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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Sorry you haven't heard from us for a while, our computer has died which included our "about to be sent" newsletter and all your email addresses.  So from here we would like to send you Christmas greetings and God's blessings to you as we enter into a new year.
We will be in touch again once the computer is fixed when Tim returns home to renew his license soon.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Thank you for all you do to support us!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Decorating the Rehab Tent

As you cast your eye over our dock outside our ship you may notice some big tents.  
 No, we haven't got too many crew who need to be housed outside.  This is where we receive a lot of the patients and one of the tents houses the Rehabilitation Team.  Each year the Academy help make it a little more cheerful for those who spend hours exercising their limbs as they recover from surgery.  This year the different school grades contributed with different art work and they've even made space so patients can draw around their hands and add to the art work.  So tonight we hung it all up.  I would love to be in the tent tomorrow and see everybody's face when they arrive and see the colourful decorations.
(thank you Shelly for the photos and organising this)
So what do the rehab team do?
One of their main programs is the Ponseti Clubfoot Program where they use casts to manipulate the foot back to the correct position.
Others may have had surgery and so come here for exercises to help recover from surgery.
Here are some before and afters:
 And our main "Ortho" crew Nick and Dr. Frank, along with many other volunteers and day crew, work so hard so lives can be changed.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Our Little Music Boy

Nathanael is starting to follow his musical roots.  Last year he started learning the Djimbe to see if he could cope with learning an instrument and all the commitment of practicing etc that goes with it.  Since he was a baby he has always been fascinated with the drums and was always watching them in the services.  He would set out his toy drums, along with any other pots and tubs that he could find to make his pretend drum kit.
Today he started his first drum lesson with the very same man that he spent hours watching many years ago. 
On another "note" he has also started learning the recorder at school.  The academy has a great music teacher who not only teaches music in the school but also a variety of instruments.  Nathanael joined the beginner recorder group at the beginning of the school year and already we are hearing the start of the Christmas song, Jingle Bells, being squeaked as he practices each lunch time.  So if you want to start getting into the Christmas spirit click on the video below.

Monday, October 21, 2013

New Experiences

It's amazing the random things that come up that we can get involved in, in Africa.  These last 2 weekends there have been 2 new experiences that Nathanael has been able to enjoy.  Sharon had some prior engagements on both days so it became a Daddy and son day out.  Each time we thought that he'd probably sit it out being the cautious child that he is, but he has surprised us.
A week ago a local horse stables had an open day for children so they can see life around horses in Pointe Noire.  It was also a fundraiser but they generously offered us free tickets so that our kids from the ship could come and have go.
Nathanael had initially expressed some reservation about getting on a horse but we suggested that he should just try it out as it's not something that comes along often.  Well needless to say he loved it because by the time it was time to go he had been on a horse not 1, but 4 TIMES and by the end of it he had learnt to get on and off a horse.  Unfortunately the stable charges $60 a lesson so we're glad that he got a chance to do it free of charge.
This weekend a local sailing club also had a free open day and they offered a few Hobie Cat sail boats and kayaks so the kids could experience some sailing on a "smaller" scale.  Tim was able to share a little of his passion for sailing and take Nathanael out in a boat and have a sail around which he/they really enjoyed.

Thank you to all who made these open days possible so our kids can experience things they don't normally do, we really appreciate it.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Our First Patient

Ebenezer was one of our first patients before we even knew it.

Ebenezer is from Nigeria and was unable to afford medical care in his home country.  He searched the internet for a way to get help to remove his tumour and found Mercy Ships on line.  He read about the ship being in Conakry, Guinea and decided to go and seek us out, hoping that somebody could help.  Unfortunately he got to Guinea too late, we had already left, but that didn't deter him, he heard that we were going to The Republic of Congo so he started to make his way to Brazzaville.  By the time he got to Brazzaville he had no money, he couldn't speak French or any of the tribal languages of Congo, but God intervened!  A fellow Nigerian passenger on his flight offered to pay for his lodging and onward airfare to Pointe Noire.  On arrival some Mercy Ships crew "happened" to be at the airport collecting incoming crew when they found Ebenezer.  They took him to our hope centre for somewhere to stay until the ship arrived.
Ebenezer became our first patient and was welcomed on board by our President and Founder, Don Stephens.  They prayed together in the ward before he received his surgery and now he is on his way to healing and a new outlook on life.
He is now staying at our Hope Centre ashore which houses 150 patients and caregivers.  His bandages are removed and he will continue to recover until his next stage of surgery to graft bone from his hip around his new titanium jaw.  Continue to pray for his ongoing healing.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Spot of Tank Cleaning

Often maintenance on the ship has to be carried out which is not always that quiet!  At the moment the technical department are in the process of tank cleaning on deck 1, yes that's right, right in the bottom of the ship.  But with this ship being made of steel, steel carries sound extremely well so those up on the upper decks can even hear the noise.
So what is tank cleaning?
Marine regulations and also responsible ship stewardship require the steel tanks to be kept free of corrosion and foreign deposits.  If they aren't cleaned periodically we risk losing our certification to operate the ship and the life spam of the tanks is shortened.  So we are getting ready for our next inspection in 2014.

