Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Gracefully Broken

Hello everybody,

I wanted to give you all an update on what I have been up to these last 2 months and just about the transition so far. I spent the rest of January and February catching up with friends and family, car shopping and job searching. I accepted a job with a visiting nurse service in my area and will be doing home hospice care. Home care in general I know is going to be very different than the hospital setting but I'm looking forward to gaining new skills and walking with patients and family members through the end of life journey.

As far as my transition home goes I think sometimes you don't realize how fast you are moving until you finally stop. Rest and reflect. A lot of emotions and situations have hit me hard over the last few months. I knew it would come. As much as I want everything to be back to "normal" (whatever that means or likes like) I can't rush this process. In 2017 I was in the rhythm of pouring myself out and I know God was sustaining me the whole time. However, it has been in these particular last few months of readjustment and unknowns that God has been sort of just holding me in His loving, all knowing, and all powerful embrace. Giving me permission to rest, wait and listen. Urging me to stop doubting and pushing against all the good and perfect plans he has for me now.

One of the lies I have been battling with is that my best days are behind me. Will I find a job or purpose as fulfilling as Mercy Ships or the work I have been doing there? I found myself reading one of my previous posts     In this post I talked about the act of opening our hands to receive the good gifts that God wants to give us. I'm glad that God gives us as many chances or opportunities that we need to really learn and take hold of these truths. In these last few months I have been reminded of how often I come to God with my hands clenched not in anger but just holding on tightly to my desires, dreams and plans. But Lord I love this and I want to do this? But Lord I really want to go here or there? But Lord how about this idea? Doesn't that timing sound better?

I'm learning that coming to God with open hands is not to just receive but is more so an act of surrender. When we come to God and release those things that we hold onto so tightly we are saying God I trust you. In the end this act of surrender sets us up to receive God's absolute BEST.

I know it sounds simple and maybe something many of you already do but I can't tell you how often I have had to do this over the last few months. Some days I did it better than others. However, the peace and hope that would rise within me when I did do this was absolutely overwhelming. I just needed a reminder of my identity and of who I belong to. A reminder that He is with me, that He is for me and that my best days are absolutely not behind me. I needed a reminder of where this all started. One single step. One simple yes. One act of surrender. 

The truth of the matter is that my heart has been stretched and enlarged so much that it can never be the same. I plan to continue to love the one in front of me, and to pour myself into whatever task or situation is put in front of me. I can't say I don't hope these feet wander back to Africa but I open my hands to release these desires into his hands knowing that he holds my heart.

As always I welcome any discussion or questions you have about my time with Mercy Ships or whatever I'm up too. I have so enjoyed sitting around a table, sharing a meal or dessert and spending time with many of you. I have said it before but being away truly does make the reunion with friends and family that much sweeter. 

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for reading, walking this journey with me and for your continued love, support and prayers. 


"Here I am, God
Arms wide open

Pouring out my life

Gracefully broken
My heart stands in awe of Your name
Your mighty love stands strong to the end
You will fulfill Your purpose for me
You won't forsake me, You will be with me"

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Final Update From Cameroon!

Since I last wrote you things in the hospital have really picked up. The plastics program has been in full swing with 30+ patients in the hospital at a time. The orthopedic patients have endured hours of rehab sessions and most of them have been discharged home! The maxillofacial specialty really ramped up when we had a returning neurosurgeon performing intense surgeries on patients that have encephaloceles. Encephaloceles are protrusions of the brain and membranes through openings in the skull. They are caused by failure of the neural tube to close during fetal development.

The plastics patients have long recoveries involving skin grafts and lots of dressing changes.
They build such a good community with each other and the crew members.

After two surgeries and weeks of rehab Ulrich has straight legs!

Encephalocele patient pre-op

This month the Africa Mercy reached a significant milestone by performing the 30,000th 
free surgery since opening in 2007! 

