Sunday, 18 July 2021

the stories that never get told

 

You’ll have heard of the anguish and fret of the last year or so. The grief, the battles, the fear, of worlds being turned upside down, the loss of dreams, of life, of so many things we have taken for granted; of hugs, for connecting in person with those we love. It cannot be minimised and even for me who has sailed on the side-lines for the most part, there have been moments of pure terror and ones I will never forget.

But there are also stories that hide beneath the surface of the fiery flames that have deposited rich beauty and they are worthy to be shared. There is always another side to every story and it reminds me that not only has this season been a gift of time, but that this journey we are on, it really is just the beginning.

I was in Senegal from the end of January until late April, working with the Government and other partners to prepare for the ship to come back and deliver the promises that had been put on hold a year before. We always knew it would be a challenge and were seeking the ‘right time’ to go back and it turned out to be an extremely challenging few months both professionally and personally, not least because 2 of us managed to pick up this dreaded COVID-19 virus during an unusual time of civil unrest with riots not far from where we were staying and from where we could hear the gun shots. We ended up returning ‘home’ to strengthen our plans, get vaccinated and prepare for a ship return in early 2022. Let me tell you about a few of the untold stories from these last few months…

Mohammed Barry, aka flipflop man. The angel that popped up inexplicably, and always just at the right time. It was on our evening strolls to the Place de l’Independence that we met Mr flipflop man. His beaming smile was like sunshine to our souls. The days were dark and scary and his gentle – almost carefree presence – brought comfort and peace. It was on one particularly hard day when I had considered what it might be to lose my job, or to choose to walk away from it that the impending doom washed over me as I thought about the loss of friendships, relationships, partnerships…. It hurt and I called out to God, ‘Lord, I really need to feel your presence tonight’. I couldn’t imagine how I would sleep that night; I was worried, I was scared, I was hurt. It was a desperate plea. We’d been sitting on ‘our bench’ for a little while already, just catching our breath. We watched as our regular evening friends walked by and dusk began to settle. They didn’t know of our friendship, but they had become sources of comfort to us, and even joy. The cloud of hopelessness hung heavy that night, until, seemingly from nowhere, his bright sparkly eyes met ours, hands stretched - fanned out with pairs of flip flops. ‘Bonsoir mes amies! Bonsoir! Ca va? Et la journee?’. He then proceeded to offer to buy us a coconut; not wanting to say no, we accepted, but said just one was fine. He came back with one coconut and 2 straws and looked at us, ‘I need to get you another one’. And off he popped – 2 coconuts it was. Pure extravagant love, melting all my fears away. A messenger of love and an answer to my cry.  



Grapefruit lady. We could see her from our COVID-ward bedroom window with her tray balanced on a wooden table selling little bags of nuts, some grain warming on a little fire and always a few grapefruit. ‘Coffee man’ had his stall just across the road and each day we watched as he would help her get her table set up or adjust the umbrella as the full sun landed on her spot. We felt jealous for her life some days – not na├»ve enough to think it was an easy one, but the simplicity drew our hearts and the tender moments of humans mingling together had an unspoken sense of freedom and simple joy.  

The security guy. Parking the car became a pleasure with this guy around because he always gave us marks out of 10. Sometimes I got 10/10 but sometimes 12/10 or sometimes 100/100. He would write it on the car window that was covered in a generous layer of Dakar dust. He never failed to make me smile as he came running as our car approached. He said we were his favourites; I’m not sure if it was true, but it sure felt like it. It’s so important, isn’t it? The way people make you feel.

Ramata (not her real name) is a beautiful young lady. As a child, she suffered from severe burns that did not get treated properly and she was left with a contracture which meant the function of her right arm was very limited. Mercy Ships provided surgery for her to release this and, in the process, she suffered some complications which mean she did not get the result she as hoping for. We went to meet her to see how she was getting on and to contribute to the ongoing support that Mercy Ships have offered her. I was nervous. I thought she might be upset and I wasn’t so sure how much more pain my heart could take. My fears dissolved as I listened to this beautifully humble lady. She accepts that complications happen. I notice a bulging tear as she shares the hope and dreams that her late parents had for her. I sense disappointment, grief, but I do not sense failure, nor do I feel even a hint of bitterness.. She spoke of her hope to write a poetry book. She twinkled. As we walked away, I wished I would have such grace if I were her and I feared that I would not. I think she offered me more hope and healing that day than we had offered her, but then there is always more than meets the eye.

