We are a family of three; Andrew, Jodie and Jessica (aged 18) from Tasmania, Australia who are currently serving in Douala, Cameroon, Central Africa on the M/V Africa Mercy, the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world, through Mercy Ships International. God has called us on a journey that has been many years in the making. For this season we call Africa home, as we seek to bring hope and healing to the poorest of the poor.

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

From Crayons to Perfume

It only seems like yesterday when Jessica started Grade 1. I remember her first day of school....I was reluctant to leave her classroom and she said to me, "You can go now, Mum, I'm fine"! I remember her coming down the stairs after school one step at a time with her oversized backpack and her too long school dress. At just five years old sometimes Jess came down those stairs with bed hair and sleepy eyes as she had taken a little afternoon nap on the carpet. How things change! Here we are living on a hospital ship in Africa and Jess has just over a month left of primary school. In August our little girl begins Junior High. Sob! I've always loved the movie "To Sir with Love" and the wonderful theme song so I felt it appropriate to title this blog "From Crayons to Perfume".

Above is a photo of Jess with her characteristic sense of humour displaying her Mercy Academy uniform.

Can you see Jessica on the Academy map?

There she is!

Jessica's lovely teacher and fellow redhead from Canada, Miss Denae.

Jessica's 4th/5th grade classroom.

Jessica's maths classroom. Maths is taken by Miss Angie.

This is "The Big Room". Each day all the children from Grade 1-12 meet first thing of a morning to have devotions. Jessica also has computer, science and library in this room.

In February, a pipe burst over the Academy library and 300 fiction books were ruined. The teachers and Academy Chief Administrator, Brian Blackburn (pictured above) prayed for a solution and soon after John Tyler High School in Tyler, Texas came forward as the first responders. The school's theme is "Shock the World" and they belived that Mercy Ship's cause fitted their mandate. Above and below are Jessica's class receiving the new books. See link: 

He is Risen!

The Afrcia Mercy celebrates Easter in style-blog post to come!! But right now I wanted to focus on the real meaning of Easter. My dearest friend, Ruth posted this prose on her blog and I think it is really wonderful.....

One Solitary LifeOriginal versions by Dr. James Allen Francis

He was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. Until He was thirty, He worked in a carpenter shop and then for three years He was an itinerant preacher.

He wrote no books. He held no office. He never had a family or owned a home. He didn't go to college. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place He was born. He had no credentials but Himself.

He never did any of the things that usually accompany greatness.

The authorities condemned His teachings. His friends deserted Him. One denied Him. One betrayed Him to His enemies for a paltry sum, the price of a slave. He went through the mockery of a trial.

He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. While He was dying, He became our sinless substitute. His body was laid in a borrowed tomb. Three days later, He was raised from the dead.

Twenty centuries have come and gone, and today, He is the central figure of the entire human race.

All the armies that ever marched,
All the navies that ever set sail,
All the parliaments that ever sat,
And all the kings that ever reigned,
Have not affected the life of Man on this Earth as much as that
One solitary life

I hope that you found time this weekend to celebrate the death and resurection of Jesus and to ponder the freedom and new life that his sinless death allowed us!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Unsung Heroes

Here is our home-the M/V Africa Mercy docked proudly in Freetown, Sierra Leone amoungst a shipping container graveyard. We use shipping contianers to create a secure wall with only one exit and entrance at each port we go to. Our cabin is right above the gangway and we take up five portholes. We get to see all the comings and goings and spend a lot of time people watching. The Africa Mercy may well be the largest non-governmental hosptial ship in the world but it takes a whole lot more than medical staff to run her and to keep the crew happy. This post is dedicated to the unsung heroes of the ship, those who quietly go about their business and without their hard work and dedication, many of the ship's functions would come to a grinding halt.

Since arriving in Freetown the air conditioning filters have been continually blocking up with debris, in particular plastic bags, that clog the waterways. As well as the engineers and day workers who clean the filters inside the ship every half an hour night and day, we also have a team of divers who clean the filters in the ocean on the outside of the ship. This is not their day job, they go to use their skills at risk to their own health and safety, in order to keep us comfortable. As you can see from the photo below (Olly Peet-Andrew's boss in Transportation in Togo) it's a dirty job! Big cheers for the Dive Team!!

Then there are the windows! Yuck! Who wants to clean all those windows-hot, dirty and dangerous and soon enough they are filthy again. Big shout out for the window cleaners especially as we have we have ten windows in our cabin!

This is Zara from Accounts Payable. Most of the departments on the ship need money to function and someone needs to keep account of all the money being spent and all the squillions of receipts-enter Zara. Hats off to you!

