Sunday, 4 December 2011


Jeepers creepers! It’s almost time to come home! I can’t quite capture my thoughts right now – something that  covers the incredible goodness of God that leaves me in awe – and the pain my heart feels as I reflect on the brokenness of this nation. Whilst we’ve done a bit to spread some love and transform some lives, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the need. I am reminded once again that poverty comes in many forms… and I’m not even so sure if this nation is so badly off. Of course there’s a MASSIVE injustice when it comes to material stuff and you only have to step foot on the streets of Freetown to be aware of that but in amongst it all, there are people who know each other – I mean, really know each other. There’s people who lay their lives down for each other, who share what little they have with each other. There’s community, there’s time and space to just be. There’s a whirl that doesn’t include ridiculous Christmas consumerism and there’s a beauty – a very pure beauty in living for each day. As I reflect on the whopping 1242 eye surgeries, 516 max- facial surgeries, 159 Plastic surgeries, 728 General surgeries, not to mention the 34,251 Dental procedures all done through Mercy Ships whilst in Sierra Leone this year, I am in awe of a God who pours out His love so generously and am so thankful to have been part of it.

One of the things that frustrates me about my job is that it involves far too much staring at a computer and not enough getting to know the nurses and the patients. That’s ok… but just as I was pondering on that the last couple of weeks, in a way that only God can do – He whispered some love into my heart. Last week I came across news of a patient who I had cared for on the ship in 2004. She had come to us for skin grafting because her legs and buttocks had been cut off during the war. I can remember her so well – the story wasn’t one to forget – but I remember too her very precious baby who she still somehow managed to strap to her back African style even whilst balancing on her crutches. This little cutie is 8 years old now! I would love to have somehow crossed paths with her face to face but just hearing that she had been back to the ship for further surgery a few months ago and was doing well made me smile. It’s things like this that go pull pull in my heart (I love how the Krio language somehow puts it so much better than English. In fact there are many words that make me smile intermingled within the majority of conversations I don’t understand like, ‘fine fine cap’ (crown) and ‘glady glady’ (happy). Many of our patients tell us they are glady glady!

I also stumbled across a lady the other day who had surgery on the ship in 2001 to repair a fistula that had formed during prolonged labour. This happens far more often than you want to know in places where health care isn’t quickly available. For some poor mums who are having problems during delivery and need a c-section which simply isn’t available, the baby sits in the birth canal and usually dies after a few days – meanwhile the pressure inside breaks down the tissues around the bladder and allows urine to leak freely. These ladies have no choice but to carry around the stench of urine and are often rejected by their husbands and families and have to face the loss of their child and dignity alone. Her surgery was successful and she had fought her way back from rejection to the point of delivering her first live child since her surgery! She was in a local hospital I was visiting last week which was set up by Mercy Ships a few years ago to provide free maternity care. Goes pull pull on your heart, huh?

So it’s goodbye to Sierra Leone for now. We finished our last surgery on November 17th and since then we have been busy discharging our patients home and scrubbing the decks and tying everything down ready for the ship to sail to Ghana. I’ll be home from December 9th for 3 weeks and then join the ship in Ghana on January 2nd before sailing to Togo where we’ll be setting up our floating Hospital once again for the next 6 months. Looking forward to coming home… and hope to see many of you there. OK, a de go naw  (I’m going now!), KWW

