I sat and stared at my sister's t-shirt in awe. The word "Mercy" written brazenly across the front. It was as if God had reached down from heaven and written it himself.
We had recently learned about the organisation Mercy Ships (this was way back in 2005) and had been wrestling with the idea of packing everything up, throwing caution to the wind and joining a big white hospital ship in the nations of Africa to serve the poorest of the poor.
Fast forward eleven years and we are soon to embark on our eighth and final (for this season) field service with Mercy Ships on the M/V Africa Mercy.
Things didn't quite work out the way we had planned and we had some timing issues with God. But turns out, as usual, that God knew best and five long years after our initial training, in 2006, we finally walked up the gangway of the Africa Mercy in 2011. Hard to fathom we will be walking down it for the last time in a bit over a year, in 2018! And that year will fly by. We have already started the lasts, can you believe it? A few weeks ago, I had my last Mercy Ships physical, one last I am not sorry about! :). I have put in our last order with the pharmacy for medications for the next field service and teachers are in the throes of organising Jessica's last year in the Academy. My baby arrived as a girl and will be leaving a grown women!
The thing that has stuck me quite a lot lately has been God's amazing financial provision. Never once have we lacked for any of our needs and many of our wants have been met also. Sure, our wants and needs are substantially simpler that they were when we were lived in Australia but its that such a bad thing? Hey, I am just looking forward to buying some clothes that are not threadbare. The more we receive, the more we have been able to give and what a privilege that is. Andrew sometimes "tells me off " for giving too much away but I think if we have been blessed so abundantly, then surely God wants us to bless others too. It give me such great joy! :)
When we were preparing to attend our Gateway training in Texas, USA at the Mercy Ships International Operations Centre we did the rounds, speaking at lots of different churches in South East Queensland, where we were living at the time. We were doing the dreaded "F' word! Fundraising!!! The word strikes a certain fear into heart of most people. It means putting yourself out there and becoming vulnerable for and passionate about a cause that is close to your heart. From my quite extensive (now) experience with fundraising I have found that doing exactly that and being real draws people in. We are flawed, just like everyone else and we were just chasing the dream that God planted in our hearts and the mission he called us to.
Somehow, in some way God has always come through for us. When we had five weeks notice to come to the ship, our house sold in record time in a depressed market and somehow, in some way we scraped up the funds to come to the ship. When the bottom fell out of the Aussie dollar, He brought us extra supporters from the USA and somehow we made it though. When I needed to fly back to Australia to have plastic surgery on a skin cancer on my nose, He provided. When we made the call for help with Jessica's online class expenses, He made a way. All along the journey, God has confirmed our calling, even though it has been one of the hardest things we have ever done, by continuing to provide for us!
As I gasped at the pain that ripped though my stomach in the wee hours of a humid Cotonou night I wondered what could possibly be wrong. After hours of not vomiting or going to the toilet I began to get worried. What could these terrible pains be? There didn't seem to be any explanation. Then, as suddenly as they came over me, they disappeared and I fell back into a fitful sleep.
The next day I saw the crew doctor and she told me that it was my gallbladder. She asked me about my insurance and I think I shocked her when I bust into tears. Somehow I knew it was coming but had been in denial. Memories came flooding back of my last trip away for medical treatment. The long days of travel, being apart from Andrew and Jess for six weeks, the pain and the infections that lasted months after I came back to the ship. I didn't know if I had it in me to do it all over again.
But things were only going to get worse, as I remembered that our yearly travel insurance policy was due to expire in just two weeks. After many, many weeks of negotiations, my claim was denied as, under a new policy, my condition was considered pre-existing and therefore would not be covered. It was a very stressful time and between the flurry of emails and phone calls with our insurance company I learned that my beautiful Nan has passed away and I could not be there to say my final goodbyes. I was in the depths of despair and didn't know what to do. I was in pain, I was grieving and I was lonely and afraid. We talked about going home. It just didn't seem fair to go out like this!
I met with a friend for coffee and she suggested that I email our friends and family and just put our situation out there. Back to the big "F" word again. Back to being real and honest and sharing our challenges in an open way.I had no idea what would happen. Well God chose that moment to open the floodgates! For the past six years we have been grateful for God's provision but this time we were absolutely blown away. God was not done with us on this big white hospital ship just yet!
As the week flew by and dozens of emails and messages poured in with promises of donations, prayer, love and support I was brought to my knees, thanking the One who always has and always will provide for us. One morning, later in the week, I opened an email from the Australian Mercy Ships office to say that our fundraising goal for my surgery had well and truly been met and tears began to stream down my face. I was unsure why I even doubted.
That was a few months ago now and I can say that my surgery and all my expenses are fully covered, we have purchased a year of "proper" health insurance with an ex-pat missionary insurance company and we have enough to insure ourselves with them until our return to Australia in 2018!
As I prepare to depart the ship, next week, I find myself thinking back to those early fundraising days. We never had any clue what the future was going to hold and the amazing, joyful, painful, exhilarating, gut wrenching, humbling, exciting, life changing journey we were about to travel! We spoke in a little church in Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast, funnily enough in the home town of the Mercy Ships Australia National Office. Trying to be frugal, (and perhaps preparing for life ahead :) ) we stayed in a backpackers and when we went to settle our bill we got to taking to the owner. People are always fascinated to hear about Mercy Ships and he was no exception.
With no hesitation, he pushed some money into our hands and prophetically declared the bible verse, ".....my God will supply all your needs, according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.
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.