Archive for June, 2010

Who is Mrs. Mary Lou?

There are people in the world that you meet, and you will never forget.  There is something about them that allows them to stand out, be it physical attraction, personality, or genuine love for others.  Mary Lou Maulsby is one of those people. 

After a rocky start during my time with Mercy Ships, I was sitting in the dining hall eating dinner when this ‘little ole lady’ came up and greeted me with a smile and a warm, southern accented greeting.  Though I had no clue who she was, she knew my name and who I was.   

As she walked away, still smiling and with a youthful skip in her steps, I had a lingering feeling that this happy, go-love-’em-all attitude would change in the upcoming days.  I couldn’t have been more wrong. 

This was, and still is Mrs. Mary Lou. 

Mary Lou arrived aboard the Anastasis (a now-retired vessel of Mercy Ships) in the summer of 2006 to work in the dining hall.  It was there where she met Dr. Gary (a man who helped to show her God’s plan) and soon discovered the poorest of the poor, the peoples of Africa.

Upon her return home, she knew that God was calling her back, full-time.  So, she officially retired from teaching, sold everything she owned, packed up her one bag of luggage and headed back to Ghana and the Anastasis (after a pit-stop for Gateway, the Mercy Ships training course). 

In her life before Mercy Ships, Mary Lou was a biology teacher ‘in the ghettos’ where she tought public school near Ft. Benning, Georgia for 16 years.  She didn’t start teaching until the youthful age of ‘around 40 of something.’  Before her teaching years, she was a mother to a ‘plethora of children’ (five children total). 

In her years of teaching, during the summers, she would take short-term missions trips to Central and South America.  She knew for years before coming to Mercy Ships that God was calling her to serve the poorest of the poor.  With her age and her children settling into their adult lives, she was able to retire and go full force after the calling of God. 

She returned to Mercy Ships, after selling everything, including her car and house, and joined the hospitality department aboard the Anastasis.  Throughout the four years she has been with Mercy Ships, she has participated in field services in Ghana, Liberia (where the crew of the Anastasis made the switch to the Africa Mercy), Benin, and Togo. 

When a position opened up for the head of the dinning hall, she was the immediate choice.  Unfortunately, Mary Lou did not want to lead, but she gave God a chance and ‘prayed a fleece,’ which God answered in less than a day.  So with reluctance and no training, she took the position as director of the dining hall. 

She learned all that she needed to know on the spot, through experience and through the team leaders, three college age guys from around the world.  This position is the one in which she has held since.  It has been a blessing to both crew, visitors and day-volunteers.  It will be a great loss to see her leave tomorrow.

Her love and joy will be missed aboard the Africa Mercy.  She will be missed, especially by those that worked for and beside her in the dining hall. 

When asked what she would take home with her from her experience with Mercy Ships, Mary Lou smiled and shouted “Nothing!” as she threw some gifts into one of two large bags heading back to the states with her. 

She then explained how the most valuable thing that she has received from her experience aboard the Anastasis and Africa Mercy has been the relationships that she has made throughout the four years here.  She will treasure the people, from her roommates of the 6 berth, 4 and 3 berth rooms which she inhabited before gaining a single room of her own, to the members of the teams in which she had the honor of leading. 

She has received many honors in the last couple days aboard the Africa Mercy, as many of the crew and volunteers have poured out their love and their support.  Mary Lou is more than a leader on board the ship, she is a spiritual warrior, a mother and a beacon of hope and light to us all.  In response to this outpouring of support, she stated that she is honored because of the relationships that God has allowed her to live through. 

She stated that she has followed God’s call in her life and now he is calling her back to her own family.  As she is now getting older in her age (but keeping her youthful spirit) and beginning to forget simple things, she feels it is necessary to spend time with her grandchildren while she still remembers the important things. 

Her parting words of wisdom: “Don’t play around with Faith.” 

Mary Lou Maulsby will be much missed aboard the Africa Mercy as God leads her to new adventures in her life. 

God Bless and PEACE

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Eye Candy

Over dinner, I overheard a group discussing the differences between guys and girls views of the opposite sex.  Most specifically, how one’s looks effect the others attraction to them. 

