Friday, October 30, 2009

Bysou and Donald

The first time I saw Bysou she stood out. Something about her countenance was special.
I had been walking through the ward, searching for a patient story, when I noticed her sitting in the corner of the room. I walked past her bed towards my friend Ali thinking, "She might be the patient." When I asked Ali if she had any recommendations for a patient story, without hesitation she replied, "You should talk to Bed 13 (Bysou's bed), she is sweet."
That decided it.
I spent the next two weeks getting to know Bysou and her six-year-old son, Donald. They received surgery on the same day and recovered in neighboring beds. Bysou had a facial tumor removed while Donald had a bony lesion taken off his scalp.
The more I learned about Bysou, the more I appreciated her. She is a mother of four children, ages 3 to 13. Her husband died suddenly a year ago of heart failure. Now she is a squatter, staying in her mother's tiny one-room home (she use to own a house), struggling to support her family. After attending college, she worked the business world in accounting and marketing. However, because of her tumor nobody will hire her. Currently, she bakes and sells bread to make ends meet.
Throughout her stay, she kept a pen and paper at her bedside. Every time she had a memorable experience, she wrote it down. When she returns to Nigeria, she wants to write a story about the work of Mercy Ships, hoping to inspire others to support our work.
One afternoon she asked me about the history of Mercy Ships. Someone mentioned Don Stephens book, Ships of Mercy. I promptly went to the ship shop and bought her a copy. In two days, she'd read the entire book.
One of the chapters tells the story of a young girl whose facial tumor was removed by Dr. Gary Parker (who is amazing for many reasons). The evening she'd read that story, Dr. Gary came to the ward to check on his patients. Mildly starstruck, Bysou took him by the hand and thanked him for the amazing work he was doing. I know, because she carefully recounted the story to me the next day.
The most amazing thing about Bysou is her faith in God. After she broke down in tears telling me about the death of her husband and her current state of financial desperation, I asked her if she ever doubted God's love. She casually paused and nonchalantly replied, "No, not really."
Hebrews 11:36-38
"And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented;(Of whom the world was not worthy:)..."


Today is a ship holiday. Tonight some friends and I went out for dinner outside at the hotel Du Lac. The breeze was warm and this was the view. Beautiful.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

universal humanity.

Today as I drove through the streets at Cotonou, past threadbare shacks and awnings loosely built with sticks and plastic bags, I marveled at how universal human nature is.

Each "house" was filled with playful barefoot children and women wrapped in colorful lappas. Some of the women were cooking in thick metal pots of over fires in the midday heat while others were patiently platting their neighbors hair. A collection of men in non-uniform yellow shirts, which signify them as "official" taxi drivers, stood next to their motorbikes waiting for their next customer.

Life is simpler here. Poverty eliminates the conveniences and complications of the western world from daily living. A part of me is a little jealous.

Obviously, I'm not jealous of anyone's poverty. I realize I've lived a privileged and blessed life. I am thankful for clean water, modern medicine, and the myriad of other things I've daily enjoyed in my American life. But nothing about those things are "it". "It" is much more elusive.

The developed world provides a million distractions to finding "it", even to the point of denying that we are longing for something intangible. This desire is buried under a massive web of complexity, activity, and communication. But it's the same struggle you'll find on the streets of Cotonou. Humanity is universal. Here, there is just less to distract.

The meat of life really is quite simple. We laugh and cry and sing. We have fears and desires and hopes and dreams. We all have the desire to love and be loved. No one likes loneliness or rejection. We all live with the dissatisfaction of earth. We yearn to know and see God in the giant and most minuscule things-even when we don't realize it.

It's important to remember, it the middle of it all, joy can be found. And we are responsible for seeking it. For joy has but one Source.

A few photos I took today of universal parts of our humanity.


Monday, October 26, 2009

My office.

We had a costume party Saturday night and this photo was taken. This is my office. PJ is the Sparton on the left, I am an intergalactic space ranger (naturally), and Richard is Charlie Brown on the right. Pj is a photographer and Richard is a writer/videographer. We like think we are a pretty fun group.
This is where I work. My chair is on the right. If you look carefully you may find an assortment of interesting things and characters. The "collage" has grown throughout the months I have been here. There are several fans because our office maintains a temperature of approximately 80 degrees (it's pretty stuffy and warm most of the time).

