Sunday, 21 December 2014

who put me here?

Clambering into the rusty rickshaw and nestling myself into the somewhat torn plastic seat next to one of my most precious friends on Earth, we gave our instructions to take us to a local hotel where we would sip a beer and eat something yummy... and off we went - the drivers skinny little legs, pedaling round and round to take us to breathe some fresh air and some fresh thoughts... sometimes it's just good to do that here. The journey from the ship through this small port town is hardly something to write home about but there's a gentleness and peace in this place that swoops over you as you leave the port. The cars are few and the rickshaws are plenty. You get pedaled along past giant mounds of coconuts, ladies cooking samosas over an open fire and guys on the side of the road selling branches and branches full of lychees. The trees are a mix of palm, mango, lychee and some beautiful blooming frangipanis too. This time of year they are laden with fruit and my taste buds are tantalized at every sighting. You see people on bikes everywhere - from an old man with his bike weighed down with fresh flowers tied onto the back, weaving in amongst the collection of other 2 or 3 wheeled get arounds that there are - to cute little ones piled on bikes on their way to school. It makes driving with an actual motorized vehicle a dance just to get down the road. The streets aren't littered with chewing gum, but instead with mango and lychee stones. The sun is warm, the humidity not too bad and the breeze... pretty nice. It's not West Africa, that's for sure and 8 weeks on, I am still finding myself wondering... who put me here? It's a phrase I could use to pretty much summarise the last 3 and a bit months...

Cos many things were just never part of my plan.

- Ebola infesting West Africa... heaping yet more hopelessness on nations who are already struggling to survive...

- Promotion to a new job that started way earlier than I expected...

- A change in direction for the ship as we headed to Madagascar...

- An 18 day sail to Cape Town...

- A whirlwind week at home to witness a brave and miraculous recovery of my precious nephew from brain surgery (even 15 year old nephews can be precious, right?)

- A rather rough 8 day sail to Madagascar... a most beautiful Island off the East coast of Africa - hailed for it's natural beauty and yet overwhelmed by inequality in terms of access to health care...

...And so here I am.

It was never my plan. I don't even believe it was God's plan. Not Ebola. Not my God of life and love.

But sometimes we find ourselves not in plan A or plan B or even C...

As I left Benin and found myself back on the ship and then soon after sailing down the coast of Africa, I found myself wondering how the heck I got there... My heart for heading to Benin last June to help prepare for the ship arrival was to connect with the people there... to get out of my office and to connect with hearts that I knew had so much to teach me in a country we were preparing to stay the next year in. And yet Ebola hit West Africa and forced us to leave and there I was in early September, sailing to a Country I have never been to, doing a job I have never done, dealing with a million changes and fielding a thousand crises' that came as a result of all our changing plans.

And yet... there is beauty. There is grace. And there is great pleasure in stepping out into deeper waters. There's a joy and a privilege as I realize I am being trusted with more and a deep humility as I realize even more that I cannot do it alone. If I tried, I'd sink. And I've done that a few times. It's forced me to discover more of the beauty that has been planted around me. It's in these deeper waters that I have found yet more of myself that needs to be refined. Where I thought I'd learnt to be free from control and pride and fear... I have seen them raise their ugly heads again - they sneak in from different angles and they have done their fair share of trying to make me feel weak... but in doing so, the redeeming, reconciling, refining love of God has found me and, in these deep waters, I have even more beautiful stories to tell.

We've been busy these last few weeks trying to find patients and our teams have worked hard to filter through the 1000s that come hoping to find the ones we can really help. Cos truth is, we're a specialized surgical ship so there's lots of people we need to say no to. It's not easy and whilst every fibre in each of us wants to say 'yes' to the help they seek.... we can't.... and watching hope rise and then fade away is no easy thing. For these people it's not plan A or B or C or D or even E.... they leave wondering why someone else has said no to their plea for help once again and I always wonder what they are thinking. If my heart and mind stay in that place too long, it begins to lose hope it self. I have to believe that there is hope.... eternal hope... and even to the ones who hear a 'no'... I have to pray that they catch a glimpse of it...