The growing relationships on the ground – when the ship left unexpectedly, there were a whole host of patients that had been delivered a message of hope that then received the message that they had to wait. Imagine. And so over a year later, we have finally reached the point where we can partner with the Ministry of Health and the only Christian Hospital in Senegal to provide some of these surgeries and to end the wait for these patients. We are about bringing hope and healing and we are about strengthening the surgical health system…. it’s a delight to me that this ‘gift of time’ has birthed deeper relationships and opened new doors to do just that.  

Then there was the time we left some remnants of darkness in the sea. No more needs to be said, but trust me, He is a redeemer and a healer, of that I am sure. I guess this whole season has been a journey of trust, of walking by faith and not by sight.


Yoff beach, Dakar

You see, the stories we experience, they are just the beginning… in my longing to feel known, to be loved and to know what it is to love, I am slowly realising that there is another side to this story and it’s only just dawning on me that I can feel known in this way. There is a furious kind of love that is pounding at my door and it feels that same kind of wrenching pain my own heart does when it doesn’t know where to land or if anyone will receive it. What if, just like me, He longs for the day I can fully understand His love? Not pent up or misunderstood, but fiercely, boldly, something I can truly behold?

I’m not pretending there’s not pain or grief or sometimes even paralysing dread and fear. I’m just celebrating the One who provides, the One who helps me see, and the gimmers of gold that are found in the stories that are sometimes left untold. I’ve felt like I have literally felt His breath on my face these last few months and if it takes leaving my comfort zone to feel it, I'm OK with that. 

May your stories unfold with furious love and gentle grace.

Love always, KWW

‘Do we ever really trust when we can see, Willie Juan?’

‘I’d love to tell you otherwise, John, but what faith I have has been strengthened in the dark. It’s just the way it is.’

From ‘patched together’ by Brennan Manning

 

A few of my favourites these last months...



Mum's first rose





Birthday swim followed by an AMAZING cake!



Polzeath, North Cornwall. Forever my favourite


Blessed, by Kalley

Blessed, blessed are those
Who wait on the Lord
For they will, they will be filled
Watch the way He rebuilds

Blessed, blessed are those
Whose hearts have been broken
They will, they will be hemmed
Better than when they began

You'll see, you'll see

In the land of the living
You'll see, you'll see
This is just the beginning

 Blessed, blessed are those

Still caught in a cycle
His name shatters them all
They'll pay back sevenfold

Blessed, blessed are those
Whose home life is hurting
Settle, take a deep breath
He gives back innocence


 

Sunday, 13 December 2020

slowly slowly if you want to catch a monkey

 

Ndank Ndank moy diap gollo ci niaye – slowly slowly if you want to catch a monkey in the forest!

We were a little taken aback as a Country Engagement Team when we realized that both the team in Senegal and Liberia had learned this proverb this last week – independently. In Senegal, we had been waiting for a meeting and our translator was teaching us in Wolof and making us laugh (and us making him laugh too!). My desire for control and to push my own agenda and timeline still struggles to fully accept the message this phrase carries, but somehow it felt timely.


I have noticed an extraordinary beauty during this 3 week trip to Senegal in which we’d been charged to re-engage with the Government and our local partners in view of our desire to return and finish the work we have started in 2021. I always feel alive when I am on this continent and bouncing from one crazy adventure to the next, but I suspect escaping from lockdown in the UK and the isolation of living and working alone for the last 8 months made the contrast all the more stark. As I was driving through one of the highway tolls from the airport, the cashier said to me, ‘Is Mercy Ships back? Why did you leave? We need you to come back!” – it’s a response we have heard multiple times during these last 3 sweet weeks and it touched my heart once again. There was something about the joy and the freedom with which his words were carried and his genuine desire to welcome me that touched me deeply. As I pulled away, I asked God what it was that made these people so beautiful? I have missed this pure joy so much. Immediately God replied, ‘Control! At home (UK), everyone is trying to control everything and it steals your joy and brings sadness and stress’. I recognized the heaviness that I feel weighing down so much of the world, and I wept. It was like God was doing a surgery within me and removing a desire for control and replacing it with a renewed trust in Him. In His plans, in His timing, in remembering that the only thing that is important in this life is the Kingdom. I could feel the joy returning. What is the point of trying to control anything? I was confessing for myself, but also for my family, for my country, for our organization. We need to let go – by trying to push our own agendas and timelines, we simply hold God back. Our each and every step must be led by the Holy Spirit.

