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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Friday, May 25, 2012

You are Beautiful in Every Single Way.....

VVF Dress Ceremony

 From down the hall, the distant drums start to beat as the voices begin to sing out in celebration. Onboard the Africa Mercy, today is a day for celebration. Several women enter the hospital ward with their hands raised in celebration. Each one is dressed in bright fabric with fancy head-wraps and new jewelry. They each wear makeup, some for the first time in their lives. Today’s celebration is for them . . . because they have been healed.

 The women are all part of the Mercy Ships VVF program. VVF is an injury caused by obstructed labor. It causes a woman to continually leak urine, feces, or both. Sadly, these women are often shunned from society because of the smell resulting from their incontinence. In their culture, it is commonly believed that the physical problem is the result of a curse or a sin. Many of the women lose their husbands and families. They are completely cut off from society – alone and in despair.

 In reality, the biggest cause for VVF is a lack of access to emergency obstetric care. When labor becomes complicated, a woman is left to suffer for days as the unborn child continues to push down on the mother’s pelvis.

 Dr. Lauri Romanzi, a VVF surgeon, says, “It is a completely preventable condition that can be eradicated from the world. It takes prevention.” That prevention is access to health care, something that is not available in third world countries like Togo, West Africa. In the western world, if the labor becomes obstructed, the mother is rushed into surgery for a caesarian section. “In the United States, the percentage of births that perform a caesarian is over 30%,” Dr. Romanzi explains. “This eradicable epidemic is a problem merely because these women do not have access to emergency caesarian sections.”

 This is why VVF awareness is important – because it is a condition that could affect any woman in the world, but, with proper health care, it is preventable. The women share the emotional pain caused by their physical condition. “If their voice is crying out for one thing, it would be to be normal again,” Dr. Romanzi says, fighting back her own tears in her passionate concern for these women.

 As the women stand up to give their testimonies, emotions are clearly written on their faces. Chins quiver and words fail them as they try to thank Mercy Ships for saving them from a life of anguish. Today marks a new day! Their strength and perseverance have finally carried them to the end of their suffering, and now they can let go of the past. It means they have the prospect of starting over and re-entering society. It is the start of a new life with delightful possibilities.

Each patient is given a Bible and parting words of encouragement. Joy wipes away their tears, and they dance out of the ward as they sing – a song of happiness, healing, and triumph that rings throughout the halls of the hospital. Each woman leaves the ship with her head held high in new-found confidence. It is her new beginning!

The VVF patients dance into the ward wearing brightly coloured dresses, jewelry, and makeup.

Each woman gives her testimony.

After giving their testimonies, they sing out their song of joy for all to hear.

There is a lot of dancing at a Dress Ceremony.

Each patient is given a Bible and encouraging words from the staff.

With last hugs of joy, the patients thank those who helped them.

After the celebration ends, the women leave the ward – still singing and dancing.

Group pictures are taken.

Written by Nicole Pribbernow
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell

I was so excited to hear about the VVF Dress Ceremony! I had known about it for years and had heard of the jubilation off these women whose lives had been restored. I had to see it for myself! I was overwhelmed by the women's stunning dresses and the beauty that shone from within them. As we sang praises to God the women raised their hands, giving glory to the one who had supplied a gifted surgeon to heal heir broken bodies. Now they could walk through their villages with their heads held high. No longer rejected but celebrated!

We heard the beat of the drums and the triumphant procession all the way down the hospital corridor. There is something about the sound of a djembe that is completely hypnotising and joyful. The women entered the ward looking glorious. We launched into song, some French worships songs and one of my favourite and most well known West Africa worship songs, "Great Things He has Done". Surely he has done great things! As each of the women gave their testimonies, with the help of four translators, there was barely a dry eye in the house. At last I had seen the amazing dress ceremony and it was so worth the wait!

