Face to the Wind

In the past two weeks of sailing, the crew of the Africa Mercy have enjoyed relatively smooth sailing, besides the couple of days in the middle where we hit some bigger swells.  One of the many benefits of a smooth sail include the opening of the bow to the crew.  It is here, in the past couple days, I have enjoyed the beautiful weather around the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas, whale and dolphin watching, and relaxation in the warm winter breeze. 

Many of the crew go out to the bow to relax on their time off, enjoying the fresh air and the sunlight.  At times, there are very few people out on the bow, making it an excellent place to retreat and spend some quiet time with God, surrounded by his creation. 

Other crew go out each afternoon in the constant search for whales, dolphins, flying fish, seals and penguins (yes, all have been spotted, though I have not seen the seals or penguins myself).  Sometimes, the wildlife shows up in full force and in a matter of hours you can spot dozens of whales and dolphins gracefully swimming alongside the ship. Though, at times, you can spend hours on the bow and see nothing but a couple of birds and flying fish. 

No matter what sort of creature decides to show its face, the view is always beautiful. 

Around lunch time, you will find a steady stream of people out on the bow, enjoying each others company and their sandwiches and chips.  Many times, the little children come out and join their parents.  They are always welcome and bring joy to everyone present. 

No matter the reason for being out on the bow, there is a sense of freedom.  You are no longer confided to enclosed spaces of the ship, but experience the wide open seas.  It is peaceful and awe-inspiring at the same time.  With the salty air blowing through our hair, we all breathe in a taste of the sea and enjoy each and every moment of the experience. 

Nothing can take this away. 

God Bless and PEACE

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Whispers

Have you ever realized how hard it is to actually hear the voice of God?  It’s elusive.  When I was younger (in Middle and High School) I thought people who heard God were delusional.  Then I heard him speak for the first the time and knew how blessed those people were. 

Lately, I’ve found it difficult to quiet myself and listen for that voice again.  So many things get in the way.  So much noise surrounds our lives.  We struggle with hearing God because everything in our lives drown him out.  Life bombards us with billboards and sounds that send us into shock. 

There are a few times and places where the noise of the world fades away and all that is left is the silence.  These are the ‘thin places’ where it feels like the Kingdom of Heaven and God are within reach, just beyond our grasp, or surrounding us in the present moment.  These places may be far and few between, but if you keep your heart open, you will find that they invade our lives if we let them. 

Last night, after the Sunday night community worship here aboard the Africa Mercy, a handful of us stayed behind as Marty, one of the Chaplains aboard, continued with worship.  Lately, I’ve been struggling to quiet my own thoughts, my frustrations, my fears, my demons.  In this time of worship and reflection, everything seemed to fade away as I gave it all up to God. 

And in that silence, between the notes and cords of the music, I could hear one of the youth, a student at the Academy aboard the ship, praying.  Her soft whispers echoed throughout the room, barely audible. 

It was in this silence that God moved.  I cannot explain it with words, nor can I explain it with pictures, sounds, or with my own being.  It was a peace that flowed.  It was more than silence.  More than a whisper.  It was indescribable. 

It was a blessing, sent at the exact moment of need. 

When everything seems to be falling apart, search for the silence and embrace it.  It is there, where no other noise is present, that God whispers into our hearts. 

God Bless and PEACE

Questions of Another Kind

Before the sail started, a week and a half ago, many people departed from the ship, including the leader of my dining hall team, Aafke.  So, everyone (but me) thought it would be a good idea to make me the team leader, a little later than the two weeks that Mary Lou had said it would take. 

It’s been a struggle.  Some of the people who have been put on my team constantly challenge everything that is done.  Why do we have to do that?  Why can’t we do it this way?  Why do we have to start work so early?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?  Why?

To tell the truth, it gets a little annoying.  Now I know a little on how church leaders feel.  How God feels.

At times, it is healthy to question things.  When someone quotes scripture, go and look it up, read it in context and see if how they used it fits in with the whole scripture.  When the church does things that seem to go against the teachings of Jesus, do research, look at the traditions and at the word of God.  When something just doesn’t settle right with you, look into it and figure out the reasons you feel that way.  Don’t accept someone elses word for it, go and discover it yourself (whatever ‘it’ happens to be).

One of the things that I have noticed about the modern-day church is that nobody questions.  Or if they do, they settle with the answer ‘it’s always been done that way’. 

I started questioning the way things were done in the church while I was still in middle school, at the age of twelve, thirteen and fourteen.  I asked why the church preached to sell everything you own and give to the poor, but yet had chalices and plates made of solid gold, silver and platinum, priests wore fancy clothing, and the church had plenty of money hidden away to buy and purchase all these fancy things.  I  questioned why the church that I observed did not practice what they preached. 

