Friday, 19 October 2007

Frail flowers

‘Frail flowers of the field, Let us not reckon upon blooming forever. For there is a time appointed when we shall glorify God through weakness and suffering, and not by our earnest activity.’ C. Spurgeon

Oh dear, I have to admit I have been a bit of a frail flower these last few months! I know life isn’t all a bed of roses but I have to admit I am tired of saying I am tired and have kind of been waiting to update you all until I felt a skip in my step again!

Actually, the skip is beginning to return. After 4 months of heavy rain and grey skies I am delighted to see blue sky again. It’s amazing what a difference it makes to my soul. I feel like I have been in a winter slump, craving apple crumble and Toad in the hole! Monrovia is one of the wettest cities in the world (now they tell me!), so I guess it was to be expected. It intensifies the poverty here so much. People’s houses that are already falling down spring leaks in all directions, sellers on the streets struggle to sell anything,  malaria is at its peak, patients fight to get here on time for their surgery slot and daily life just becomes co much harder. Driving is an ever increasing challenge and I just laugh as I sweep around from one pot hole to another – it’s impossible not to hit a few. You can also guarantee that even if there were a dry couple of days, the rain would return in time for the weekend, so we have felt a little cooped up to say the least. There’s lots of things that drain me here – the high staff turn over has to be the biggest. So when the things that normally fill me up are taken away (like getting off the ship) it makes for a harder time all round.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Never! I will always love this place and will never tire of seeing God at work. Sometimes, I get blind to it mind you. A friend pointed out the other day that it was only when she went home and started explaining what she had been up to and about some of the patients she had had the privilege of caring for, that she realised what an amazing place this ship is! Seeing blind people come onto the ship and walk out seeing is a daily event and sometimes I just walk past and don’t even notice the life changing stories that are going on right in front of me! We are so used to seeing patients with huge facial deformities, that it is easy to look past the miracles that are taking place. And that’s what they are. For some of these people, there was never any hope. They have lived for years being stared at and slowly finding it more and more difficult to breathe. And then there was hope… and a life about to turn upside down. Wow! I’m just realising it again. Just this afternoon someone turned up on the dock with a huge tumour around his eye. Some swift assessments, changing of surgery schedules and a CT scan later mean he will get surgery tomorrow. Pretty cool I’d say! After my winter slump I have been forced to realise once again that this place can get pretty tough without some sort of help from God. I’m getting that deep inner joy back again as I realise how good it is to be here, so good to be where I was made to be. I can’t believe I got to a place where I almost lost that excitement.

This is Joanna. She was brought to the ship at just 2 days old by her mother. She was born with a cleft lip and palate and was already suffering the usual stigma of such birth defects and her mother had brought her to the ship with the hope of finding a new home for her. One of our paediatric nurses did a beautiful job at taking them under her wing and encouraged her Mum, advising her on feeding methods and showing her that Joanna was a beautiful little girl. At 5 months, Joanna had reached a safe weight in order to have her cleft lip repaired. Unfortunately her surgery got cancelled due to some concerns of a heart murmur. However, a paediatrician came to the ship last week and after a thorough check over, declared her fit for surgery. So the surgery went ahead! Her Mum was delighted and you could see the changes in expression on her face as she saw her daughter with her new face.  Then Tuesday night came – over 24 hours post surgery – Joanna stopped breathing and her heart also stopped. We successfully resuscitated her and she was then ventilated in ICU for 4 days. It was a stressful few days. Lots of guilt going around, wondering if we should have even done the surgery. Anyway, to cut a long story short and by God’s flippin’ amazing grace once again… Joanna is doing ‘fine fine’ and went home today! Wow, wow, wow! SO good! You can see the love in her Mum’s eyes. These kinds of stories really do fill me with joy…and it’s that kind of joy that gives me strength.

I am really looking forward to catching up with you at Christmas. We finish surgery here in Liberia in 6 weeks time and leave a couple of weeks later. I will be sad to say goodbye to people who have taught me so much and shown me so much about smiling even when life is grey and cloudy but I am more than ready for a break. We will arrive in Gran Canaria in early December where the ship will go into dry dock and have its yearly health check. Then by the time I return, she’ll be in Tenerife for a few weeks before we head off to Sierra Leone at the end of January to start the next adventure. I will be taking on the role of Ward Supervisor from then. Scary but true! I would appreciate your prayers as I look forward to yet another steep learning curve looming ahead. I want to embrace it and taste more of that joy that I know comes from following in obedience. Bring it on!... but I know some rest is needed before I face that one and coming home and seeing you will be a big part of that.