Here is Trish, one of my favourite ladies on the ship maybe because she's a proud Aussie but maybe just because she has come all this way without her husband for several months to serve us very well in the dining room! Could you imagine a 500 strong crew hungry? The galley and dining room staff are heroes for sure. They save food when we are late, they always try to come up with new ideas and are able to make the most of what is available to us. They are courteous and servant hearted! 

Hi Suzanne in Sales, in the Ship Shop to be exact. Our sales staff make our lives more pleasant, no doubt about it! The Ship Shop is vital for all our personal items, snacks, stationary, baking items and little treats all of which can be very difficult and expensive to obtain in a country such as Sierra Loene. How would your life be with no loo paper or toothpaste? Then there is the snack bar and Starbucks, a great place where friendships are made and people are ministered too. Starbucks is a real gift to the crew. So what if they only have decafe right now-they always have a smile and they are always for free!

Maybe I'm biased here but this is Nikki, my first friend goodbye (Friday-boo hoo! Life will be full of continual goodbyes here) and she worked in my department-Crew Services-YAY! These guys and gals, including many local day workers keep the inside of the ship sparkling-they are always polishing, vaccuuming, mopping, sweeping, scrubbing and during the sail, had the dubious task of stripping and waxing the floors. One of them is on duty out of hours for any messes and spills around the ship AND they take turns working wekends too! I know how hard they work. Our motto is "Whatever it Takes" and I believe we do! Good on you also to Robin our industrious librarian and Cindy the hairdresser who also fall under Crew Srevices (oh and me too in the Boutique-lol).

Well done to Derek the diesel fitter, still going strong at 72!! Here he is posing proudly with one of the new generators. Andrew works with Derek and I know he has a lot of respect for him. Derek is not afraid of hard work. Hope we can all be such an inspiration at 72!

Hi Miriam in pharamacy! Miriam keeps all the patients in the hospital and the crew stocked with pharmacy supplies. She is from New Zealand but we don't hold that against her-lol. She does a wonderful job and works long hours. It was a pleasure to work alongside her at the second screening day. Her job is stressful and demanding and vitally important. I know that without her it would be difficult for us personally as she is able to access our medications and provide them to us. Miriam you rock!

Here are the biggest heroes of the ship, maybe because Andrew is one of them! It is the Engineering Department. This department encompasses engineers, motorman, welders, refrigeration technicians, air conditiong technicians, plumbers, electricans, diesel fitters, electronics technician and Andrew as the storeman. Need I say more-the whole ship would fall apart without them. I know that Andrew works very hard on everything from repairing the resuce boat motors to checking the speedo in the Bridge. Today he finished repairing one of the fire pumps. Andrew is in charge of all the ships spare parts from a bread slicer for the galley to an unusual tool for the carpenters. He takes care of the engineering day wokers and spends hours in the engine room getting dirty and sweaty. Last week he helped to repair a burst pipe flange that supplies water to the fire pumps, into the late hours of Friday evening after working all day. My husband, my hero!

Friday, April 15, 2011

By popular demand, presenting.......... Dr. Rothwell

So here I am already to go into surgery! As part of the Africa Mercy crew it is our privilege to view one surgery per field service. This was my day! The man I watched being operated on had a tumour called an ameoblastoma, a rare, usually benign, tumour that developes in the jaw at the site of the third molar. The tumour forms from remnants of cells that, under normal circumstance, develops into tooth enamel. The surgery was called a "hemi mandibulectomy with bone plate reconstrction and condyle. Translation: removal of tumour and half of jaw bone with jaw joint and replacment with a titianium jaw and socket.

The sugery was performed by Dr Gary Parker (on the right), an amazing maxillo facial surgeon who has been serving with Mercy Ships for 25 years and also happens to be our neighbour. I stood on a small step for almost the whole sugery which went for about three hours. I was a bit stiff and sore for the rest of the day, but it was worth every amazing minute!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Big Day Out # 2

It was high time for another adventure in Freetown. Once again we ventured out with our good friends, the Koontz family but somebody forgot to tell us that it was another clean up day which meant that nothing was open until noon. So Peter took us on a lovely tour of Freetown that included the "tourist" areas of Abeerdeen and Lumley Beach-lots of nice, but expensive (even by our standards) restaurants and lovely beaches that we can't swim in-lol. Peter stopped by the National Stadium. Above is a photo of the outside of the pool gate that was burst open on our mass screening day and the site of carnage. It was sobering to see it from the other side and it brought back strong, disturbing memories as I recalled walking along the inside and being scared for my own safety as the crowd pushed hard against the gates. I could see all the feet under the gate and there were too many feet for the space available. Some days you will never forget...