And so as we face different challenges, all over the world, let’s go << slowly, slowly if we want to catch that monkey>> Let’s trust that God really is King of the universe as we root ourselves in Him. May the King from on High speak to you about all that you need to let go of as you renew your trust in Him.


It was a whirlwind 19 days of a trip to Senegal and as a team, we have been so blessed. Our team included Eliphaz Essah who was following up on the Food for Life (FFL) program that was forced to finish so abruptly in March. He also continued with plans for a new FFL course that will start in February 2021. He left with a full heart – feeling the blessing of meeting so many participants who were putting their teaching into practice, helping them overcome obstacles and encouraging them to keep on going. Joan Kotze and Becky Handforth joined me, together with one of our former Day Crew, in our quest to re-engage with the government and many of our local partners. We were met with hearty welcomes, open doors and we left each meeting feeling so encouraged. I remember praying in early 2019 as we set off for trust to be built and for relationships to be established and it has been a privilege to see and hear the fruit of that. We have many many friends here now and Mercy Ships is received with love. We heard testimonies from both those who had received surgery and training and it filled our hearts. The very lovely Commandant Badgi who is the Port Harbour Master told how one of his relatives had a large facial tumour removed and of the transformation she has experienced. I reminded him that we could not have done our part, if he had not done his and facilitated a prime berth space for us. I think we both had tears in our eyes as we shared. Our God is so good.  


The message is clear: we are welcome back and people so appreciate our desire to deliver the promises we have made to patients and health professionals who await training. We visited Hospitals where we have donated equipment during these last months and they too told of how blessed they have been. The one and only Christian Hospital here in Senegal shared how they had received a prophetic word many years ago about God’s abundant provision and they felt that Mercy Ships were a real representation and fulfillment of this promise.


There are few Christians in Senegal, but we had the honour of re-connecting with one doctor who has a dream to establish a Christian nursing school in Senegal. She said when she visited our HOPE Centre (our pre & post op accommodation facility for those living far away) and saw the abundance of the love being showered out in that place, she thought to herself, ‘ils sont les preparateurs’- meaning….. these people are preparing the ground for the people of Senegal to receive the good news. Isn’t that a beautiful reminder? Our work to strengthen the local health system, to improve access to surgical care, to embrace each one we meet in a holistic way through all our programs, is ultimately about the Kingdom. Nothing else matters. The upcoming Food for Life course planned for February will hope to include some of our former patients as participants. The story of transformation is endless and I am so in awe of the fresh and creative ideas that God is birthing as we continue to serve Him here.

During our stay we have seen the number of COVID cases in Senegal slowly rising and yet they have been hailed as one of the top 24 countries in the world in the way they have handled this pandemic. The incidence is minimal compared to so many other countries in the world. Please be on your knees for this nation, that it would be spared a second wave, that God’s love and light would shine through, that His will would be done and His Kingdom would come. Pray for wisdom as we continue to make plans for our return, for God’s timing, for God’s protection and for Him to open the doors He has for us. There is still uncertainty ahead of us, but we trust God with it all and we look forward to seeing the ship arrive back in the Port not too far from now.

