Tuesday, 24 September 2019

letting go



Well friends, the ship arrived 6 weeks ago and the adventure is fully under way. The port generously shuffled their potato and onion trade to another pier and made way for the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship to make a home. A couple of weeks ago, we welcomed our first patient on board and just like that, our ship started to look like a hospital again!
 
Having been here for the last nearly 6 months, we are celebrating the trust that is in the midst of being built and we are beginning to see the fruit of efforts all round. There are still bumps in the road and as we navigate trying to gather 75% of our patients from regions outside of Dakar, the work is heavy. The communication to a population of nearly 16 million was so ‘effective’ that we are actually finding ourselves with way too many patients than we can care for. Saying no is heart breaking and sometimes it feels like what we bring is far from ‘hope and healing’. It’s the harsh reality and somehow my hope is that at a bigger picture level, the great need will generate the attention it deserves and build momentum for a National Surgical Plan that will serve this beautiful nation in the long term.

We’ve been hosting various receptions here on board and have had our fair share of media coverage and here are a few photos from recent weeks.



 
It’s a Saturday morning and the sun is beating down. I stand awkwardly as the 42-year-old lady who made the 9 hour journey to the ship is tenderly parceled back up into the ambulance that brought her here. I see her sister silently sobbing behind the ambulance door so that her sibling cannot see her and as I reach my arm out to comfort her, I have no words. With such a short history, the aggressive facial tumour is stealing this lady’s life and there is nothing we can do. I imagine the journey here, less than 24 hours before, must have held some hope and I swallow hard, wondering why it has to look like this.

I’ve felt a bit tired of letting go recently. I’ve felt a resentment that comes from a grief of a relentless letting go of things I care for and for things I long for, for things I wish would happen my way. It’s ridiculous how life can become so full of me. What I want, what I need, what I think would be good. Personal things. Professional things. Letting go of plan A and navigating my way to plan B or C and sometimes even P. I’ve felt a bit mad in those moments and yet in the depth of that I have also heard God’s voice, ‘I don’t ask you to let go in a way that will harm you, I ask you to let go and trust the one who loves you’. Who would have thought it would be so hard to trust the King of kings? His whispers bring a peace and as I recount the things I need to let go of, I feel a wave of ease. It’s OK. I can trust my God. I’ve spent hours worshipping God in the literal and metaphorical storms these last months. I’ve heard the thunder crash and the rain come. I’ve rushed for shelter and I’ve felt the power of my mighty God save me. I’ve always woken up the next morning – literally and metaphorically again - and seen the calm. I’ve seen the sun rise with such beauty and I’ve sung with my whole heart, ‘Great is His faithfulness’.
 
 

 

 
But what about this? What about this lady? The answers aren’t quite as sweet or as comforting. The mercies don’t seem to be so new every morning. She’s on her journey home to die. You can’t make that one nice. I pray with my whole heart that somewhere on her journey to the ship this lady met with Jesus. I pray that she felt the warmth of his love and I pray that she felt him kiss her cheek and tell her that she is his precious daughter. I don’t know if she did, but I pray it. I want to fight for her, and yet at the same time I want to numb the pain of such extraordinary human suffering. It’s a different kind of letting go, but I feel God’s call to let go of this weight. I look up to the King of the universe and ask him to please take it, to please be with her and with her sisters’ silent tears that roll courageously down her face as she climbs into the ambulance and sets off for home on their own journey of letting go and to share of the hope they never found.

You can romanticise about this work all you like but all we are is a tiny drop in a very large ocean. It’s wonderful. Light shines in darkness and we add our drops of love in the hope it flows like a river through this nation. But the need is overwhelming and the only way to believe you make a difference is to let go. This isn’t ours to control. We have to let go. All we can do is trust and obey and add our little drop.