Meanwhile in the women's health area things were really getting interested. We had a surgeon who works in a large fistula center in Malawi come to ship for the first time. He is known to perform surgery on the more complicated fistula cases using techniques and special grafts that none of our previous surgeons used. Lets just say myself and the nurses learned so many new things about fistula surgery and the post operative care that is necessary for these ladies. It was challenging at times but the amazing thing is that these ladies otherwise might not have had surgery. Most other surgeons would say no to these ladies because the damage caused by the fistula was to severe and the surgery to complex. With this surgeon and his team these ladies finally got a shot at a successful surgery! Its exciting to think about but also please keep these ladies in your prayers. Their recovery is very long and often not without some complications.

I thought my final weeks on the ship would be a quite, nice transition but it proved to be the exact opposite. The workload has been busy but I was able to attend a final dress ceremony celebration which always reminds me why I do this. Why I leave home for months at a time. Because seeing these ladies dressed so beautifully and testifying to God's faithfulness makes it all worth it. Since September about 150 women's health surgeries have been performed. Walking alongside each one of them in their road to physical, spiritual and emotional recovery has been an absolute honor. 

It comes as no surprise but I'll be leaving this place with lots of mixed emotions. Excitement to be home and see all of you but sad to leave these friends, co-workers and patients behind. Its hard knowing I won't see this last group of ladies through until the end of their time on the ship. I can only stand on the truth that God will see these ladies through. He will continue to walk with them. We don't always get to see the completion of our work and as hard as it is I know it is the right time to come home. I will be spending this Christmas on the ship and then leaving the next day to start my travels home. I'll make stops in Kenya and Holland to see friends and relax a bit before finally landing home in New York!

Please continue to pray for the patients and crew members as they spend Christmas here on the ship away from family and friends. I can't thank you all enough for your prayers, cards and support. Being away certainly makes the return home that much sweeter and I truly look forward to it.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017


Prior to patients having surgery here on the Africa Mercy we have several conversations with them in which we discuss how the surgery will be done, how long the recovery will be and all the details that one needs to know before undergoing any type of surgery anywhere really. With all of our patients we talk about what their expected outcomes are. That we hope and pray for the best but that sometimes the surgery isn't successful. We try to prepare the patients and family members for both the good and bad outcomes. The recovery road is long and some times the patients expectations are not always met. Sometimes they are discouraged, upset and frustrated after their surgery. I guess people at home in hospitals experience the same things. The first round of chemotherapy doesn't work, the rehab or length of time in the nursing home is endless, or complications seem to keep arising.

I'll be honest friends the last few weeks have been challenging and hard. Dealing with difficult situations, false expectations and realizing that certain circumstances are out of my control. Wondering what is the best decision for the patient and how those decisions will effect their family, friends and job. This ship has highly trained nurses, surgeons and doctors. We have a fully functioning lab, radiology department with X-ray and CT scan, we have supplies similar to home, and clean, safe OR rooms. We see some of the most incredible recoveries, crooked legs becoming straight, eye sight being restored and futures becoming bright again. We almost get used to seeing miracles everyday and with that routine we forget that the extraordinary is happening everyday on this ship.

Lots of crooked legs becoming straight in this picture!

Extraordinary joy and hope being restored

Dignity, love and strength made new for these ladies!

I don't ever want to stop being in awe of the extraordinary but the reality is some days its hard and in the end, despite all of our resources, knowledge and technology sometimes the expectations are still not met. Which brings me back to reality. It reminds me that we are only human. That even though we work diligently with our hands, resources and knowledge it isn't always enough. 

But God. He is enough. He is more than enough to make up for our faults, failures, inadequacies and can make a way in situations that seem they have no way. He controls every circumstance. The ones that we think we have control over and the ones that we clearly don't have control of. He is enough for the false expectations, loss of hope and discouragement that the patients and even myself feel at times. When modern medicine and humans fail us He is enough. Abundantly more than enough. And that is what I cling to. That is what gives me strength. I don't have to bear all of the burdens. I don't have to have all the answers. I can turn them all over to a loving, kind, merciful God who loves these patients more than I ever could. My human love and compassion will never compare to His. And the more you experience God's love the more you realize how true that is.