I have never worked in an office nor have I worked a "regular" schedule. It's been a very nice experience thus far. I'm a big fan of no night shifts. When I stop and think about it really is pretty amazing. I never could have dreamed four years ago that I'd be doing this. I'm glad that's how the Lord works.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

cataract baby

This a story about 3-month-old Josue', the youngest cataract patient in Mercy Ships history. I took the photos, my friend Richard wrote the story.
Clouds Over Josué Are Lifted

by Richard Brock

For Cécile, a 26-year-old tailor, the birth of her second son, Josué, was a momentous occasion. The tragic memory of the death of her first-born child was slightly alleviated by the arrival of a second, joyful baby boy. Yet, after only six weeks, Josué’s health, too, deteriorated, and Cécile became fearful of losing another child.

A milky layer began to form over both of Josué’s eyes, affecting his vision. Cécile did not understand what was happening to her newborn son. Her husband and family were also baffled. Her in-laws decided that the only possible explanation was that Cécile was cursed. Because this was the second of Cécile’s children to experience health problems, her in-laws were convinced that she had brought evil into their house. So, they told Cécile to leave and return to her own parents.

Distraught and confused, Cécile left the house with Josué. “I became very anxious and felt completely helpless and depressed,” she said. “My in-laws accused me, but never did they question that, if this was a curse, could it possibly come from their own son – my husband?”

But Cécile did not return to the house of her parents. Instead, she remembered an advertisement she had seen on the television about an organization called Mercy Ships. Deep down, she believed that somebody onboard the “big ship” in Cotonou could help her. And she was right.

After a four-hour journey in a taxi to the busy streets of Cotonou, Cécile and Josué ventured onboard the Africa Mercy where Dr. Glenn Strauss, Senior Vice President of Health Care Initiatives and a renowned ophthalmic surgeon, assessed Josué’s tiny, clouded eyes. The conclusion was that Josué had bilateral congenital cataracts and would require surgery in order to save his sight. “The cataracts were not grossly obvious, but they were certainly there from birth,” said Dr. Strauss.

Josué is the youngest patient to receive cataract surgery in the history of Mercy Ships. At only three months old, there were certain risks in attempting the surgery. “Children under one year of age have an increased risk in eye surgery, particularly relating to the cornea and the inflammation of the eye,” Dr. Strauss explained. “It’s a microsurgical procedure, and an eye that is half the size of an adult eye increases the challenge of surgical manipulation.” He continued, “But it’s better to do this surgery sooner rather than later to decrease the chance of amblyopia (lazy eye).”

A few days later, Cécile sat with Josué in her lap as Dr. Strauss examined the results of the delicate procedure he had performed to remove the cataracts. The outcome was extremely positive. “Josué was in very good health, which is important because congenital cataracts are often associated with many other congenital complications – such as heart, lung, and neurological problems,” said Dr. Strauss. “His eyes were properly aligned, and there was no involuntary movement. It looked like he would gain good vision during recovery.”

Now that Josué’s cataracts have been removed, Cécile says the family is happy again, adding, “This situation has surprised them and made them realise that it was not definitely a curse.”

The clouds that covered Josué’s eyes have lifted. The work of Mercy Ships has given a young boy a bright future and has restored his mother’s hope. “My heart is refreshed and calm,” Cécile said with a smile. “I pray that this child will become a great man and care for me in my old age.”

“I’m very thankful for Mercy Ships. What the enemy said about my baby was stopped. God changed things. He used a specialist to help my baby. May God be glorified, and may this work continue and be a blessing to many people. I believe that this ship is the glory of God,” Cécile concluded.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The baby with no name

In Tuesday morning I was out with my friend Suey (who is beautiful and lovely), dropping off the Burkitts patients to receive a dose of chemotherapy at a local hospital. Before leaving, one of the nurses approached Suey, asking is we'd stop by the adjacent mother/baby ward to see a newborn with a suspected case of NOMA. NOMA is a flesh-eating infection of the face found in the underdeveloped world where children are subject to poor sanitation and malnutrition. 126,000 children die each year from NOMA with most cases occurring sub-Saharan countries.

We were taken into the building and lead to the surgical suite. Before going in, we were given a cloth gown to wear and a hat for infection control purposes. We were, however, still wearing our shoes and clothes from the ship (any medical personal will see the humor in those two sentences. The gown and hat were definitely not making us fit for a "sterile" environment). We literally walked three feet and there was the baby. A tiny little girl of only 12 days. She was receiving blood through and IV that was placed in her newly cut umbilical chord. It was obvious she was sick; really sick. Her hands and feet were ashen and cold. She was using her entire chest to breath, accompanied by flaring nostrils (both signs of respiratory distress in kids). Her upper lip was grossly swollen and the skin was black and necrotic.