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Busy surviving

More than surviving

So much beauty, that I don’t even see. So much of God’s incredible generosity, that I totally miss. Sometimes I feel like I allow my self be too busy to see the good stuff. Too busy worrying about tomorrow to see what God has put on my plate today – and it bugs me. Meanwhile the majority of the 5.74 million inhabitants of Sierra Leone are busy surviving. Every time I go out on the streets of Freetown, I am left utterly convinced that these people never sleep! They’re too busy surviving. Even at 10pm, the streets are full of hustle and bustle and kerosene lamps flickering by stalls selling just about any random item you can think of. It’s like the worlds biggest street jumble sale 24 hours a day. Africa always speaks so deeply to me and I am caught in this same mind battle every time my feet leave this crazy ship. In amongst this nation busy trying to survive: how dare I, how dare I… spend a day going to the beach? I want to, because I know it fills me up and gives me the fuel I need to pour out and I enjoy marvelling at the beauty of it all. That’s ok. But when did it all become about me? Flashbacks of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are flooding back to me. May be that’s what it’s about – I guess there’s not much time for self actualisation when you’re still trying to get a cup of clean water? But how come I can skip to the top of that hierarchy with barely a worry in the world? It’s not fair and I don’t like it. Injustice makes me puke.

Sierra Leone is one of the world’s poorest countries, nearly 75 percent of people earn less than £1.25 a day. There are few opportunities for employment or to start a small business as economic and social systems are not well-developed. Health also is of primary concern; according to the United Nations, Sierra Leone has the world’s highest mortality rate of children under age five (290/1000). There are nearly 48,000 people living with HIV and AIDS, and 31,000 children have been orphaned by the disease. Only 57% people have access to clean water. How they came up with that statistic, I have no idea. It can only be a guess. But no clean water? Can you imagine?? Can you?? Like really? No clean water. Constant tummy bugs…. Ugh. And not to mention the 10-year civil war that claimed an estimated 50,000 lives. All this and all I can do is think about planning a day to the beach????? Who am I????? It’s ok... I’m going to go… I’ll slip into denial for a while… but really? Why this continuing massive gap between the rich and the poor. It really makes me wanna puke.

So as I make my way to one of the world’s most beautiful beaches – white sand with a back drop of rich mountainous rainforest – (it’s more than beautiful) I climb into a taxi and ask to be taken to the beach, I can almost not get my words out because I’m wondering – does the driver even know where the beach is? It’s far… and fuel costs a lot… and well, if you’re busy surviving… if you’re one of the ones without clean drinking water, why on earth would you know your way to the beach? I ask anyway and have the time of my life - suppressing the thoughts of the impact this pot hole filled journey has had on my drivers car. I wonder what he is thinking.

… I have the privilege to do more than survive and it’s time to realise that. Crazy self inflicted schedules and worrying about what’s next – I don’t want any of it. I want to embrace all the good stuff God has put on my plate. It means spending time with the patients on the ward – skipping for joy at one of the 15 or so life changing surgeries that happen every day here on board – I don’t do enough of that. It means being thankful for the multitude of people living on the ship from all around the world. It’s one of the richest places in the world for me – a concentration of people who all love doing what I love too. It means thanking God for each smile, each sound of laughter, each twinkling star in the sky, each incredible sunset, each rain drop, each opportunity my spirit gets to connect with another, each glimpse of God I see in His creation and each glimpse of His incredible love for me I see in the way He provides and shows His love for me. I am loving the privilege of being here.

Prayers for the rest of our time here in Sierra Leone would be appreciated – we finish here early in December and I think we’re all too aware that we can’t do it on our own. We’re tired and we need some of the supernatural grace and love of God to keep us going. If there’s one thing to pray for, pray that the patients we get to meet come to know how much God loves them through it all. God works everything together for His good – and I was thinking this week of some of the patients who have had plastic surgery who have wounds that are taking a long time to heal, how God can even use that, and I really pray the time will be used so these people leave here knowing, without a doubt, that there’s a God who created them that has a love so deep for them, that their lives will never be the same.

And there’s a God out there who loves you too… praying you know it. Love and miss you SO much, look forward to hearing from you, KWW

Saturday, 20 August 2011

LOVE it!

