Archive for July, 2010

Sharpened Swords

Here aboard the Africa Mercy, there are many Godly people.  Brothers and sisters who love one another with a reckless abandonment that I have not seen before.  They don’t know each others full story, but still the love flows out like a flood.  I have only seen this type of love, this bond of brotherhood and family, once before:  In the dorms of a college campus with the Cockins Family.

(side story:  The official story of how the name came about may be slightly different, but I wasn’t there when it happened, this is how I was told of its coming into existence.  In the guys dorm, some of the guys convinced a number of freshmen that Josh’s last name was Cockins, though it wasn’t.  Somehow, this name stuck, and the community of guys in this said dorm have become a family of itself, aptly named the Cockins Family.  End of story.)

 So many times I have heard groups of men, brothers in Christ, tell eachother that they want to fight for one another.  To hold eachother accountable.  To draw close and stand shoulder to shoulder in the lines of battle. 

We tell eachother our stories, of how we ‘became saved’ and are now redeemed.  We talk of our struggles and how we want to be freed of these addictions and chains.  We discuss spiritual warfare, and with a light hearted laugh we tell one another that God is more powerful than anything we will ever face. 

So many times, I see people starting to sharpen their swords for battle, only to face their problems, their Goliaths, and then turn away.  We sharpen one another, as iron sharpens iron, but yet we dont know how to fight for one another.  We are scared to tell people our problems, our addictions.  We think that they will view us different because we are not living the pure life, though we call ourselves Christians.  Followers of Christ. 

Here on ship, I see it so often in the short term crew (myself included).  We tell ourselves that we are not here long enough to pour our lives into others.  We tell ourselves that others will see us in a different light when we pour ourselves out.  We are afraid to fight for one another, because we are afraid that the other people in our small group, community, or circle of friends will not be willing to watch our back once they realize who we really are. 

We have sharpened our swords, but they have yet to see battle. 

There are people that I know who actively fight for one another.  Men and women who hold one another accountable to thier sins and in their lives.  There are great examples of Christian warriors all around us.  I’ve seen them in churches.  I’ve seen them in communities.  I’ve been fortunate to see them amidst the college campus, in dorm rooms, in leadership positions, and in the Cockins Family. 

There are people fighting for one another.  Let us pick up our swords and join them as we learn to fight for one another. 

God Bless and PEACE


Fading Away

Not so long ago, a good friend returned from a missions trip to Guatemala and gifted me with a bracelet, to remember the friendship that had formed over the year.  Here on the Africa Mercy, it is a reminder of each and every person back home who is supporting me, both physically and spiritually.

I noticed the other day that the bracelet is fading, no longer the dark black, bold gray and bright emerald-green, but a dull middle toned gray, whitish, and pale green in appearance.  Due to the bleach water that we soak the cups in before sending them through the dishwasher, the bracelet has lost its boldness.  However, whenever the braids of string becomes damp, the brilliance of its color returns.

Is this how our faith works?  We soak and bask in the works and will of God, then wander off to become dry, stale, and dull.  We go through life living away from God, living a dead life.  We walk our path alone, even though God is calling us to him.  We justify ourselves by saying that we are living for God because we are keeping the Sabbath, we go to church on Sunday.  We say our prayers before meals, or before we sleep.  We keep on living, while we dab ourselves in God, getting us wet enough to become brilliant again, only to fade back into the ways of the world. 

It frustrates me when I see Christians viewing their faith as a religion.  When followers of Christ no longer follow God, but follow rules of this thing we call Christianity.  Being a Christian is more than telling yourself that God wants a part of your time here on earth, he wants your whole life, a life that he will lead so that you can actually live to the fullest. 

When we completely submerge ourselves (our lives) into the will of God, we will never fade into the wills of the world.  When we live in the will of God, we are continually renewed by his love and faithfulness. 