I've just spent the last few days in the capital, Antananarivo for a few meetings. It's a short 45 minute flight away and as I set off, I had no idea how much life that little trip would bring. It's a beautiful city - situated around a lake that has purple blossoming Jacaranda trees all around it. It was a breath of fresh air to me - perhaps it was the hilly landscape with cobbled streets or the cute little buildings nestled into them, or the rickety collection of 30 or 40 year old Renaults and Citroens that form their taxi fleet, or perhaps it was the enjoyment of the cooler highland air, or the friendly smiles of the patients we were selecting for surgery... or may be it was merely a few days independence away from my Ship-land. I'm not sure what it was exactly and even more, I have no idea how I got there. How I got to be speaking to government officials or to be a part of making decisions for the future of our surgical plan...

And so you see, I've had a collections of, 'how did I get here's?' ... and I'm still not sure how we got to be bobbing around here in the Indian Ocean, but I do know that just like God's grace has got me through and just how abundantly I have known that, the same is true for each person who crosses our path. He works all things together for good and for the people we can say yes to, they are truly grateful there is a plan G... there is delight, there is hope, this is a reality that some have dreamed of for years and for those we say no to, I have to believe that plan X or Y or even Z will come through... that my God of hope and life will shower himself on these precious ones too.

So as we embrace 15 more months of surgery (we'll be here until June 2016), shout out a little prayer for the ones who are still looking for hope and rejoice with me for the ones who have found it... and pray it blossoms to even more as their precious lives are transformed forever....

Praying for you whether you're in plan A or B or C... may you know His unfailing grace and abounding love this Christmas and in the coming year.

Love always, KWW

Saturday, 23 August 2014

hope redeemed

It was late in the evening, the air was heavy and thick with humidity and even though there was a breeze, you would never describe it as cool. I was going through the motions, putting one foot in front of the other - I had to - but as I lifted my foot from the tarmac onto the steps that would lead me to my plane ride home, I wondered if I would ever be back again. I wondered if God would ever trust me again, I wondered if I would ever trust myself again and I was wondering what hope lay before me. I tried to face it bravely but all the while my heart was broken. I felt like I had to tuck the love I had for sweet Africa away and I wasn't sure if I would ever be able to let it out again. It was April 2009 and after 3 years of working on board my big white ship, I was leaving the Africa Mercy from Benin. I was tired and feeling weak and it left me feeling like I had failed in many ways and I needed to go home to find rest. I knew I was walking towards a place where I would find life... but it wasn't easy.

A lot has happened since then. A lot of beauty has grown. Someone commented a while ago that I look like I am in love! And I am. I couldn't live life without the hope and redeeming love that Jesus has poured out on me. I have been relentlessly pursued, I have been believed in, I have been trusted, and treasured. I hear His cry of delight as I become more of who I was made to be and I hear a call of courage as I walk forward on new ground.

So you can imagine how I might have felt as I set foot back in Benin 2 months ago. Who would have thought? How does He do it? How does He hold all of these pieces together? How does He know... how did He know that it would mean so much? Why does He care? Surely there are more important things He needs to deal with? But He relentlessly pursues and His heart is always for life. And that's what He was leading me to...

I've been in Benin these last 2 months working as part of our Advance Team. It's a team that goes ahead of the Ship to 'Country Next' and prepares the way for the ship to arrive. I had been feeling a bit office-bound and dry in my job on the ship and was desperate to connect with the beauty of Africa that I had known, so jumped at the opportunity to join the team. I worked as the Healthcare Education Liaison and the position gave me opportunity to meet some of the most amazing people I have ever encountered. From the Ministry of Health, to the Nursing and Medical Schools, from Hospital Directors to the nurses on the wards... goodness gracious, I have been blessed. It was a privilege to share our vision and hope to be able to partner with them. They are each eager and hungry to learn. We say that relationships are the most important thing in West Africa and for this reason the Advance team does some crucial work. It isn't just about arranging logistics, but it is about getting to know each other, taking time and conveying value and respect. I have worked alongside an incredible translator and have enjoyed playing games in my head as I would try and beat him to translation as my French slowly improved. It was fun! The work has been beyond a privilege and as well as that, I have also made some special friends.

So it is with great sadness that the whole Ebola outbreak is shaking up our plans. Well, let me get that right... It is with great sadness that the Ebola virus is destroying so many beautiful lives in countries where they are just not equipped to deal with it. Not only do they lack simple infection control measures, but they lack good education that would help the deadly virus from spreading. People are scared and hope is being destroyed. It is just too sad. With it being so close to us in Nigeria, Mercy Ships has decided to delay the arrival of the ship from the previous arrival date of August 26 to better assess the situation. It's a time of tough decisions because not only do we have to make sure we keep our 400 crew safe but we also don't want to make matters worse for Benin itself. The ship is like a magnet and draws people from all over... and we can't be the ones to make the situation worse and make it spread further.