As you can see it’s been a busy couple of months and as I read this little quote following on from the one above, I had to smile:

 ‘The path of trouble is the way home. Lord, make this thought a pillow for many a weary head!’ C. Spurgeon

Love as always, KWW

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Intense Pain

Intense pain. I can’t even tell how much my heart aches right now. I’m tired so that intensifies things of course so forgive me, but I need to fill you in. It’s a sad story I’m afraid but it’s got me thinking…

A 21year old guy from the US working with us for the last couple of months drowned at a nearby beach last weekend. Incredibly sad. So tragic. There are scenes in my head that I hope will soon fade. I have experienced a new depth of pain that makes my insides want to turn inside out. Ugh. I’ve cared for people in similar situations at home of course. We all hear about the pain and suffering in the world everyday. But somehow this has been different. I guess it’s because he is part of our Mercy Ship ‘family’. I’m thankful that it’s not too often that the pain and suffering is so in my face. Selfish aren’t I? Most of the time I am too chicken to get too close. I know there’s plenty of it about, I’ve just got good at dodging it. It’s easy to switch the TV off and kinda protect myself from the pain of it all.

This week has been different. I feel like I’ve been forced to look the pain and suffering of the world right in the face. It hurts. And that’s just a fraction of the pain his family and friends must be feeling right now. Please pray for them.

Aside from his death something else got to me. I am struck once again by the injustice of the broken world and greed of so many. The hospital where he was taken to (in the back of a truck - no ambulance service of course) had absolutely NOTHING. I mean nothing. A few staff with minimal education, doing their best with zero equipment. Not even any oxygen. It’s just mind blowingly unfair. We have SO much and they just have nothing. Nothing. Not even the education to do basic CPR. It's an overwhelmingly hopeless feeling. I feel like there's just no hope in this country and it almost seems pointless doing anything about it because the problem is just so huge and will take generations to rectify.

That’s when I heard God speak again, ‘... just do your part Kirst, you don't have to fix the world, just be obedient to the part I ask you to do’.

I am tired of this broken world and long for more of God in it. Without him, there is simply no hope. I cannot imagine life without the hope of eternity spent with God, without all this pain. Can you?

So, it’s been a heavy hearted week. The kind of one that leaves you feeling on edge, exhausted to the core. I am not wondering so much why it had to happen (I trust in a God who I know sees the bigger picture and I am at peace with that), but I am left with two questions:
  • Am I playing the part that God created me for, to touch lives and may be even change the path of history?
  • Am I giving all I have, my hands and feet, to make all that seems so impossible (relief of injustice, poverty, pain) become a reality?

I feel less overwhelmed by the pain and hurt in the world as I realise I just have to do my part. I am learning that God honours the faith and brave action of those who step out and are prepared to give …. whatever it takes.

Are you giving whatever it takes? I pray you’ll know the joy that comes from doing just that.

Love always precious friends, KWW

Thursday, 19 July 2007


That’s the gist of the last couple of months! Funny! In Liberia, they like to add an ‘o’ to everything, hence ‘funny-o’! The fun started at the beginning of June when I popped home for a couple of weeks to catch up with family and be a bridesmaid for a very special friend. It was so great to see England in the ‘summer’. It was even quite sunny for a few days. I didn’t realise what an old lady I had become! I LOVED the flowers, sitting in the garden and listening to the birds twittering away, paddling in cooler waters, devouring fish and chips and going for days out in the rain. It was the best birthday present ever to get to spend some time with family and friends. It’s my niece and nephews that I miss more than anything or anyone ‘cos they keep changing so much! I wish people would stop feeding them or something! It’s a huge big privilege being an aunty and picking up Paddy from school and having a sleep over with Pad and Lib were definitely among the highlights. Cuddling Charlie wasn’t that bad either! I’m hoping to go home at Christmas – I’m liking this coming home every 6 months business. Normally, I would probably try and hold out a little longer, but it fits in well with the ship’s schedule so I’m not complaining!

It then took me a couple of weeks to settle back into life here. I mean, it’s home really most of the year but going ‘home home’ reminds me again how painful it is to say good bye! Sometimes I am tired of holding feelings like that! In one sense it’s really painful and I could let myself cry for days! And in another, you wonder how much you need to indulge in those feelings and instead realise that doing what God has made me to do is so exciting and just allow the cost to fade, or at least be put in perspective. Anyway, it hasn’t taken me long to experience a few stories to remind me why I just LOVE it here! It really is the best place ever… most of the time! Here’s one of them…