We did manage to find a supermarket, Monoprix, open and we had a bit of an excited look round before we got all depressed by the over inflated "white man" prices. Oh well. We then went to lunch at a little gem of a place called "Rooster", the Freetown version of KFC??? We had fried chicken and chips and a coke for a whopping $3.50 each! However, after driving round all morning in the hot land rover the kids were a little tired and bored-lol.

"Rooster" menu. Ten thousand Sierra Leone Leones is about $2.50 AUD.

We found a coconut vendor and decided in true Aussie tradition to "give it a bash". Jessica and Andrew gave it a valiant efffort whereas I just gagged as Andrew decided to poetically descibe the taste as warm saliva just as I was about to take a swig.             

Trying the flesh. Yuck! 

You can buy just about anything on the streets in Freetown. Here we are at the Big Craft Market. We were hunted and hounded to death and almost sparked a bit of a catfight between stallholders when one lady offered below "white man" price to us. This lady was more than happy to pose for photos after we bought material from her to make Jodie a dress.

Then you can get your dress or whatever made!     

You can get coconuts.....



I don't think I want to know what this shop sells???

Torches and lanterns.

Andrew juggling the traffic in the land rover on the way home.   

Freetown traffic!!

All in all a good day out-a real day of culture! See Jessica's class blog: for her thoughts on the day.

Bringing Joy to Joyce!

We have been down to the wards several times to visit the patients. This is a peek into the orthopedic ward. We are not allowed to take cameras down to the hosptial but we are able to use photos provided by the ship's Communications Department. For those of you on Facebook, you might remember a post from several weeks ago that said I (Jodie) had opened our cabin curtains to see a patient I had assisted at the first screening walking into the dockside waiting area. Joyce, age eleven, had surgery on both her legs and was accompained by her Mum, Miriam. It was great to be able to vist them and to lean more about them and their lives.

This is John whom Jessica vsited with. In this photo John is enjoying a visit from the US Ambassador.

How could you resit this gorgeous little baby? There are so many like this little one and thankfully many of them are receiving life changing treatment. The Ponseti method of clubfoot treatment is non surgical and was developed more than 50 years ago by Dr. Igancio Ponseti in Iowa, USA. This non-invasive method is used widely on the Africa Mercy.

Goodbye Joyce and Miriam!!

Update on Prayer Points.......

Thank you all for your faithful prayers over many different and difficult siuations that we have encountered in the past few months. Just a quick update on our latest prayer points.....

1. Jessica had had no more nightmares and we are keeping her on Larium malaria medication for the time being.

2. Our water reserves are slightly better. After three days without showering we were able to shower and can do each day for two minutes or less. The laundry has been re-opened so we can wash our clothes and linen!

3. A container from Europe was unloaded early this week. One has just arrived from the USA and is somewhere on the dock. We have things on this container and would love to receive them before Easter.

Mark 11:24
"Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours."

You know things are desperate when.......

As mentioned in the previous post, we are having container problems and in these containers lie supplies for the Ship Shop and the Starbucks. If you read the fine print, under "Please don't kill us", someone has written "May we maim"? Lol.

This sign is up in the Ship Shop. It's been there for a few weeks now and chocolate supplies are dwindling. All I can say is...."That's what they said about the coffee"!!!!!

Late last week we had a few cartons of Pringles arrive. After weeks of no potato chips the sales staff decided to avoid a stampede and impending clean out by hiding the Pringles around the shop. I tired to find the salt and vinegar everywhere but had to settle for original and cheesy cheese. Never take supermarkets for granted!!

Friday, April 08, 2011

Updated Prayer Points

Hi All,
Normally we wouldn't update our prayer requests until our next newsletter but we have quite a few points, some of them critical, that need prayer right now:

1. Jessica has been having some nightmares which are a side affect from her malaria medication; Larium. After speaking with the crew doctor on Monday we have decided to persist for a few more weeks and see if it settles. The only other alternative is a medication called Malerone which is taken daily and cost $5USD per tablet.

2. Jodie is about to begin a "minor job" for four hours per week off ship at the Hope Centre in the dental clinic as a dental sterilizer. This is a wonderful opportuity and may open doors for the future.

3. The Africa Mercy is experiencing a severe water shortage. We are having trouble accessing water and after we do receive a truckload it takes around 48 hours to be treated for consumption. Currently the laundry room is closed and the Captian asked that we only have a shower if we really need one. Andrew is on call tonight as the duty plumber and has been called to the engine room to assist with a burst pipe that is leaking out our fresh water.