And all this can't help but leave me wondering... what does hope look like? How can we spend a few months in a Country, sharing vision, putting hope in people's hearts and then wonder if we might even be prevented from delivering our promises and watch those dreams fade away? What was all the relationship building all about? All I know is that it breaks God's heart too. And I know as well that He can restore, He can redeem and He is the one who puts hope in people's hearts.

The ship is going through some leadership changes and since our work in Benin is kind of on hold, myself and one other of our team have been asked to go back to the ship in the Canaries to help with work there for now. So as I reflect on the goodbyes to the rest of the team, I am sitting on the plane with a heavy heart because I'm leaving friends and I'm leaving a country that has so much life and hope to share itself. I'm wondering if I'll ever be back and questioning: what does Hope look like for Benin?

Right now, I don't know, I really don't know. But I do know that my God will relentlessly pursue this nation with His love. I wanted to be one of the ones to shower it on them... but if Ebola keeps us away for a while, I rest assured that He will keep pursing. I know that His heart is to overwhelm Benin with his love and to put an eternal hope in their hearts.

Hope Redeemed. That's my God. He did it for me and He will continue to do it for them. I need to know that right now because it hurts. I need to remind myself that God is restoring all things for His glory and that He can make all things new...

So wherever I am - Benin or the Canary Islands - and whatever I am doing - may people see you in it, Jesus, and may it all one day come together and crown you with many crowns...

Love always, KWW

Wednesday, 18 June 2014


It's like trying to get out of a hot shower - the warmth and feel of the water just seem to call you to stay... just a few more minutes? Or just one last eye-full of sunshine glistening on the ocean blue? or one last wave to carry me to the shore... weeeeeeeeeeee... or one last strawberry or one last sniff of an extravagantly scented garden rose... or one last squeezy hug. Leaving home is never easy and, I'd even say, gets harder.

Richness is costly. Richness pays a price. Richness leaves you wondering how much love your heart can hold. I feel like a roll of tape that has rolled around a thousand different beautiful places and rolled in and out of the hearts of so many these last few weeks... and picked up a million pieces of love along the way that leaves my heart bursting and feeling so so rich. Richness doesn't come from money... I can testify to that. I laugh at myself as I dart around and point out the obvious to everyone, 'did you see the moon tonight?', 'did you smell that rose? ', 'can you feel that breeze?' ... it s all so rich to me and it has been so good to be home.

My dad joked as we used our 30+ year old body boards yesterday for, 'just one more surf ', that we should ask for our money back because they're looking a bit worn... and he always asks me as we get out of the water, it was worth the money wasn't it? ... as if we'd spent thousands of pounds on some rip off adventure... but all we did was carry an old board into some chilly waters and play in some waves. It cost next to nothing... and yet, has to be one of the richest things my heart knows.

It's rich because it takes me to a place where it' s just me and my Maker. We sing, we chat, we share thoughts, I tell Him the stuff that hurts, the dreams I have, I take time to breathe and acknowledge the rich before and behind. And as I wade into deeper waters, I find myself singing, 'You make me brave - you call me out beyond the shore into the waves. No fear can hinder now the promises you made.. .'. And I smile, because here I am again, trying to soak in this richness because my heart knows that it is soon time to leave. It s soon time to be brave. Again.

So here I am... about to start my journey to Benin and meet 8 others and, together, we form the Advance Team. Our job is to prepare the way for the ship s arrival in August. I'll miss this rich home, but am truly excited to get the opportunity to play a part in this team. The rich beauty of West Africa awaits... and I cannot wait...

Will you join me in praying richness over Benin? I long for hearts to know Jesus, for them to know a new depth of God s love for them and that we, as an organisation, would steward the love and gifts we have well so that we can share them in a way that will transform lives and share tastes of rich beauty that will last into eternity. And no doubt, Benin will show share their rich beauty with us too. Even the thought of such a privilege leaves me on my knees...

Sending the hugest hugs to you all - especially those of you I didn't get to see... and praying rich beauty over each of your hearts too.