I don’t mean to sound so depressing! I love this place, I love this work. But I hate that it has to exist and I hate that injustice and greed have permission to roam the world freely at the cost of those who were born in a different place to me. I’m preparing to come home to work for Mercy Ships from home for a few months and in this new role as Country Director, we are figuring out what that means whilst the ship is in country. With a team of 400 on board who can more than ably do without me, I will work on some projects from home that I would never get around to here ‘in the field’. I’m delighted… but I’m fearful. Not of the future or of what life will look like, but I think I’m fearful that I’ll numb this pain and think about myself too much. I will enjoy the gift of friends and family and no doubt there are all sorts of needs that are hungry to be met there too. We need each other and it’s a real gift to embrace this season and I’m really very ready. But I’m scared of my own desire for comfort and perhaps – maybe -- that’s why it’s a little hard to let go… Jesus, save me from building a safe little cocoon and instead help me build more of a nest where I can let my heart keep breaking and from which life can soar from…

Throughout our period of preparation before the ship arrived, during long and challenging days, as well as before meals shared together, our team would regularly chant, “L’Eternel est mon berger, je ne manquerai de rien’ (The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want) and it meant so much. In the inevitable season of facing so much need and of yet another transition and the relentless letting go of relationships, trust built and fought for, dreams hoped for… this one will ring in my heart in the weeks and months to come.
Nature seems to get it so well and it seems letting go is actually a beautiful thing. I have not one single doubt that there will be many many beautiful things birthed in this season ahead. May there be hope, may there be joy and may there be glimpses of eternity hidden in the most unexpected of places as you put your trust in Him.

As Mother Theresa said, ‘I will not pray for clarity. Clarity is the crutch of the church. I will pray for trust, that your trust may increase’. 

Love always, KWW

 
The coast of Dakar

Saturday, 10 August 2019

4 sleeps to go


Here's a blog I shared with the team at Mercy Ships so I thought I'd share it here too.
4 sleeps to go… and the best is yet to come
We talk a lot about transformation at Mercy Ships, don’t we? I think it is one of the big reasons I find myself here. Transformation represents the heart of God, it gives hope for the future, hope that a different reality is possible and hope that good things can be birthed through dark and painful times. It’s about more than meets the eye. It’s rooted in grace and rests in goodness. It is wrapped in mercy and nestled in the richest of love and it calls our name.

Transformation is a story that we are used to when it comes to our patients. We’ve seen countless precious lives transform for the better. We’ve seen downcast spirits come alive again and we’ve rejoiced together when we’ve seen tumour free faces smile, when we’ve seen bent legs run and dance and we’ve wept together as we’ve watched those once rejected, be embraced by love. It’s a thrill to witness and it makes our hearts beat. If we think about it, I would suggest many of us are united in this work by a thirst for transformation, a hunger for justice, and a longing for Heaven to come here on Earth. I can’t wait to see all those things here in Senegal.

But this story of transformation lives within our Mercy Ship story in multiple other ways too.

This Advance adventure is one of them for sure and I feel like I am watching an emerging butterfly! Deep within this chrysalis, there is life. It has not always been evident and there are some hard outer layers to pierce through, but the hope of emerging beauty is sure. It is why we are here! We are calling Heaven to Earth and His Kingdom to come. Relationships are so key and in a country where we are less well known and perhaps ‘less welcomed’ by some within the medical community, we sometimes find it hard to see the beauty. I have often felt more as if I am in a boxing ring, if I am honest! I have felt myself on the defence, justifying and sometimes desperately grasping at opportunities to agree and countless hours spent preparing for difficult battle and yet more hours trying to rise up from them again. It has not been easy and I have found myself questioning why God has me here. I’m too soft for this! Some days have felt unnecessarily complicated and my desire to build trust has felt lost and bewildered under shaky foundations.  
 