A little background information:  Aboard the Africa Mercy, the guy-to-girl ratio is about 1:4 (maybe a little less, but it’s a rough estimate).  In this debate, there were 6 girls and 1 guy (who was married to one of the girls) as well as his two children (ages 4ish and 8 months?).  Lets just say, the guy was outnumbered. 

The girls were talking about how, when a group of new guys come onto the ship, they immediately call dibs on them, depending on how they look.  They wanted to know if guys did the same thing.  The guy (who was married and his wife was sitting there beside him) was being very cautious with his words.  It came down to yes, guys do judge attractiveness on first sight. 

Both the guy and the girls agreed that this comes from lust. 

Later in the conversation, one of the girls made the comment that it was OK for girls to look because “we all need a little eye candy.”  This made me think a little bit. 

When girls look at guys, they can make the excuse of looking at ‘eye-candy’, but yet when a guy looks at a girl, they are accused of ‘checking her out’.  Is there a difference between how girls look at guys and how guys look at girls?  I don’t know.  I’m not a girl.  I can only see one side of it. 

The temptation of looking at the physical attractiveness of the opposite sex is Lust.  We tell ourselves, this girl/guy is beautiful, but if she/he had (insert a certain other feature)…  We begin to distort the image of God. 

When we start judging the attractiveness of an individual, are we lusting after them, or what they don’t have?  Are we judging God’s own creation? 

Just some thoughts…

God Bless and PEACE

The Fishing Village

This morning I got the opportunity to visit one of the local churches, the Egilse Mission Internationale Du Christ, more commonly known by the crew of the Africa Mercy as the Church at the Fishing Village. 

Back in th ’95 field service of the Anastasis (a now retired Mercy Ships vessel) it was founded in a small fishing village just outside of Lome, Togo.  The surrounding village is considered a hotspot for voodoo and ‘pagan’ worship.

It was interesting, to say the least.  While the style of worship was foreign to me, it was refreshing to see and feel the Spirit of God moving.  There was something there that I had not felt in a long time.  The band (if you want to call it that) consisted of about four drums, and a dozen tambourines, gourds with beads attached and various other noise makers.  Children and women danced in front constantly.  It was an adventure. 

Today, we celebrated the children of the church and the future that they hold for the area.  There were about a hundred children running in and out of the service, coming and going from the children’s service put on by some of the Mercy Ships volunteers.  Each of them had a stick with a strip of fabric attached to the end.  They waved them about, a banner of hope floating through the air. 

Throughout the service, there were a couple of things that I noticed.  Most of the people present (about 3/4 of them) were women.  I couldn’t help but ask myself where all the men were.  And then I noticed how the children outnumbered the rest of the congregation almost 2 to 1.  And I began to ask myself where all the parents were.  Then I realized that the future of this church, and the future of the Church, rests on the shoulders of these children. 

The church itself could almost be overlooked in the surrounding village.  It is no more than a couple of supports holding up a tin roof.  On one end, a thatched reed wall blocks the view of a trash pile.  On the left side rests an open cemetary, with several concrete covered graves and wandering goats.  On the opposite side, the skeleton structure of a new building rests, its white stone walls standing upright, like a ribcage ready  to support a roof and a second level. 

The plan is to put a second floor on the foundation that has already been laid with the support of a number of donors from around the world (the U.S., Great Britain, France and a number of other locations).  The second floor will provide free schooling for the local children. 

As I stood there, after the service, I couldn’t help but notice how much this small little beacon of light shines through the surrounding darkness. 

God Bless and PEACE

Non-Medical in Medical Missions

Between this year and the past year, I have done Medical Missions here in Africa.  Last year I spent four weeks at the Agule Community Health Center in Eastern Uganda.  This year I am serving aboard the Africa Mercy, a floating hospital currently in Lome, Togo.  Both of these were/are medical missions. 

My medical experiences include the following:  Experiencing Malaria first-hand (I got it).  Being offered the opportunity to put an I.V. in a babies head after the first time of being able to watch (took almost two weeks).  First Aid and CPR training.  Observing cataracts surgery. 

Yup, that’s about it. 

Like me, non-medical personel can participate in Medical Missions.  There are a lot of things that you can do, even if you are not trained to b a nurse, doctor, surgeon, etc. etc. 

There is always a need for photographers.  People to document the experience and the trip.  To tell the story of what is being done. 

