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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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

To Congo with Love

It is hard to put my finger on the atmosphere around the ship as it nears time for us to sail. Tangible anticipation, sorrow, joy and crazy busyness......After ten months in the Congo loving and learning about the country, it's culture and it's people we pack up and leave, praying that we have left a legacy of excellence and of Christ's love and compassion. Praying that those we have not been able to help can lay testament  to a white ship filled with people who care, in the name of Jesus. Praying for our day crew that one day we may meet again on this earth, thanking God for all the ways they have blessed our ship community and the patients and that they will be able to find employment after we leave their shores. Praying for all the crew who have passed through the halls of the Africa Mercy while we have been docked in Pointe Noire and for those who are leaving us after years on board. Praying for our patients, that their healing is holistic, spiritually, mentally and physically.
Underneath our sadness lies excitement. Many head home to see family and friends whom they have not seen for a long time. The rest of us look forward to another of our homes, The Canary Islands. The taste of fresh strawberries on our lips and luscious green grass underfoot, beckons. A two week sail lies between us, the comfort of a developed nation and some well deserved rest for most.
It almost seems wrong to experience such a contrast of emotion.
Wow-it was really hard for me to pick out some photos of our departure, for which the preparations actually start weeks beforehand. We even have a "pack up team" who fly in especially for the occasion and our very own "Vessel Transition Coordinator" to oversee this mammoth task. It takes the whole crew to prepare for sea, even the young ones participate in the final stowaway search, hours before we sail. 

How do we get all the land rovers on to the ship? Easy! A container is lowered onto the dock and the end and side of the container are opened up. Some ramps are assembled so that each vehicle can be driven onto the container. Once in, the driver can get out of the car via the side entrance of the container. The car is then lifted by crane onto deck eight and then driven out into it's sailing position. Each vehicle is secured to the deck by four lashing points.

Andrew driving a car out of the container onto deck 8.

 Everything must go! One of the fork lifts being lowered by crane into the cargo hold on deck 3.

One of the biggest pack up jobs is the hospital. One week is all the crew get to completely pack up a 78 bed, fully functioning hospital ready to sail. Glad wrap becomes a lifesaver!

Believe it or not, Andrew held up our sail. Well not really but that sounded good right? Months before our departure a new HI ace van that Andrew ordered to add to the fleet, arrived into Pointe Noire on a Stena Ro-Ro. Unfortunately the van was held up in customs and only arrived at the 11th hour-the afternoon before we sailed! When it arrived it caused quite a stir. Andrew has to give it a quick wash with a hose lowered from deck seven as all the dock water supply was cut off. Needless to say Andrew was extremely relieved when it arrived!!

Vehicles loaded? Check!

Pool drained? Check! Why waste such a secure space?

This is what a few hundred crew's last garbage run looks like-gross! Whilst at sea we have to keep all our personal garbage in our cabin. Due to Maritime law, the only thing that can go overboard is food scraps.

Getting out of Pointe Noire proved to be quite the challenge as huge swells played havoc with our mooring lines in the days before we were due to depart. We even had to employ a tug to push us back toward the dock to tie our lines more securely. A lonely line lays next to the garbage.

The large swells captured from deck eight.

Leaving a country means lots and lots of drills!!! Our last "at sea' drill before our departure.

The day of departure dawned overcast and misty, the deckies roused from their sleep ready to report to duty at 4:30am, while most of us still slept in our beds. In the still of the morn before the rising of the sun, the huge yokohma bumpers were lifted from alongside and cleaned of ten months of  build up.

Our eerily quiet and empty berth space in the hours before dawn, like a ghost town. Where once hundreds of feet had pattered and patients and crew had chattered, now lay still and silent.

A tug cuts through the ocean in deceptively calm waters.

The gangway is readied for raising.

Up she goes!

The deckies hard at work doing whatever they do with all those confusing lines. They are champions!

The last of our lines being released by Congolese port workers on the dock.

Just to prove that you don't have to be big and mighty to be powerful and strong, a little tug hauls us out to sea.

The pilot boat.

Our Chief Engineer, Ananda, making sure everything is tickety boom in the engine room.....while a few decks up Captain Tim does the same in the bridge.

Our departure is a lonely one as it would not be prudent to advertise our departure to the general public due to the high risk of stowaways.So we slip out, largely unnoticed apart from the port workers and surrounding ships, who always send us off in a typically enthusiastic African manner.

 Our vacant berth.

Before we went past the breakwater the starboard lifeboat was lowered as we had been unable to test it for ten months due to it's proximity to the dock.

Andrew and I.

Congo we pray you have been blessed and encouraged through our presence. We celebrate alongside you the lives that have been radically changed. The above photo is a collage of  smaller photos taken during our time in the Congo to make up one large photo of the Africa Mercy in the Port of Pointe Noire. 

