Monday, August 8, 2011

God is Faithful

Lots of interesting things have happened since we returned home from Africa. We have looked for six weeks or so for a place to live in the mountains without success. The area we have been planning to live in in western North Carolina is very rural and finding a place to rent has not been easy. We knew we couldn't buy a house now because we don't have enough income to approach a bank for a house loan. Despite our many prayers, we have been tempted to be discouraged, but we felt like the Lord was just having us wait on Him. As we began our search around the first of July, he led us to read Psalm 37:

v.3-9 " Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret - it leads only to evil. For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land."

He also reminded us of His words in Isaiah 30:

v. 15 " This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: 'In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength"

v.18 "Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him."

This past week God provided in an extraordinary way! We will soon have a rent-to-own agreement signed on a place that will give us much more space than we had hoped for, allowing us to have friends visit, even large families from the ship or relatives who may want to visit. We have been dreaming about the possibility of having enough room to extend that kind of hospitality freely, and the Lord has provided it! We are very thankful for that! And Bethany has not only been accepted into the local Christian school to which we applied, but will likely receive a full scholarship for the year! That brought tears to my eyes and to Jenny's as well. God has blessed us abundantly beyond our imaginings.

All of this seems to have happened at almost the last minute. God often asks us to wait down to the wire like that, in part I'm sure to develop our ability to trust in Him. Thankfully, he's not offended if we don't wait perfectly. We had been going around actively enquiring about rental properties and enrolling Bethany in public school just in case the other fell through. I guess we could have saved ourselves some of that headache, but maybe that's part of learning to walk by faith. God has been faithful and we are believing that He will provide all that we need in the coming months and years as we walk in His Kingdom, not relying on what we can see, but on His wisdom and goodness. Glory be to God! We are on an incredible journey with Him! It's really fun in times like this to see what He can do, to see what He can call into existence out of nothing!

Just today, in Walmart, Jenny received a two-fold word from fellow Jesus follower and missionary, Juan Suarez - the word 'TRUST' and Ephesians 3:20-21: "Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."

The day after the details with the house and Bethany's school were settled, Jenny got a call from the ship asking her to return as soon as possible to Sierra Leone for several weeks to help the hospital with critical needs. Jenny initially thought that it just couldn't be done now with our move coming up, but we will manage in her absence. Hopefully she will be leaving for Africa by week's end and provide some relief there. That will make it hard for those of us left here, but we believe that this is also part of God's plan, so as with the house we can't yet pay for, we will walk this out by faith and see where the Lord takes us. God is faithful, so shall it also be with us. May God grant us the grace we need to be His faithful servants wherever He sends us.

John & Jenny

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Terra Firma

In June we left the ship to return to North Carolina. We said goodbye to our friends who have become family to us and headed for the airport. It was a tearful time for all of us and it was pretty hard to watch our children say very difficult goodbyes to their friends. We will be living in western North Carolina and offering assistance to John’s parents as needed, as they face challenging aging issues. We’re very excited to be of service to our family and just to be able to spend time with them, as they are also transitioning to the same area.

Even though our time on the ship is over for now, Jenny will still be volunteering with Mercy Ships by assisting the Programs Department with Hospital Standards, Policies and Procedures. The details of her involvement are still under construction, but we believe that it is going to be possible for her to collaborate remotely to help move this project forward. She is very excited to remain involved with the hospital on the Africa Mercy which also gives those who graciously support us financially the opportunity to also stay involved.

So, now we are facing the next chapter in the life of our family. We are in the midst of a major transition, trying to get our lives back together here in the U.S. Our three kids are enrolled in schools in western North Carolina, but we are still looking for a place to live there. We have one car now and we have cell phones for communication. We are making pretty slow progress, but I hope in a few months I will be well on my way toward generating an income and that Jenny can have a supplemental part-time or occasional work at a local surgical hospital scrubbing and circulating (that's what she really loves and she needs to maintain her practical O.R. skills).