Sunday, May 20, 2012


We have been very fortunate over the past six months to have had the opportunity to have our photos taken by some of the very talented Mercy Ships photographers. We have got a collection now so we decided to share some of them on our blog. They give some insight into our lives on board and show off the ship quite well! Above and below are photos taken by crew member and fellow mum, Catherine Schwebel. Top photo is deck 8 stern overlooking Freetown, Sierra Leone at sunset. Below we are standing also on deck 8 portside next to one of the life boats looking out to sea.

Also taken by Catherine.....standing on the dock at the bow of the Africa Mercy in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Below we are posing on the gangway.

These next two were taken by Mercy Ships photographer Debra Bell. Here we are in our cabin looking all "casual". Below on the dock in Freetown looking towards the fishing village.

Not too long after we arrived in Lome, Togo we had photos taken of the whole hospital on the dock. Below is just the Ancillary Services which the Crew Clinic falls under, as well as the lab, pharmacy, hospital stores, palliative care, physio, radiology, dietician, bio med technician and hospital housekeeping!  You may be able to spot me in this photo.

Andrew's engineering photo Lome, Togo

PR Aussie photo taken by the funnel on deck 8 a few months ago. It has all the long term Aussies featured-Deb (ward nurse), us, Leah (Academy teacher) and Tim (purser).

 "© Jacques-Jean Tiziou / and

One conscientious Mercy Ships photographer, JJ, decided to set up a photo booth in the Cafe for the crew to have some fun with. He literally took thousands of photos of the crew and day workers. Above are Jessica and her good friend Kylie.

A few weeks ago it was school photo time. We will always treasure these very special school photos with a difference! Above the whole Academy:Nursery-12 gathers on deck 8 in front of the funnel.

Jessica's sixth grade class (Edvin from Sweden on her left and Elliot from the UK on her right) with her grade six mentor and French teacher, Miss Kelly.

Jess and Miss Kelly who has been an amazing mentor teacher this year!

We will always be grateful that we have access to such talented photographers and that we will take away such special memories captured by them! They work long hours and are always on stand by to capture beautifully, everything from a patient just out of surgery to a fire drill on the dock-anywhere, anytime, anyhow!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Special Delivery

Imagine my surprise (and all those around me) when Andrew came to my work computer in the Hospital forward office to present me with these flowers! A florist in West Africa-unheard of really! They were beautiful and made our cabin smell lovely for weeks. We knew it was time to throw them out when we started noticing little flying insects hanging around out cabin. TIA. Andrew couldn't resist telling me how much they were, or should I say weren't! Approx $8AUD. So now you know how much you are getting ripped off on fresh cut flowers in developed nations!

Easter in Togo

Every year on the Africa Mercy Easter is celebrated in a very special way. For a full week activities are provided. Everything from Easter themed movies to the popular open cabins on Easter Monday. The ship enjoys a four day weekend that lives in the memories of crew as a highlight of the year. This year one, particular crew member had a dream that had stirred in her heart for a long time. This Easter the Africa Mercy presented Godspell the Musical. Jessica was very happy to be involved in the ensemble cast and was able to join in various scenes including singing of "All Good Gifts" and the epic "Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord".

Jess and friends in the ensemble cast take their bow.

The talented cast and crew of Godspell, the 70's style musical that tells the parables of Jesus and portrays the last supper, death and resurrection of Christ. Some times hilarious and sometime heart wrenching the crew did a wonderful job recreating a shortened version of this very popular musical.

One long time tradition of the Africa Mercy every Easter is Easter egg colouring. Jess gets busy colouring her eggs. Once again I helped to make devilled eggs from all these coloured eggs for the Easter brunch.

This Easter we had a very special invitation. The Academy children were invited to the home of the US Ambassador's Lome residence. The Ambassador and his wife went all out to make us feel very welcome and to create a wonderful experience for us all. At great cost to themselves, this family invited strangers into their home, fed us and showered our children with gifts. This is a living example of Christ and his sacrifice for us. Except the cost was so much higher. It cost Jesus his life so that we, in turn, may have life and life abundant.