“If you look at the world, you'll be distressed. If you look within, you'll be depressed. If you look at God you'll be at rest.” Corrie Ten Boom

I'm starting to plan for my return home, which includes booking flights, job searching and organizing things for my departure from the ship. Leaving this ship, these people and the patients is so bittersweet.  Pray for me as I begin to organize all of this and seek to enjoy and finish my time here in Cameroon well. I will do some traveling before coming home but will be back around the beginning of January.

Please continue to pray for our patients as they heal, for the country and government of Cameroon and for good health, strength and unity among all of the crew members.

All photo credit: Mercy Ships
Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Highs & Lows

You'll often hear people on the Africa Mercy talking about their highs and lows. Whether its personal, work related or patient related highs and lows are a topic around here. I think it has to do with how emotionally intense it can be to live and work in this crazy, extraordinary, loving and challenging place that people from so many different countries choose to call home for a time.

Working in women's health here on the ship certainly has it's high and low moments. Somebody once put it that the highs are very high and the low's are very low when working with these ladies. Their stories are intense, full of emotions and details that really pull at your heart strings. During the recovery period, which is anywhere from 7-14 days, there can be infections, set backs, challenges, frustrations and tears at times. Sometimes the surgeries aren't completely successful or for some patients the recovery road is particularly hard but ends in triumph. The skills needed to care for these ladies are of a wide variety. It includes the ability to laugh, flexibility, tough love, cheerleader like qualities, listener or even a specialist in manicures and teaching new card games.

The nursing care and critical thinking skills needed to care for these ladies are easily learned. It is managing the emotions that go along with these patients that can be the most challenging for nurses. It is the highs and lows of the patients that in turn effect the nurses emotions and reactions. Isn't that true of nurses in any specialty or area. Nurses may have tough exteriors but at the heart of it all we do actually care and take on many of our patients emotions.

What I have been enjoying about working on the ship this time is watching nurses that have never worked here before care for these ladies. I see the emotions that they are going through and I remember what it was like celebrating with these ladies or sitting with a patient who's surgery wasn't successful for the first time. I love watching the patients reactions when nurses come onto shift and are greeting all of them, laughing and talking about something that happened the day before. The ladies are challenging nurses and day crew, expanding and stealing hearts and I love watching it happen.

The dress ceremonies are always a highlight. If you want more details about what a dress ceremony entails refer back to the following blog:

Obviously the dress ceremonies are a high. A high moment for the patients, nurses, day crew and all crew members really. I love watching other crew members as they listen to the ladies stories, dance with them in the hallway and celebrate with them.Maybe I just like seeing people enjoying something that I enjoy. Maybe I just enjoy seeing other people love on these ladies, celebrate with them, and walk with them through the highs and lows of their journey. Mostly I think I love watching other people discover the true beauty, joy, love, contentment, strength and boldness that these ladies exude.

So far over fifty women's health surgeries have been performed. Fifty ladies who have been cared for, encouraged, and who have taught us so much. Fifty moms, sisters, wives, daughters, friends, co-workers who I know leave this place walking a little taller, and smiling a little bit bigger. In the wake of them leaving there are nurses, day crew and crew members who's hearts have been stretched, wrung out and grown a few sizes. It is a beautiful relationship. One not without some pain, highs and lows along the way but in the end absolutely and completely worth every minute.

Grand entrance.

Singing, dancing and testimony time! 

Giving gifts to the ladies!

Left to Right: Chaplin, surgeon and physician praying for the ladies 

Getting the ladies ready!

One of my favorite pictures so far. So much joy!