Suey asked the nurse a few questions, looked at the baby's lab work, and took a photo promising to show it to a surgeon. However, as they discussed her condition, it became clear it was very unlikely we'd be able to do anything. The Africa Mercy is a surgical center and not a medical facility. Honestly, even if we had all the resources of modern hospital, I don't think it would have helped this baby. Jesus was calling her home.

Before we left, we gathered around the small crib and Suey prayed for the baby.
"What is her name," Suey asked the nurse. When he didn't respond Suey changed her question. "Does she have a name?"
"No, she doesn't have a name."

While Suey prayed she said,"Lord, You know this child's name." It was a beautiful and moving prayer. And it was true.

It doesn't make any sense to human mind. Why would a baby be brought into the world to spend 12 or 13 days suffering alone, only to return to her Maker? But He does know her name. He knows the hairs on her head. He has a plan for her little life. The world may forget her very quickly, but He has never forgotten or forsaken one of His children.

That thought really comforted me.

Isaiah 43:1

But now thus saith the LORD that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I have been following the treatments of a few patients with Burkitt's lymphoma. Today two of the three kids went to a local hospital to receive their 4th doses of chemotherapy and I tagged along.

This is me with Luc. His dad actually took the photo. There are several remarkable cute things he did today, including:

1. When he saw my friend Suey who runs the program on the dock and he sprinted with his arms wide open towards her, following up with a giant bear hug.

2. He stole everyone's sunglasses and put them on his face.

3. As we drove to the hospital in the Land rover, his dad followed us on his motorbike. Luc turned around in his seat, waved out the window, and yelled, "Papa, Papa," for most of the ride.

4. Before we left, Suey pointed to her cheek and told Luc he hadn't kissed her yet today. He responded with a kiss on the cheek.
Not only is Luc sweet, but his parents are equally lovely. They both made the effort to bring Luc to the hospital and be there for him while he receives his treatment. Non-compliance with treatment is very high in West Africa for many reasons and their faithfulness has been beautiful to see. I've been particularly touched by the gentleness, involvement, and integrity of his father.
As we drove back to the ship today I was reminded how universal human nature is. Parents at home go through the same emotions and stresses when their kids are sick. Please keep little Luc in your prayers.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Alba's Tears.

This little girl was lovely. Really lovely. I'm thankful we could help her.

Here is Alba's story:
Alba's Tears
by Megan Petock

Ankosua was outside carefully mixing herbs and water to create a concoction prescribed by a traditional doctor in her village. It was mid-afternoon, and her daughter, eight-year-old Alba, was sitting alone in their home. “She should be at school right now,” she thought. Struggling to hold back tears, she poured boiling water over the crushed herbs and sieved the mixture into a cup.

Two years earlier, an outgoing and vivacious Alba was attending school with her friends. Now, she spent her days hiding in a dark room, too insecure to look people in the eyes.

When the drink had cooled, Ankosua walked inside the home and handed Alba the cup. Taking the cup, Alba tilted her head back, creating a small gap between her cheek and the large tumor that filled her mouth. Slowly, she poured the liquid into the small gap and swallowed in intervals.

While she watched her daughter struggle, Ankosua thought back to the day she first spotted the small bulge on Alba’s gum line. Never could she have imagined the fear and discouragement it would cause her heart.

After Alba had drunk the entire cup, she began crying.

Ankosua couldn’t bear looking into the tear-stained eyes of her daughter. Slowly, she wrapped her arm around Alba, who then buried her head on Ankosua’s chest. As Alba’s tears collected on her shirt, Ankosua did her best to be strong.

But Ankosua was depressed. Alba had performed this routine hundreds of times, but the tumor hadn’t gone away. In fact, it was growing. At times, it felt like it was shooting out of her mouth, causing her great pain. Ankosua realized the traditional herbs were not working. There were no other options. All she could do was keep trying and pray the herbs would begin to work.


“When the tumor first appeared, my husband and I took Alba to the hospital, but we didn’t have money to pay for it, so they wouldn’t treat her. We had to use traditional medicine,” said Ankosua. Alba was taken out of school so her mother could give her the traditional medicine daily.

