Monday, February 1, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Turning a corner.

I'm home. I write it as if it were a recent phenomenon. However, the unbelievable truth (time goes by so quickly) is I've been home for more than a month already.

Home is home. Familiar and warm (although considerably colder in temperature then Benin). It's always a wonderful thing to rediscover old haunts and well-studied faces. Returning to Bucks County is always a good thing.

The question I've been repeatedly asked since returning stateside is, "How long are you here for." My answer, "For now." After several years of mobile living, challenging experiences, and meeting all sorts of people, "For good," would be to anti-climatic an answer. I wish I had a more definitive response. But I don't.

Throughout my time with Mercy Ships (which began in June 2007) I have watched God do amazing things. Every need, spiritual and financial, has been graciously provided for. Amazing people and life-long friends have accompanied each step. I've walked through doors I did not know existed. God's evidence in my life has been amazing. He is good. It sounds cliche but there is no need to reinvent truth.

And now I sit here in my kitchen. Sensing I'm turning a corner. Realizing my heart will always be divided among different geographies, professions, and pockets of friends. I am rendered helpless when I realize there aren't enough parts for the many loves of my heart to harmonize in one melodious symphony. New scores require new instraments, leaving others to a collect dust in a corner. A sad but true reality of life.

We must choose what we love. And where our heart is, our treasure will follow. Passion and apathy, risk and security, love and selfishness, cannot walk together. Our hearts have but one throne. Life will always fight for its possession.

The key to unifying a great diversity of common loves is to sacrifice them all on the alter of Divine Love. To lose the world and gain your soul. To side with Jim Elliot when he said, "He is no fool to lose what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose."

The surrendered heart will never find rest or security on earth but it will always be home.
And one day, the soul will follow to an unshakable eternity. Until that day, we press on, trusting our Gentle Shepherd to safely guide us.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year.

Oceane at screening day.

Before her surgery.

It's gone.

Last week at 1opm, after 36 hours of delays and travel, I safely arrived home. It's great to be home. A little overwhelming, but I am re-adjusting to the excitements and perils of the first world.

Here is a lingering patient story about baby Oceane to ring in the New Year.

Oceane’s Miracle

While working in the communications office one of our photographers, PJ, grabbed my attention. “You need to have a look at this pre-operative photo.” I spun my chair around and was horrified by the image on his computer screen.

There was one-year-old Oceane. Tears were streaming down her eyes. Her mouth was grimaced in pain. A grotesque mass, larger than her head, hung from the back of her neck. The photo made me uncomfortable. Instinctively, I turned away. “Children aren’t suppose to experience that kind of pain,” I thought.

Oceane had an encephalocele- a rare neural tube defect characterized by sac-like protrusions of neural tissue through openings in the skull. A small gap in the back of her head, only 1.4 cm wide, was the root of her problems. It allowed cerebrospinal fluid to escape from her brain and collect in the ballooning skin in back of her neck, which formed the disturbing second head.

Oceane’s mother, Philomen, had brought to a Mercy Ships medical screening day in February. Upon evaluation, surgeons thought they could help her. They planned on removing the mass and placing a small tube in her brain. The tube, called a shunt, would drain excessive fluid from her head into her abdomen. However, the earliest surgical opening wasn’t until October. Philemon needed to take Oceane home and spend seven months waiting for her to receive surgery.

During that time, Philomen faced great discouragement. As the bulge continued to swell simple things like bathing Oceane began to scare Philomen. “When I gave her a bath, I never washed her head. I was scared the tumor would explode and the baby would die.” Others began to mocked Philomen saying, “Look at the horrible baby she has,” whenever she went outside. “I never replied,” she said. “I felt very ashamed and always stayed in the house.” Friends and family said Mercy Ships was making her wait because they couldn’t perform the surgery.

Despite the discouragements around her, Philomen never lost hope that Oceane could be helped. On Sunday, October 14, she brought her to the Africa Mercy. That evening, I walked down to the hospital to meet them. Oceane was helplessly lying on the bed, unable to sit up from the weight of the mass. “There is no way they are going to be able to remove that,” I thought to myself.

Cautiously, I introduced myself. I knew it was still uncertain she’d receive her surgery. She was scheduled for a neurosurgical procedure that normally required multiple surgeons, expensive equipment, and a follow-up stay in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. It would be high risk even with the boundless resources of Western medicine. We were on a hospital ship with half of those resources. The surgeons weren’t certain the operation would be safe.

