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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Thursday, November 12, 2015


355. That is how many people have received life changing surgeries since our arrival into Tamatave at the end of August. 355 lives touched with the love of Jesus though the dedicated crew of the Africa Mercy. 355 lives who could go on to impact the lives of all those around them. The ripple effect could be will be exponential……

When I found out we were returning to Madagascar for a back to back field service, I must admit I had mixed feelings. We really enjoyed our first field service in Tamatave but since that time, many of our close friends had left and things have been different. Would we be bored? Could we find enough patients? Would be become complacent? Could we sustain enough enthusiasm and energy for a two year period in the same place? You have to remember that the crew are a giant bunch of globetrotting adventurers. We live, work and play hard! Our attention span is small.

I will admit, I slept through our early morning arrival, thinking “I have seen this before” but now, as I think about leaving next year, my eyes well with tears. Oh yes, we can do back to back countries. Our roots are firmly established and we are deeply invested in this country. We have reached further, gone deeper and loved harder. 

I think back to when we arrived and when I finally got up and opened my curtains to see the now familiar sight from our cabin windows, I felt relief and a sense of being home. I was so excited to get off the ship. Our first night in Tamatave we were able to have shore leave and we hoofed it to one of our favourite eateries and Ivan, the Food and Beverage Manager hugged us, his smile a mile wide! It made my heart overflow with joy to be able to have the opportunity to build on the relationships that we had begun in Madagascar 1. It was a new feeling, that sense of familiarity within a country, as sense of knowing.

The day the day crew arrived on board is another special memory that sticks in my mind. Most of our wonderful day crew were able to join us again for another year. I went to do my laundry and I was carrying our hot pink laundry bag, overflowing with washing, both of my hands busy with the weight of the bag. One of the crew services day crew rushed towards me with a huge smile on her face and threw her arms around me in delight, nearly bowling me over with her petite frame. Can’t get that unless you do back to back!

Not to mention all the patients who are able to benefit from extra follow up and further surgeries! What about the OBF clinic and the hundreds of women who will receive surgeries for their obstetric fistulas and all the babies whose crooked little legs will be made straight from the “new to this field service” Ponseti program.  Oh yes, now I am utterly convinced that back to back field services are a gift!  A gift to the crew and a gift to the nation we are serving!

From the East to the West, the North to the South we have travelled searching for patients in the dusty inland towns and seaside villages. Training for locals in so many facets of medical care including WHO Surgical Safety Checklist and Lifebox training. Glaucoma training, Ponseti and Dental training, Primary Trauma Care, Essential Surgical Skills, Biomedical training and Safe Obstetrics Anaesthesia training is ongoing.

God is good and has shown his faithfulness this field service. He has blessed us by making a way for the Africa Mercy to spend a span of almost two years in this beautiful and peaceful nation, allowing us to build upon relationships and services to ensure that we leave behind a long lasting legacy.  Oh yes, the crew will cry a river on the day we sail from these shores…

Our arrival into Tamatave.

Danny, one of our new Malagasy crew proudly holding her nation's flag as we draw near to our familiar berth.

The pilot boat packed with crew, so excited to see their floating home after our lengthy delay in South Africa.

Dozens of crew line the Toamasina dock eagerly anticipating being able to walks up the gangway.
(Photo credit: Suzanne Veltjens)

Some of the deckies gather to pray on the bow.

The Malagasy flag is raised where it will fly for the duration of our field service.
(Photo Credit:  David Forrest)

Our first patients waiting for surgery! Flavien (centre) and Henry.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 NIV

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Wet, Dry, Wet...

After 16 hours of flights, seeing a friendly face, holding up this sign was a sight for sore eyes! We were very excited to get back to our cabin in our home on the big, white bubble, The Africa Mercy, after almost six weeks of living out of suitcases in three states of Australia. Ten flights, two houses, four hotels and two rental cars later we made it back to the Durban dry dock, where the Africa Mercy had since relocated from the Dormac Shipyard, while we were away.

It was an interesting experience for Jess and I, having never lived on board during the dry dock phase, before. The last two times the Africa Mercy has been in dry dock during our service, we have been relocated to accommodation on land. This time a decision was made to allow those with children over the age of 13, to live back on board.

No air-conditioning, restricted laundry room use, intermittent hot water, hard hats, a strict curfew, cold lunches, closed toe shoes. and so much more......all the fun of dry dock. But it is all for a good cause as the Africa Mercy received vital repairs to areas usually underwater!

It was unusual for us to go into dry dock again, after last year as dry dock is usually a biannual affair. But pressing work on the portside propeller and fourteen metres of shaft meant that we needed to "GO DRY" once again.

Over 100 engineering projects were completed and 52 other projects!!!

Highlights included...

