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Thursday, July 31, 2008

No More Shame!

They were being chased. They had to stay alive. They had to survive. Scared, but determined, Esther Dweh and her family ran from the rebels, hoping to outsmart them. They hid in the bush knowing their lives were in danger, especially the life of her unborn child. Being a mother of a 5-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl at a time like this was hard enough, but in a situation like this, expecting a third baby in a matter of days was horrifying.“At the time of delivery,” Esther says, “I began to experience difficulty. The baby was too high and could not come down. It was in the heat of the war and there was no access to a hospital. The child died in my womb.” They were in the middle of nowhere. How would she survive?
In an attempt to help her, Esther’s husband took her to a man who had training in first aid. “This man cut the dead child from me, limb by limb, piece by piece, using a pair of rusty, unsterilized scissors.” In order to make sure that everything had been removed, the first aider pushed the scissors inside her and snipped, cutting open her bladder. Esther experienced excruciating pain and a few days later began to feel sick, at which time the first aider admitted to her husband that he had “made a mistake.” “I became so sick and so weak; I thought I was going to die.” Esther remembers sadly. “A pile of banana leaves was my bed.” “Because of the constant flow of urine I began to smell bad and flies would be all over me. My husband would wash my skin to try and keep me clean.”
One Day, Esthers husband left their hiding place in search of food, not knowing it would be the last time he would see his family. There was an ambush and, sadly, the rebels killed him. Grieving for her husband, Esther wondered what was to become of her and her children. “I just had to trust God to help me. I remained hidden in the bush and did my best to look after my children but soon after that, my son also died.” Esther knew she had to find help but did not know where to go. She finally met a group of people fleeing the war and joined them. In doing so she found her family. Even though her parents welcomed her back she felt embarrassed about her condition and the constant stench of urine. Surgery was her only option but it was out of the question. She had no finances to pay the doctors. Esther first heard about a hospital ship which would be coming to Liberia in 1999, but it was five years later before she was able to attend the medical screening that was taking place at JFK Hospital in Monrovia.
Her hopes were high, but disappointment struck once more when she came to register. Unscrupulous local hospital workers were charging for the registration card and Esther did not even have a cent. Dejected, she felt that her opportunity to receive healing had slipped beyond her reach. Yet God had not forgotten her. Alfred, a crew member from Mercy Ships, happened to walk by, noticed Esther and she told him of her plight. Meeting Alfred set in motion a sequence of events that ultimately brought about the miracle that Esther had longed for, for so long. Esther underwent surgery for Vesico Vaginal Fistula (VVF) completely free of charge aboard the Mercy Ship. Her bladder was repaired and within four days of surgery, she was completely dry. After ten long years of incontinence and shame, Esther's healing had finally come.“I was so happy!” she exclaimed. “Now I have my life back, thanks to Mercy Ships. I thank God for the doctors and nurses who helped me.” In her pursuit for healing, Esther met a man who, despite her condition, fell in love with her. Esther's joy became complete when she gave birth to a beautiful son. She calls him “Robert, my Mercy Ships baby.”
The road to healing had been one that often seemed to lead only to despair. Yet, Esther kept trying, and now joy has come. During this field service, Esther has returned to Mercy Ships, not as a patient but as a counsellor and encourager to other VVF patients who are searching for the same healing and joy Esther has found.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

4th July Celebrations

Even though we are in Africa, many of the cultures on board try to celebrate their countries holidays. On the 4th July all of the Americans got together for dinner on the dock. The attire for the evening was red, white and blue! You can see the American half of the Tretheway family at the back left.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Bong Mine Trip

It is often good to get out and about Liberia to get a sense of the culture and history of the people we are reaching. Recently we were able to join a trip out to the Bong Town. The main objective was to deliver medical donations to the hospital and we were also able to see where the big Iron Ore Bong Mines were before they were devastated by the rebels.
The trip started with a 2 1/2 hour train journey. We drove the landrovers up onto a flat bed pulled by the train. Crew were able to get out of the landrovers and sit on top for the journey. Although it was attractive to feel the breeze in the hot of the day, the down side was that you got choked and blackened by the thick soot coming out of the engine! We had the back of the landrover to ourselves so Nathanael was able to hang out of the window and wave to the people we passed. At one point he had quite an audience all waving and shouting his name. We saw many sights of Liberia, some of poverty and others of beautiful lush vegetation. Many times we would be out in the middle of nowhere and children would come running out of the bush to wave at us.
On arriving at Bong Town our first stop was the hospital. They were very pleased to see us and the doctors gave us a tour of the whole building. It is amazing what they accomplish with such little. In the maternity ward there were 5 day old twin babies...so cute! (hover your mouse over the pictures to see a description of the rooms.)
After the hospital our driver took us around the Bong Mine. Originally run by a German company until the rebels came in and destroyed everything. Our driver worked at these mines and was there when the rebels came. He told us how 1000's were killed. The town now hopes for the news to come reality of a chinese company that is interested in rebuilding the site and jobs will be restored to the community after so many years.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Walking & Talking