It has made me reflect on the patients’ lives and what it means to be out of hope. I cannot say I have felt out of hope! But in some moments my hope has been challenged and it has caused me to grieve for a people who really must feel out of hope. People who really don’t know where their answers will ever come from, who never have or never will know a life without pain or what it means to be loved and accepted. That feeling of hopelessness, the feeling of no matter what I do, I can’t seem to change anything and the feeling of having to pick myself up after the most frustrating of days to keep on walking, again and again and again. And yet I always have hope! I have a ridiculously blessed life where I am literally never in want. How and why, I will never know.

And so we have to continue to believe that this is exactly why we are here. To build the foundation of trust, to keep on hoping and to keep on believing for those who literally cannot. To believe that this butterfly will fly and that one day these wings will soar. To trust that at the right time, the chrysalis will crack and its true beauty will shine. Oh how I long to see hope and light overwhelm this nation! For lives to be transformed and that those who can never even dare to dare, would know the life they were created for.

In this transformation process, I’ve been challenged to die to self. To let go of what I want and need, to let go of thinking it’s about me and what I can achieve, and to let go of the opinions of others – here – or within our organization. All I have and do will never be good enough, and for sure, I do not feel good enough. Transformation necessarily takes us out of our comfort zone. If it didn’t, we’d stay the same - safe in our little cocoon. I do none of this for anyone but Jesus. In the words of George Muller, ‘There was a day when I utterly died. I died to George Muller, his opinions, preferences, tastes and will. I died to the world, its approval or censure. I died to the approval or blame even of my brethren and friends and since then I have studied only to show myself approved of God’.

Here’s to months ahead full of transformation – in our patients lives, the people who we train, our partners, our day crew and our very own crew as well!

There are only 4 sleeps to go and the team is bursting with excitement to reunite with our ship family again! I talk about the challenges because it’s the reality, but I talk from a place of hope, a place that has not even one doubt that God has called us here. Transformation is at the heart of all we do. It is never ever the end of the story and it is a privilege to live and work knowing that, knowing that hope is present and knowing that the best is surely yet to come. We are grateful for the physical manifestations of this truth and we trust God for all we are yet to see in this beautiful country.
Here’s just a few transformations we are witnessing here:


 
This is the HOPE Centre, based at SIL – a Christian mission who were not using the building. It’s around 15 minutes from the Port and will house 250 patients and caregivers.

This is the Dental Clinic based in Sangalkam, about an hour’s drive from the Port. The team will live off ship to facilitate their travel and as a result, a more rural population will be served. <<photo>>

 

 
Some of our 250+ Day Crew at the end of the orientation and contract signing! <<photo>>

 
This is the Advance Team! An incredible team of dedicated people, gifted in unique ways to prepare the way for the ship. We have had our own transformations going on; learning to let go and trust God like never before, learning to walk in grace and love and understanding in a tight team house; learning to trust God with our futures beyond this season, learning to believe that, with God, we are enough… I could go on...

 Let's keep on longing for transformation. With so much love, KWW

 

 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

met by love


It’s a hot day, warmer than the ones of the last 2 months and I’m realising I’ve been lulled into thinking I didn’t need to break a sweat here. The fresh breezes have dropped, the air feels more humid and the rains are on their way. The roads are lined with stalls selling mangos – more varieties than I’ve ever seen - sitting in pyramids that look like they might topple over, and as I sit in yet another dented taxi, the street children cup their hands at my window and ask for something small. I want to smile at them but always feel this tension that a smile might give the hope of money and whilst I’d be happy to give, it’s not the answer. I have heard many people outside of Senegal ask why we are coming here – isn’t it so much more developed? There are paved roads and supermarkets and some nice fancy private hospitals, sure. But access to surgery is complex and you can’t make a judgment from a quick google search or from the impressive 3 lane highway that runs from the airport to the heart of the city. What percentage of the population can pay the tolls and use it anyway? Spend a few hours in this huge bustling city, listen to the stories of the locals, step beyond Dakar, and it soon becomes clear; the need is real.
 