…and so back to that guy at the toll on the highway – because, most unexpectedly, I passed through the same toll 5 days later and as I wound down the window to pay, the guy greeted me and said: ‘Bonjour Kirstie d’Angleterre!’. I was totally perplexed and was slow to realise…. this was the guy from the time before and I guess I must have given him my name! There with his encouraging banter and telling me again how Mercy Ships need to come back. As I drove away, still perplexed that this guy had remembered me (admittedly, there aren’t many white people driving Mercy Ships vehicles around at the moment…),  I had another encounter with Jesus. He said to me, ‘If it amazes you how much a stranger knows your name, how much more do you think I know your name? The one who made you…. I know your name. I know what you need. I see all that is on your heart. I will provide for you. I know your name Kirstie.’… these whispers were subtle and I could easily have missed them, but there is something that is hard to describe that makes the air crisper on these kinds of trips. Less distractions, more situations that feel impossible, less control, more dependency on Him. There is intimacy with Jesus.

There are things on my heart that I long to see so much and in these moment I find deep hope. As we each find ourselves in what has been a crazy year, we have to surrender, we have to admit that we cannot control anything and we have to acknowledge that there is a God who knows our name. 

Ndank Ndank moy diap gollo ci niaye...

Happy Christmas to you my friends. May you know the joy of renewed trust in the one who was born to bring you hope and everlasting joy.

 Love always, KWW

From Seasons by Hillsong:

I can see the promise

I can see the future

You're the God of seasons

And I'm just in the winter

If all I know of harvest

Is that it's worth my patience

Then if You're not done working

God I'm not done waiting

You can see my promise

Even in the winter

Cause You're the God of greatness

Even in a manger

For all I know of seasons

Is that You take Your time

You could have saved us in a second

Instead You sent a child

Monday, 15 June 2020

alone


There’s something slightly lonely about waking up alone in an empty home on your birthday. For years, I’ve been cooped up on a big white ship or with others on the African continent somewhere or tucked up on a Cornish beach…. but today, alone. I think lockdown has shown me a few things about being ‘alone’ and it feels like such a negative word, but I don’t think it needs to be. I don’t mean to suggest it comes without its struggles or to dress it up as something it is not, but being ‘alone’ can be a beautiful thing. Who else gets to ponder in the deep quietness and hear the whisper of their Maker? He seemed to want to have a breakfast party together and so we did. Like an excited child, He woke me soon after 6. I didn’t have to dress up or even brush my hair. We shared some strawberries. He came real close and began to talk.

He told me why He made me and breathed life into the embers of my soul. It feels self indulgent to think about oneself, doesn’t it? It was. But it’s between me and Him and it was empowering and I felt the delight of His breath on my face. I chose to embrace it and it made my eyes twinkle. We have a phrase, me and Him, “He sees it all’ – He reminds me of it when I am frustrated or feel unseen or misunderstood. He whispers it to me when I feel alone and it settles my Spirit into eternity. His whispers hold the broken parts and somehow their fragility lets the light shine through, even deeper. Even if I’d been surrounded by the closest of friends, they would never have been able to get this close. What a lucky girl I am.



Lockdown loneliness has not been a negative thing for me at all. At the beginning, I feared it would be but it has been a joy to breathe, to feel, to somehow even be-friend myself. I can be fairly hilarious company and make some pretty funny jokes!! I’ve found pure delight in country lane walks and evening bike rides. I’ve felt exhilarated by freezing cold swims in the sea and I have received love in so many different ways. I opened my front door to find a handmade birthday banner, some wine and freshly cut flowers from my neighours. I’m not gonna lie, I cried. I couldn’t hold the tenderness of that moment. A tenderness that lockdown had boxed away and yet one that human life could not help but breakthrough.



As I think of all the pain in the world – the grief, the hatred, the <black lives matter> and wonder why such a phrase should even need to exist, I remember, too, that He sees it all and I pray that over every human I can think of. May each precious life know joy that can be found in being ‘alone’, of having the sight of  their Makers eyes on them, of knowing that His love changes everything and that, if you are willing, breakfast in bed with Him is an option open to all. Take a moment and let your Maker whisper. In Him there is purpose, in Him there is intimacy, in Him there is such vibrant beauty.

I’m thankful for my life, I’m thankful for all the ways I’ve experienced joy and love and I am filled with hope as I trust that the best is always yet to come. Who knows if my passport will get to see the light of day in 2020? I know Mercy Ships are just doing their best and whilst we wait, I won’t make that my goal, but instead I will learn to love and be loved right where I am. I will have more breakfasts in bed with Him, if I can.