Before we left Sierra Leone it was business as usual on the ship for us with Jenny working as O.R. manager and me doing photography. Business as usual except for challenges with very dense traffic, water shortages on the ship and in the community, daily blocked air conditioning intakes due to the huge volume of plastic trash in the water (that required our ship's divers to daily remove trash from the intakes), and a few other not so usual kinds of challenges. Sierra Leone has been an exceptionally challenging field service for the crew of the Africa Mercy. The country had its big 50th independence day celebration while we were there and I had an opportunity to get to know some of the members of the Sierra Leone Single Leg Amputee Soccer Club, a very inspiring group of positive-thinking guys, most of whom lost legs to violent men during the recent civil war, who get together and play soccer on Saturday mornings.
We had an interesting trip home too. The trip to the airport was a real adventure. We rode in a convoy of ship vehicles to the Government Wharf, transferred to the ferry (with all of our bags containing what we could bring home of our clothes and household items, etc. - ugh!), transferred from the ferry to our ride (organized by the ship) on the other shore, and then finally through security and the check-in counters at Lungi Airport. Actually I was quite amazed at how well the whole process went, we were blessed to have a lot of honest guys help with bags and such. It could have so easily been a fiasco, but it wasn't that bad.

Eventually we arrived in Brussels for our 6 hour layover after a 2 hour stay on the tarmac in Banjul, The Gambia (a man had to be evacuated from the plane there due to a medical emergency). Our plan for our layover was to meet the O'Briens, friends that we know from our time in the military in Italy . Before we met them, David had complained of abdominal pain and fainted twice, once in the airplane as we were disembarking in Brussels and once in the floor in the airport terminal. We had seen the crew physician on the ship just the day before and knew he had some abdominal issues of some sort, but had been assured it was okay to travel. Our connecting flight to Washington, D.C. had been delayed 8 hours because of heavy turbulence on its previous flight. I was not comfortable with pushing David any more after having flown all night so I just asked if we could reschedule our flight for the next day, same time. No problem. What a blessing that delay was for us! The O'Briens invited us to overnight at their house and that afforded us a great opportunity to really reconnect with them. We had already been regretting the fact that we hadn't remembered that they were living in Belgium until after we had purchased our airline tickets. Our kids really enjoyed hanging out with their kids as well and we adults even got to visit the Neuhaus Belgian Chocolate outlet! What a wonderful visit we had!!!

David seemed better the next morning. We boarded the train for the 45 minute ride back to the airport. David had to visit the toilet and passed out again in the bathroom, and then again after we returned to our seats on the train. Bethany was very concerned about all of this and I must admit it was a bit unsettling to us adults too. When we arrived at the airport I was thinking of leaving David with Jenny in Belgium with our friends til David could see a doctor. At about that time we passed right by the airport clinic! We walked in and in 5 minutes David had been examined by the physician, given a prescription for some gas pills and we had been reassured for the second time that he would be okay to travel home. How good God had been to us to provide a free extended layover, a great 24 hours to rest with great friends, and a physician to see David at a moment's notice. We didn't plan any of it and yet He provided it all so beautifully.

The rest of the trip went well. Bethany had a bit of fear as we boarded our small plane from Washington to Greensboro. None of us had seats together on that flight and because I had not checked in at the gate right away, I almost got bumped. A kind lady had offered to switch seats with Bethany, so I had the window seat and Bethany was next to me in the isle seat. She was very nervous on take-off and wanted me to close the window. I delayed just a moment and there appeared a brilliant rainbow in the clouds out our window. I was able to reassure her through that that God did care about her just as He did mankind when He promised that He would not destroy them again as he had done with the flood. How nice to see that symbol of hope and love in the sky at just that time when Bethany was afraid.

When we arrived in Greensboro, Jenny's parents picked us up in a stretch Hummer limousine. Pop, Jenny's dad, works some in his retirement for the Black Tie Transportation company. We were not expecting that kind of treatment, but it was really nice, if not a bit surreal after our time in Africa. I know many would shudder, but we had to park the stretch Hummer at McDonald's for a burger. The things you miss, huh?!