 

I arrived here on April 14th and it’s been a busy 2 months. It’s an immense privilege and I find myself doing things that make me want to pinch myself. Be it a couple of meetings at the ‘Presidency’, or many many days spent collaborating at the Ministry of Health or even the chance to celebrate the Queen’s birthday at the British Embassy! It’s fun, but aspects of this journey are hard. My heart arrived full of desire to build trust, to collaborate, to find mutual understanding. In some areas it’s going well but in some I’d say it’s a big struggle right now and that makes me sad. When you want to serve and pour out love, that’s just hard to swallow and I wonder why they put this softie in as Country Director. As I was reflecting on the challenges of building trust with people who don’t know us, who come from different backgrounds and even those with different goals, I was reminded once again that at the end of the day, all we can do is love. It’s love that unites us all.

 
 
 Surprise birthday celebrations for me!
 
My hard days far out number the easy ones but the depth of love interwoven through them all is a precious gift to my tender heart. As a team, every Thursday morning we gather and share all the ways we feel God has ‘winked’ at us throughout the preceding week. Thankful Thursday is medicine to the soul and food for the faith required to continue climbing the mountains before us. We have 3 huge big ‘magic whiteboard’ sheets on our lounge wall that capture the moments that have filled our hearts. So often we have been met by people who just want to help us and encourage us. Sometimes we meet people who have worked here for years and I marvel at the commitment and faith and pure endurance to battle systems which are sometimes slow and heavy. There is one pastor who we have connected with in particular who blesses me so much. His quiet humility, his love for God, the sense of the Spirit that He carries and his solid faith that continues to believe for his nation, touch me every time. And sometimes it’s the opportunities to swim and sink our teeth into a crusty baguette. I am thankful and reminded so often that at the end of the day, we have been met by love in countless ways.
 


 
 

In the last few days, our Patient Selection team started a 4 week trip around Senegal; it’s time to spread the word that an opportunity to have free surgery is coming. A team of 4 have embarked on a journey that will take them to each of the 13 regional capitals to begin building relationships with key people there before the patient registration weeks start towards the end of July. If you’re interested in finding out more you can take a look at www.mercyships.sn where all the specific related information for Senegal can be found. Pray for them and for all our future patients.

Other members of our team have embarked on interviewing 400 or so of the 1500 applications from those wanting to join our team of local volunteers. It’s coming together! 3 new vehicles have arrived and are out of the Port (that’s big!) and all sorts of other plans are coming into place. We are on a constant journey of letting go of our own timelines and learning to trust that things will work out. The balance between blind trust and what wisdom looks like isn’t always clear, but…. we are learning. We have 2 renovation projects for our Dental Clinic and HOPE Centre (which will house around 250 patients and relatives before and after surgery here in Dakar) that need to be ready in 8 weeks, for example, and no work has yet begun. I won’t bore you with the details but a certain number of somersaults and hoop jumping has already been done and there are a few more back flips to go before we can sign contracts next week. But at the end of the day, all we can do is love, right?

 
I wish I could get that right and not be so focused on my lists and to just let go… to let go of all sorts of offence and injustice and of plan A or plan B. Just keep on loving. Just like the One who loves me unconditionally, day in day out, regardless of my attitude or heart. At the end of the day, the answer to anyone wondering why we are coming to Senegal is simple. We are coming as an expression of God’s immense love for this nation. To a nation that is around 94% muslim, to a people who are in need, to people who need hope. When I look at it like that, I wish I could steer the ship home and pour out some love there too. Lack of access to surgery is huge and something we so desire to help, but we all need love wherever we may be.

I’m so thankful to have been met by love and I so desire people to feel they have met with love when they meet with me or with one of my incredible team.
 