The other day a friend asked if I would accompany her to the airport to pick up some new arrivals. It’s about 2 hours drive away in the traffic and on a Friday evening, a 6 hour round trip is not exactly what I had in mind. I was a little reluctant, you know how it is! Trying to be all kind and in my head thinking, '…can't you ask someone who isn't already going twice this month?!'. It’s not even like I had something more exciting to do! I’m just too selfish I guess. Anyway, I'd been chatting to God about a number of things that day and he kept telling me he was going to bless me. I wondered how or what for a while and then settled to thinking it was probably me hearing things. That’s how it sometimes feels to me when God speaks specifically like that – I think I’ve made it up. Silly eh. Anyway.... we dropped some people off at the airport and then found out the plane with our arriving crew was actually 4 hours delayed! Great! I had kinda resigned myself to the fact the night was going to be a long one and as I was sitting waiting on the edge of the pavement, I was just singing quietly to myself (like I do) a Liberian song, '…by my side, by my side. By my side, by my side - I've a very big God-o and he's always by my side'. As I sang, one of the kids walking along with stuff he was selling balanced on his head giggled at me! So I got him to join in, and before we knew it, no exaggeration, there were about 30 people crowded around us, singing away. We sang different songs for about an hour!!! One of the kids shouted, 'Holy spirit, I can feel your presence here, thank you God!' - and I could feel it too. There was such joy! Even the security people at the airport wandered over to see what all the laughing was about and joined in!! A couple of people asked if they could pray for the people we were waiting for, and for their safe arrival and then we prayed for them too. As we were chatting, I noticed one of the ladies had a cataract so was able to give her the details of our eye clinic – hopefully it can be removed by one of our surgeons. So this is Africa eh! Spontaneous singing at the airport! You don’t get that at Gatwick! That’s why I love this place. At one point, we were all dancing around, clapping, praising God. By the end, we were all sitting on the road and just hanging out, chatting about life and God and how he has been such a big part of taking away some of the terror they experienced in the war. It was such a great 4 hours. Truly anointed. I don’t think I heard God wrong after all.

And another happy story: You may remember me talking about little Regina – the girl from Ghana with the big facial growth who we weren’t able to help and had been referred to an organisation in the UK called, ‘Facing the World’ to see if they could help. Well, the answer is yes! They can help! I am SO excited and thankful to God! We’re now just waiting for an assessment by a surgeon in Ghana and then can make plans from there. There’s a possibility she could even have the surgery in Ghana, by a visiting surgeon from the UK. The alternative would be to organise passports, visas etc so she can travel to the UK for the surgery. The surgery itself is fairly major and could be tricky, so please pray for wisdom as they decide where she will have surgery and also for all the details to be worked out. I spoke to her dad this week and it was so great to be able to come with good news after all these months of waiting to hear and years of suffering.

And when I’m not out singing at the airport? Well, most of the time I can be found working on our sparkly new ward. There aren’t any windows on our hospital deck, and without the back drop of the city skyline you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a  hospital back home. It is just so different to working on the Anasatasis. Everything there was very much ‘make-shift’ and here it is actually designed to be a hospital and seems to work so much more smoothly. On the Anastasis we used to have to take patients down from the operating room to the ward on a stretcher attached to a pulley system to help get them down the stairs – it was always a bit of an adventure! Now we’re all on the same floor, life seems all too easy just wheeling the patient on a trolley to their bed! I miss the quirkiness of the Anastasis but am loving the more professional set up of the Africa Mercy.

We’ve had a relaxed beginning with just VVF, orthopaedic and a few eye surgeries. It’s been a good time for everyone to get the feel of the place before the hectic-ness begins over the next couple of weeks. I’m looking forward to it getting busy again. I’ve been working in Recovery, orientating new staff there and spend the rest of my time on the ward. Until we get any patients in ICU, my role as ICU supervisor has been restricted to servicing some ventilators and stocking up on all we need. Whilst we don’t want anyone to be sick enough for ICU, it’s great that we now have the space and facilities should we need it.

Well, as I look out of the window I am noticing the rain has stopped! It must be the first dry saturday for nearly 2 months, so I am going to go and make the most of it! Love as always, cheerio for now, KWW

Saturday, 19 May 2007

New House

I’ve got a new house! And I don’t even have a mortgage! There’s so much that has happened in the last couple of months but the biggest excitement has to be the arrival of our new home and work place, the Africa Mercy. After 8 years of sitting in a dockyard in England and lots of broken deadlines, it seems almost unreal that she is now docked in the berth opposite to where I am sitting right now. The Africa Mercy will continue the work that has been taking place on the Anastasis for the last 29 years – it’s time for her to retire. The Africa Mercy isn’t quite as beautiful to look at but is bigger than the Anastasis. Not only can she house over 100 more people, there are 6 operating rooms compared to 3 on the Anastasis. As I walk up the dock and see both them both docked opposite each other I am really reminded of the enormity of our God. SO big! SO mighty! Who would have thought the idea of a hospital ship would take off and find 400 crew working in so many different capacities in West Africa? Mercy Ships continues to blow my mind and remind me that it’s about something so much bigger than me. It’s exciting as we move from one ship to another. There’s still so much to do and I find myself fighting the frustrations of some who thought the Africa Mercy was going to be perfect. Life ain’t like that eh. There’s things we’ll miss, there’s things that we’ll have to adapt to, there’s a huge amount of work to be done before surgery begins in 4 weeks, but the constant reminder of seeing these 2 big ships docked together acts as a beautiful picture of God’s grandeur and our need to focus on Him through all this topsy turviness.