LOVE IT. Whatever it was they used to inject me with on the plane or sneak in my luke warm plastic airline meal  - it’s the same stuff they used before – suddenly my heart came alive and I feel like it’s dancing! May be it’s something to do with working in such an incredible place where we get to pour out God’s love on a nation that has so little or may be it’s the incredible people I work with from all around the world with one unified passion or it could be the humongously juicy mangoes or then again may be it’s just the sight of hope in the eyes of the patients – many of whom have been waiting for surgery for YEARS and years and years….

I’ve only been back a couple of weeks but my initial impressions are of such beauty and of a ministry that has grown and has God right at the centre – it fills me with smiles because when I left back in 2009 I was tired and full of questions about where Mercy Ships was heading. I’ve just got back from a walk out to a cafĂ©. It’s always good to get off the ship – the crazy in between world that stands next to the sights and sounds of such poverty. Our walk took us through the busiest streets I have ever seen – crowded with market sellers all calling for you to make your purchases from them. It’s almost an impossible task to keep walking, dodging the wheel barrows acting as mobile shops and sacks full of peppers balanced on people’s heads, people sleeping in doorways and the shabby old buses trying to pass each other on roads that were once meant for passing but now so full of people they cause the traffic to snarl up every few seconds – no one gets anywhere fast here. Not to mention the open sewers either side of the road that you run the risk of stepping into as you dodge a big truck pumping out its clouds of black exhaust. Nice. But somehow I love it. Somehow I love the life and vibrancy it brings. Somehow I actually really like that life is not all tidy and structured and sensible. It brings a funny kind of freedom I don’t find at home or on the London tubes where stress rises if you miss one and have to wait a WHOLE 3 minutes before the next one comes. Yeah, I like it here.

One of the treasures this week was reconnecting with a lady called Chris. I first met her in Ghana in 2006 and she had surgery on board the Anastasis. She was living in Ghana since fleeing the war in Liberia. She’s been on a rocky road and needed repeated surgery but now is doing so well and has switched roles over the years from patient to day volunteer (loads of local people work with us to help with jobs and translating etc in each country we go to) and now she is a full on crew member! She was telling me the joys of returning to Liberia and how she found her brothers – she had lost touch with them during the war and didn’t even know if they were alive. As I talked with her I was reminded again how much I take for granted – I’m embarrassed to admit to her face that I have a loving family and beautiful friends and places I like to go to and indulge my selfish face in. Life is so much more about surviving here in West Africa and we don’t know the half of it. She also reminded me that there’s a God out there who makes all things new. He did it for her, He’s done it for me and I’m looking forward to seeing Him do it again and again and again in the lives of the patients we get to meet. We’re doing the usual Facial surgery (cleft lips and palates, tumours etc) together with General surgery (hernias etc), Eye surgery and soon to start Plastic surgery (often releasing contractures formed from untreated burn injuries and such). I love it.

I’m missing family, friends, fresh breezes, summer fruit, Cornish beaches and the wiff of sweet peas but love it here and look forward to seeing God do more than I can ask or imagine. Can’t wait to hear from you… very much love always and forever, KWW (for new followers, that’ll be Kirstie Wirstie Woo) xxxx

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

I refuse

It’s time, it’s time… I can almost hear the sounds and smell the smells that arriving in Sierra Leone tomorrow will bring! There’s so much to be make me go, ‘eeeeek and aaaaaagh’ but actually I’m REALLY excited! God called me to this place after all so He’s not gonna up sticks now and leave me… is He?? That’s not my God. I feel like I’ve learnt lots about how utterly full of love He is these last couple of years and can’t wait to see what He’s going to do next to blow my mind some more ;) It’s a few years since I was in Sierra Leone but I am sooooooo looking forward to landing in this beautiful nation that has so much to be bitter about, yet seems to be filled with huge smiles and warm hearts… it kinda makes me dance inside! So as from Tuesday, I’ll be the Ward Supervisor again on the Africa Mercy – the world’s largest non governmental Hospital Ship… whoop whoop.