And so I’m praying that I may never lose this joy of being ‘alone’. It’s beginning to mean something different and the negative connotations have gone. It’s a rich place, a secret place, a place free from distraction, perhaps even a favourite place. There is pain mixed in but pain that has led me to the most beautiful intimacy of all. It’s full of imperfection and it seems, perhaps, that is where the joy was hidden all along.

May you hear His whispers too.

Love always, KWW




Wednesday, 1 April 2020

pruning


It’s a bright sunny spring day here in England. The daffodils are swaying in the wind – sometimes found in tidy gardens and other times pickled beautifully along rural hedgerows. They kind of hold a smile and their bright yellow literally gleams at me and brings such joy. The cherry tree blossom is in bloom and the magnolias are starting too. The grass is a lush green and if you’re brave enough to go outside, you’ll feel the harsh cold wind carrying springtime birdsong. It is pure music to my soul in a season I had not imagined experiencing for the 9th year in a row. I’d literally boarded a train 3 weeks ago, heading for London Heathrow, when I saw the news that COVID-19 cases in the UK had reached over 200, which would mean I’d automatically get quarantined on arrival in Liberia for 14 days. It was a 3 day business trip which quickly got cancelled, together with the trips that were booked for Senegal and then the one that would lead me to Liberia for the next 6 months right after that.  
 
 
There are so many things to process and the recurring thought in my mind is: what does it take for the world to stop? I am saddened at the answer that is in my mind – because I think it seems to only be when things become personal that we start to care and the alarm bells call us to stop. I’m sure that’s not the whole truth, but the world hasn’t stopped for the 1000s that are caught up in the horrors of war or for all those with their own crippling battles that isolate them every day, or for those who die because they don’t have access to clean drinking water, or to treatment for malaria or to access to safe surgery. The world hasn’t stopped for the thousands of babies that get aborted every single day. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be stopping. But why haven’t we stopped before?
 
 

I’m writing as one of the lucky ones. No one I know has been affected personally and so I have the privilege of pondering without the pain of loss. I acknowledge that immense gift with deep thanks and my heart breaks for those who cannot say the same whether that's right now or for many years. Perspective is an interesting thing and as I consider my own losses in all this, I cannot help but think of those caught up in lockdown on floor 19 of a tower block where the violence or addiction or abuse now knows no daylight ceasing and the silent cries of those suffering unimaginable pain.

As life takes on a whole new twist for us all, we are learning to take one day at a time. In the last weeks, I’ve been pruning apple trees at mum and dad’s – delayed because the rain of the last months has prevented anyone getting outside for long enough! The delay means that some of the tress are already sprouting buds and their tender new leaves are visible signs of fruit to come. I asked my mum, ‘do I even cut the ones with buds?’. ‘Yes’, she answered, ‘…they need it. It’s good for them’. And so as I positioned the shears, I boldly chopped away and let the fragile new sprouts fall to the ground. After all that growing, all that trying, that is it! And so it got me thinking of this strange season and the pruning we have all been called to do. No bursting schedules, consumerism curtailed, no personal contact except for those with whom you live, no driving except for essential journeys, a feeling of loss of purpose, perhaps. And yet, of course, He always has purpose.

I’m considering what I need to prune, even the bits that are showing signs of life – are they really what God has called me to for now? As I consider the words – ‘it’s good for them’ – I realise I need it too. We need it. It’s good for us. It makes me wonder what fruit it is I want to grow anyway and so I ask God to reveal the bits that need cutting away. What do I need to make space for? Is it the physical or emotional piles of accumulated stuff – hurt – memories - that need a bit of a prune? Would that make way for more joy, I wonder.

 
One of my favourite's
 
 In terms of Mercy Ships work, I’m continuing to work from my home, going out for my once a day airing and keeping in touch with friends. I saw a real human today as I put my rubbish out and it was a delight! As Mercy Ships ponder and plan and figure out if we can pivot our programs in a way that will serve those who need them and how we can build our own systems and processes to prepare us for the future, I’m finding much grace is needed as we all navigate the unknown. I’ve also submitted forms to start working in my former ICU in Exeter and will await to see what that brings.

