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 naïve 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.
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
Blessed, by Kalley
You'll see, you'll see
Blessed, blessed are those