God Bless and PEACE

Knights in (not so) Shining Armor

Through a conversation that I had with some friends here aboard the Africa Mercy (and remembering conversations with friends back at school) I noticed that many girls seem to be searching for a hero to swoop in and rescue them whenever they are in danger.  They are searching for that guy who will fight off the demons that have embraced them.  Searching for the one and only person who can brighten up the darkness that surrounds them.  That man who will make them feel safe.  Who will protect them.  They are searching for their Knight in Shining Armor. 

The question now becomes, “Where are all the Knights in Shining Armor?” 

Most guys don’t fit that mold any more.  Their armor is no longer shining, but it has been ripped apart and left in ruins.  It has bullet sized holes in the chest piece from abuse and mistrust.  Rust has formed over the edges because we dare not bring it out of storage, even if it is just to polish and try it on for fit.  It has been dented and scratched from battles with our own demons and fears.  We have forgotten how to use this ‘shining’ armor, and we have forgotten how to act like knights.  Like heroes.

As guys, we all want to win and capture the heart of that dream girl.  We stumble through what we think is chivalry and honor and love to capture her heart, only to find that we fear the romance of the rescue.  We fear it, because we don’t know what it is. 

There are some men who have put on their battered armor and found the courage to recapture the romance that has been lost in time.  I know of several guys who have taken up the old battle cry of love and pursued the girl of their dreams.  Several are now married, while others are now engaged. 

After looking at these relationships, I’ve noticed something interesting.  While the guy did take up the initiative and admit that his armor was dented, torn, rusted and no longer shining, the girl also had to accept that fact.  They saw past the muck and grime that prevented their rescuer from shining and saw him in action.  They saw him for who he was. 

No guy that I know has perfect shining armor.  None of us know how to be knights.  But what’s to stop us from trying?  Fear of failure?  If that is so, then we are also afraid to succeed. 

Take risks.  Charge into the rescue.  Play it by ear.  Let God lead your heart, he will teach you everything you need to know about love and romance.

We may not be Knights in Shining Armor, but we are who God made us to be, nothing more, nothing less.  He will provide us with all the armor we need.

God Bless and PEACE

Working with Joy

Why is it that people go to work each and every day, only to be focused on getting off work?  We spend 8+ hours a day working, we complain, we get frustrated, and we only look at what fun stuff we will do after we get off.  Then we do get off of work, and only have 2 hours or so to have ‘fun.’  We get distracted by Facebook, friends, hanging out, and all the other fun things we do to consume our time and we stay up later and later, until it’s eventually midnight, or 2 o’clock in the morning before we eventually pass out.  Then the next morning, we are grumpy from lack of sleep, and we head to work, only to start the whole cycle over again. 

And that is the main problem.  In our society, especially in the youth, there is no joy or happiness in our work.  Work is just that, work.  We work, so that when we finish, we can have our joy, our fun. 

That just doesn’t seem right.  Did God create us to work for so long, only to have an instant of joy?  I dont think so. 

Our work should be our joy.  Yes, work should be hard, but we should also find something fulfilling in our work.  It can begin with something as simple as smiling while you work.  This simple act can change how you think about your work.  Try it. 

To truely find joy in work, you must completely change the way you approach your job.  Change the way you think about work.  Trust me, it’s not easy. 

Take, for example, volunteering in the dining hall of the Africa Mercy.  It would be easy to approach the oppertunity with the mindset of the following: 

“I work hard hours, making sure people get fed, and they don’t even thank me.  All I want to do is finish working so I can go to Saracowa / the orphanage / Kpalime / any place but here.”

Fortunately, I made up my mind before getting aboard ship that I was going to keep a positive attitude about working here.  It’s a little difficult once you add the human element (aka: frustrations due to stupid things people do, including myself) and/or events happening that are beyond my control (aka: fire drills, really hot heatlamps and overflowing pipes dumping sewage water onto the floor).  It happens, but this is the attitude that I have chosen to adopt:

“I serve people so that they can serve others.  I get to meet and talk to each and every person that comes through the lines in the dining hall, giving each of them a smile and a laugh that could change their day completely.  I get breaks between each meal and a 15 minute break during work to eat.  On my days off, I get to rest.”