Nathanael wanted to share some of the things he has been doing whilst on board the Africa Mercy.
Every evening after dinner we all venture out to the dock to play with his friends out of the heat of the day. This gives him a good opportunity to practise his walking which he is now doing very well. His favourite pastime is looking down the hole in the dock. What's in the hole? (please bear in mind that Nathanael is on a " talking D" phase where everything begins with D! Meanwhile we have decided to close Nathanael's blog site down as we just don't get time to update it, but the good news is that you will get to see more of him on here.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Baby With No Name

African women don’t always name their children at birth. It lessens the pain when they die. Twenty-six year old Liberian Grace Kurnnah gave birth to a child she was afraid to name. Everything seemed normal at first. The child’s head emerged just as it should, then the shoulders, hips and feet. But there was something more, something attached to the baby at the waist. Whatever it was, it was so large it wouldn’t pass no matter how hard Grace pushed. In a panic, the family rushed her to the local medical center. Doctors there were able to complete the delivery. The otherwise normal looking baby girl had a large tumor protruding from the area of her tailbone. The tumor was larger than the child’s head. The whole family was horrified. They begged the local doctors to help. But after 14 years of civil war, the Liberian medical system is in shambles. They could offer no assistance.
"I was feeling bad. People were saying someone witched (put a curse on) me," Grace recalls of that day. "People (at the regional medical facility) said I should wait three or four months before I take the baby to Monrovia. I said they should give me paper so I can bring it now. They say we can’t do it. I started crying. My husband say, ‘Stop crying girl. Don’t listen to anyone. Trust God. Take the baby and go to Monrovia.’"
Grace set off for the capital. When she arrived at JFK hospital, the nation’s top medical facility, doctors there also admitted there was nothing they could do for the child. They mentioned that a Mercy Ship was docked down at the port & doctors there might be able to offer assistance. Mercy Ships crewmember Samantha Luwizhi was on the dock when Grace arrived. Samantha has a baby girl of her own and loves children. She caught a glimpse of Grace’s infant, just a tiny face peaking out of the blankets.
Grace remembers that moment, saying, "When I see the lady (Samantha) she say ‘Oh! What a fine baby!’ I say the baby not fine-o. I take off the baby clothes. When the lady saw the thing (tumor), she feel bad. She go inside and she bring the man. They give me paper and say come on Monday."
Mercy Ships doctors were anxious to do the surgery as quickly as possible. The tumor was a type that is initially benign, but can turn cancerous in months if not weeks. If Grace had waited till her little girl was older to seek treatment, as had been recommended, the child would very likely have died.
When she arrived back at the Mercy Ship on Monday morning, she was afraid her baby girl was too small and too weak to survive the operation. It was at this point Grace’s encounter with Samantha on the dock proved crucial. When they wanted to take blood in pre-op, Grace just closed down and wouldn’t let anyone take the baby. They called Samantha and said ‘Would you come down to the ward? Grace won’t let us do anything with the baby!’ She went down and Grace handed her the baby. Samantha told her, ‘OK, we’re going to have to take some blood and some other things.' Grace relaxed and understood that she was going to be OK and the nurse prayed with her. She sat with her while the surgery was going on and could tell she was really afraid again. Her breathing was real rapid. Samantha told her that, ‘Baby be fine-o!’ and she settled down a little bit.
The surgery didn’t take very long and the stitched incision on the baby’s bottom surprisingly small. There will be almost no evidence of the birth defect as she matures. When Grace saw the child following the operation, she kept repeating "Tank-ee God! Tank-ee!" over and over again. When the family called later that day to learn what had happened, it was Samantha who got to deliver the good news. "When I told them ‘Baby fine-o!’ you could hear them hollering and screaming and singing praises to God," Samantha says with a laugh. "The Ohma (Grandma) doesn’t speak much English, but she just kept saying ‘Tank-ee! Tank-ee! Wonderful!
When it became clear that the child would survive, Grace decided it was time to give her a name. She asked Samantha to choose one. Samantha told her that was quite an honor but also a heavy responsibility & that she wanted to pray about it for a while. Finally a name was chosen, Viktorya Faith, because she believed God had honored Grace’s great faith with a mighty victory over the child’s infirmity. She thought Grace would appreciate the unusual spelling, Viktorya, and she was right. When she told Grace the name , she was so happy. She gave the baby a pat and said, ‘Baby, you have name! You name Viktorya.’ and she went all around the ward telling everyone about the name. A few hours later back down in the ward, Grace had already got the nurses to change the name card that hung over the baby’s bed from ‘Baby Girl’ to ‘Viktorya Faith,’ When asked why she wanted Samantha to choose the baby’s name, Grace is momentarily overcome with emotion. Fighting back tears she finally answers, "Because she take pity for me. She look in my mind. She take care of me. The baby is for her (meaning: The baby belongs to both of us.). Anywhere I go I will not forget." Neither is Mercy Ships likely to forget Grace or Viktorya Faith. They reminded us that every child deserves hope, healing… and a name.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Washington Redskins Player Comes to Town!