* Hospital Chaplaincy space modification (to give you some idea of the importance of the hospital chaplains, last field service there were 800 counselling sessions, 568 bibles were distributed and 164 one on one HIV counselling session took place)
* New Library Conference Room constructed
* Café remodel including painting and stripping/varnishing of café parquetry floors
* Remodel of Academy pre-school room
* New refrigerators in the dining room and galley (Andrew was instrumental in getting these! :) )
* The prop and shaft work
* Refrigeration piping
* Hull plating and anchor locker repairs
* Refurbishment of other rooms, including new flooring and replacing of windows
* Replacement of old domestic metal piping with new plastic piping on deck five, six and seven and replacement of drains
* New radar equipment on the bridge
* New washing machines and dryers installed in the crew and hospital laundries

The Africa Mercy in dry dock in Durban, South Africa; the giant bath tub. The ship sailed in and the water was drained out.
(Photo credit: Andrea Diallo)

A few cool vantage points of the impressive hull of the Africa Mercy.
(Photo credit, above and below: Walter Pretorius)

(Photo credit, above and below: Walter Pretorius)

One of the 50 ton propellers.
(Photo credit, above and below: Walter Pretorius)

Another issue that came up late in the Madagascar One field service was a water leak discovered in the anchor chain locker. The locker was temporarily repaired so we could sail to Durban where proper repairs were carried out.

An aerial view of the AFM in dry dock.

One of our very big anchors!

Each shipyard period, a group of dedicated crew come on board and are officially known as the Projects Team. They are there to work hard and to get the job done and all with a smile on their faces! Above, construction taking place on the library conference room which involved separating a part of the front room of the library and making it into a new room.

Ta da!! A new conference room that is being used daily for everything from departmental devotions, training sessions, exam taking, crew movie nights and more!

The new, super cold dining room refrigerators!

There is still time for some fun in shipyard, as we are in a developed nation and for many of the crew, it provides some "down time". Andrew scored an invite to a corporate box at a rugby match! There was a lottery on board for the other seats so several lucky crew were able to go along as well.
(Photo credit: Unknown)

But the fun had to end sometime and our school principal was determined to begin school on time, despite the delays in dry dock. Unfortunately, another issue was discovered on the portside shaft, causing unscheduled maintenance, which saw us remain in dry dock for an extra two weeks!

So the beginning of school was an interesting affair. Those with children over 13 were living on board the ship in dry dock and those with children under 13 were housed off ship in two guest houses, nearby. Junior High and High School began, as normal, on board with kids under 13 but still in Junior High and High School bussed in every day. The elementary teachers were bussed out to one of the guest houses where school took place in different rooms of the guest house!!

Above the Junior High and High School make their grand entrance after almost three months off school! Jess began grade ten, the only girl in her class of three! (Two in grade ten and one in grade nine).

Never let it be said that Mercy Shippers are not flexible!
(Photo credit, above and below: David Forrest)

One of the worst things about dry dock was having to wear a hard hat until we were out of the dry dock area, even to take the garbage out at the bottom of the gangway! Me and Jess on the way back to the ship after a day out.

We visted the Ushaka Marine World  precinct again, after visiting several times in the shipyard in Durban, 2011. It is a great place to wile away a day with a Sea World and Wet 'n Wild, lots of shops, restaurants and fast food outlets, a reptile park, huge kids playground, gondolas, Zulu dancing shows, pier and beach, bike hire and massive zipline/ropes course.

Jess just wanted to get a second piercing in her ears and a henna tattoo.....

The huge pier at Ushaka.

Jess getting up close to a couple of stingrays at the aquarium.

Eventually the day came when it was time to "GO WET" again!! Time for the Africa Mercy's giant bath tub to be re-filled and for us to be towed back to the Dormac shipyard ready for our departure back to Madagascar.

The Captain requested that all, but essential crew, go off ship for the day. Jess went off with the Junior High/High School for an excursion but we took the chance to do a self-drive trip through two game reserves, with some friends. What an amazing day it was. Breathtaking scenery, tranquil surroundings and so many sightings of majestic animals! What a great day this was for us after the craziness off the past few months.

Entering the lion enclosure.




Lots of zebra!

The hippos were a bit elusive and a long way away but got a few shots with the camera zoom.


Tons of ostrich too!

Andrew and I at the game lodge where we had a lovely lunch overlooking beautiful, rolling green hills with the air crisp and cool and exotic birds singing all around us. Bliss!

Meanwhile Jess was a slightly more energetic school excursion to the Durban waterfront where the school hired bikes for a scavenger hunt. They also took a dip in the Indian Ocean, but had to make a hasty retreat after sharks were sighted. Above some of the kids enjoy a breather.
(Photo credit, above and below: David Forrest)

Unfortunately, due to the late hour of the day when we were ready to move back to Dormac, the pilot could not move us so it was back to dry dock for another night!! The kids return and cross the gangway over the giant bathtub. Well we did get a little water in the bath tub and we were floating once again!