Already, I could see high hopes and expectations in Philomen’s eyes. Oceane was wearing a hospital ID band and sleeping on an Africa Mercy bed. This was the moment had dreamed about for seven months.But the odds were still against Oceane. I didn’t want to act to excited for Philomen, not yet. I held the Oceane’s hand, told Philomen it was nice to meet her, and walked away paying, “God, please help that baby.”

The next day, a CT Scan of Oceane’s head was taken. The results spawned further discussions amongst the medical staff on the risks/benefits of her surgery. Finally, the medical team decided Oceane would receive surgery. Her big day was Friday. Thursday afternoon, I walked onto D ward looking for her, but the bed was empty. “Where is Oceane?” I asked one of the nurses. “She’s in the recovery room, she had her surgery today.” Five minutes later, a recovery room nurse walked into the ward holding a small baby with a white-turban of bandages. It was Oceane. Again, I was shocked. The mass was completely gone.

While the nurses listened to her lungs and connected to her to a heart monitor, Philomen came to the bedside. When she realized the mass was gone, she was speechless. All she could do was stand by her bed and hold Oceans tiny hand. For fifteen minutes, she stared at her daughter, oscillating between content smiles and joyful tears. I couldn’t hold back tears myself.

Throughout the next week, I continued to visit D ward. For the first time, Philomen could see the back of Oceane’s neck. Proudly, she tied Oceane to her back like other African mothers, and walked her up and down the hospital corridor. Philomen was glowing. “When I saw the baby in the surgery room, I was laughing. God has done something great in my life that has lifted me. I have to thank God and ask Him to bless Mercy Ships,” she said.

Three weeks after her surgery, Oceane came to the Africa Mercy for her final post-op appointment. I came down to the hospital to say goodbye. Smiling and laughing as she held Oceane in one arm, Philomen greeted me with an enthusiastic, “Merci, Merci, Merci Bocu,” French for, “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you very much.” She handed me Oceane, who stared into my eyes and reached out her small hand to grab my hair. All I could think was, “God has done a miracle.”

Story by Megan Petock

Photos by Megan Petock and PJ Accetturo

Saturday, December 19, 2009

We Made It.

Sunrise over a choppy sea yesterday morning.
The lights of Tenerife early this morning.
A group shot as we headed for the port. I have been blessed with really outstanding friends during my time here. Can you tell we are all really excited? : )
My first glance of Tenerife.
Liz and Jess were excited to see land.
THE Trumpet Player. Every time the ship comes or leaves Tenerife this man is faithfully on the dock with his trumpet. He was the ONLY person waiting for us when we arrived this morning. It's a small act, but one I know touches the hearts of the entire crew.
This dog is ready for Christmas.
Another "band" photo.
Cafe Con Leche from a sidewalk cafe. Wonderful.

After ten months of active field service and 12 days of sailing, the Africa Mercy has safely landed in Tenerife at 8:30 AM. The final three days proved to be stormy and left our stomachs a bit unsettled. We are all very excited to be on dry land. Most of the crew has promptly left the ship by 10:30 AM. It's the little things, like clothing stores and blending in that have everyone really excited. It's always a bit strange to be in the western world after being in Benin but it's a nice change. And soon I will be home.

You too can experience the rolling Africa Mercy.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Joy Comes to Suzanna

A small team of women are painting Suzanna's face with make-up and crowning her head with brightly colored African fabric. Her two-month-old son, Nicolos, is fast asleep an arm's length away on the bed beside her. Today is Suzanna's day to celebrate. "The sickness" was gone. As the preparations continue, the joy in her smile becomes palpable.

Other women on the Africa Mercy had already celebrated. They danced and sang, wearing beautiful new dresses that symbolized their restored bodies. Suzanna had watched them from her hospital bed, held captive by a catheter.

Six years ago, Suzanna became pregnant with her first child. For nine months, she and her husband had lived in a state of joy as they anticipated the child's arrival. But the joy of a new life was replaced by the sorrow of death's sting. After painfully laboring for days, Suzanna delivered a dead baby.

There was another serious problem. The prolonged pressure from the baby's head during the abnormally long labor left Suzanna with "the sickness" - a vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). VVF leaves women completely incontinent. Approximately 2 million women are living with untreated fistulas. Suzanna had become one of them.

