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Friday, October 21, 2011

Preparing for Christmas

Some of you who read this may groan at the idea of even thinking of planning for Christmas in the middle of October and it's just over the top, especially those who still have Thanksgiving to think of before that!  Where as here in Africa, we start to panic as October approaches.  We panic in case we didn't get that last gift for Nathanael on the last container that left Holland or the USA in September, or we're hastingly buying very "light" items to be sent in the mail and counting the cost of 55 cents an ounce for postal charges.  Spending Christmas in Ghana has made us even more creative.  For us, Christmas preparations almost start at the beginning of the year.  So now we are here, October has arrived and the top of the cupboard is full awaiting it's gift wrap. 

But amidst all the planning there is still one thing that is our focus and that is the celebration of the birth of our saviour.  This year we came across the idea of the Jesse Tree.  For some this might already be a tradition in their household but it was something we had never heard of before. 

The Jesse Tree idea is taken from the scripture reading Isaiah 11:1:

"A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots." 

It tells the story of God from the Old Testament to the advent season and the faithfulness of God across 4,000 years of history. The Branch is a biblical sign of newness out of discouragement, which became a way to talk about the expected messiah (for example, Jer 23:5). It is therefore an appropriate symbol of Jesus the Christ, who is the revelation of the grace and faithfulness of God.

We were able to get hold of a book which will take us through that journey through the month of December with daily bible readings and devotions and also gives decoration ideas.  So Nathanael and Sharon are now in the throws of making decorations to go along with it.  There are many ideas that can be accessed online (see some links at the bottom of this post), whether it's templates, readings etc.  Some churches even do an "ornament exchange" where 25 people make 1 of the decorations 25 times and then meet together to swap and get a complete 25 day set.

These are our first ornaments in the making which include the sun to represent creation & light, Adam & Eve - sin, rainbow - Noah and the ark, coloured coat - Joseph, sheaf of wheat - Ruth &Boaz, Ladder - Jacob. 
There are still more being cut out and needing to be stuck together, but we'll share the rest with you when we're finished.

If you're interested in maybe doing a Jesse Tree yourself, here are some links to get you going and please let us know how you get on:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Back to Childhood

On May 31, 1997, the Danish ferry Dronning Ingrid stopped running. A tunnel from the cities of Koersoer to Sproege made ferries obsolete. That was a very sad day for 11-year old Milan Falsing. “I cried for two or three days,” he said.  Born and raised in the small town of Hoeng, Milan had traveled with his family by the ferry many times to visit family members in other parts of Denmark and especially to the small island of Aeroe, where his grandmother lived.
“It was always a special occasion for me and my sister,” he recalled.  “On the starboard side forward (where the dining room is now) there was a play area for children.”  Milan had so many happy memories of good times onboard the ferry, and he was broken- hearted to think there would be no more. His concerned mother contacted Scandlines, who owned the ferry at the time, and asked if Milan and his siblings could visit the ferry one last time to say farewell. The vice president granted the request. “When my mother gave me the good news, I was all jumpy and screamy and so happy,” he said.

Finally, the big day arrived – a day off from school – and he was very excited. The first thing he noticed when they arrived was that everything was being dismantled, and there were no lights – all was dark. The vice president of Scandlines showed them around, and Milan and his siblings enjoyed one last time in the play area. There were small ashtrays around, and Milan kept one as a souvenir. “Up on the bridge, I remember the huge glass plates in the floor. It was fun to stand on them and look down.” He was in the fourth grade at the time, and he was the last passenger onboard. “That’s when I decided to be a seafarer,” he said. “I just wanted to go out to sea.”

In the ninth grade, he began to prepare for his life at sea by choosing to go to a boarding school with a maritime focus. From there he went to the maritime high school, where he could get a high school diploma and a seaman’s degree that would allow him to find a position on a ship. He went to work for the Maersk Line for his basic training at sea. They also had an educational opportunity for a duel degree, but he wanted to become a single navigator and chose the Marstal Maritime Academy, located on his grandmother’s island. “I have a big association with that island,” he said.

As a member of the Danish Ferry Institute, Milan kept his interest in the Dronning Ingrid alive. When Mercy Ships bought the ferry in 1999, it was moved to Newcastle, United Kingdom, to be renovated to become the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy. “I had never heard of Mercy Ships before and wondered what Mercy Ships was. What would a religious group want with a ferry? We didn’t know what God was doing with the Dronning Ingrid.” Milan’s interest was piqued as he followed the progress of the renovation.

After seven years, he saw the ferry again. Totally renovated, she had become the Africa Mercy, a state-of-the-art hospital ship. “There she was! A new ship, all white with a new stack.”

As soon as he received his Master’s Unlimited Degree, he started looking for an opportunity to serve onboard. His commercial job allows for lots of vacation time, but often it doesn’t coincide with an opening on the ship. When he realized his vacation finally coincided with an opening on the bridge this year, he applied right away.
His application was accepted on a Monday, and everything was in order. But he needed his numbers for blood pressure and pulse. At midnight, he biked down to the emergency medical doctor, a short distance away, and explained what he needed and why. “It only took five minutes to get the numbers,” said Milan. He called them in on Tuesday, and Thursday morning he left for Freetown – and became the first Danish officer to serve onboard since 2009. He confided that his mother and sister were elated that he was going to be on the ship and asked if there was room for them, too.
Milan (his crew mates call him “Milo”) is very excited and happy to be serving onboard. “I don’t want to go home, but I have to,” he admitted. “I also would love to come back again.”  He wants to promote Mercy Ships as much as he can when he goes home. “This is unique! You can’t find it anywhere in the world!” he exclaimed.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Keep Those Mossie's Away

In West Africa, over 3,000 children die of malaria every day; 1 out of every 5 childhood deaths is due to malaria. Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds in West Africa and the disease can cause anemia and jaundice and, if not promptly treated, can cause coma, kidney failure, or death.  To make matters worse, the West African rainy season that begins in June will cause flooding that will aggravate the problem, since standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry the disease – according to Robert Agyarko, UN Children’s Fund Specialist on Malaria for West Africa. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, it is estimated that between 60% and 70% of mosquitoes are malaria carriers.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that malaria can be controlled, and even prevented, using anti-malarial drugs, insect repellent, or mosquito nets in sleeping areas. UN Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, reports, “Mosquito nets are still the most effective tool for preventing malaria in West Africa.”  Mosquito nets are infused with Permethrin, a long-lasting insecticide that acts as a barrier to prevent mosquitoes from penetrating the nets. It drives away the mosquitoes and kills the ones that land. Unfortunately, only 40% of households in Sierra Leone have an insecticide-treated mosquito net (ITN).  St. Mary’s Church in Olveston, Bristol, United Kingdom, is taking a stand against this deadly killer. They have donated £5,000 to Mercy Ships for the distribution of mosquito nets at the HOPE Center in Freetown.
This land-based facility houses patients who are awaiting surgery and those recovering from surgery onboard the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy.
When the patients are discharged from the HOPE Center, they will each be given a mosquito net and told how to use it properly. They will also receive additional information on how to prevent malaria. This promising strategy will make a difference in fighting this deadly disease.

Stat's taken from WHO 2003 Africa Malaria Report & WHO 2010 Africa Malaria Report