The Africa Mercy has a total of 72 tanks & there is a regular and on-going schedule for cleaning all the tanks to meet specific inspection dates.  So lots of work to be done.  Currently it has taken one month to get halfway through the 2 tanks that are in the worst condition.   
Often this can also be done by shipyards but the cost is very expensive especially when it needs to be done in a short period of time, so doing it ourselves saves a lot.

In case you are thinking that it's just a matter of popping in with your sweeping brush and cleaning up a bit, read on.  A ship tank is a confined space, so the most important aspect for the cleaning crew of around 3-5 people is safety.  Following the Mercy Ships Safety Management System, no one is allowed to enter the tank until an empty permit is signed off.  This permit verifies that the air in the tank has been checked and certifies that the air is safe and in sufficient supply.  A spotter is on constant watch outside the tank in case an emergency response is needed.  Fire suits, harnesses and emergency escape breathing devices are kept by the entrance of the tank in case of an emergency evacuation.  The tank is illuminated with floor lights and head lamps.  Special protective clothing is worn, including eye goggles, ear plugs/muffs, steel-toed boots, gloves, breathing masks and coveralls.  Sturdy scaffolding is erected and workers wear safety harnesses for fall protection (yes the tank is that big!).  The cleaning work is done with heavy duty pneumatic needle guns capable of removing scale and leaving a clean steel surface.  The scale is collected, hauled out of the tank and then discarded safely.
Scaffolding in the tank
Tank Cleaner hoists out a bucket of corrosion and foreign deposits from the tank

To keep air free of scale particle matter and to replenish the tank with fresh air, an extractor and an air supply fan run continually.

So after all that heavy work two important measures are followed to protect them.  First, the newly cleaned steel surface is coated with Intertuf 16, a powerful defence against corrosion.  Second, the zinc anodes, also called sacrificial anodes, are replaced.  Rust prefers zinc to steel, so the anodes are attacked by the rust rather than the steel.
So next time you hear the tanks are being cleaned you know there's more to the job than meets the eye.
Thank you to our fabulous Technical team or all your hard work

Saturday, September 21, 2013

School Photos

The school decided to have the school photo's taken at the beginning of the year and this year they were done on the bridge - so here is our wonderful son
Nathanael and his 1st grade class - 4 boys and 1 girl who apparently "mothers" the boys
and there always has to be a silly photo
The whole school on board ranging from age 1 to 18:

Friday, September 20, 2013

Screening Patient

2 years ago Emmanuel was diagnosed with "Malaria". He was prescribed antimalarial tablets to help but it didn't seem to work.  So his parents took him to a hospital in Kinshasa where doctors found that in fact it wasn't malaria that he had, there was a tumour in his neck that was slowly suffocating him.  The hospital said they were unable to provide treatment and sent him home.  His breathing began getting worse to the point that he would loose consciousness up to 3 times a day.  His mother started taking him to the hospital every time he passed out but eventually she stopped because they couldn't do anything.

Meanwhile in August his father was working in the port of Pointe Noire when he saw a big white ship, the Africa Mercy, sailing in.  He heard about the hospital and the work we were going to do in the Congo and started to hope that maybe we could help his son.  Although it was still 2 weeks before we had our selection date, the family bought a calendar and started marking off the days to the screening so they could take Emmanuel.

During the screening there was an EMT call ("emergency medical treatment") for this little boy and when the doctor saw him he could hardly breathe.  So he was immediately scheduled for one of the first surgeries on board with the hope that he would have a chance. 