There are hundreds of support roles that non-medical people fit right into.  From preparing food to logistics, leadership to manual construction.  Here on the Africa Mercy, a little more than half the volunteers are non-medical personel. 

This means only about 40% (my own estimate, nothing official) of the crew are medically trained as nurses, doctors and surgeons. 

Of those non-medical peoples (myself included) we have all the deck crew, the stewards dept (dinning hall, galley and hospitality included), the security peoples (from the Gurkhas to the reception), then you have all the officers, the communications people (photographers and journalists), PR people and several more people who i have forgotten to mention. 

What I am trying to communicate is the fact that anyone can participate in Medical Missions.  You may not be the face of the mission, but that really doesn’t matter.  Without all the non-medical support, there would be no medical mission.  Don’t be afraid to serve in a medical mission, just because you are not medically trained. 

God Bless and PEACE

Oh, Happy Days

Today has been an interesting day.  It’s been an interesting past couple days, but everything works out in the end. 

Before people start panicing, I want to inform eveyone that here aboard the Africa Mercy we take security seriously.  While things happened around us in the city, safty measures went up to make sure all crew were and still are safe.   Everyone is safe and accounted for. 

So, lets start from the beginning.  On Friday, a row of cabins on Deck 4 (mine included) started having trouble flushing.  Soon, they refused to.   In the end, about 10 cabins had toilets that would not flush. 

Throughout the weekend, the situation was worked on and isolated.  The plumber, Tom, worked hard on this issue and a number more.  Soon, the culprit was identified.  A clogged mainline.  Basically, someone tried to flush too much at once. 

So, as that was being worked on and fixed, some things happened off-ship that we had no control over.

Over the weekend, the price of gasoline was jacked up to 580 CFA per liter (about $2.25 per gallon), up from 505 CFA per liter (about $2.00 per gallon).  Due to this price hike, the local motorcycle taxis (Zemidjans) went on strike, blocking off some of the major roads in and around the capital of Togo. 

While some of the earliest reports included burning buildings and riots, none of these are confirmed and most of them have been exagerations.  

Because of these protests the ship was put into lockdown this morning and all shore leave was canceled.  Those that were off ship at the time were contacted and advised to proceed to safe locations in the area and to stay put until the situation settled down. 

In an effort to get the correct information (and to prevent the spread of panic due to unconfirmed information) the internet was shut down and we (the crew) were asked not to make calls off the ship.  This allowed the Captain and the Communications team to process information and get in contact with those who could provide correct and reliable information.

Security on the dock and in our immediate surroundings were not affacted.  From the ship, we did not see any roadblocks, fires or any riots.  The port worked on as normal, loading and unloading supplies.  We were not in any immediate danger. 

Late in the afternoon (ok, durring dinner) the Captain updated us on the situation off ship.  While shore leave has been canceled for the night, hopefully we will be able to get ashore tomarrow to resume normal activities.  We were also informed of the toilet situation.  Fortunately, I now have a working toilet in my room.  Now, we just have to be careful about flushing too much stuff down our toilets and limiting our paper waste. 

Dispite everything turning to chaos around us, we continued normal life aboard ship.   The dinning hall team that I am on had a team dinner, which was a blessing.  We talked for a number of hours, shared stories with one another, got to know eachother a little more and had a good time laughing in the open air of Deck 7. 

It was good to be able to experience community together, dispite everything going on around us.  It was a nice couple hours to relax and just enjoy one anothers company. 

God Bless and PEACE

The Altar of the Church

In the first week I came to the Africa Mercy, I had a dream that disturbed me deeply.  And I continue to think about it each and every day.  I study the images in my mind, analyzing them for meaning.  I ask myself ‘What is God trying to tell me?’  Some of it, I have begun to see answers to, but other parts, I only have more questions. 

I do believe that God was and is trying to tell me something through the jumbled images and thoughts that continue to flow from this experience.  I’m not going to go through every part of the dream, but I just wanted to point out some things and comment on them, or pose some questions that I have come to. 

First, when we try to fit everything into our lives, try  to persue every oppertunity that comes our way, what happens?  When we try to juggle a hundred items at once, and we drop one, what happens?  Everything comes crashing down.  Once the first thing falls through, it sends ripples through our lives, disrupting everything.  Like the planes that crashed in the dream, this is what happens to our lives when we attempt everything. 