And just for the Brits (I’m sure you’ll embrace this opportunity to talk about the weather)… it’s raining! The sun sets and rises pretty much at the same time every day, the whole year round which makes it a little boring. In an effort to compensate, the weather is enjoying some craziness right now. It’s the beginning of rainy season and I have already experienced a few soakings when I’ve been caught out and about! The rain mostly confines itself to the evenings and nights but not always (if only England could learn that trick eh?). There’s also regular lightning shows that light up the whole sky and is sometimes accompanied with some clattering thunder as well! More reminders that I live in a world so much bigger than me with a God who is so much more powerful than little me. I love it! Before the rain comes, the winds begin to blow as if to warn you something big is about to happen! Market stall holders scurry around trying to shelter their goods and I look on in amazement as people’s tin roofs struggle to stop the water from getting in. It’s just part of life here and I wonder how much home flooding I could take.

In amongst all the excitement here and successful patient stories there’s also the nitty gritty of what it sometimes means to be a nurse. There’s busy days, patients who don’t do as well as you’d hoped, patients who go home without the perfection they had hoped for. Even in these situations I have to hold on to the fact that God brought these people to the ship and have to believe that it may not have been just for the surgery. That He had a higher purpose. There have been beautiful testimonies from people who have felt loved for the first time as they have spent so much of their lives feeling rejected. I remember one message from a man who was leaving after some facial surgery. His writing was poor, but the message was clear, ‘Thank you to the nurses. I know that Jesus loves me’. Beautiful stuff. There’s death too. Just a couple of weeks ago a 6 year old boy died after his discharge from our ward. He had just had a simple hernia repair, there had been some post op complications but he was doing well. Then, out of the blue, we heard he had died. Too sad. My mind is completely baffled and whilst I’ll never quite get my head around why it had to happen or the pain I saw and experienced at his funeral, I trust in a God who is bigger than me. Bigger than all of this. With purposes higher than I can imagine or ever understand. Someone who I know sees the bigger picture.  

There’s lots of fun stuff I’ve been up to as well. There’s been lots of ‘the last Anastasis’ events. Like the last movie shown on a big screen on Aft deck. I loved sitting out on a balmy African evening on movie night! It always felt a little surreal sitting there, on the edge of some West African country with ‘life’ going on a few hundred feet away and me there with a bowl of popcorn watching the latest blockbuster! It’s definitely a special experience that I’ll miss. Check out the photo of the last Anastasis lifeboat race! It was fun! There have been lots of beach trips and goodbye outings too. Many of the nurses arrived in Ghana last June and came for a year so they’re all about to leave. Aaaaaagh! It’s one of the tough things about living on board and I do find it pretty draining. I’m trying to learn not to hold onto people too tightly, to enjoy the privilege it is to get to know some amazing people and share precious times but to remember in it all that it’s not about any of that. I thought I’d done the uncomfortable bit last year when I had to say goodbye to everyone at home. So now, just as I was getting cosy I realise that God is asking me to get uncomfortable again. Stripping away anything that might let me think I can do life on my own. Having some very precious friends leave is just one reminder to me of how much I need God, I need His strength and His love so that I can carry on and keep getting to know new people and show His love to people even when I am tired and my insides are shouting out, ‘give me a break!!’. Our Chief Medical officer, Dr Gary Parker who has also been on board as a maxilla facial surgeon for the last 20 years is a wonderful example of someone who relies on God for all these things. It only dawned on me a while back. I was wondering how someone who had worked in the same job for so long could still express such enthusiasm for his work, such love for his patients, I honestly have never met anyone like it. So when he was talking to us as a crew about the need to rely on God and the truth that we just can’t do this by ourselves, I had to stop and listen. Humanly speaking, we just can’t be the kind and loving people we would like to be. We need something bigger than ourselves.

So there we go folks! I’m popping home for a couple of weeks on June 1st to go to a wedding, it’s a great excuse to catch up with friends too, though 2 weeks is just too short so it’ll be a whirlwind I am sure. Whether I get to see you or not, I am so grateful for your love and support. When I return it’ll be time for my role as ICU and Recovery Manager to fully begin so I will certainly appreciate your prayers. For now, I will say bye bye, KWW xxx