 
 

May you be met by love too. Love always, KWW

 
From ‘met by love’, United Pursuit:
There is none, none like you
Who can know my heart like you do?
For all creation sings your song
I will join with time, declaring your glory…
want to keep on trying
We can run straight into your arms, unafraid
‘cause every time we meet you, we’re met by love
And we can lift our hands to Heaven. Full of faith
‘Cause every time we worship, we see your face
 
 

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

another opportunity to trust


Socks and shoes and learning French season is over, but amongst the apparent chaos of the streets of Conakry, Guinea, there is deep joy! Even the drive back from the airport tells the story. It thrusts you from a world that felt so much calmer, one where I was deceived into thinking I was in control, to one that is noisy, and dusty and stinkin' hot and one where traffic comes up the road the wrong way towards you and leaves you in a spin; but one that fills my heart with joy.
 



I’m back. Somehow home but yet the transition this way seems harder than it was the other way. Home home is home and despite its craziness and all the parts that feel a little unattractive to me, it’s home. But I missed this crazy beautiful place. What a na├»ve statement to say about such a vast continent that is so varied and for the most part, I do not know! But somehow I love what I find here, and yet it challenges every part of me and often pushes my patience to the limits. The blaring taxi radios and the dust and furnace like heat don’t exactly fill my heart, put it that way. But the people do, of that there is no doubt.

… 2 weeks later and I’m waking up in Dakar, Senegal in a guesthouse found in the middle of an industrial zone not too far from the port. Even the leaves of the trees are coated with dust and each excursion leaves me with a layer of dirty sand all over. My hair has found new ways to stick out at awkward angles as the dust carefully attaches itself to every strand. I guess we are near the desert! The dappled sunlight landing on my bed and the chirps of carefree birds bring rest to my soul. It’s been a busy first 2 weeks as ‘Country Director’ – our first task, ‘to prepare the way for the ship to arrive in 4 months time’. It’s a ridiculous title for someone who has little clue of what they are doing. You have no idea how many times I have thought of, and clung onto, the stories of how God uses the weak these last weeks. I’ve pictured myself as Gideon facing big giants and known that this is just how God seems to work. It’s senseless, but somehow it brings me strength. I know my heart is good and I know I am willing and I know I can be brave and I know I have good experience to bring to the table. But who would have thought that this 4-eyed little girl would have rocked up here?
 
 
dusty leaves!

 

I'm always hungry to be in situations where I can see God’s power at work, to look up at mountains and know that if they move, it’s only God who can make them move, and even the quote on this very blog, ‘life is meant to be an adventure, when we cease to reach out and stretch ourselves, something in us dies’ reflects the longings of my heart. But this stretching is hard! I felt I was drowning at French school and I have felt way in above my head in previous mercy ship roles and I feel those familiar feelings all over again. Forcing myself out of bed and reaching into the depths for my brave face, believing – every day – I am where I’m meant to be.  I landed in a Country I don’t know, with a team that I haven’t worked that closely with before and am working in a language I am understanding well but still am slow to speak in professional settings. I’m learning about the need for a ‘ship consigner’ and ‘shipping agents’ and all sorts of other terminology like ‘bill of ladding’ that I have had no need to know before now. I’m letting go of the beauty and comfort that surrounded me these last months in France and at home, and I’m letting go of the myth of being in control and finding it’s once again, another opportunity to trust.  

And yet in between the long long days, the twinkling sunlight and sweet birdsong call my name. I think I can honestly say that I’ve felt God closer than ever before these last 2 weeks. It’s not from anything I have done, but my eyes just seem to be open and I guess my desperate cries for help have had Him running. We have an amazing team of 6, which will grow to 12 in June. The welcome here has been warm – from the Government and even the Minister of Health himself, to generous expats sharing their experiences and time, to locals sharing their hearts and skilled taxi men who brave ridiculous traffic every day. Last week I was at a meeting of local Pastors and throughout the meeting, one man caught my eye. He had been silent throughout and right before the end of the meeting, he began to pipe up. He had been a patient on one of our ships in 1993 and had a facial tumour removed! He spoke of how his life had transformed and how the burden he had carried around for years was lifted. He spoke of the freedom he had found and the new future he had walked into. He summarized our message of hope and love better than I ever could. Once he had finished, I had to give a response, but how could I? Humbled by this man, humbled by the experiences of so many who don’t have access to the care they need and in awe of a God who cares. Privileged to be a part of bringing hope, knowing that all I have to bring to the table is crumbs but that my God would multiply them and prepare the way for many more like this man to know His love. There are moments I would jump on a plane and come home tomorrow and there are others I would lay down my life forever, and this was one of them. I’m so grateful for the small glimpses we see of God’s heart and the sheer privilege it is to walk with Him.
 
