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! 

Monday, July 24, 2017


Officially one week until I fly to Las Palmas (Canary Islands), Spain to meet the Africa Mercy! Check out the video on the right hand side titled What is dry dock? to see why the ship is in Spain and what happens during the ship's maintenance period.

These weeks at home have gone fast but at the same time slow. I have been able to see and spend time with so many friends and family that my heart is so very happy. Some days I have thought this time at home is not enough. Will it ever feel like it is enough? The thought of packing is dreadful. The thought of saying "see you later" again is hard. This time at home has not been without some ups and downs. Then I'm reminded to give thanks. To be thankful for this full, rich and amazing time at home. So many people have not been able to go home or have had less time at home. Be thankful. And soak up each moment. I remind myself that these are the moments that keep me going when I'm away from home. I'm reminded that God has truly used this time to rest, recharge and fill me up for there is more work to be done on the Africa Mercy. With that thought in mind I'm ready as I'll ever be to get started.

This time in Cameroon will not be like any other time that I have served with Mercy Ships before. I will have a different role and schedule. A different country, a new culture to learn, new nurses and daycrew to meet. It's a completely clean slate which is exciting but nerve wracking all at the same time. But when have you ever done something new and amazing without some nerves? Nerves are good. They keep you on your toes. And when you know that is where you are supposed to be.... when you know that your are moving and working not in your own strength but in the strength of a God who is so much more powerful and greater than you, you have no reason to fear. God is not a God of fear. Fear is not from Him. So there is no reason to fear.

I leave home with the knowledge that my God is with me. He is for me. He goes before me. I have been listening to some songs that have really been encouraging me. One of them has the following lyrics:

Can you hear the voice of the Father
Inviting you to walk the water?
Risk it all, answer the call, and enter in.
Now we stand on every promise
We're not afraid, our faith goes before us
When we believe, we're gonna see
The supernatural

This song and these lyrics resonated with me immediately. I'm heading to Cameroon with great expectation. Praying for the impossible. Believing that we are going to see what we are praying for. Standing on the promises that Christ proclaims in His word. I'm sure it will be hard and I'm sure I will need to be reminded of this often but those things don't make the promises of God any less true. 

I so appreciate the time and effort each one of you has made to see me, catch up, hang out, eat food and just spend time with me. Coming home truly does make those moments even sweeter and it is greatly appreciated. Thank you for your prayers, support, love and encouragement. Continue to keep me in prayer as I get packed, fly and get ready to sail to Cameroon! I will hopefully get to send one more update out before we sail but not sure what the internet situation will be like yet.

Enjoy the music and continue to keep Mercy Ships, the crew members and the people of Cameroon in your prayers! 

"Standing" William Mcdowell 
"Your Promises" Elevation Worship
"Hills and Valleys" Tauren Wells

Friday, June 23, 2017

Benin Recap

Hello everybody,

This post serves two purposes. The first being after a lot of technical difficulties I have decided to just send out the blog updates via email by myself. If you want to be on that email list or want to be removed please let me know!

The second purpose is to share this recap video of all that was accomplished in Benin!

The numbers are truly amazing! Even more amazing is to think about how each number represents a person and each person now has the potential, courage, love and bravery to go start a business, get back to work, provide for their family, love their children better, go to school, lead their church and effect change in their own country of Benin. The ripple effect of the lives represented in this one minute video is incredible! Thank you so much for playing a part in all of this. Thank you for your prayers, support, encouragement, cards and financial support.

I have about a month left at home and have been so enjoying catching up with friends and family and taking a bit of a breather before the work continues in Cameroon. 

 Finally, I am prepared to cover my travel expenses, vaccine expenses, room and board (three meals a day, AC, wifi etc.) for my time in Cameroon but would love to have you partner with me in this endeavor. Every little bit counts and no volunteer including myself can do this work on their own. If you would like more information about how you can help me financially check out the following link:

Lots of love,

P.S. Curious as to where the ship is and what happens in between countries? Check out this video of the ships maintenance period called dry dock.