By approaching your job in a positive attitude, you are more likely to enjoy whatever you are doing.  With that, you can begin to bring joy into your workplace. 

Just some thoughts…

God Bless and PEACE

Who I Am

At one of the weekly Stewards Departments meetings a couple of weeks ago, Peter Koontz made the comment and observation that many of the youth (people under the age of 25ish) don’t have the same work ethic as the ‘older’ generations.  I am part of this group, the youth, and at times I have to agree, we don’t know what work is. 

I was born and raised as a military brat.  For the first 16 years of my life, my father was an officer in the United States Army.  Looking back, I realize that I did not have a ‘normal’ upbringing.  While moving every two to three years may sound horrible to some, it actually wasn’t all that bad.  In all the years of watching my father in the military, I learned a lot about people, about family, faith and, most importantly, about diligence and hard work. 

While my family wasn’t rich (thank God for that), we weren’t poor either.  Yes, there were some hard times, we didn’t always have everything that we wanted, but we had everything we needed.  Both my mother and father worked hard to provide us with everything we needed and a few extra comforts in life. 

Everything I learned about good work ethics and hard work, I learned from watching all the years that my parents worked tireless hours to provide for us.  I get my opinions about work and work ethic from my mother and father. 

Someone once told me that the people who serve with Mercy Ships are rich, white kids who want to make a difference in the world.  I have seen people, youths, come aboard looking for a vacation, a break from the ‘real world’ and a time to relax next to a pool at a local resort hotel in Africa.  I have seen kids my age take their jobs like a joke, to skip out on work and act like they own this place. 

I’ve said it before.  I say it again.  Your work for God, be it in the missions field here in Africa, in the Philipines, Honduras, Russia, India, or in your own back yard, is your Job.  Especially if you take up a volunteer position with an organization (Mercy Ships, Akia-Ashianut, or wherever you are).  Your service is your act of willingness towards God. 

I learned from my parents long ago that when you work, you need to give all you have and more.  When you work for God, there is no excuse for not doing your very best.  You may not be the face of the organization (you may get ‘stuck’ serving food and washing dishes, or worse, washing toilets!) but your work still brings glory to God. 

While I am not always a good example of work ethic and hard work (my parents can attest to this) I am trying to do better.  In learning to live for and serve God, through serving people, I have come to realize I refuse to work less than my all.  I also won’t accept less out of anyone else that has been called to serve God. 

God Bless and PEACE

When Lives are Changed

On Thursday, I got the opportunity and privilege to observe surgery again.  So, I got into scrubs and headed down to the OR.  When I got down there, I got the honor to observe Dr. Leo Chang and his team working to remove a tumor from a ladies upper mandible (on the bone between the right eye and upper teeth). 

When I came into the Operating Theatre, Dr. Chang and his crew of nurses and technicians had already removed the majority of the tumor, about the size of a softball, after about two hours of surgery.  When asked, one of the nurses told me that they were still a couple hours away from finishing. 

While I watched, Dr. Chang and his team from around the world (literally, he is from England, the other doctor was from West Africa, and the nurses were from Australia and New Zealand I believe) started to reconstruct the muscles of the face.  Using one of the analogies of the nurses, It was kinda like fixing a jig-saw puzzle. 

While they continued to work, I carefully maneuvered around and took some pictures.  I was reminded a number of times, by almost every nurse that came in, of the official Mercy Ships policy on photography:  ‘You cannot publish photos of patients.”  The privacy of the patients is something that Mercy Ships is insistent on.  While these surgeries change their lives, they are still people and still need to be respected as such. 

After about three hours of observing, I had to part ways, mostly due to the fact that there was a fire drill at some point that afternoon.  It took another two to three hours for Dr. Chang and his team to finish reconstructing the muscles of the ladies face. 