Now for the Americans reading this you might be saying "WOW", but for the Brits you will be saying "WHO?". We guess that's where we find our different cultures cross.
When NFL Washington Redskins player, Malcolm Kelly came to visit the ship, naturally, we wanted to get the photo and the autograph in!

Malcom Kelly (a committed Christian) has chosen to work with Mercy Ships as his chosen charity. Part of this included a trip down to Liberia to see Mercy Ships in action. He observed surgeries, visited the ward, visited Mercy Ships construction sites, and met the crew and the president of Liberia. He also met with officials from the Ministry of Youth and Sports and Liberian Olympic Committee. Liberia's educational and sports initiatives were sidelined during the 14-year civil war and the nation struggles to make improvements to even the most basic health and living standards. Malcolm brought along his personal trainer, world-renowned sports performance coach Chip Smith from Competitive Edge Sports, based in Atlanta, Georgia. They held sessions for 35 Liberian coaches and athletes including members of the Olympic Team and Committee at the invitation of the National Minister of Youth and Sports. "Train the Trainer" sessions were held at the National Sports Complex which included teaching on sports theory and workout demonstrations and exercises.

Reports say that Malcolm was moved by his experience in Liberia. He said "Everywhere we went, people ran up to me to shake my hand and hug me, saying 'Thank you! Thank you!' I was a hero, but not because I'm a football player; it was because I was wearing a Mercy Ships Crew shirt. I don't think I've ever been more humbled and honored than to be considered a part of the Mercy Ships team".

It's great to have somebody like this working alongside Mercy Ships.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Divine Opportunities

How many "divine opportunities" come your way each day and so often we either miss them, or let them go. Sometimes it might only be a friendly hello or an act of kindness, maybe praying with somebody in need or going an extra mile out of your way.
As Nathanael and Sharon go on their routine trip to the trash dumpster we are met with many divine opportunities. Such a simple task can bring many opportunities. As we leave the gangway we pass the motor mechanic workshop. There, a few local men are working alongside mercy ships crew to fix our vehicles. We employ many locals whilst in Liberia, giving secure income for a 10 months and in that time there is no way they can avoid seeing and hearing Jesus. Next we pass the patient waiting area. Nathanael likes to stop and wave at everybody. He has no problem in seeing past the disfigurements that affect those waiting. Out of innocence he grasps the divine opportunity to say, you're ok and I'm happy to associate with you. In their own town they might be outcasts, but here, a little boy is eager to say hello. They all respond with joy. Then we meet UN troops or policemen. They all want to stop and tickle Nathanael. Their background we don't know, yet we stop to talk a little, which brightens their day. Further along an old man is led by his son. His dark glasses glisten in the sun and the tap of his white stick can be heard along the dock. He stops to ask the way to the medical room. He is grasping a medical appointment card and wondering how life is going to change for him. I shake their hand and point them in the right direction. After a short conversation I find out he has been blind for many years and is hoping that he will soon see. Although eager to see, he still comes with fear, it's the unknown's of the ship and trusting the doctors. I tell him I will pray that his surgery will go well. That seemed to make a big difference to him and they went off smiling.
This is just one little routine we have and it's amazing the divine opportunities that come through just that.
Although we find our main focus is the poor and needy, other opportunities come through Tim's job, who are in as just as much need, spiritually. When other ships come in for a few days, you often find the ship officers make contact. Last Thursday night, Tim, along with the Captain and Chief Engineer were invited to a French navy ship that had docked for the week. So Tim practised his "Je m'appelle Tim" and got dressed up in his smart uniform for a visit. Fortunately they were very good with their English and they had a tour of the ship. They were able to talk of many subjects (you know Tim!) and also share of the work we do in Mercy Ships & why we do it. As the ship left on the Friday, Tim hoisted some signal flags to spell out "have a good voyage ". Another divine opportunity. Keep looking for those opportunities, you just never know when God is going to bring them along.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

No Wig Zone

We are officially declaring our cabin a "no wig" zone. So if you intend to visit our cabin you will need to secure any wigs/toupees with super glue or duck tape. As soon as you walk into our cabin the extractor is so strong it can suck anything away.

We thought we'd share with you just a few of the quirky noises that go on in our cabin.