4. We are also having difficulties with customs clearing our shipping contianers arriving from Holland and the USA. Customs officials are trying to obtain bribes and Mercy Ships does not engage in bribery. These containers hold everything from personal items for the crew to foodstuffs for the galley and supplies for the hospital. We still have a container sitting unopened on the dock that arrived in Sierra Leone on March 22nd.

We thank you for your prayers. Through the prayers of so many, our second mass screening day was such a wonderful success and we know that through God all thing are possible!

Jessica's Insights

The Mercy Academy are wonderful at letting the kids express themsleves. We have added two links to "Our Favourite Links" which you can find under our Facebook badges on the right hand side of our blog. Jessica has a great art teacher, Miss Shelly who has registered the children's art work online. You can find Jessica's art at: You can even leave a comment and become a member of her fan club, which I'm sure she would love! Here are a couple of pieces of her art featured so far.

Jessica's class also has a blog page: They have just added new posts about their time in Freetown so far. Jessica's post is titled, "3 Things I did on my first feild serves in Sierra Leone". It is so funny. Her posts are always the longest and have no full stops, just like how she talks-lol. Jess is full of personality, no doubt about it!

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Screening Day Success!

Let me tell you about today.....

Today the prayers of thousand globally, were answered!
Mercy Ships mass screening day mark 2, Saturday March 26th.  God was faithful and this screening at the UN Pharmacy Compound, Freetown, Sierra Leone was in stark contrast to the horrors of the previous screening weeks ago. From the outset peace reigned, the line was orderly and the crowd calm. This time we sent a security team at 2:00pm the day before (Friday March 25th) to help screen people to and organise the line. Below is a photo of some of the pre-sceening medical staff going through the lines with laminated pictures of conditons Mercy Ships are able to assist with. This proved to be very helpful in weeding out those that couldn't be helped in order that they not stand in line overnight just to be told that they couldn't be helped in the morning. This was a socure of great discontent and frustration at the previous screening. We also enlisted a very strong, armed police presence. Above is a photo of the first land rover convey arriving at the compound. They departed the ship at 5:00am. I was lucky enough to be amoungst the second wave and I left at 6:00am. The lines opened at 7:00am. The air was thick with humidity and mosquitoes but it was alo full of expecatation and hope that this time round the day would be a success!


Letting patients through the gate.

Look really hard... Can you see me in the background? I am wearing a grey shirt and I am waiting to do my job of escorting either an orthopedic or maxillo facial patient to another area such as pharmacy, x-ray, labs, communciations to have their photo taken or to the exit. It was a long, hot day. I spent much of it walking up and down a hill. I saw many things that were confronting but by the grace of God, I was able to look past these deformities and see the person on the inside.
The next few photos are of some of the dozens of patients that I escorted.

This little girl had been burnt by boiling water and was suffering terrible contractures.

This lady was very tiny and had the smallest waist I have ever seen. She had some very obvious jaw problems.

This man truly shocked me. I had seen pictures of very large tumours but this was the biggest one I had seen in the flesh. It was difficult for me to escort him as I didn't know what to say. I just asked people their names and how long they had been standing in line and expresed my joy if they had been able to receive a card for surgery and said how sorry I was if they had not. Thankfully, due to all the pre-screening that went on outside of the gates, most of the people whom I escorted had surgery scheduled.

One thing I saw a lot of was hand deformities, missing fingers, fused fingers, extra fingers...  something I picked up on in our country briefings, conducted during the sail, and the screening debriefings, was the importance of touch. So I made sure that I touched the fingers and hands of each of the children I escorted with these particular problems. It even gave me an opportunity to show them my own contracture in my little finger.                                                                     

Unfortunately there are some we simply cannot help. I don't know exactly what was wrong with this boy. This photo is the first time I have seen him from the front. I saw his mother carrying him from behind and I remember thinking that maybe that child didn't have a chance. How hearbreaking it must be to have to say no. Even as an escort-often the last reference for people after they have been denied surgery and are escorted to the exit, I heard people's pain. One man was carrying his baby who nostrils were almost non-existient and his baby could only breath through his mouth and his father was pleading for me to act. How hard it is to say no...

I did not escort this man but his disablity was typical of what we saw all day, over and over...

Cleft lips are also hugely common. Very treatable as a baby in a developed nation but in a country such as Sierra Leone the cleft lip remains into adulthood.

The last patient of the day. Mercy Ships saw over 3,000 people, each treated with respect and dignity, each reassured that they would be given the attention they deserved. No matter what, we were committed to seeing every last patient!

Time for special hugs!

The success of the day was evident in the relaxed manner of the crew-there was even time for a bit of frivolity! That is our very good friend Peter with his mouth wide open-lol.