It was an honor to be able to observe Dr. Leo Chang and his team work the long hours to change this womans life.  It will be forever changed and she will be forever thankful for their hard work and dedication. 

God Bless and PEACE

Why do you Serve?

Since I have gotten onto the Africa Mercy, I have met many people from many paths of life.  When working with Mercy Ships, you find yourself surrounded by people from every nation, each with a different story. 

While Mercy Ships is a Christian organization, we have people from every walk of life.  We have church people.  We have self-proclaimed heathens.  Followers of Christ.  The forgotten.  Muslims.  The saved.  The lost.  Any title you can think of, we have it aboard ship.  Each person has a story like no other, but each person has come here for a reason. 

The reasons for making it aboard this vary from person to person.  Some have felt called to serve here in Africa.  Some have felt the call specifically for Mercy Ships.  Some are running from their past.  Searching for something more.  Seeking redemption.  Righting the wrongs.  Escaping reality.  And yet others claim they had nowhere else to turn. 

No matter what the reason, we have all found ourselves here aboard the Africa Mercy.  God directed all our paths here, whether we like it or not. 

When you find yourself being led by circumstances, a calling, or by force, I find that you have two choices:  Accept it, or fight it. 

When you serve, no matter how you find yourself there, you must serve with a willing heart, or you will find yourself feeling forced, trapped and somewhat like a caged animal.  I have seen it before, and I see it here on ship, people who feel like they are in a prison, trapped, and serving out a sentence. 

No matter how you look at it, God has called each of us out and given us the chance to serve, here in Africa, or around the world, wherever we are.  This service, however long you are here, is you job.  This is your sacrifice to God, giving of yourself to His plan. 

In saying this, when you serve, you give everything to God.  You put your every effort and every thought into what you do.  If you are serving aboard the Africa Mercy as a dining hall steward, that is your primary job.  Each time you work, you need to put 110% effort into your work.  If you are serving in the brush of Uganda as a photographer, it is your job and priveledge to tell your story in that place.  You put ever waking moment into telling that story.  If you are serving as a missionary in Honduras, helping put in a water supply system, you work as hard as you can beside the local people.  You put every effort into serving them, as you serve God. 

When you dont give everything you have , cut corners, skip a small detail, you not only dont serve others to your full capacity, you dont serve God to your fullest. 

Here aboard the Africa Mercy, I have noticed many people not giving their all.  They treat this oppertunity to serve as a vacation, a break from the ‘real world’.  I’m sorry to break it to ya, but this is the real world.  There is brokenness all around us.  The poor are at your feet.  Your job may not be directly impacting those that come aboard the Africa Mercy for medical tratment, but you are still serving them by serving those that serve others. 

If you dont give your all, how will the people whom you serve be able to give their all?

God Bless and PEACE

The Story of a Block of Wood and a Bloody Goat Skin

While I was in Kpalime (pronounced Pal-em-aye) this weekend, I got the opportunity to purchase a Djembe.  Not only did I get to buy it, I got to see it be transformed from a block of wood and a bloody goat skin into a beautiful drum. 

When we arrived at Ayivor Fofo Asser’s workshop on Saturday morning (around 10ish), he was just finishing shaping two ‘medium’ sized djembe’s and was passing them off to his brother / assistant.   After  a couple of introductions, he realized that I was the one that wanted the djembe (Josh called one of his friends in Kpalime to warn Ayivor that I was interested in buying a drum).  He looked at me and asked if I wanted one of these, pointing to the smaller djembes, or did I want ‘the big one’.  I smile and said ‘the big one’.

After finishing shaping the smaller djembes, Ayivor made the first chops into the center hole of my djembe (as seen above).  At first, the drum wasnt that impressive.  It was basically just a block of wood, but as he continued to shape and carve the drum, it started to look more like a djembe. 