Some of these statistics represent individuals whose lives will never be the same again after lifesaving surgery. Some of these statistics represent a medical treatment that has prevented the need for lifesaving intervention later on. Some of these statistics represent individuals who will be able to impact and save lives themselves, through the training efforts of the organisation. Every one of these statistics represent an individual person whom God loves and knows every hair on their head. That's a whole lotta lives changed!
(Photo credits to me, Josh Callow, Ryan Cardoza, Leah Ferguson and Jess Rothwell)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

For ten months in each country we toil beside locals. We begin as strangers. We part as friends. Before the ship enters each of our host nations our Advance Team scours our past contacts, or as was the case in the Congo, begins from scratch, through the minefield of old email addresses and mobile numbers in the search for approximately 200 locals to partner with us as our support, our backbone in the galley, dining room, engineering, hospital, eye team, dental team, Hope Centre, deck, communications, executive and transport. The ship simply does not have enough bed spaces to contain all the crew needed to run a hospital, ship of this capacity, not to mention the very great need for translators. Partnering with locals whom we call day crew or day workers helps to  build unity between our host nation and the crew.
We laugh together, pray together and cry together. We argue and express anger and frustration towards each other. Sometimes we offend and betray each other. We share each others cultures, habits, quirks and curiosities. Alongside we work to achieve the mandate of Mercy Ships to bring hope and healing to the world's forgotten poor. They teach us their languages (there are often up to a dozen) and we help the improve their English. We begin as strangers. We part as friends.
At the end of each field service we hold a Day Worker Celebration, a very special day to honour our friends and all they have done and to say "see you later", not goodbye. The day begins at lunch time where an amazing African meal is prepared by the galley for the day crew. The day crew and crew dress up in their finest clothes and the dining room is a myriad of beautiful African fabrics. Following lunch there is a presentation and time of worship in the International Lounge. This is my favourite part, such a time of joyful celebration in song and dance. It is rowdy and loud and fun! Below Franck, one of the Transport day crew helps to lead this worship. There are speeches from our MD, Donovan and replies from several day crew.

A special part of this time is the slideshow presentation of the day crew at work and play over the past ten months. As each day crew and their department sees a photo of themselves, boisterous cheers erupt, each louder than the last.

The Transport day crew cheer as they see one of their own in the slide show.

Once the celebration and presentation is complete, the day crew head to the café area for ice cream. Various crew take turns to serve ice cream to the day crew. I had the pleasure in Sierra Leone and this year many of the Junior High kids did the honours.

This time in the café is a change for photos, exchanging of emails and general chit chat. Soon the real goodbyes will begin.

The Transport guys and Andy!

Andrew's right hand man and our friend, Simplice. Some of Andrew's day crew stayed on after the celebration, as many do for about another week to help out  and Simplice was one of them. Saying goodbye to Simplice, as the tears rolled down both our cheeks was hard, really hard. Might we see each other again on the is earth? Maybe. Probably not. Simplice, I will not forget you and all the help you gave to Andrew and for taking me to the market and being my translator!

Andrew and Transport day crew, Franck.

Andrew and Transport day crew Francoise.

The Transport guys!

Jess and friend Zodi enjoy some ice cream of their own after working so hard to dish out a few hundred bowls of ice cream!

The final part of the tradition of this day... escorting day crew from the café to reception, department by department to reception to ceremoniously hand over their ID badges and have their names marked off, akin to the final roll call. Andrew and Judicael.

One last photo on the dock with a couple of ring ins, including the famously named "Baby" who Andrew had to sadly let go from the ship to the Hope Centre as his English was not up to par to meet standards to read emergency signage on the ship.

The Transport department has had a tumultuous year without a doubt. Andrew famously yelled at his guys so furiously and so out of character, that a vein popped out on his neck, prompting the guys to comment, "The boss is mad". But he has, as Americans would say in an expression we have yet to capture well, loved on them greatly. He has rescued one from prison, found shelter for another whose home was washed away in the rainy season, passed on clothing and other items, counselled them, settled (dozens of) arguments between them, given them references, cash gifts and found several of them jobs on our departure. The called him "Boss" but really he was their mentor. We began as strangers. We parted as friends. If we never meet again on this earth, we will meet in heaven and what a party it will be!