So, now is the first warning.  When your life crashes around you, it doesnt just affect you, but it affects everyone around you.  This is something that I have learned from experience, on both sides.  I have gotten burned out before, and I saw how it has affected everyone that I come in contact with.  I have also been on the other side of it. 

Second is my mothers voice, the voice of reason.  Each of us has a voice like this in our minds.  They tell us that following God is too dangerous.  To save ourselves.  To protect yourself.  In following God, we must learn to ignore this voice.  If we listen to it, it will turn us from what God is calling us to do. 

The main thing that I believe God is trying to tell me through this dream is “The Church is burning, and we are doing Nothing.”  In the dream, I walked into the burnt out church, to find hundreds of people living dead lives.  They just sat there, stairing.  At times, this is the body of believers.  Disaster happens around us, but yet we do nothing, “because God hasn’t told us what to do.” 

Little Hint:  sometimes God lets us make our own decisions.  sit there and do nothing, or help out. 

In this church that was there, the front doors were behind the Altar.  But yet, as all the people filed out of the church, they all used the side doors.  God isn’t in the church building.  He is in the world, and within each of us.  We dont give him out lives.  Simple as that.  The body is not living for God. 

We are the sacrifice.  Our lives are the sacrifice.  Our time.  Our strenght.  Out thoughts. 

These are just some of the things that I have noticed from my dream…

God Bless and PEACE

Our Friendly French Neighbors

Here in Lome (pronounced like Low-Meh), the Africa Mercy is docked at the main (and possibly only, not sure) port in Togo. 

We are fortunate to have the dock where we are relatively secure (blocked off with shipping crates and guarded).  This allows us a little more freedom to move around off ship and to have a staging ground for patients and all the Mercy Ships vehicles. 

On one side of us (port side, or left while facing the bow/front of the ship) we have the entire Togolese Navy. 

A couple of days ago, we were greeted by the French war ship, BPC Mistral, who is currently sharing the dock with us.   In the past several days, we have seen the ‘Frenchies’ training the Togolese Navy and Marines in water rescue, landing tactics and boarding techniques off our port side.  It’s been interesting watching them go back and forth in rubber speed boats, darting in and out of the traffic coming into the port. 

Just as we (the crew aboard the Africa Mercy) found them interesting, they found us interesting as well.  So, the captains and higher up officials talked and they arranged for some of the crew aboard each vessel to be able to tour the other ship.  So, this morning, I got the opportunity to board and tour the BPC Mistral. 

The BPC Mistral is a Force Protection and Command Ship, designed for supporting the front lines of combat.  It has the capability to engage in a number of missions, including amphibious operations, crisis management, air support operations, command and control, operational lift and medical support. 

It has a well-deck, which allows small amphibious transports to enter into the ship and load and unload troops and vehicles.  The ship can hold 110 armored vehicles or a squadron of 13 tanks, as well as 650 troops. 

In 2006 (?) the Mistral helped with the evacuation of Lebanon, setting itself up as a staging point for refugees.  On average, a thousand people were transported through the Mistral each day. 

The flight deck also has six helicopter landing platforms and is capable of storing 16 attack helicopters on ship (more if they are smaller). 

The ship also has a command area, where NATO and UN forces have often set up an operations center on board, capable of being a mobile headquarters for operations. 

The Mistral also has a hospital, with 69 beds (19 of which are ICU), 2 operating rooms and a X-ray room.  It can easily be expanded to 100 beds as a field hospital if the situation calls for it. 

In exchange for us touring their ship, a number of the officers will be touring the Africa Mercy in the next couple of days. 

While the BPC Mistral towers over the Africa Mercy in size, this is still home for the 400 crew and a place of refuge for the patients aboard. 

God Bless and PEACE

Everyday Miracles

Every day, miracles happen aboard the Africa Mercy.  Young girls and women who have been shunned by society walk out with confidence.  Men and women who could not walk take the steps that they thought was never possible.  The blind see. 

This morning I got the opportunity to go down to deck 3 and observe some of the surgeries that happen aboard the Africa Mercy.  I arrived at Operating Rooms 5 and 6 this morning at 9:30 to observe the works of the eye team and the expert hands of Dr. Strauss and Dr. Leavitt.