When asked how the community treated Alba, Ankosua stared at the floor and remained silent. After a 10-second pause, she looked up, her eyes filled with tears, and she painfully replied, “Some people received Alba with good hands. They prayed for her and encouraged me. But others shunned her. They said, ‘Go away, we don’t want to see you.’”

Whenever it was time to eat or drink, Alba hid herself from other people. If she went out in public, she kept the tumor covered with a rag. It served as a disguise and caught the foul-smelling and constant drainage.

After two years of watching her daughter struggle, a woman in her village told Ankosua of a hospital in Benin that was performing free surgery. Finally – a glimmer of hope! They scrounged to get enough money for transportation and traveled to the hospital, which was hours away.

However, Ankosua’s new-found hope quickly morphed into deep disappointment.

“We were there for two days, and nobody attended to us. I asked a woman who worked there why we weren’t being helped. She said, ‘They don’t do surgery for free, you have to deposit money.’ I trembled when she told me that. I had come with nothing,” said Ankosua sadly.

After Ankosua explained that she had no money for treatment, the woman told her about Mercy Ships. “This woman had heard Mercy Ships was in town, helping people and healing people for free. She gave me directions to the Africa Mercy, and I immediately went,” Ankosua added.

Still attached to noisy monitors and IV fluids, Alba had been dozing in and out of sleep since returning to the Africa Mercy ward. Finally, a few hours after surgery, she opened her eyes and sat up. Seeing she was awake, Becca, her nurse, came to Alba’s bedside and handed her a small mirror.

Alba looked down, paused in a state of bewilderment, and began touching the empty space on her mouth. The tumor was gone. After 20 seconds of staring, a single tear rolled down her cheek. With great determination, she tried not to cry. But another and then another tear soon followed. Finally, she gave up trying to hold them back and cried freely. Alba’s tears were earned through years of heartache and rejection. They were mature and raw – heavy tears for an eight-year-old to cry.

Ankosua stood next to her bed the entire time, carefully observing her daughter. When Alba began crying, she turned away. Ankosua couldn’t bear looking into her tear-stained eyes. After two hopeless years of discouragement and depression, healing had finally come. The mixture of joy and pain in that moment became her undoing.

When Alba regained her composure, Ankosua returned to the bedside. Carefully, she wrapped her arm around Alba, who then buried her head on Ankosua’s chest. As Alba’s tears collected on her shirt, Ankosua did her best to be strong. But her heart was too overwhelmed with joy. Tears of relief and joy flooded her eyes as well.

They sat and cried together, each tear serving as a testimony to the transforming power of God’s mercy.

Saturday, October 17, 2009



This week I was down in the ward searching for patients stories when I happened upon a flock of beautiful, sweet kids. This little guy might have been my favorite. He is three and recently had an encephlocele removed. The first time I met him, he looked up from his bed and held out his arms, telling me without words to hold him. I very willingly picked him up and he put his head on my shoulder and snuggled.

The next day I was visiting and after a few minutes of kicking a balloon back and forth, he gave me a kiss on the cheek. Apparently, I'm not the only woman he has been kissing, he has won the hearts of several other nurses with the same tactic. My friend Ali and I were discussing how his strategy is somthing you can really only get away with when your three.

Kids really are the best.

Friday, October 16, 2009


My dear friend Sarah surprised me with these beauitful flowers last week. Aren't they pretty?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Please pray for Chitra

This morning Chitra, one of our Gerkas*, was hit by a motorbike during a morning jog. He has been injured and is being treated by our hospital staff. Please pray that God grants the medical staff wisdom in caring for him, and that his body would be supernaturally healed.


Ephesians 6:12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places

*Gerka's are specially trained security officers from Nepal. There are four on board and they monitor and regulate who comes on and off the ship.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Food For Life

"Food For Life" is an amazing land-based Mercy Ships program, which teaches local farmers organic technique's. I was able to visit a few weeks ago. Here is the resulting story/photos.

"Food For Life” Agriculture Training Program

Jean Claude Mouditou has always loved agriculture. “Agriculture is a part of my life. It’s something that is very precious to me,” he said. Utilizing his education and experience, Jean Claude is spreading this passion to farmers in Benin.