Our former patient friend and Pastor here in Senegal
 

The task ahead of us is huge. It’s tough, it’s messy, it is overwhelming and there’s a whole load of sticky situations to sift through in the coming months in order for the ship to arrive safely and for all our programs to be ready to start in full swing. I suspect sleep will get cut short and there won’t be so many mountain views, and I’d like to say there’s no place I’d rather be... but it’s not totally true! It’s a choice and a sacrifice but I can say I am very happy to be here, but I won’t pretend it’s comfortable. It surely is another opportunity to trust again and be reminded I was never in control anyway, even if I thought I was. And it surely is yet another time to appreciate the depths of relationship and the rich culture that I have only found on this sweet sweet continent.

I’m already looking forward to seeing the ship sail in and I’m praying every day that light will shine into every nook and cranny of this nation and that hope will be birthed in so many people’s lives and in ways that we wouldn’t even dare to dream of.

To Him be the glory.

Letting go of control, trusting and believing. Love always, KWW
 
 
Senegal Advance Team
 

 

Thursday, 31 January 2019

snowflakes

I felt a nudge to go out for a walk, with a conviction that God wanted to tell me something. The timing didn’t exactly fit with my overflowing day, but it was a nudge I couldn’t ignore. And it was walking down this hill that He whispered it to me, ‘are you beginning to understand now that I really do care about the details?’. And my eyes welled up, because how could I deny it?




I’ve always loved snow. And snowflakes. And sledges, since the beginning of time! I can still almost feel the red snow suit that I wore at maybe aged 3, and the feeling of being pulled along on a wooden sledge that my Dad made (I think it was him!). It’s partly the playful joy that it calls out of even the dreariest of days (or people!!) but it’s also the exquisite beauty that captures me. The pure, brilliant white, impeccably detailed, floating pieces of magic that dance down from the sky, simply capture my heart. They speak of the glory of God, and yet, they are only a mere glimpse. 







Last week as one of our first ‘real’ snow days set in, I sat like an expectant child waiting for the world to transform. I was doing homework but I couldn’t help keep on bobbing up from my seat to see if it was settling, to see if the grass was covered yet and eventually, to see how deep it had got. Would there be enough for a snowman? Would it stay? I waited as the blanket of white would gradually somehow blot out all the ugly bits of the landscape and turn it into a breath-taking winter wonderland. Only the God who created me knows how much I have missed winter and how many times I have longed to see scenes like this. Breathe. He is the God of detail….





He’s also the God who knows how much I miss Africa and how even writing that sentence fills my eyes with bulging tears…. I miss it more than words! I needed a break and I needed to breathe and I needed to learn a million things about humility and patience and trust and my God of detail…. but I’m ready to go back. I’ve decided to leave French School a little early (in 2.5 weeks time!) in order to take on the role of ‘Country Director’ for Mercy Ships in Senegal. The role starts the first week of March and I’ll be in Senegal full time sometime in April. The ship will dock in Dakar for 10 months starting this August and my job will be to head up the team before the ship arrives to arrange all sorts of logistics, as well as to continue to hold the baton, nurture relationships and evaluate what we have done programmatically after the ship has left. I’m thrilled. Senegal, we're delighted to work with you.


There are a million details to come together, but I ain’t gonna worry about them…. Beauty takes time and I’m just gonna keep bobbing up and down in the expectation that comes from knowing I have a Daddy I can trust… who has all the details in His hands and who transforms everything into a glimpse of His glory. May it be so…. 

Love always, KWW