 The main surgeries that were going on was Cataracts Surgery.  Dr. Russ Leavitt was kind enough to walk me through the procedure as he observed a local eye surgeon in training.  He explained how they cut through the different layers of the eye, then tunneled in to remove the cataracts. 

Each OR room had two beds, so as the surgeons were working on one patient, the next patient was being prepped and the local anaesthesia was administered and took effect. 

 In the other room, Dr. Glenn Strauss alternated between the adult patients and children.  When I first arrived, he was removing the cataracts from a small girl.  While the adults go through the procedure while conscious, the children are put under with general anaesthetics to that they do not squirm. 

The next child that was brough in was a small fourteen year old boy who was having the muscles behind his eyes repaired so that his eyes were not permanently crossed. 

The whole experience was surreal and interesting.  I learned quite a bit between the impromptu lessons about eyes and observing the steady hands of the surgeons.  It was a blessing just being in their presence and being able to watch them work. 

God Bless and PEACE

The Hardest Part

Almost every day, people are coming and leaving the Africa Mercy.  A couple people here, another few there.  One is always seeing new faces and meeting new people.  For those her long-term (over 3 months) this becomes difficult. 

At dinner tonight, one of the girls that I have become friends with and work with said that ”It is hard for her to say hello to new people, because it remeinds [her] of all the times where [she has] had to say goodbye.” 

This is the struggle for those working with Mercy Ships.  We become family, then we go our seperate ways.  Sometimes people keep in touch, returning every once in a while, but most of the time, they ”dissappear from our lives.”

Tonight, one of the girls that works in the shop/starbucks area left the ship after working and volunteering here for the past 7 months.  She is well loved on the ship and almost everyone knows her.  Many of the long-term crew are taking her departure hard, for she is one who can make anyone smile. 

The life of a Mercy Ships volunteer is not one that is easy… It is difficult.  Please keep the Crew in your prayers!

God Bless and PEACE

The Best Worst Case Scenario (Why England and the U.S. Tied)

Last night, hundreds of thousands of fans crowded into pubs, bars, living rooms, and theatres to crowd around a television screens and scream at futbol players halfway around the world.   For the couple hundred of us here on the Africa Mercy, we did the same. 

About an hour before the game, people started setting up camp in front of the several televisions here on ship.  I got a good seat decently early, but was soon surrounded by crazy English fans, chearing before the game even started.  They plastered the walls with the St. George’s Cross.  One ‘Brittish fellow’ even brought in the UK and American flags from the International Lounge, dispite the complaints of the other English fans there. 

About a half-hour before the game started, all the Americans and American Fans arrived, faces painted and with an American flag cake.  Although outnumbered about 3 to 1, we stood our ground as the joking and bragging started. 

As the flags were brought out, and the national anthems began, about half the English fans stood and sang/shouted their anthem to the cealing.  So, in response all the American fans stood and sang our national anthem, a little less obnoxiously. 

Dispite England scoring in the first five minutes, we took it all in and let them have it when their goalie missed a relatively simple block. 

At one point (when the US goalie took two cleats to the chest) the lady sitting next to me, a nurse from Scottland, started going on and on about how men who play soccer were just babies.  Fortunately she also went off on English players when they went down and got injured. 

The most memorable part of the gevening was durring half-time, a little girl sitting behind me asked me who i was chearing for, and when i told her, she glared at me, then stated that she didnt like Americans because they caused one of the English players to get a yellow card and that they were all mean.  The following was basically the conversation:

English Girl:  All Americans are mean.

Me:  Are they all mean?

English Girl: [pauses and glares at me]  Not you.  But the rest are!

I though it was hilarious.  Now I have proof that I am not mean, a little English Girl told me so. 

Nobody expected a tie to be the outcome of the game.  But looking back, it is probably the best outcome of the game (well, for the crew of the Africa Mercy anyways).  This way nobody has bragging rights.

If the English had won, the English crew aboard would have been (or be) obnoxious for the next couple weeks (until they were beaten by someone else).  If the Americans had won, we would brag a little bit, but the English would sulk and be grumpy for the next four years (till the next World Cup). 

With the tie, everyone is disappointed that they didnt win, but at the same time, they are happy that the other team didnt win either. 

I think God was just keeping everyone from killing one another on board the Africa Mercy.  That’s my theory on the game. 

God Bless and PEACE

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