For the past three years, whether in our work, school or community, we have been challenged to “serve wholeheartedly, as if (we) were serving the Lord, not men” (Eph. 6:7). There have been joyful days and stressful days, but we have grown in faith and love with our international family on the Africa Mercy. It still amazes us that such a ministry can function with people from so many different cultures coming together to live and work. It's success is evidence that the Lord has built the house. We give Him all the glory!


Sunday, April 10, 2011

Screening Day - Take 2


"Therefore, as it is written: 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.'"

On Saturday, March 26, 2011, Mercy Ships held a second screening day in Freetown and the Lord redeemed the first! The day was a testimony to the beautiful way the Body of Christ functions as many people from various departments on the Africa Mercy worked together so that we could link up with people that have conditions that we can help with our particular surgical specialties.

Our day began dark and early as we carivanned through town to the Minister of Health and Sanitation's "Pharmacy Board".

In fact, the beginning was really the afternoon before as a team of folks hauled truckloads of stuff to the site and began preparing for screening and crowd control. There was a security presence on site from that time forward as they not only managed the lines that were forming, but also educated those in the lines on the conditions that we can and cannot help. This proved to be a very productive exercise that kept people with inappropriate conditions from having to wait for many, many hours for nothing.

Daybreak came and we began admitting people into the gate to go through the stations to record information, health histories and then to be seen by a surgeon. If it was decided that we could offer surgery, the patient would proceed to the data entry station and on to the scheduling station where I was with a team of OR nurses assigning dates for surgery.

Below is a sweet baby with a cleft lip. She's holding an appointment card so she can come to the ship with her mamma for surgery.

A woman with a tumor of the mandible has her blood pressure checked. Here I am looking all serious & professional in black and white...assisting Orthopaedic Team Leader, Kathleen Haydon, in scheduling orthopaedic surgeries.

Our Managing Director, Donovan Palmer (in the blue ball cap) escorted the Minister of Health and Sanitation, Haja Zainab Hawa Bangura (in the light blue top), around the site.

The Lord blessed us with orderly, peaceful crowds and cloud cover until the line outside the gate was gone. Everyone was inside the gate and proceeding through the stations before 9:30am. And by 2pm, the last patient for the day was being scheduled. What a difference from the previous screening day! I believe that God wanted to remind us that we are not in control, but when we trust Him in our weakness, He shows Himself strong!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Screening Day Mourning

Monday, March 7th, was our first big screening day in Freetown. Lots of preparation had gone into mobilizing all the people and resources we would need to screen thousands of potential patients. Our team assembled (mostly between 4:00 and 5:30am) at the national stadium, including a large number of local police, security personnel and translators, and so did thousands of people seeking what we could offer. At past screenings there had often been some isolated problems in the crowd, but this time things were very different. The following is my personal account of what happened. By 10:00am as our screening process was progressing the crowd outside the stadium had become agitated and the security forces present were struggling to maintain order. The crowd pressed in toward the area near where people were being brought into the stadium grounds. At around 10:25 a large, steel car gate at the front of the crowd burst open under the pressure. The lock was broken off and the steel bars in the concrete were bent back and dislodged. The result was heartbreaking. As the people in the front of the crowd suddenly flowed through the gate, those in the rear pressed forward causing people to stumble and be trampled. One man was killed and 12 people hospitalized. Several minutes later the police were able to get the gate closed and restore some order. Many of our medical crew immediately began treating the injured and preparing them for transport to hospital. Screening was discontinued and our crew packed up and returned to the ship much earlier than planned. Among the first to leave the stadium were the Academy kids who had come to help entertain the children of adult patients who had come to the screening. It was a very tense and very sad day for all involved. There is a statement on the Mercy Ships website at the following link:

There are also a number of newspaper articles that can be found online (keywords that worked well for me in finding articles: "stampede freetown stadium"). There has been a great deal of effort poured into analyzing the event since by our leadership to identify ways to improve safety at screenings. It is a far more complex event than one might think. They have also been trying to come up with stategies on how to reach those still in the city who we were unable to connect with at the screening. There were a large number of people in the crowd on Monday who had very visible evidence of some of the kinds of problems we can treat. It seems clear to me that the crowd at the screening and the tragedy there highlight the extent of desperation that the people here feel. The crew have been processing this past week and working through the emotions and questions that have come with this event. It hasn't been easy at all, but we have to move forward. I trust that God will give us the grace to do that.


Tuesday, March 8, 2011


A couple of days after leaving Durban we arrived in Cape Town. (Above are photos made by Airserv as the ship left the shipyard in Durban.) The ship refueled in Cape Town and the crew had about 24 hours to visit the city. We were docked at the V&A Waterfront, a very active and interesting part of town. There were lots of sea lions in the water in the area and the kids really loved watching them interact with each other. We had a chance to visit Table Mountain and to get acquainted with the city bowl (downtown area). Others ventured further afield and went to see a penguin colony on the peninsula. We really liked Cape Town and would have loved to have spent more time there, but the ship needed to get to Sierra Leone as soon as possible. We considered ourselves very fortunate to have had a day in Cape Town and left with thankful hearts, some photos, some groceries and a take away pizza. (Below is a video still of the ship leaving Cape Town that was sent from the Mercy Ships South Africa office.) After leaving Cape Town we sailed for about two weeks across pretty remote stretches of the Atlantic. We didn't see very many other ships, but occasionally would pass some dolphin pods. We crossed the equator and passed through a little squall simultaneously on February 24th. The captain let us know on the overhead announcement that we wouldn't see the dotted line you usually see on globes because we would be passing directly between the dashes. He was kidding of course! I like that he has a sense of humor. Most of the crew gathered on the outdoor sections of deck 7 to mark the occasion, but other than that there wasn't much to see. We arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone early in the morning on February 27th. There were large numbers of people on the dock, many of which would be coming to live on board the ship. They were part of the advance team and Gateway (Mercy Ships' long-term crew preparation program) participants who had been working in country during the weeks and months prior to our arrival. There was a lovely local band there that played a number of songs and the Minister of Health spoke. We all really enjoyed being reunited with friends we hadn't seen in a long time. There is a nice slide show of the arrival made up of some of my photos and the photos of the other photographers present (at least four of us - two on the ground and two on the ship) at the following web address:

After the arrival, everything was very very busy on the ship, as we had fully expected, getting ready for the screening and the beginning of surgeries and putting all the pieces together to do the work we had come to do - an enormous undertaking I must say! Fortunately some prior upcountry screening had already been done and land based facilities had already been prepared for support of hospital, eye and dental functions. A large team of local day volunteers had already been assembled and prepared to join us as well. The advance team always works so hard to prepare the way for the ship's arrival. They did a great job! It's a little hard to believe that we are here. It's really nice to be back in West Africa. Sierra Leone is a predominantly Muslim country. It is full of friendly people and overflowing with need now nine years after the end of a bloody, eleven-year war. Freetown is so full of people, in fact, that it is difficult and dangerous getting around in town. Driving is very difficult due to the narrow roads, which often have deep concrete trenches on either side, and the enormous number of pedestrians using the roads not only to move from one place to another, but for any number of daily activities like selling items and even bathing children. It is a lot like Monrovia only the roads seem much more narrow and crowded. It will be an interesting field service.


