I think the fact that this landing space for my thoughts hasn’t heard from me in a while kind of says it all. I feel a bit like I’ve been in a washing machine these last months - or even couple of years - and maybe you do too.
After several months of preparation and relationship building on the ground, the Africa Mercy arrived back on Senegalese shores back in early February. It had been nearly 2 years since we left and there was a monumental sigh of relief as we felt the road opening to get us back to do ‘what we do’.
Unexpectedly, I have found myself being a nurse for a day here and there the last few months as part of the patient selection team. It’s taken me to parts of Senegal I would never have gone to otherwise and I have had the privilege of catching the twinkly eyes of many hopeful soon-to-be patients. They come wrapped in scarves sometimes – hiding their protruding tumours, or with their heads held low and with shame and other not so nice things written on their faces. Some we have to say no to – we simply don’t have the expertise to help. There was one such man who I saw at the end of one of the days – he had been waiting in the dusty heat all day to be seen, only to be told that we couldn’t help. I was tired too and was anticipating his frustration, not just the disappointment of taking away his hope, but at having waited patiently all day and likely having kept him from other things he may have needed to do. I broke the news as gently as I could and tried to carry it with love and compassion so he could feel that we really cared, meanwhile gathering myself to justify my response. To my surprise, he responded that I should not worry – he explained that he had received his healing simply by watching people come in and out of our consultation room all day and seeing how they had found hope. He shared with genuine thrill how much he had enjoyed watching people enter with their heads held low and exit with their heads held high. My eyes bulged with tears. A friend and colleague of mine reminded me that we must not define what healing means for others. To me, and perhaps you too, it would have meant a yes – an offer of free surgery and a hope to resolve the long-standing problem that he had. For him, healing had come through watching hope born in the lives of others. I couldn’t think of a more beautiful definition if I tried. I feel so privileged to be back in Senegal and amongst people who share their riches with me.
Even as an organisation, we often try to define our impact by numbers and surgeries and any statistic we can put our hands on. It’s often what makes sense to others and can be translated into words easily. Our teams diligently look at other ways to measure impact and I salute them for it, but I am continually reminded that we will never ever be truly able to measure the impact of what we are each called to do. Our calling isn’t to treat X numbers of people. Our calling is to follow the call to, ‘take us where love is needed’ and if we do that, I think we can find the peace and joy we might be looking for. We have the privilege to not only bring shalom to the lives of others, but to receive it too. This man gave me some of his that day and I am so grateful.
The Africa Mercy has been back in town for a couple of months now. Surgery is taking place, people are receiving training, our whole teams are being stretched and pulled as we adapt to working in the world of COVID. In early March, we hosted a delegation from the Ministry of Health from Senegal in Rotterdam so they could be amongst the first to see our new ship, the Global Mercy. In the Minister’s introduction of his team, he ended by introducing me and saying that I should really be sitting on their side of the table, because I was one of them. It was a statement that I will carry in my heart for a long time. As we seek to improve access to surgery for those in need, I have tried to invest in local relationships for the last 3 years and his expression of solidarity and the trust we have built made me incredibly proud.
May it be so for you too.
Love always, KWW