I find that it is healthy to question your own faith.  Why do you believe what you believe? Was it because of your parents?  How you were raised?  Do you agree with everything your church preaches?  What about their traditions?  What don’t you agree with and why? 

Some questions are harder to swallow, and many people avoid them like a plague.  Questions like:  Are you really a Christian?  Are you living the life you want to live?  What is holding you back? 

In questioning your faith, you find answers for yourself.  You find them in scripture and in your own personal experiences.  In doing so, you strengthen what you believe and reveals the truth of these beliefs. 

If you hae never questioned your faith before, I challenge you to start asking questions.  It doesn’t matter what faith you have, Christian or not, you must know why you believe.  If you have questioned before, I challenge you to continue to question and to grow in your faith. 

If you don’t question, how will you ever know what you believe?

God Bless and PEACE

What Is Going On Here?

If you’ve been following my journey for a little while, you know that the Africa Mercy is making its way from Lome, Togo to Durban, S. Africa.  While the sea has begun to get ‘fresher’ as the Cap’t put it, we, the crew are continuing to enjoy the ride.  While most of us are lacking sleep, we make up for it with extra doses of hot-chocolate (which ran out this morning) and coffee. 

On the first day of sail, we left a number of crew back in Lome.  Some continued their journey elsewhere, some returned home, and then others stayed for a couple more weeks.  Tom Bradley, the photographer while aboard the Africa Mercy,was one of those crew members who stayed behind in Lome.  Part of his story even made the front page of WordPress.  Look for the blog titled Living in Lome.

While sailing, some of the nurses joined the different teams in and around the ship, including the dining hall and galley.  While Becca Taylor is not on my team, it is an honor to have her (an all the nurses who have volunteered) in the dining hall family.  She provides a unique perspective into the life of a dining hall steward. 

It’s been an interesting sail so far.  We have seen a fin whale swimming right off of our port side (less than 10 m) and a humpback whale waving off of our port bow, before disappearing beneath the surface (both were a little camera-shy).  We have seen waves crashing over our bow, and now, due to the force of the waves, metal plating has been placed over the bow windows in the dining hall. 

While this does dampen the lighting in the dining hall, it makes us feel a little safer knowing that the waves wont be coming through the windows. 

The weather should be getting better in the next 24 hours (possibly late tonight) and then, according to all the radar weather maps, it looks like it’ll get rougher around the Cape of Good Hope in the next couple of days. 

The ship will be going into dry-dock for repairs and refitting.  The plan is to do a bunch of work around the ship, replace the old generators, and weld everything back together by February.  Mercy Ships still need a bit of financial support for the process, but they are going on the faith of knowing God will provide. 

God Bless and PEACE

Crashing Through the Atlantic

At times, I wonder what an old Danish Rail Ferry is doing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.  It’s rough sailing, especially as near the bottom of Africa and the Cape of Good Hope.  While it is, at times, a bit frightening, it is also a grand adventure. 

This morning around 7:15, during breakfast, the ship tilted to close to twenty degrees, far from the point-of-no-return (somewhere past 40 degrees or so, I’m not sure about the exact number).  It was interesting to try to work as the ship rocks back and forth, snapping upright due to the combination of our high buoyancy, flat bottom and high center of gravity. 

Throughout the day, the seas continued to become rougher as winds and swells increased.  Between meals, I went around the ship, trying to get a picture of the waves crashing over the bow.  I went up to the dining hall (deck 5, same deck as the bow), the International Lounge (deck 6) and eventually up to the bridge (deck 7). 

The image above was taken from the International Lounge, starboard side, a deck above the bow.  It was a lot of fun watching the waves crash over the bow.  To get the image, you just have to be patient, work through a watered down window and have fun. 

Life on the high seas, while I continue to stay positive, can be very difficult.  In conversations, we can easily focus in on the negative.  How little sleep we got.  How many things have gone wrong.  Complain why we have soup in the middle of a storm. 

I noticed that when we pray, we pray for the storm to end.  We ask for our circumstances to change.  We ask got to remove the our struggles. 

I wonder why we focus on everything else, instead of asking God to give us strength.  My prayer is that God gives us enough strength to turn to him.  That instead of looking for a solid fortress, I pray that we embrace the storm and learn from each and every wave, every struggle and trial. 

My prayer is the same for all Christians around the world.  Whenever we encounter struggles, dont run from them.  Don’t flee from danger.  Turn to God for your strength, and rise above whatever is in your path. 