On board he was only awake for small amounts of time, his body struggled to get oxygen, then when he did sleep it would be short because he stopped breathing, time was short.  On the 4th September he was operated on to remove a tumour the size of a fist and it wasn't long before he was released to go home.  
We are thankful to God that we were here just in time for him and now he has a full future ahead of him.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Screening Day

The day started very early for many.  When the day shift security team headed out in the early hours of 5'ish in the morning, already people were gathering in line with a hope of an appointment for surgery.  Within the space of a couple of hours that number of around 600 had risen to 4000-5000 people as many made their way to line up.  One thing we have noticed, the Congolese know how to line up.  I remember on the first morning of our local day crew arriving on board and having to stand in line to get a cup of tea in the dining room, it was funny to see the confused faces of many of our crew members as this was not the norm.  But this must be the norm here as people lined up to wait their turn and it went very calmly.
Here's a time lapse of the crowd over the day:
Throughout the day 311 crew went back and forth to help with the day.  Some handling security and lines, others escorting patients from one station to another, some keeping the kids entertained, others registering the personal details of every potential candidate, water carriers, sandwich sharers, transportation.  Photographers took snaps of each condition, doctors & nurses evaluated patients giving the joyful "YES" or the disheartening "NO".  2 worlds go on side by side, those who carry hope in an appointment card and those who we unfortunately can't help, both take the same path out of the evaluation building.  People gathered at a prayer tent to pray with those who had been declined, others danced with those who we would see again.

Sharon headed out at 11:30-she was part of the patient escort team.  Her job was to escort people to the right surgical evaluations.  The nurses had made it so easy for us by colour coding the paperwork so all we needed to do was follow the right coloured arrow to Plastics, Max Fac's, Orthopedic, VVF, Goiters etc.  The hard part was walking up and down the stairs for each patient, but to be honest, not really hard when your body works fine unlike the many we helped.  It was fun to connect face to face with patients and even practice the poor school French which gave many laughs and broke down barriers and made connections.  Even the mothers who hid their disfigured baby from all, because of their embarrassment, got connected and more relaxed as Sharon asked about their baby. When they would show her, Sharon would tell them they were "trés belle" and some would look at her in disbelief, that somebody would find their child beautiful when the outside world would think they were cursed.  I must admit they were very adorable.  Another one that comes to mind was a young lad who's legs were bent up by his body, his family and friends carried him on a plastic patio chair to wherever he needed to go, even up the two flights of stairs.  I will always the remember the time when he came across our path as we all recited hello in our best french, "Bonjour" or one of the local languages "Mbote" only to be greeted by a boy speaking perfect english.  It surprised us all.  He was fun to be around and he got an appointment so we are all looking out for his visit as I think he's going to have fun on board!
"Sharon helping "Mama" and her little one up the stairs"
 "Upstairs for Max Fac & Plastics"
"Downstairs for the rest"
Around 18:30 the sun was going down but there were still many patients, unfortunately the building that we were all working in had no power so landrover lights shone in various places to see our way.  By 19:30 all those that were left were given an appointment card at the ship to continue their screening in the light.

It was a successful day.  The gate was open from 06:25-18:44.  The total number of people (potential patients and their caregivers) that came to the main gate was 7354.

6354 came through the gate and 4236 received an appointment card for surgery

Here is a video with photo's from the day that our communications team has put together:
Thank you for your prayers

Monday, August 26, 2013

Screening Day - Wednesday

On Wednesday we have our screening day where thousands of people will queue up with the hope of receiving an appointment card for surgery.  Please pray that the right people will be selected.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

We Have a Shark in the Family

Apparently they call them shark teeth.  
Initially we thought that we were going to end up with numerous trips to the dentist but consulting with other mum/mom's on the ship and google it turns out it's quite normal.

Nathanael's starting teething again!  
This summer Sharon was looking in his mouth for something when she noticed this tooth sticking up behind the rest of his teeth.  On further investigation the ones in front were starting to feel wobbly.  Nathanael had been blissfully going along thinking he had some food there not realising it was a tooth.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Arriving in the Congo

We have arrived in the Republic of Congo.
After a 14 day sail (which felt like a month) we arrived to a great reception at the port of Pointe Noire on the 10th August.
We were greeted by the pilot boat with some of our wonderful advance team waving with excitement after working so hard to prepare for our visit.
 On the dock we saw another crowd gathering to welcome us:
 Gangway preparations start:
 Some of our advance team had even made a head start by putting up some of the dock tents that will receive many patients in the coming months:
 It was also great to see our founders, Don & Deyon Stephens there.  A special time for them seeing the Africa Mercy arrive.
VIP guests arriving for the welcoming ceremony that was organised by the advance team and Congo:
 The ceremony started off with Tim leading the way, along with the pilot, to greet those who have eagerly waited for the ship
 Tim greeting the VIP's
 To honour him, a chair was set aside for him to watch the proceedings:
Now we are in the throws of learning all about the country and getting set up for the screening that will take place next Wednesday.  

We have already learnt some words in the Kituba language which surprises some people when it comes out our mouths!

 "m'bote" - hello 
"wa waso" - how are you
"ka bien" -  I'm good
"née ke m'bote" - are you well
"ee mu ke m'bote na nag aussie wa faso" - yes & you

As we learn more about this wonderful country we will share more with you.

 Please pray that all goes well next week.