Every day, he leads 30 men and women, equipped with machetes and tall rubber boots, into the fields of the recently constructed Bethesada Community Development Agriculture Training Center in Hévié, Benin. Jean Claude is running a three-month agriculture training program, “Food for Life,” which teaches farmers biblical, organic, agricultural skills in nutrition and crop production.
“We begin the day at 8 a.m. in the morning,” said Mouditou. “First, we learn a lesson in the classroom. Then, we go to the farm to practically apply what we learned. Usually we work in the fields until 5:30 p.m.”
In Benin, many farmers practice misguided agricultural techniques, which decrease crop production. The inability to adequately produce food largely contributes to poverty and diminished health, a problem which has been specifically targeted by the government.
“Our system is very different from the traditional practices of farmers. Farmers think you need to burn the land and use harmful insecticides. But with our system, we are teaching farmers to use the material and principles. These techniques have not been seen before,” explained Mouditou.
Both students and community members have been surprised by the efficiency of Mouditou’s agricultural principles.
“Using local seed and organic farming principles, we grew corn in six weeks. Normally, it takes farmers 3 to 4 months to grow a crop. The corn we grew was much larger than the local farmers. It was a very big surprise to the community. Never before have they seen anything like what we are doing,” said Mouditou.
Both the “Food For Life” program and the training center are the result of a partnership between Mercy Ships and Bethesda, a Benin-based NGO (non-governmental organization). Bethesda will oversee the continued use of the training center for agricultural development when Mercy Ships leaves Benin.
Thirty farmers are currently enrolled. Seven have been training with Jean Claude throughout the past six months, being educated to become agriculture trainers. In conjunction with Bethesda, the trainers will conduct “Food For Life” after Mercy Ships leaves Benin. Already, they have begun taking ownership of the program.

“The seven trainers are doing most of the teaching now. At the moment, everything is going very well. I am here to support and answer any questions they have,” said Mouditou. “I am so excited to see those I trained are able to lead the program and train others.”
Each farmer involved has made a commitment to share their newly acquired knowledge with other farmers, creating a lasting impact on Benin’s agricultural community.

One of the students spoke for the group saying, “Thank you, Mercy Ships, for giving us the opportunity to attend this training for free. We are determined to finish this training, no matter what difficulties we face, to help our country to reduce the problem of poverty.”
Mouditou is excited about the progress of the students. He considers it a great privilege to serve God with his agricultural knowledge.
“The Bible says Apollo planted the seed and Paul watered it, but the Lord grew the seed. We can obey and put the seed in the ground, but the Lord grows it,” said Mouditou. “Through the program, students are discovering the Lord. They can see the beauty of the Lord through agriculture. I am so grateful to be a part of that.”

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Benin vs. Ghana

Jess and I at the game.

On Sunday, I went to my second Benin football match. It was a really fun day. I won't try to explain it because my friend Richard already has. You can read about our fun day and see a few little video clips at The Light Out There.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Today I was on D ward looking for potential patient stories when I happened
upon a small tribe of amazingly cute kids. One of the nurses was holding the
pictured baby, who belonged to one of her patients, and she graciously handed
her over to me for a few minutes. This little baby girl is quite a peanut and,
honestly, far too precious for words.

There were several other equally wonderful kids. One was a two-year-old girl who had a certain sweetness about her. A few weeks ago she had a tumor de-bulked and the surgical site became infected. Now, half her face is completely swollen. She is on the ward receiving doses of antibiotics, which I am told she is responding very well too. She sat in a miniature chair and we threw a ball back and forth to each other for a few minutes. To her delight, whenever I caught the ball, I pretended to explode and she would break out if laughter. It was wonderful.

As I looked into her eyes, catching glimpses of her swollen faces and miniature IV, I remembered what a privilege it was to take care of sick kids. As much as I don't miss the stress, pressure, and frustrations of working in a hospital, I do miss taking care of kids. To be entrusted to the little ones Jesus loves dearly; there really could be no greater honor.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


Esperance at a screening day in Ghana. June 2006.

Esperance leaving the ship on Thursday.
Esperance had her final post-op appointment on Thursday. This is a photo I of her as she left the Africa Mercy.
In December 2005, Esperance was awoken in the middle of the night by her husband. As she sat up, he poured acid all over her body, and then drank the rest, killing himself. The incident left her with deep physical and emotional burns.
She first came in Mercy Ships in 2006. The burns on her neck and armpits were severe. She was unable to move her neck or lift her arms. When she first came to the ward, she was withdrawn and refused to talk to anyone. However, after spending two months being loved and cared for by the nursing staff, Esperance transformed into an outgoing, joyful woman.
And she didn't forget those who cared for her.
This February she arrived at screening day, still smiling, and sought out staff members she remembered. She recently received a second surgery to further release her neck and axilla.
She has free range in both joints and is thrilled to do simple things for herself, like tying her headscarf and bathing herself.
I love these two photos because you can see she is a completely transformed woman. Her smile says everything.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

World Sight Day

Today is World Sight Day. This is an article I wrote last week about Dr. Glenn Strauss who is currently training several eye surgeons in Benin.