Captain Tim often reminds us of the hazards of busy ports and the Congo was no exception. Check out this little accident in our berth space shortly before we left. The port had been drilling the dock to test the foundations in the event of renovations. Unfortunately one of the tiny drill holes collapsed under the weight of the tyre of this massive container lifting machine and caused it to tip over. Getting it upright was no mean feat!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Life Abundant

My daughter has been to thirteen countries, one less than the number of years she has been on planet earth. (Soon it will be 14.) She has held a malnourished baby, eaten plantains and groundnut stew and a crepe on the Champs-Élysées, she has ridden a donkey in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic and she has played in snow on Mt Hut in New Zealand. She has helped dress the wounds of the poorest of poor and made s'mores with local West Africans. She has patted a crocodile (and then eaten it), stood in awe of the mighty Stonehenge and on the precipice of the Grand Canyon. She can speak French. She has thrown up on a Qantas plane and in the toilets of a Denny's Restaurant in Anaheim under the shadow of the rollercoasters of Disneyland. She has seen dolphins leaping in there natural habitat and has spent months at sea. She can put on a lifejacket faster than you can say the word. She has been on an African safari and seen most of the "big five" in the wild as well as black bears frolicking in the fields of Yosemite National Park. She has said goodbye to hundreds of people in her short life and welcomed just as many. She has had more vaccinations than I can count and is on her third passport. She is resilient and strong, my daughter. She is compassionate and brave.
Sometimes a thought creeps into my mind. What am I taking her away from? She is missing out on grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, Maccas, school socials, fetes, elective subjects, sports carnivals and the magical beauty of our home state. She has never met two of her cousins. She doesn't know what it's like to be cold anymore and she doesn't celebrate ANZAC day. She can't remember what Cheezles are and she thinks taking malaria meds is normal for a "white kid"! Most of the year she can't got to the park and feel soft grass underfoot, inhale the scent flowers, toss autumn leaves and just run! She can't get a part time job, participate in weekend sports or begin to think about learning to drive like other kids her age. Her accent is no longer recognisable as Australian. She doesn't even know who the Prime Minister of Australia is....
But then I think, "who are you kidding"? She is unbelievably happy and content and is growing into a generous and kind women who was given the character trait of "Encourager" at the Academy End of Year Celebration. She is beautiful on the inside and the out. She goes to an amazing school where the teachers care intimately abut the wellbeing of each and every student and their Christian walk and she is being raised in a diverse community that represents over 40 nations. She has amazing friends and mentors and her faith in God is growing daily as she witnesses miracles first hand.
We don't have a lot of money and we don't have much stuff. She doesn't get a lot of takeaway of wear the latest fashions but she is living a life of great abundance. She is richer in so many ways that other kids her age can only ever hope to be!
 One of the biggest blessing of life on board for Jessica is the AFM Youth. Throughout the years many dedicated young people have given up their evenings and weekends to mentor and lead our youth in the most creative ways imaginable. They are a huge example of Christ and go above and beyond what is expected of a youth leader. This year has been no exception and thanks to one of the youth leaders who also has some amazing photography skills, please enjoy a year in youth in the Congo has been captured brilliantly. I think you can tell by the smile on Jessica's face that she is blessed!

A day at the beach on the coast of the Republic of the Congo.

Jess and her Liberian/American bestie, Deborah.

Fun and quite, reflective times.

Looking beautiful and certainly NOT dressed for the beach, Jess at the white elephant gift giving and formal dinner.

White elephant gifts.

Water wars on deck 8 in the Port of Congo.

The youth have been encouraged to lead worship and this is where Jess has taken flight. We are so proud of her lovely singing voice and her willingness to worship God in song, leading the rest of crew during regular community meetings.

Ask the youth what the highlight of the year in youth would be and you would hear a chorus of  "The Campout weekend"!! Jess captured by fellow youth, Hannah.

Jess and her favourite youth leader, Elizabeth who we bid fond farewell a few weeks ago.

Jess and youth leader, Nicole.

Nicole checking out Jessica's sunburn!

Putting up the tents, a great life skill for a Third Culture Kid!

Jess and the poor croc the kids ate after the leaders cooked it on the open fire. Apparently it tasted like chicken!

The Second Annual AFM Food Fight! Year two of this food fight was twice as epic and waaayyyy more gross. Raw fish were purchased from the local fisherman who berthed near us and used as weapons. I believe galley left overs were also utilized and well as the prolific use of peanut better!

On the dock-mess too great for the ship!

A new face mask?

Peanut butter + rice bubbles.

Those youth leaders are such good sports!

Included in the youth schedule are "acts of service" which usually include a visit to the wards or the Hope Centre which Jess always looks forward too. Above, making faces with Deborah in the Hope Centre grounds.

Playing games with the kids staying at the Hope Centre. some who are patients and some who are children or siblings of patients.

One of the highlight of visits to the Hope Centre is the big bonfire. Our kids then introduce the patients and caregivers at the Hope Centre to the delights of the American tradition of s'mores. That is a marshmallow cooked over the fire, jammed between two graham crackers and topped with a piece of chocolate. The chocolate and marshmallow melt to make a yummy, gooey sandwich. There is always plenty of singing and dancing to the beat of the djembe (African drum) to work off the s'mores.

The kids, leaders and the locals gather together around the fire, a bond that transcends language, where a smile says a thousand words and a hug can make a world of difference.

Yeah, I reckon Jessica is doing ok......

John 10:10

The Message (MSG)
6-10 Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep stealers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.