Of course there’s SO much I don’t want to say goodbye to as well… but as I watched a documentary a couple of weeks ago about women giving birth in Chad and saw how little they had, it made my heart ache. So many women there are dying simply because they have no access to healthcare or even when they do, the right drugs aren’t available...  the same story is echoed throughout too much of the world. It really made me think and shift my head from feeling sad to leave my cosy life to feeling a desperate, ‘I have to! How dare I not???!’… so it’s with relative ease that I can say goodbye – knowing that I am more than blessed by so many good things, but that my skills can be used elsewhere for now…

There’s challenges ahead – some big ones. Never think living and working in a Christian community somehow makes you exempt from life’s frustrations – it doesn’t! I want to be part of a team that abandons selfish desire and everything else that gets in the way of God’s incredible power at work and together come to a place where we see more of how BIG God is. I’m pretty sure He says nothing is impossible with Him, right? I wanna see that! So pray for me please… my heart is that all we do in caring for patients and for each other will be infused and full to bursting with love and would love if you could pray for that.

Thanks everso everso and PLEASE keep in touch! It means the world to me!

Love you forever, KWW xxxx.

Plans afoot

 "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive'' Howard Thurman
 It's not going to take you long to realise what this email is about is it? Well... I am writing to let you know that Africa is calling me back. My heart is broken for the precious people there who need some love pouring into them. I know, I know, there's precious people who need love pouring into them here too - but this is what God has put on my heart ;) It makes me weep and skip for joy at the same time - the goodbyes make me anxious already. At the same time, my heart feels so full of joy at the abundance of goodness I see in my own life that it is fit to burst with a love and compassion for the people of West Africa and I just have to go. 

So I am soon to finish working as a nurse in Exeter - 31st March in fact. It has been a great place to refuel and reconnect but now it's time to go again. I'll be working from home initially for 'Willing and Abel' through the Vodafone World of Difference programme - they fund people to work for a charity for 2 months. Willing and Abel is the charity who I did the whole Regina thing with and I'm sooooo excited to be working with them. I also hope to do a follow up visit to Ghana to see how Regina is getting on whilst working with them. I've also just started the Diploma in Tropical Nursing at London's school of Tropical Medicine which is SO fascinating! Once it finishes in July, I will be heading back to work with Mercy Ships in early August - I will go for at least a year and may be longer - who knows! The ship will be in Sierra Leone until the end of the year and then I'm not sure where next...

I am THRILLED... I felt so bereft when I left before and never realised that I would get to go back. Looking back, I can see that this was a very necessary pit stop, but I didn't realise it at the time. I feel like God has healed so much in my own heart and shown me such goodness, I am ready to go and be part of Him healing lives inside and out again. If you don't know Mercy Ships, ask me... or visit . There's also a great little recent mercy ships video on You tube that says it all here  

SO..... MONEY.... I hate to mention it... but if you in any way feel able to support this venture either as a one off or as a monthly contribution, then I would be exceedingly grateful. As you may remember, Mercy Ships is a voluntary organisation which means not only do I not get paid, but I also have to pay for the privilege of working as well as paying for flights to get there. Last time I had a few people sponsor me £5-50 a month and I always had enough so I am hoping something similar will work out. If you think you might be able to help then please could you let me know soon-ish and I can send the relevant gift aid forms to you, so I get more for every donation. Finance is just the boring bit... if you can support me in prayer or sending a cheery email now and then, that would be AMAZING! Keeping in touch with home really was a life source for me and I know it will be again!

If you're receiving this, it's because you're someone who means a lot to me - someone who has cheered me on, supported me and encouraged me in all sorts of different ways. So thank you for all your support in the journey so far. How incredibly humbling to know that God has weaved our lives together... I truly feel so thankful for each one of you. 

I look forward to hearing more of what God is doing in your life and to sharing more of what He is doing in mine too... I only want the abundantly more than I can ask or imagine (Eph 3:20) and pray that for you too... may He blow your mind again and again,

love forever, K xxx