The djembe maker, as the locals call him, used a number of different tools to carve and shape the djembe, from a hatchet to an axe, a machete to a number of hand-made, custom tools specifically designed by his own hands. 

Once he finished shaping the outside of the djembe, he went back to cutting the hole through the center of the drum.   First he hacked away with axe and hatchet (as seen above) then carved away with a small blade attached to the end of a pole, which he slammed down into the center and carved away bits and pieces, slowly getting closer and closer to the thickness/thinness that he desired for the djembe (right around thumbs width, measured by a metal plate). 

Once he finished shaping the outside of the djembe, he went back to cutting the hole through the center of the drum.   First he hacked away with axe and hatchet (as seen above) then carved away with a small blade attached to the end of a pole, which he slammed down into the center and carved away bits and pieces, slowly getting closer and closer to the thickness/thinness that he desired for the djembe (right around thumbs width, measured by a metal plate). 

The great thing about watching Ayivor work was the fact that he invited me to help carve my own djembe.  Above, is me using the unique machete tool.  Now, I am part of this djembe, not because I bought it, but because I helped to make it.  Well, that’s what Ayivor said anyways. 

My bunkmate, Paul (seen below), also got to help smooth out the outside of the drum.   I agree with Paul when he said “He [the djembe maker] makes it look so easy.”  Trust me, it’s not.  Ayivor has been making djembes for the past ten years, he knows what he is doing. 

Soon after, we parted for the day, after sitting and watching the djembe maker for over six hours (take note that he started about 3 hours before we got there). 

The next morning (Sunday) I arrived at Ayivor’s workshop shortly after he did.   After he showed me that he fired my djembe (dried out all the moisture from the wood, decreasing the weight by more than half) he proudly announced that he had just purchased the goatskin and was ready to begin stretching it.  So, he pulled out a plastic bag and dug out a handful of fur.  He shook it out, and I noticed that it was still soaked in blood.  When he said fresh, he ment really fresh. 

Note to PETA and all the animal lovers out there:  The goat was not killed for its skin.  Somebody killed it to eat it, then sold the skin for extra money.  This is Africa, they use everything.  They ate all the meat, used the skin for a djembe, and made the bones into tools, or carved them into jewelry to sell at the marketplace. 

So, after Ayivor nailed the bloodied skin to let it dry out, he started to cut a bar of iron and bend it around the djembe.  He made three loops of iron, two larger loops for the top of the djembe and one smaller one looped around the middle of the drum (as seen below).

After that the djembe maker went off to find the welder.  ‘Only ten minutes’ he told Paul and me.  Almost an hour later he came back, iron rings welded and ready to go.  He then cut some strips of cloth (above) to wrap one of the large rings and the smaller ring which was welded around the djembe, and it won’t slide off. 

Between wrapping the cloth around the iron rings and chatting in broken english, Ayivor took the second large ring (the one not wrapped in cloth) and stretched the skin over it, using threads from a nylon piece of rope that he stripped apart.  To help dry it out, he held them over the small fire that he built (as seen above). 

From there, he started to string the djembe with rope and the two iron bars.  Soon, the drum started looking like a djembe.  He slid the stretched skin over the top and under the cloth wrapped iron ring.  From there, he started to tighten up the drum head (as seen above).  

As it tightened, he carved off the extra skin from the sides of the drumhead and gave the djembe a haircut, much to Paul’s amusement (as he is the ships hair stylist). 

After the first couple series of tightening and drying of the djembe head, it was time for the carving. 

Side story:  The night before, I tore out the drawing from my sketchbook that I wanted on my djembe so that Ayivor could have it for reference.  Unfortunately, his brother / assistant decided it would be a good idea to use it to roll a smoke in.  So, it went up in smoke, literally. 

As you can see from the above photo, Ayivor based the carving of a lion head off some of my remaining sketches and drawings from my sketchbook.  In addition to my sketchbook, he constantly asked me to clarify my sketches by correcting his drawings directly on the drum. 