God Bless and PEACE

When the Waves Go Boom

If anyone tells you that sailing is boring, then obviously they have never sailed with the Africa Mercy.  There is always something going on, each and every day.  We have a whole calendar full of events, from Titanic up on Deck 8 to karaoke in the Cafe, Celebrations for crossing the Equator to Game Nights with Settlers of Cataan, Hand and Foot, and Killer Bunnies (three of my favorite games), and the favorites, Pirate Day and Sailing Olympics. 

Each and every night, dedicated volunteers keep a constant vigil during Pirate Watch.  I helped out the first morning of sail (from 5am – 7am) along side of one of the crew chaplains, Marty Schwebel (seen below in his Pirate Watch Garb, including eye patch, camera, night vision goggles, and radio).

We watched as the sky went from pitch black, through the colors of morning until the sun crested the horizon.  It was beautiful.  Besides us two on Pirate Watch, a handful of others joined us, including Rachel (one of the girls that works in the galley) and some of the Gurkhas who eventually relieved us of our duties and sent us to get breakfast. 

This past weekend, we celebrated the sail with the Mercy Ship’s tradition of Pirate Day and the Sailing Olympics. 

Saturday, Pirate Day, was a fun-filled day where we sported the Jolly Roger, sang sea ditties, dressed up and had us a treasure hunt.  Most of the crew participated in some form or another, though most of those that dressed up were the children and youth aboard the ship.  Some parents and adults joined in on the fun as well. 

Above, you can see the gathering of Pirates from around the globe, from S. Africa to N. America, Holland to Norway, New Zealand to England.  Young and Old joined in on the festivities.  Below, you can see how young we start ’em off. 

The next day, Sunday, we had the Sailing Olympics, held every time we sail.  Hosted by our abundance of Hoob-noobs on board, the rules  were relatively simple, a little confusing and altogether fun. 

Some of the rules were vague and confusing, but they were ment to be.  Each event was specifically designed to help the crew battle the elements that the sea may or may not throw at us. 

Above, you can see some of the crew taking target practice in case of the event of marauding pirates from the day before (aka: little kids) attacked and tried to over-run the ship.  Below, others of the crew practiced building supports in case the structure of the ship buckled and gave way. 

We continued to practice, and to train.  From memorization to planning, packing to fleeing, seriousness to loads of fun. 

We all enjoyed the hours of fun provided by the crew.  The fun will never be forgotten, and will be looked forwards to on the next sail (for those fortunate to sail with the Africa Mercy again). 

Now, we rest and try to keep our feet beneath us as we have hit rougher waters.  Already seeing 20 degrees of tilt, we all know we are in the capable hands of the deck officers, the captain and, most importantly, God.

God Bless and PEACE

The Battle Cry

Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil
Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad!
V’ahav’ta eit Adonai Elohekha
b’khol l’vav’kha
uv’khol naf’sh’kha
uv’khol m’odekha
v’ahavta l’reakha kamokha!
Amen!

The Shema.  This is the cry that rocked the world.  The early Church embraced this with everything they had.  All their passion and with everything they had, they shouted it out for all to hear.  This was the cry that consumed their lives. 

Hear O Israel:
The Lord is our God – the Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your might,
And love your neighbor as yourself!
Amen!

This is the battle cry of all Christians.  Of all the Followers of the Way.  Taken from Mark 12:29-31, this cry was taken up by the Apostles and their Disciples, the ones that had lived for God for years and the new believers alike.  They shouted this with more than their voices, but with their very lives. 

The early Christians understood what it ment to live for God.  They died to themselves daily, handing everything over to a kingdom that was not their own.  Where has this passion gone?

There are many who still follow this cry from the heart.  Many still shout it with all the strength of their lungs.  Like the small community church where I first heard this cry, there are many communities and gatherings that still shout it in words and in deeds.  Many individuals, from missionaries in their own back yards to those across the globe, dedicated leaders, whether parents, teachers or church leaders, to the new believers who have not lost what it means to truly love, have all embraced this war cry. 

That’s what it is, a battle cry.  A war cry.  When the lines have been drawn and the swords sharpened for battle, this is the cry that each of us takes up.  This is what rallies us.  Lifts us to greater deeds.  Gives us strength. 

But this cry, the Shema, is nothing if we just shout it.  We must live it.  Enter the field of battle with new-found strength.  Around this banner are veterans and new recruits.  Learn from them.  Encourage them.  Be led by them.  Lead them. 

Take up the Shema, the cry of the nations, and join the fray.

God Bless and PEACE