Ophthalmic Surgical Training in Benin

In Vision 2020, a global initiative for the elimination of avoidable blindness, the World Health Organization states, “Reducing the backlog of cataract-blind mainly requires training ophthalmic personnel, strengthening the existing health care infrastructure and the provision of surgical supplies.”

Cataracts, although they can be removed by a 10-minute low-cost operation, are responsible for half of all blindness in Africa. Since February, the Mercy Ships Vision Team has performed more than 2,600 cataract removal surgeries. However, while understanding the value of providing relief to an immediate need, Mercy Ships recognizes the more sustainable impact which can be achieved by strengthening the local health care community. In agreement with the Vision 2020 goals, throughout the 2009 Field Service in Benin, Mercy Ships Senior Vice President of Health Care Initiatives and ophthalmic surgeon, Dr. Glenn Strauss, has been overseeing the training of five Beninese ophthalmic surgeons.

“When we first arrived in Benin, I was offered the opportunity to speak at the Benin Ophthalmology Group,” said Dr. Glenn Strauss. “During that presentation, I suggested they consider selecting some of their members to come for training in a sutureless technique I use to remove cataracts. Dr. Doutetien, one of the local surgeons, was the chairman of the group. Four or five minutes after making the announcement, she raised her hand and said, ‘Yes, we are ready to do this.’ ”

Since March, Dr. Glenn Strauss has been teaching the surgeons an innovative, low-cost, high-quality technique for cataract removal, which he has developed through years of performing cataract surgery in West Africa.

“We are using this opportunity from Mercy Ships to learn new methods for cataract removal,” said Beninese surgeon, Dr. Doutetien. “In Benin, when we operated on cataracts, we had to suture the eye. But Dr. Strauss has taught us a method that requires no suturing. This new method is very quick and less expensive, which has been very helpful.”

Before the Africa Mercy leaves Benin, each surgeon will have performed at least 30 to 40 surgical cases under Dr. Strauss’ mentorship. Trainees work with Dr. Strauss two days per week, both onboard the Africa Mercy and at their local hospitals.

“It’s a very hands-on type of mentoring process. Rather than just explaining things and having the trainees perform the procedure on their own, I sit right next to them, shoulder to shoulder, to accomplish this transfer of skills. I think it really works well in this context,” said Dr. Strauss.
The trainees are already using the new technique at local hospitals and sharing their knowledge with other surgeons.

“Part of the original agreement was that surgeons selected to receive training would share the information with the local ophthalmic community,” said Dr. Strauss. “I did not want to teach people that would keep the information to themselves.”

Dr. Doutetien is eager to share the knowledge she has gained under Dr. Strauss’ mentorship.
“I am going to take what I have learned through Mercy Ships and share it with other doctors. I plan on teaching many doctors; it will become the method we use in Benin. I appreciate that Dr. Strauss took the time to teach us,” said Dr. Doutetien.

The cataract training that surgeons have received has the potential to revolutionize eye care in Benin. Utilizing Dr. Strauss’ sutureless technique, vision will continue to be restored to thousands long after the Africa Mercy leaves Benin.

“The mentoring program we’re doing is intended to leave a lasting footprint in Benin,” said Dr. Strauss. “Already, they are implementing this at local hospitals. They are performing the procedure on their own and running a self-led cataract project here in Benin. It’s great to do cataract surgery, but it’s even more exciting that surgeons who have received this training will be able to carry on the vision of restoring sight. I expect this will make a long-lasting impact.”

As part of the Vision 2020 global initiative, October 8th is World Sight Day, an annual day of awareness held to focus global attention on blindness and vision impairment. Mercy Ships is proud to join with organizations around the world in the battle against preventable blindness.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

where the heart is.

It's after midnight and I am still awake trying to book a flight home, seeing it was on today's to do list and has not yet been completed. It's hard to believe that my time in Benin is ending in less then 12 weeks. I've crossed the midway threshold.

I feel unsettled.

When arrived in Benin, I came with a well-plotted plan for the next two years. But in the three months I've been here, things have changed. And when I say I have no idea what the future holds, I truly mean it. I'm clueless.