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, May 28, 2017

Where We've Been, Where We're Going

I feel like it's time for a little recap of what I've been up to over the last two months. As Doc Brown says in Back To The Future " The intent here is to gain a clear perception of humanity. Where we've been, where we're going. The pitfalls and the possibilities. The perils and the promise. Perhaps even an answer to that universal question, why?" We might not get to the universal question of why today but that was really just for all of you that know me and share my love for Back To The Future.

Okay here we go.......

After the Women's Health program finished up at the beginning of April we started doing more general surgeries. Some people like to call this the lumps and bumps program. Patients have mostly benign soft tissue masses removed from their backs, arms, legs, and head. The recovery time is usually very short and most patients are discharged within a few days. In addition, the general surgeons have been doing a ton of hernia repairs. At first I didn't really think of this type of surgery as life-saving or life changing but as I have learned most of these hernias are very large, uncomfortable and sometimes even involve the intestines. If untreated this could cause other serious problems for the patient.These general surgeries don't get as much fan fair or publicity as some of the other surgery specialties but in the end each patient was able to go back to work or school safely and comfortably without any lumps, bumps or hernias so that makes it all worth it.

Final dress ceremony in Benin!

One of our general surgical patients.

We also had some overflow of maxillofacial patients. This included some babies that had their cleft lip/palate repaired. 

As I have mentioned before the Africa Mercy will be leaving Benin pretty soon. Every field service around this time we start doing fewer surgeries and prepare patients for their final discharges. We have parties of all sorts of kinds as well. Farewell parties for long-term crew members, friends, nurses and daycrew. It is filled with a lot of "last moments", excitement for rest is in sight for some crew members, preparation for sailing and lots of goodbyes or see you later's. In order to prepare the hospital for sailing all of the equipment and supplies need to be packed away and every inch of the hospital is cleaned by yours truly the nurses and other volunteers. For those family members who know what it's like opening and closing our summer home every year it is basically like that but on steroids haha! After the ship is prepared and ready it will sail to another location for a maintenance period in preparation for the next country of service which is Cameroon.

Which leads us into the where we're going part or more like where am I going next part. When I first arrived back on the ship rumor had it that Cameroon has a very high rate of obstetric fistulas and that Mercy Ships would be potentially doing fistula surgery the entire 10 months they were in Cameroon. That immediately peaked my interest and I thought I would possibly come back in January 2018 similar to the amount of time I had spent in Benin. I kept it in the back of mind and started praying about it. As the months passed and more preparation for Cameroon started I was asked to be the team leader for the women's health program on the ship. This basically entails overseeing the nurses and daycrew, daily rounds with the surgeons, and the general flow of the program. I am completely humbled to work again with these ladies and have this opportunity to learn more and gain new leadership skills. I know that this will be challenging in more ways than one but I'm really looking forward to seeing how God stretches and grows me through another season with Mercy Ships. Before leaving for Madagascar part of me thought that Mercy Ships would be something that I would just do once and then check it off the list. I see now that God has a much bigger plan for my life then just a check-list. I have given much but I have received, grown and learned more than I ever expected during my time so far with Mercy Ships. I will also get to sail to Cameroon in order to prepare for the field service. I sometimes forget that this ship can actually sail and move so I'll really get to test my sea legs :)

Next stop Douala,Cameroon! 

As of now I am committed to serve from August -December 30th. I realize that my time home will be short but I have complete peace that this is where I'm supposed to be. It doesn't mean I don't have fears, worries, questions or uncertainties. It just means I'm choosing to say yes. I'm choosing to keep my eyes fixed on Him, one step at a time, trusting that He will go before me, letting go of my ways and choosing to open my hands and receive all that He has planned for me. After leaving Benin and before coming home I will do some travels but when I do get home I really look forward to talking with you all in person and catching up. I'm not sure I can thank you enough for your financial, and emotional support but mostly your prayers. I could not do this without all of you and I am thankful for each one of you.

Nurses and daycrew that I have worked alongside with this year. What an honor it has been!

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