For six years, urine continually poured from her body. Her clothes were always wet, and the foul stench alerted others to her presence. Disgusted and ashamed, her husband left her. Others rejected her as well. Suzanna was alone. She thought her life would always be that way - until she met Nicolos, a man from her village. He knew of her painful story and decided to love her, even with her fistula. They were married, and to Suzanna's delight, she again became pregnant. Two months into the pregnancy, Suzanna went to the hospital for a check up. Upon seeing her fistula, the doctor contacted Mercy Ships. Arrangements were made for her to come to the Africa Mercy after the birth of the baby.

Baby Nicolos was born on July 31 st . In early October, Suzanna, with her husband and son, travelled to the Africa Mercy , where she received a free surgery. Two weeks later, her catheter was removed. She was dry, and it was time to celebrate.

A crowd of onlookers had gathered to rejoice as the women sang and danced. Wearing her beautiful new dress, Suzanna looked like a queen as she testified of God's faithfulness to her. "I am happy, very happy. I never thought the sickness would ever end. But now it is finished."

She closely held baby Nicolos. His little blue hat unintentionally matched the fabric of her new dress. Finally, her sorrow had ended. Her body and spirit were restored. Joy had found her.

Story and Photos by Megan Petock

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We are rocking and rolling (literally).

Last night was a sleepless nice for the majority of the Africa Mercy crew. Not because we are anticipating our arrival in Tenerife. Not because we are excited for Christmas. Not because we are stressed out about our work.

The ship has encountered swells which have caused a fast and consistent rolling of the ship from side to side. At times, we've puckered up and down.

When you are being tossed from side to side in your bed, your drawers keep flying open, and your roof and walls sound like they are going to bust open, it is cause for a sleepless night. The general consensus is most were up every hour. This morning, the deck crew visited each department, re-securing everything.

A swell takes out my friends and moves my chair. This is why I've had to hold onto my desk for most of the day.

If you look carefully, you can see the water moving in my water bottle.

The rocking boat glides me across the office.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pascal Gbaglo - Agriculture Knowledge Is a Transforming Power

Pascal Gbaglo is a farmer in Hévié, Benin. Life has always been a struggle for him and his family.
For years, Pascal has farmed using traditional West African methods of planting, slashing, and burning the land. His crops have always been minimal, barely enough to feed his family of seven. Sometimes they failed completely. His family did not want to work the land with him because it often produced nothing.

In May, he was standing outside of his home when he saw a line of Mercy Ships vehicles driving through Hévié. He discovered that Mercy Ships and Bethesda, a local NGO (non-governmental organization), were starting an agriculture training program in Hévié. Wanting to learn more about farming, he asked to join the program. Although it was already filled to capacity, Pascal was allowed to stay.

Excited, he began attending every class. The agriculture training program, "Food For Life," teaches biblical organic farming principles, which focus on being a good steward of the land. Pascal began incorporating these principles into his farming practices at home. In a very short time, he noticed something - his crops were growing! And they were growing faster, fuller, and in a much larger quantity. Before long, not only was he producing enough food to feed his family, but he had a surplus of crops to sell at the local market.

"I used to do agriculture the traditional method, but nothing grew," said Pascal. "Now that I have been taught to farm the way God wants me to, my crops are growing well on the same land. Every time we plant, we pray, asking God to bless the work of our hands - and He is."
For the first time, using the money from the surplus crops, Pascal is able to send his eldest four children to school. Already, he is passing down his farming knowledge to the next generation. His entire family is working the land with him - including his 2-year-old son, Gédeon.

Neighboring farmers are coming to Pascal's farm asking, "What are you doing to make your crops grow so fast? What kind of fertilizer are you using? What kind of pesticides?" When he tells them, "nothing," they say, "You have to have a secret; you're not telling us your secret."
Fortunately, Pascal and the "Food For Life" staff are happy to share their "secret" with others.
Ken Winebark, the Agriculture Program Administrator, said, "The principles we are sharing with them are very basic, and they're (the local farmers) grasping it. It's neat because we are having the opportunity to see things start to take shape. Many times, you don't know if you're accomplishing anything. You think and hope things are going well, but you don't really know. To be able to come back four months later and see the difference it's made already is really encouraging. It's great to lead the students through the process of realizing their vision."