Over the next couple hours, the djembe maker paid special attention to my drum, constantly checking it and finally tuning it to perfection.  Even as he continued to work on the other two djembes that had been started before I got there the morning before. 

Eventually, he finally finished work for the day at around four in the afternoon.  After 30+ hours between when I first got there, I walked away with a djembe over my shoulder.  It was an amazing experience to sit and watch a block of wood transform into a drum. 

Even Ayivor Fofo Asser finally sat down and relaxed. 

Now I have a beautiful djembe that is a lot more than just a drum, but an experience that will never be forgotten.  I was able to put my hands into its construction and have stories that come from watching and spending time with the djembe maker. 

God Bless and PEACE

Oh, the stories you’ll tell…

This weekend I headed up north with a small group of random people to Kpalime.  According to Josh, each and every trip is extremely different, especially traveling there. 

We left the ship after we all drew out CFA’s from the crew bank and headed out of the port.  We headed down the road to the circle, where we gathered a group of zemidjans (motorcycle taxis) and headed across Lome to meet up with one of Josh’s friends, (dont know how to spell his name, but it is pronounced as ‘D-D-A’). 

While I have never ridden a motorcycle in my life, the zemi ride was exhilarating and exciting.  there were a couple of times where I thought I was going to crash and die, we made it to our destination safely. 

We met them at one of the local Rastafarian hang out, where we waited for our driver to receive his food from one of the local resturant.  DDA had figured out free transportation up to Kpalime, so we took it with a laugh and smile when we realized what we were riding in.  Our transport was a van full of roofing tiles. 

So, we rode to Kpalime in the back of a van full of roofing tiles.  It took us a couple of hours through the pouring rain, but we finally made it as the darkness started to fall over the land. 

In exchange for our ‘free’ ride, we helped unload all the roofing tiles.  All couple-thousand of ’em. 

How many times do you get to serve people when you aren’t even planning on serving them?  It was an experience of a lifetime.

God Bless and PEACE

Never Pray for Patience

We all know the saying “Patience is a virtue, possess it if you can.  It’s rarely found in women and never found in man.”  Patience is a virtue.  And I don’t have it.  In the past few months, my patience has been stretched to the limits.  In the past few weeks, it has bent past the usual breaking point. 

In one of my acts of impatience, I asked God for patience.  Thinking back, I’m telling myself “Bad idea.  What were you thinking?” 

In our society, we have everything at our finger tips.  We want information.  BAM!  It’s there on the Internet.  We are hungry.  BAM!  There is a Taco Bell or any fast food place open 24/7.  We want something.  BAM!  It’s paid for with your (parent’s) credit card.  BAM! Overnight shipping.  We have everything we ever want in an instant. 

We have created a generation of very impatient people.  We, including myself, have no patience. 

Yet, for some reason, we ask God and pray for the gift of patience.  I constantly make that mistake.  When you pray for patience, God doesn’t just give it to you.  He throws you into the middle of a situation.  He tests you.  He bends you ’till right before you break.

I would love to know what exactly I will be doing when I get home from my time with Mercy Ships.  Unfortunately, God doesn’t want me to be comfortable from making plans, but wants me to rely on Him.  God doesn’t want me to know if I am going to be with AmeriCorps or Africa Inland Missions.  Part of me is frustrated, but part of me knows that God has a plan. 

In more recent events, I prayed again for patience because some of the people I work with aboard the Africa Mercy and some of the situations that have happened in the past couple weeks have been extremely frustrating.  God answered.  It got even more frustrating. 

Don’t think I’m not enjoying my time here, because I am loving my time here in Lome, Togo with Mercy Ships, just at times it does get frustrating.  Whenever you work with people, you will get frustrated and your patience will be tested.  I know the only way that I am getting through all this is by the strength that God has supplied me. 

God Bless and PEACE

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