"One of the most amazing things about my job is going with the obstetric fistula ladies through their journey; through their lows and their highs and in the end celebrating their transformation with them. For most of them it’s just been a month on the ship, but their faces are so different. They go back with shining eyes and with hope.”- Mercy Ships women's health nurse Brenda Friesen

All photo credit: Mercy Ships

Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Each week for the first 6 weeks of this new field service we have had what is called cultural briefings where we learn about the culture, history, do's and don'ts, and healthcare system of Cameroon. My good friend Anne was smart and took some notes in one of our previous briefings so here are some things that we have learned about Cameroon.

"Cameroon is called the “Melting Pot” of Africa due to its diverse people and environment. There are over 275 ethnic groups and languages in the country as well as at least seven unique climate zones ranging from rain forest to savanna. The rainy season lasts pretty much all year, with areas of the country receiving up to 12 feet of rain per year. There are several active volcanoes here, the largest being Mt. Cameroon, which last erupted in 2000. Due to the variation in climate zones, Cameroon also has great biodiversity. There are over 20 reserves in the country to protect animals and about half of all the species in Africa can be found somewhere in the country.

Because it's the rainy season Mt. Cameroon has only showed herself a few times but she is right outside our doorstep :)
The city of Douala, where the ship is docked, is the largest city in Cameroon. We are on the Wari River, which means that our muddy brown water view is quite different than the ocean views of Benin and Madagascar. Yaoundé, the capital city is about four hours away from us by car. There are over three million people living in Douala, which was named the most expensive city in Africa in 2015. There is a high ex-pat population here related to business, politics, etc, which leads to a higher standard of living than many African cities. However, there is still a lot of disparity between the wealthy and poor, which also contributes to an increased crime rate in the city.

Wari River
Cameroon also has one of the best economies in Sub-Saharan Africa with oil being the number one export. Despite the good economy and connections, though, Cameroon is a struggling nation. There is corruption in the local government and when there is corruption, people suffer. The UN Human Development Index measures average achievement in factors needed for human development such as living a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable, and having a decent standard of living. With factors such as a life expectancy of fifty six years, an average ten years of education, and increased malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis mortality, Cameroon is rated 153/188 countries."

One of the most common questions I receive when talking about Mercy Ships is why are the diseases, deformities, and tumors that you see in Africa so extreme? Why do we not see those things in America? When I here this question I often sigh because it feels impossible to answer that question succinctly and efficiently. And sometimes I think to myself don't you understand what is happening?Don't you get it? Sorry, I know that sounds terrible and completely out of line. But I promise I'm getting better at curbing these thoughts. Before you unsubscribe from my blog let me give you some statistics that might make this a little more clear.

The number of trained surgical specialists, anesthesiologists and obstetric providers per 100,000 people are as follows: Switzerland- 98, UK- 92, US- 62, Australia- 49, Benin-1.8, Cameroon- 1.15, Madagascar- 0.5 (source World Bank). This means that for every 100,000 people in Cameroon there is only 1.15 trained surgical specialists. Talk about being understaffed and overworked!!  

And more specific statistics for Cameroon. For a population of 23.4 million people they have
83 surgeons, 24 anesthesiologist, 2099 medical doctors and 200 nurses/midwives/ anesthetists technicians. This is for 23.4 million people. Now you are probably sitting back thinking of a host of questions and comments. One being what am I supposed to do with these statistics? and man Africa is lacking so much. Poor Africa. My main reason for sharing these statistics is just to give you a clear picture of the disparity between the worlds that clash before my eyes everyday. One being my home, the way I was raised, the opportunities I received, the abundance and healthcare that is so easily accessible. The other being the worlds of Zambia, Madagascar, Benin and now Cameroon that I have been invited into to learn from and grow in so many ways.