Oh happy day!!! Water filling up the bathtub/dry dock!
(Photo credit: Andrea Diallo)

(Photo credit, above and below: Walter Pretorius)


A triumphant day! The AFM being towed back by the tugs to the Dormac Shipyard, after well over a month in the dry dock!
(Photo credit: Patricia Royston)

On our way back to Madagascar, After two months in shipyard/dry dock going wet, then dry then wet again, we were finally underway! The pilot was lowered down to deck eight to help guide us out through Durban Harbour. I was out on deck seven watching and Jess was up on deck eight. The helicopter came so close and the pilot waved to us all. Pretty cool moment before we were shoed inside-lol.
(Photo credit, above and below: Patricia Royston)

Like a smile sent down from heaven, we were treated to a spectacular whale show on our way out of the harbour!

After a couple more unexpected delays we made it back to Tamatave, Madagascar on the 30th of August.

We were so glad to be back to this beautiful country and it's shy and unassuming people. A land of contrasts from rice paddies balancing precariously on the sided of lush green mountains to the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean and it's palm fringed beaches. A nation that, despite it's stunning beauty and amazing ecosystem is crying out in desperation; for medical care, food and infrastructure.

For the next nine months we will endeavour to be the hands and feet of Jesus in a little town called Tamatave.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Veloma Tamatave, Sawabona Durban!

Our hearts were full as we wrapped up a successful, albeit shortened field service, in Madagascar in June. It was time to exchange one flag for another as we sailed across the Indian Ocean  to Durban, South Africa for the Africa Mercy's annual period of maintenance, or as we affectionately term it on board, shipyard! But more on this is our next blog post.

In this post we say veloma (goodbye) to the wonderful nation of Madagascar. But really it was not goodbye but just a "see you later" as we rested in the knowledge that soon we would return to this land we had come to love.
(Photo: Unknown)

The gangway goes up!
(Photo credit above and below: Jen Peterschmidt)

The berth may look empty in this photo but now it is bustling again with patients, land rovers, containers and crew. Just how we like it!

The guys on the tug gave us a little assistance with out stubborn anchor which had been dutifully securing us in place against the big surges battering the ship for a large part of last field service.

Back at sea where the sunsets and sunrises are God's masterpiece!

(Photo credit above and below: Jen Peterschmidt)

Sailing is a great time for fun!!! With nowhere much to be, at no particular time, the crew bond together is some great activities such as the Captain's Dinner and Mocktail party! After a seafood feast we gathered in the café for some sweet and zesty delights!

Captain Tim grabs a Dolphin Colada.
(Photo: Unknown)

Durban on the horizon!
(Photo: Unknown)

Durban Harbour is one of the biggest in the world so the pilot does not come by boat but by helicopter. It is pretty cool!
(Photo credit: Sue Clynes)

Continuing with the theme from my last post....Dormac Shipyard, our home for the next few months!
(Photo credit: Patricia Royston)

From the Madagascar flag to the South African flag.
(Photo: Unknown)

Arriving in shipyard also brought about some inevitable goodbyes that we had been dreading for months. There was no more time left and the day we left for Australia, less than 48 hours after the ship arrived in South Africa, we said goodbye to over a dozen close friends, including our best friends on board. It was so hard for us to be the first to leave and to not be able to be there when each of our friends left to honour them and their journey with Mercy Ships.

One of the hardest goodbye was to Captain Tim Tretheway, his wife Sharon and their son Nathaniel whose combined service with Mercy Ships totalled over 50 years!!! They left the day after us to applause, as they descended the gangway for the very last time, and several extended honks of the ship's horn. Above Tim hands over his Captain's epaulettes of eight stripes to our temporary Captain, Jurryan.
(Photo credit: David Forrest)

(Photo credit: Patricia Royston)

The Mercy Ships traditional farewell lining of the dock. One last salute for the Tretheway family!
(Photo credit: Andrea Diallo)

Our hardest goodbye to date, our ship family, the Szarek family. Jess with Charlotte Forrest and Deborah Szarek. Jess and I cried in the van taking us to the airport, all the way to immigration. It was a sombre ride to the airport as we quietly reflected on all those we had just said goodbye to and how life on board was going to be very different upon our return from Australia!

The Szarek's left a few weeks after we left for Oz. That last walk down the gangway is very, very tough and I cannot imagine doing it ourselves, one day. Just as the first walk up the gangway is filled with euphoria and emotion (I cried), so the last walk is also filled with emotion and the weight of a thousand memories.

We left shipyard just 48 hours after our arrival into Durban and what a tumultuous time it was from when we left the shores of Tamatave to the moment we stepped into the van to go to King Shaka International Airport. Things would never be quite the same again.
(Photo credit: Patricia Royston)