The scary part is that I've already gone home. I know how hard it can be to transition into "normal life" after living on a hospital ship. The scary part is that I'm a trained nurse but I really want to be a writer. I'm not sure how or if I should continue pursing that field. The scary part is I feel called to missions but I don't know where or what. And I hope I'm not called alone. Sometimes everything feels frightening.

But the good part?

Psalm 23:1 "The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want."

Joshua 1:5 " I was with Moses, so will I be with thee: I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee."

Isaiah 62:11 "Behold, the Lord hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, they salvation cometh; behold, His reward is with Him, and His work is before Him."

To hold onto His promises, to be assured of His great love, to walk in the confidence of His plan, to take refuge in the security of His strength, and to simply be still and know that He is God.
It is refinement to the heart and the fibers from which faith is forged.

I know that He wants me heart; and He wants all of it. We often sing of surrendering all, but do we stop and ask ourselves, 'What if He wants everything?' I think He does.

But laying ourselves at His feet is never scary. In fact, His perfect love drives out all fear. It is impossible to truly taste His Love and continue hiding under the table. His Love is healing balm to the soul and honey on the tongue.

Let my heart dwell in this Love and I cannot be moved.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Mercy Ships and The Smile Train

Oscar before surgery

Serro, another cleft patient.
One of my favorite things about working in communications is getting to meet interesting people. Last week, I interviewed a representative from the Smile Train. The Smile Train is dedicated to the eradication of cleft lips and palates. Through a global network of partners, in ten years they have sponsored more than 500,000 surgeries worldwide. All of this has been accomplished with a staff of only 42 people. It's really impressive.
Clefts have always been my favorite surgeries. It's amazing to see the total transformation which occurs in only a few hours.
Here is the story I wrote about Mercy Ships and the Smile Train.

Smile Train Representative Visits the Africa Mercy

Ten-year-old Oscar didn’t like going to school.

“The other kids teased me because of my lip. When they teased me, I felt very bad,” he said. Living with a cleft lip, he regularly experienced rejection.

Born in a developing country, Oscar had never received corrective surgery. Members of his community believed his cleft was caused by a spiritual curse. “When Oscar was born, some people thought the child was a bad spirit and said I should abandon him,” said his mother, Florentine. Millions of children in the developing world share his stigma.

But today, Oscar is smiling. Through the financial sponsorship of The Smile Train, he received free corrective surgery on the Africa Mercy. His suffering has ended.
The Smile Train is a charity dedicated to the eradication of cleft lips and cleft palates. Through a network of global partnerships, they provide free cleft surgery to millions of children in developing countries. In the past decade, they have sponsored surgeries for more than 500,000 children worldwide. Additionally, they provide free cleft-related training for doctors and medical professionals.

Mercy Ships has partnered with The Smile Train since 2006. “We contacted The Smile Train, letting them know who Mercy Ships is and what we do, and they asked for a grant proposal,” said Director of Resource Development, Grant MacLean. “They then made a pledge of 1.2 million dollars to sponsor the cleft surgeries we perform onboard.” Each time a patient receives a cleft repair surgery on the Africa Mercy, The Smile Train reimburses Mercy Ships 250 dollars.

“Originally, based on cleft lip/palate statistics, we anticipated performing enough surgeries to utilize the entire grant in 8 to 10 years. But we haven’t encountered the number of patients we expected,” said MacLean. “Statistics don’t always take into account the reality of what happens here. Many babies with clefts are discarded at birth. Others have difficulty eating and starve to death. They are widespread and devastating problems,” he concluded.
Sadly, in West Africa it is commonly believed that clefts are caused by spiritual curses. This distorted worldview is a major obstacle children face.

“The culture and worldview play a huge part in why many of these children are not getting treated,” said Remi Adeseun, Regional Director of West Africa for The Smile Train. “In some places, the options are so dire, it’s not about getting treated or not getting treated. It’s about living or dying.”

Remi Adeseun recently visited the Africa Mercy. As Regional Director, he is responsible for building and managing partnerships, as well as increasing the number of children The Smile Train reaches.

During Adeseun’s visit to the Africa Mercy, he strategized with Mercy Ships on ways to increase the number of cleft lip and palate patients brought to the Africa Mercy during future field services. Both Mercy Ships and The Smile Train hope to increase the number of children helped through their partnership in the future.