Friday, February 11, 2011


The last weekend in January we all packed up and left Appelsbosch to return to the ship. There were some mixed feelings, but mostly I think everyone was ready to get back to living on the ship even if it meant doing without some things like electricity and air conditioning periodically while the final projects were completed. We were very happy to leave the dampness, mildew, bugs, rats, etc. at Appelsbosch, not to mention the long daily drives back and forth to the ship for Jenny. It was a good season there - there were blessings and relationships made - but the time had come to get back to the ship. We had been preparing to return to the ship for some time, but when move day came there was a buzz of activity with loading the moving trucks and convoy of Land Rovers. I must say that the move back seemed far easier than the move to Appelsbosch as much of the work was done in increments ahead of time. Of course our cabin initially looked like a disaster area as we worked on unpacking and settling back in. It didn't take that long though - nothing like a move would be from home to home in the U.S. with the mounds of stuff I remember moving from place to place. Jenny and I are getting pretty good at it too with nearly as many moves as we have years of marriage. Now we are pretty settled in our cabin. The last of the shipyard work was completed and we set sail out of Durban yesterday. The port pilot who guides ships in and out of port was lifted from our ship by helicopter as we approached open ocean. The tugs helped us along and stuck with us though the harbor. Jenny was impressed by how much we are like tugs for one another from time to time, offering a little help through the tricky stretches, even a nudge or a tug or two to get us going in the right direction. There was a huge push to complete all the work and get all the preparation work done for sailing, but it all got done and its hard to believe we're actually at sea now. All the usual drills, briefings, and stuff took place earlier this week and now we're rocking and rolling, literally. Next stop, Cape Town, South Africa. We were going to spend a week or so there and do some P.R., but since the shipyard work took longer than hoped, we will probably have a little over 24 hours to visit and to pick-up/drop-off crew. After our brief stop in Cape Town, we head for Sierra Leone and the huge work of getting surgery underway. We should pass by off the coast of Cape Agulhas between Durban and Cape Town, the official place were the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet. Later on our way to Sierra Leone, we should cross the equator and become "shellbacks",or at least the civilian equivalent thereof. I'm sure both events will be a little anticlimactic in that there are no lines in the ocean and nothing really to see, but it will be fun anyway. We have departed Appelsbosch and the shipyard and are on our way again. God is faithful!


Monday, January 24, 2011


There is a saying around here that must be in the Bible, although I haven't put my finger on the reference:

"Blessed are the flexible, for they shall never be bent out of shape."

We've been practicing flexibility here in South Africa as timelines change due to surprises and delays with the many projects that have been taking place on the Africa Mercy during this shipyard phase. There have been and will be many contingency plans in place so that we will be as prepared as possible to sail away to Sierra Leone and begin our 2011 field service when all the work is completed.
One of the highlights of the past month has been the presence of a very flexible Mercy Team. About 15 people from all over the world (including Margie from Hamptonville, NC:) answered a plea for help and came to work alongside the crew of the M/V Africa Mercy as we tackled the huge task of cleaning the vessel. Five months in shipyard can result in a pretty dirty ship! Deck 3, where the hospital is, happens to be a high traffic zone and needed a lot of scrubbing up! The Team came in and blessed us with their great attitudes and willingness to do whatever it took to get the job done. They joined the Appelsbosch cleaning team that began travelling daily to the ship (a total of 4 hours riding per day!) on 4 January. The last trip was this past Friday, 28th January, for a total of 19 work days times 3 or 4 shuttles full of people each day. It was exhausting, but very rewarding to be a part of the clean-up crew. I did some figuring and discovered that from the 4th to the 27th, I travelled a total of 64 hours to help and direct the efforts of the team. Whew!!

Below are photos of the stripping and waxing of the hospital, courtesy of our Swedish OR nurse, Anneli Persson.

We love being a part of this team that proves that "many hands make light work" as every one has pitched in to help one another! And hats off to all those who lived on board and worked tirelessly, hours on end in the hot temperatures to keep us as close to schedule as possible! What a team!!! We were able to be reunited and all returned to live on the ship on Saturday, 29th January. How happy are we? Very! And although there is still some work to be done to get us on the open ocean and headed to Sierra Leone, we're almost there. We hope to be on our way next week.

With flexibility,