Which leads me to my next point. I don't want you to sit back and have pity on Africa. I don't want you to only see the lack, disparity, and gaps. I hope that along the way I have conveyed how much I have learned from this culture. How much each patient has taught me and how big my heart has grown over these months. How many times I have thought to myself how can these people be so courageous, bold, beautiful and content? They never cease to amaze me with their perseverance, and love for family and friends around them. I have learned to slow down, make connections and that the people in front of me are more important than my to-do list, and schedule. I'm learning to balance the facts and reality around me but also continue to learn from the love, contentment and joy that each patient displays. I hope that in some way I have helped you do the same.

Meet the Mercy Ships nurses! See a familiar face in the front ;) 

One final statistic. The Lancet Commission on Global Health found that 5 billion people lack access to timely, safe and affordable surgical care.

This I believe can be the shortest and most efficient answer to the question why are the diseases, tumors and deformities seen in Africa so extreme. If each person had access to safe, timely and affordable surgical care, tumors the size of watermelons wouldn't grow. Kids with extreme bowed legs wouldn't be found. Severe burns would be treated immediately. Obstetric fistulas caused by prolonged labor wouldn't exist.

This is also an answer to the questions why Cameroon? why a surgical ship? Why serve with Mercy Ships? Because 5 billion people lack surgical care and Mercy Ships is playing its part in those areas most affected. Performing surgery but also training local surgeons, doctors and nurses so that when the Africa Mercy departs that country can go on to sustain and continue to increase the capacity of its healthcare system.

I guess the answer to the original question wasn't that difficult after all and maybe a better question is what is all of this for? 

"Instead of asking 'Why this suffering?'- the world changes when we ask 'What's this suffering for?' And the answer is always for such a time as now. 
For such a time as now, we eradicate divisions and incarnate passion. 
For such a time as now, we show up even when it seems small because this is how we love large. 
For such a time as now, we love just one, like we'd absolutely love to love everyone. Like we would love to be loved. 
For such a time as now, we live shaped like a cross, reaching right out, because this is how He begins to reshape the world." Ann Voskamp

Mercy Ships Response to Global Surgical Need

Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships

Monday, August 21, 2017

Sailing, Sailing.....Ahoy Land

The Africa Mercy has safely arrived in Douala, Cameroon!!

The voyage from Las, Palmas, Spain to Cameroon was wonderful. Thank you all for your prayers for good weather and smooth sails. I was able to find my sea legs after two days and didn't take any sea sickness medications after that. After a few nights the gentle back and forth of the ship rocked me straight to sleep haha! Worship on the bow, sighting dolphins, whales and flying fish were all highlights. I had a couple surreal moments where I thought to myself am I actually doing this?!? After only coming to ship when it has been docked it was so cool to see that the ship can be in the open waters and how many hands make it all happen.

One of the two tug boats that helped to guide the Africa Mercy out of the port.

Goodbye Las Palmas, Spain

Last sighting of land before we hit open waters. 

Worship on the bow. One of everyone's favorite parts of the sail!
Photo Credit: Mercy Ships
With limited internet and nowhere to go this voyage definitely forced me to slow down and gave me time to spend with friends and catch up on reading, sleeping and watching movies. Most importantly, the sail gave myself and the hospital leadership time for team bonding, spiritual, mental and logistical preparation. It was a joy once again to experience how everybody works together and supports each other along the way. We have an absolutely amazing team for Cameroon and I'm honored to play a small part!!

As fun as the sail was after about a week on the open waters everybody was ready to just get to Cameroon. I'm forever learning that patience and God's timing are all keys to life. The celebration of finally arriving into the port did not disappoint. The anticipation and excitement finally came to pass when we saw land for the first time and pulled into our new dock space. Per usual there was lots of singing and dancing involved in this celebration. Waiting for us on the dock were government officials and volunteers from Mercy Ships that have already been in Cameroon for almost five months working to prepare for the ships arrival. Those volunteers have an absolutely massive job that involves constant communication between the government, minister of health and leadership on the Africa Mercy. They do all of the legal documents, visas, port logistics, safety measures, managing off site renovations and so many more behind the scenes tasks that make it possible for the Africa Mercy to be in Cameroon.