“We have realized what children with clefts are up against. We want to work with The Smile Train to discover how we can make a bigger impact. It could be through feeding programs that will help babies with cleft survive. Or through support programs that help parents overcome cultural and worldview bias. We’ve also discussed possibly having a nationwide campaign for clefts to find more patients,” said MacLean. In the future, Mercy Ships and the Smile Train will continue partnering together, integrating strengths and resources to bring healing into the lives of children.

“Partnerships are the primary outlet for Smile Train to deliver on its goals,” said Adeseun. “We identify people who share the values of professionalism and compassion for these children, who don’t see them just as numbers or statistics, but as individuals whose lives make a difference. We don’t do anything on our own. Mercy Ships is a valued partner we are grateful to have.”

There are millions of children, like Oscar, who are waiting to smile. Together, Mercy Ships and The Smile Train are committed to making those smiles a reality.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Juge Okechi: God Has Been Faithful

Juge and Jess.

Juge and her mom.
Her palate before surgery.
A patient story I wrote. This little girl had a whole lot of sass. She absolutely refused to smile for the camera. On purpose.
Joyce spent days crying alone in her house. Her newborn baby, Juge, had a cleft lip and palate, and Joyce couldn’t afford corrective surgery. Her friends and family thought the baby was cursed and advised her to abandon the child. But Joyce didn’t want to do that.
One morning, while going for a walk to clear her mind, Joyce heard a voice that said, “My daughter, do not worry. I am the only Creator. This is a miracle baby. Do your best for her, and trust Me.” Joyce looked around, but no one was in sight. She knew God had spoken to her.

In that moment, Joyce made a decision. “Since that day, I knew I could not leave Juge, even with this problem. I had to do my best for her,” she explained.
Taking care of Juge was challenging. Her cleft lip and palate made it very difficult to feed her. “When she was little, she could not suck. When she tried to eat, the milk would go up into her mouth and nose,” said Joyce. But Joyce never gave up. Determined to do her best for the baby, she discovered ways to feed Juge. It was a time-consuming process, but she patiently persisted, believing God would one day bring healing to her baby.

“People said a lot of bad things about Juge, but I knew Almighty God created her, and He knew what He was doing. I trusted that God’s time would be the best. In his timing, she would be healed, and I would rejoice,” she said.

When Juge was a year old, Joyce received a call from a friend in Nigeria who knew a surgeon willing to fix Juge’s cleft lip. However, they wouldn’t be able to correct her cleft palate. Joyce brought Juge to Nigeria, and her lip was surgically corrected.

A year later, Juge’s cleft palate remained uncorrected. The cleft made it impossible for Juge to produce normal sounds. In addition to her feeding difficulties, the little girl struggled to speak.

Joyce heard that the Africa Mercy had come to Benin. Hoping that Mercy Ships could help, she took her daughter to the Mercy Ships Dental Clinic, hoping to be directed to the Africa Mercy. There she met Dental Team Coordinator, Jessica Campbell.

Jessica described the meeting: “They came to the dental clinic the first day of the outreach. There were almost 400 patients standing in line that day, most with problems unrelated to dentistry. I was overwhelmed because I didn’t know who we’d be able to help. I saw Joyce, and she showed me Juge’s cleft palate. I got excited because I knew it was something we could fix.”
Joyce and Juge stood outside the dental clinic all day, while Jessica contacted the Africa Mercy. At the end of the day, Campbell brought them good news – a screening appointment was scheduled for Juge.

Three days later, Joyce came back the Dental Clinic to thank Campbell for her help. She was holding a green card with a scheduled date for Juge’s surgery. “She came back to the dental clinic, ran through the gate, and waved the green card in the air saying, ‘We got an appointment! We got an appointment!’ She was so excited,” said Campbell.

Juge received a free surgery on the Africa Mercy. Now, she has a corrected palate to match her corrected lip. It is no longer a struggle for her to eat, and she is working with Africa Mercy speech therapist, Sally Peet, to improve her speech. In a few years she will be able to attend school with her sister – a previously impossible dream.

“Because of the cleft, she could not have gone to school. Talking was too difficult for her, and people at the school would not have known how to feed her,” said Joyce.

God has been faithful to Joyce, and she cannot stop rejoicing. She is exceedingly grateful for the blessing Mercy Ships has been to her and to Juge.
“I pray that God will continue to bless and strengthen Mercy Ships. They did a marvelous job, and I am very happy and grateful,” said Joyce. “Almighty God is doing His work. As He has done for me, He can do for anyone.”