Throwing water balloons.

Three legged race.

Andrew's turn with the water balloons.

The Easter Sunday service was a wonderful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus and the nations of the ship. All the countries represented on the ship stood in a line and in their own language, accent or dialect each of them in turn said, "He is Risen". It was amazing. Andrew represented Australia. He is on the far right in the burgundy shirt.

So far from home it was special when one of our Aussie mates, Zoe, dropped over a coupla chocolate Bilbys for us to munch on. It has been two years since I have had an Easter egg so it was very good!

Also a long standing tradition of the AFM-the Easter brunch, Hugely anticipated, wonderfully catered for and spectacularly arranged, the crew line up in great excitement to sample the feast on offer. Running for two hours every one fills their bellies and fellowships together.

Jess and her friends Deborah and Anna. Another Easter past, another memory made.


Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Lost in Translation!

One of the many excting prospects about coming to Togo was the wide range of eating choices within close distance to the port. After battling traffic for two hours to get to a semi decent eatery in Sierra Leone, we are totally spoilt for choice in Lome. Inexpensive cafes, takeaways and restaurants of all different nationalities line the busy Beach Rd and the Janvier Boulevard. One of our favourites is Akif.  If it existed in Australia it would be closed down in about a week. It is hot, busy and located in what can only be described as some kind of shop with a wall knocked out that faces the street. It is open air dining where the locals often eat so that's gotta be a good sign. It is colourful people watching with street sellers trying to catch your eye for a sale, the waiters are friendly and the brochettes (kebabs) at a mere $6.00 are awesome!

For something a little bit more special Mercy Shippers have been known to frequent the Cote De Jardin or Garden by the Coast located down a secret dirt road. With it's wonderful ambience and delightful menu it's a real crowd pleaser. As a courtesy to us English speaking folk, English menus are available. However I think you will agree that some things have been lost (or gained) in translation!

Fancy your steak with a feeling? Perhaps you enjoy your steak angry or maybe your would prefer it a little bit sad! Vegetarians would be cringing about this quiche! How about a plate of rawness? Go figure?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A Week in Rehab!

Jess was very excited recently to do her first stint of work experience. She had to pick a department on the ship she would like to work in and submit an application. She was over the moon when she received a "yes' from the Rehab Team Leader, Joanne. One of the things she was most excited to begin with was the chance to wear scrubs. Above Jess is in her scrubs just inside the rehab tent on the dock. The tents are huge with proper flooring and are fully air conditioned. At the beginning of each field service they are assembled over a matter of days and at the end of a field service they are disassembled and packed up onto the ship.

The rehab/physio/outpatients tent. As I was taking this photo I had a cheeky little boy jump in the frame!

The patients return to the rehab and outpatients tent after they have been discharged from the wards on board. They come daily to begin with to have their wounds dressed. Gradually their visits decrease to include regular physio for those who have had orthopaedic surgery or other general surgery that requires it. Jessica and the rehab team spent a large part of the week assessing patients from the ship's 2010 field service in Togo. Above are sleeping Ali and his mum, Oure.

Jess at the physio table.

We could never achieve all we were meant to achieve without the aid of our amazing day workers. Their services are especially vital as translators, in French and Ewe speaking Togo. Jessica and Sarah pose for the camera with a curious Anama in the background.

Then Anama wanted a photo too! I often see Anama around the ship and he says to me, "Jessica's mum, Jessica's mum", even though I have told him my name. I also get called "Mrs Andrew" quite a bit too!

Jess on the work out mat. On of the duties Jess was given was to show and help patients to squat.

Jessica really shone in her week of work experience. The paediatric patients adore her and she is very natural with all patients no matter their condition. In saying that, Joanne, the rehab team leader did tell me that Jessica told her in no uncertain terms that she didn't want to watch any more dressing changes! It is amazing the opportunities that Jessica is having that she would never have back in Australia. God is doing amazing things in her life and she is turning into a compassionate and generous young woman. We are very proud!