Photo credit for the following photos: Mercy Ships

Africa Mercy making its way into the new dock space.

Lots of excitement on the ship as we arrived. Hands and flags were waving strong! 

Singing and dancing on the dock to welcome the ship.

So now that we have arrived in Cameroon what do we do? The real fun begins. In the coming weeks over 200 daycrew will be introduced to the ship, oriented and prepared to work with us. If you don't remember daycrew are local people hired by Mercy Ships to help with translation, and various jobs around the ship. We couldn't do what we do without them. Nurses will also be arriving in the next week to help unpack and clean the hospital to get it ready for patients. We will do lots of orientation and education with new nurses as well. On August 24th the screening team will start seeing patients and collaborating with surgeons to decide which patients can get surgery. The hospital will officially open on September 4th with the first surgery on September 5th. There is a lot of work ahead but it truly is an exciting time to be on ship.

If you are praying please keep the following specific things on your mind:
1. Pray for the daycrew and new nurses. That they would feel apart of our community, get adjusted quickly, feel supported and be ready to work.

2. The screening team as they get ready to see thousands of potential patients. Some they will have to say no to. Pray for wisdom, strength, love and grace.

3. For our off ship sites like the Hope Center (place patients stay before and after surgery), OBF clinic, Ponseti clinic, dental and eye teams. That they would get setup quickly and the programs would run smoothly.

4. For no sickness and extra strength for myself and the rest of the crew.

I truly can not thank you enough for your prayers and support up until this time. Keep praying. I am confident that God has great things in store for the country of Cameroon and every crew member and patient that walks up the gangway.

Andddd if you have made it this far congratulations lol!! Your reward is a video of a dolphin sighting and more photos!!


Another highlight was crossing the equator and the center of the world at 0 degrees latitude and 0 degrees longitude. A very rare thing in maritime circles apparently. The captain hosted a full ceremony explaining maritime traditions and giving us the new status of Diamond Shellback. Lots of fun! 

We went outside as we passed the center of the world to see if there was an actual line ;)

Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Safe and Sound!

Hello Everybody,

Just a quick update to let you know that I have arrived in Las Palmas, Spain and that all flights and travel went very smoothly! Thank you for your prayers for safety!

So far I have unpacked, saw many familiar faces and explored a very small part of this beautiful island. Las Palmas is known as the "Bahamas of Europe" and it definitely has that feel to it. Lots of families and people on vacation. They have a boardwalk that is right near the beach packed full of restaurants and all sorts of shops. Kinda feels like the boardwalk's in Jersey with a European flare haha.

It has been great being back on the ship and having people say welcome back or glad to see you *cue Cheers theme song* It most definitely feels familiar and just plain nice to be back :)

The hospital may have closed in June but the work has certainly continued around this ship. So much mechanical, painting of the hull and overall maintenance which I won't even pretend like I really know about has been happening and it is incredible! Truly amazing to think about how many hands, heads and hearts it takes to run this ship all year around. Each one working together and doing their job makes this ship run like a well oiled machine and I'm humbled to play a small part in it all.

As we make our way to Cameroon I will have very limited wifi so this will be my last update until we get there. As we make the twelve day journey towards Cameroon please pray for....

1. A safe and calm sail
2. Minimal sea sickness
3. Restful time to prepare for the patients, and day crew that we will be meeting
4. Good team bonding and dynamics
5. Smooth start up of the hospital and programs when we arrive in Cameroon

Thank you for all of your prayers, support and encouragement!

Beaches near the boardwalk

After a dip in the ocean!

Because the ship is currently docked in a place where all different kinds of ships are getting repairs done we have to wear hard hats and close toed shoes when we walk through the port. It is basically like walking through a construction site. 

Some of the other ships and sites around us.

Goodnight port!