Saturday, 9 June 2012

my heart is full

My heart is full. Full of God’s extravagant goodness.  Full of moments I know were brought together by the God who made the world. Friendships, new life and healing in the lives of our patients, a continually bustling ward full of hope and laughter, fan choco, long swims at Ghis Palace… the excitement ahead for the sail to Tenerife for the ship to get some much needed attention... and meanwhile sneak off for a month myself for some much needed attention too… for the sail back in August to begin 10 months in Guinea  – we haven’t been there in 12 years and it’s likely the need for the kinds of surgery we can provide will far outweigh the opportunities we can bring… but hope none the less… I can’t get tired of this adventure. My spirit feels too alive…. and I thank God for every single moment that He’s allowed me to be part of so far.

We’ve spent the last 5 months in Togo doing the usual array of surgeries. I won’t go into them this time but I will tell you that I am SO thankful for such an amazing team – check out this little video of our nurses made for International Nurse’s Day.

But aside from the usual, were some unexpected adventures. The highlight of which was a trip to Nigeria a few weeks ago to retrace the steps of where my mum and dad and brother Phil, lived 43 years ago. It started as an inkling of an idea – one I’ve pushed away many times because it seemed too tough to pursue – perhaps just not the right timing – perhaps there were things God had to prepare on the way first… but a few weeks ago, the time came. It seemed so impossible from the reaction of others, just getting a Visa sounded like it might never happen, let alone getting out of Lagos Bus Station alive! But the doors flew open wide and a friend and I got the Visas… the bus tickets… and the time off work… and off we went.

We were met by Ben at the ABC bus station in Nigeria’s capital, Lagos, after an 11 hour bus ride from Lome (Togo) and a memorable nights ‘sleep’ in the ‘VIP’ lounge which consisted of 4 sofas – shared with 6 or so others who provided a symphony of snoring to add to the beeping horns and background of loud trashy music. Miraculously, I think I slept – for a few hours at least. We set off at 0630 with Ben – a contact of an ex-Mercy Shipper who would be our driver for the next few days. We’d been told Lagos was not a safe place and it definitely had that feel to it. So off we were, on our way to Ibadan – then on to Illesha in search of the Hospital where Phil was born. A few hours later, we arrived at Wesley Guild Hospital – most of me in disbelief – the rest just in awe. We were shown around the hospital, saw the maternity ward, met some midwives and took some photos to try and match the ones mum had given me from all those years ago. It was a moving time, to say the least. We left Ilesha and went on to Ikole-Ekiti – the town where they had lived and another 80-90 miles on. The journey seemed to go on forever and we went through a million different towns called something-Ekiti and to be honest, I wondered a few times if we’d lost our way. But I needn’t have doubted… we arrived. A much smaller town than Ilesha – who knows how big – lots of shacks – market stalls – goats running across the road. African life right there, more rural and surrounded by lush lush greenery and palm trees galore. It was nearing dusk, so our plans were to find somewhere to sleep and do the exploring in the morning. Ben asked where the school was where Dad had taught and where they all lived, so we would know where to head to the next day… but it just so happened to be around the corner, so we stopped on by. As was with the midwives and hospital staff, the security guy at the gate listened to the story of the white girl coming to find her parents home from 43 years ago with loud African, ‘ey????!!!!’s’ and laughter. I think they thought it was pretty cool

We walked around the school grounds and then got permission to go up to the house. I honestly couldn’t believe it as I climbed the little hill I had heard Mum and Dad talk about many times. As I sat on the verandah, my mind was full of what thoughts - how it looked like then, how it was for them and realizing that, I guess, may be Phil made some of his first steps right there. Weird. Awesome. Moving. Very, very moving. I love that Phil got to spend his first 2 years there. Around the back of the house were the now occupants – cooking over the fire, right by the water tank and the banana trees Mum had spoken of. I was really there!!!!! More ‘eh???!!!!’s’ and even louder laughter and exclamations. I wonder what they were thinking – crazy white girl? Or… wow… precious moments. I think it was the latter from the look in their eyes. I called Mum and Dad as I stood by the fire and cooking pots. That was special too. Almost unbelievable. In fact it was. Unbelievable. A moment only attributable to a loving God. How else did it happen? How else did these beautiful moments coincide? Dusk was falling rapidly and we made our way down the hill. 

We kipped down in a guest house, just a few minutes down the road. Simple, no flash, no glitz – a bed, a bucket of water and some broken crackers and a few handfuls of dried fruit to form our evening meal. I love that. I loved the simplicity of that – so refreshing and freeing.  No traps, no pretence, just life. And perhaps that is why I love Africa so much. Perhaps some seeds were sewn into me back in those days. Who knows. But I love the fruit simplicity brings.

We popped back to the school for a daylight photo – the day much cooler than the ones before. Cloudy skies and an almost chilly breeze met us as we chatted to the security guard there. ‘He was my teacher – John Randall’, he said, as we told the story again. Too hard to believe? It is kind of, but he seemed pretty sure! We were led to a group of teachers being addressed by the Headmaster. They were seated on plastic chairs in a group out on the football field! Most of the kids were parading in long lines to their classrooms, except a few – 8 or so – all standing on one leg! I wondered what they were being punished for. Bless them. We waited in the sidelines until the Headmaster beckoned us to join the group. He thanked me for the seeds my parents had sewn and said that the school was growing and doing well. I brought greetings from Mum and Dad and Phil to the group and asked God to bless them for the work they do. More ‘eh!!!!’s’ and laughter and nods of respect as they heard the story.

I breathed it in, I took in the sights, I thanked God for these very precious moments… and we drove away…. Through the lush green bush, going at speeds I’d really rather not repeat, weaving precariously along winding roads and avoiding other cars and trucks that got far too close. We made it! God made it! He kept us safe – we survived… but we did so much more than that. We saw people doing that - surviving – just selling enough produce to survive another day – these beautiful people work so hard to survive each day. But we got to do so much more than that. The privileged, the ones who get to choose, who get to do more than just survive. I’m so thankful for my life that is so flipping rich… 

So what now? What just happened? – on that trip and these last 5 months? More displays of God’s extravagant goodness, that’s what. I could tell you story after story of what God has done in the lives of patients on board. As we pull away from the port later this week, I think there may be a few tears in my eyes, reflecting on the goodness and holding those who still have wounds that need to heal, up to a God who loves them and will not leave them… yep, there’ll be a tear or 2 for sure… but you know what? There’s plenty more goodness where that came from… and I look forward to more adventures with renewed passion for a God who loves us, who pours out so generously and has a life full of adventure and life and love for each of us… let’s embrace it…

Love you all so much! kww