to pursue art, something I used to do back home, but didn't do much of last year on the ship.  I decided I wanted to teach myself hand lettering. After watching 3 YouTube tutorials, I went crazy practicing and I surprised myself with what I was able to accomplish. It reminds me that I'm not too old to learn something new and makes me wonder what else I might like to learn. 

Lines from my current favorite song, No Longer Slaves

And of course, school keeps me very busy as well.  In addition to teaching, we have been quite busy planning a 2 1/2 day retreat for our junior high/high school students. The retreat was on of the highlights of last school year and I can't wait for this year's retreat. It provides a wonderful opportunity to get away from the ship with our students, for team building, and drawing near to God. 

Teaching 5 different math classes challenges me constantly, but it has also been a gift. I can see the connections between courses and how the topics build on each other from year to year in a way that I didn't before. It is very satisfying to know I am preparing students to be successful in future math courses. 

My treasure-map-distance-formula-geometry-lesson still lives on even on a ship in Benin.  Ironically, dressing up as a pirate is even more fun when you live on a ship.

The crew is thinking hard during the Academy Open House this year. 

I love getting people engaged in math. Academy Open House 

And here is my favorite view from the ship.  This is from the pool deck at night when the cranes on the dock across from us are all lit up. This is where I go for introvert time. The weather is balmy and hot, but the cool ocean breeze makes it comfortable. It's the perfect way to end a day on the Africa Mercy.