 
A bike ride away from home
 
I hope we learn from all this. I hope that we learn to stop and show some tender care even when it’s not so close to home. I’m really wishing we had stopped before now.

To those of you who aren’t up for pruning, or have even been brutally hacked away at already – this question isn’t for you. But for those of you like me, privileged to be healthy and safe, are you ready to do some pruning too? I heard a whisper in my heart the other day, ‘come to me for all that you need’ and I think some pruning will help me do just that.

Love always, KWW  
 
by Charlie Mackesy

Saturday, 28 December 2019

happy christmas!


 
 
I keep wondering what I would have done if I was Mary! I think a lot about trusting God and letting go of things and trusting Him but how trustworthy am I? If the hope of the world would have been born through me…. would I have said, ‘let it be as you have said’ when the Angel flew by? What an incredible women she must have been, and Joseph too. And it’s making me wonder how trustworthy I am – with the dreams and hope that God may want to birth through me. I wonder what my doubts and fears and my small thinking has done to quench his hope being born so far? What if Mary had counted the costs and decided it felt like too much and chose to play life small?

Isaiah 9: 6&7

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and for ever.


It’s another wet and blustery English day and these words bring comfort to my heart! I need a Prince of Peace, I don’t know about you!








I’ve been back home since October and have been embracing working from my little flat in Starcross in the South West of England. The inevitable transition from working in a team and living in a busy community to working and living alone can be interesting! I find myself being nudged to grow in discipline as I use my days and to soak up time with my Prince of Peace. I don’t know if I was ready for that because the busy whirl, as much as I long to escape it, keeps me from confronting the things that weigh me down. I actually find it fairly overwhelming to see so much need back here – it’s a different kind of need to what I’m used to – but the darkness and deep deep struggles that people face break my heart. I’ve realized even more what a privilege it has been to work with Mercy Ships all these years and the fulfillment that comes from seeing a need and being able to do something about it. Our organisation is bursting with ‘before and after’ photos and stories of transformation, of hidden hope emerging and of joy breaking through.
 

In contrast, here at home I see so many needs but the answers aren’t easy. If we could fix them with surgery, I’d get stuck right in! But the needs are messy and people sometimes prefer to hide. The metaphorical tumours just keep on growing and it feels like my big heart and hands are somehow tied. I’m a dreary old thing aren’t I! I’m not – I just feel deeply and I’m learning to walk in a season where I don’t have the answers or even the skills to make it OK.

And so this Prince of Peace beckons me.

Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.

I wonder if I am ready to receive this kind of peace. As I lug my burdens around and search frantically to see what I can do, I forget that my Prince of Peace is right there. I’m trying to consciously let go; to see the world, to feel the pain, to acknowledge what is so far from His original design, but to seek my place in it, to love, to see His face and to grow in knowledge of who I am so I can be bold in the things He calls me to and to carry His presence to the places I go. I know and believe that this changes everything.

It might seem funny to some of you that I look forward to leaving the comfort of my own home to return to Senegal next month for a few weeks. The goal is to do a bit of a ‘pulse check’ – to see how things are moving along half way through the ships stay and to meet with some of our key local contacts and remind them who I am! My role as Country Director there is more for the pre and post ship phases and so I feel like a bit of a fake right now! It will be good to connect and to enjoy what I hadn’t realised was perhaps such a selfish pleasure of seeing hope re-born in miraculous ways. The rest of the year will likely see me bouncing a bit between Senegal, home and Madagascar. Sometime in the spring the plan is for me to do an ‘assessment’ in Madagascar. This will take a few weeks and is all about co-learning between us and the Government and the local health structures to see how we can best build our programs for a projected visit sometime in the next couple of years.

I’m so thankful for this different pace and to enjoy the privilege of spending time with friends and family.
 
Old school friends Natasha and Hayley
 
 
Ship friends Michelle and Valerie
 

 
Wishing you a very happy Christmas – may you know the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and grow in bold faith to say, ‘may it be as you have said’ as you birth much hope in the year to come!

Love always, KWW
 
 
 
 
 

 

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