Love forever, KWW

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Hope born

Happy Easter, friends! Isn’t it incredible that we get to believe that hope rises from dead places and that impossible stones can be rolled away? As I pondered on these words the other day, I was reminded once again what a privilege it is to be part of bringing hope and healing in this place. As I sit and type in my little cabin, I’m thinking of friends around the world who support me in all sorts of ways to be here and I’m forever grateful for each one. It’s difficult to know how to express that thanks – even to those a few feet away on decks above and below me. But I hope this little taste of life in our Hospital will fill your heart and come as a huge thanks for being a part of it.
Imagine having lost your baby in prolonged labour. Imagine having a hole in your bladder that means you leak urine – the whole time. Imagine being rejected by your family because, basically, you don’t smell very nice. Imagine living with the stench of stale urine that never ever goes away. Not ever. Imagine the hopelessness. Imagine thinking that this is forever. How would you feel? How would you heave yourself up from your sleeping mat on the dusty floor every day? Imagine thinking that you’re the only one – that there’s no one else who understands. It’s a story that we’ve heard told again and again during these last 7 weeks of Obstetric Fistula surgery on board. But the stories didn’t end there. Imagine finding out that there is a place where hope is born every day. Imagine hearing that there are people who can help… imagine stepping foot on our big white ship for the very first time.
And so these ladies arrive. We group them into a ward of their own – not to isolate them, but to give them a safe space so they’re not surrounded by children running around or people who have no idea what they have been through. They each share a living space for anywhere from a week to several weeks whilst they have their surgery and recover from it and what happens is simply beautiful. They share their stories. They realize that they are not the ‘only one’. They begin to hope. They begin to believe that life might get better. They begin to believe that their impossible stones might just get rolled away. People sit with them and hold their hands. They make friendship bracelets and they play Jenga. And in this beautiful place, a haven is created and a hope for a different future is born – and not only that – a hope for each other is born as well. A few weeks back, we had one lady who was not doing so well – she was in pain, still leaking urine and feeling generally pretty yucky. One of the nurses saw her crying and when asked why, she discovered that they were not tears of sadness or self pity but tears of joy. She said she was just so happy for the lady in the bed next to her who was now healed.  How easy would you find it to rejoice when others rejoice… even when your deepest hope is not yet realized for yourself? Isn’t it beautiful?
And in amongst this haven of hope, the ladies sing. Most of our patients get to climb up to Deck 7 every afternoon for an hour or so of air and a glimpse of life beyond our windowless Deck 3. But since this special group of ladies aren’t allowed to climb the stairs whilst they heal, the nurses and translators have created a daily – twice daily – sometimes even more often than that – routine to keep them from lying in bed ALL day long. They just simply walk up and down the corridor and sing and there’s nothing like the sound of it wafting it’s way into my office. It’s eerily beautiful and I know in these moments it’s not just about the singing. They harmonise and sing words of thanks to God. It’s stunning in itself but something far bigger is happening than just that. As the ladies sing, I know that God’s Spirit is thick upon them. There’s safety, there’s acceptance, there’s love, there’s freedom, there’s healing for hearts that have lived with the deepest kind of rejection I could ever imagine and the hope that was born continues to grow. Whether they know it or not, Jesus is walking those corridors with them and breathing new life into them. I know He is. I can feel it. And I can see it written on their faces. Chains are being broken and it makes my heart soar. 
We’re finishing up 40 something weeks of surgery in the Republic of Congo – almost hard to believe, but it’s true. We have 3 weeks of surgery left and then a couple of weeks of clearing up and packing before we hit the big wide seas. This year my plans are looking slightly different and instead of joining the sail, I’ll be heading home at the end of May for 3 weeks before I fly out to Guinea to be a part of our Advance Team. The team of 6 goes ahead of the Ship to prepare the way for the ship’s arrival… and I have to say, I’m pretty excited! For a while now, I have felt a bit of a tug in my heart because doing the job I do leaves me feeling a bit cut off from patients or the country we’re in a lot of the time. Sounds silly maybe, but it’s true! So this little heart is thrilled to go and help prepare the way – my role will be to help with the hiring process of nearly 200 local Day Crew whose jobs range from providing translation to cleaning, cooking and all sorts of other jobs that are vital to us successfully doing what we set out to do.  As well as that, I hope to be able to set up some of the education that we’ll provide for local nurses and for the rest, my plate is open – I’m happy to do whatever we need to do as a team to prepare the way for the ship’s arrival. Others will be liaising with immigration to prepare for the arrival for hundreds of volunteers over the coming year, arranging things in the Port, spreading the word of what we do and who we can help and all sorts of other things that need doing before the Ship arrives. It’ll be interesting and challenging, I am sure...  I look forward to living on LAND and with a small team… I look forward to open windows and crazy West African hustle and bustle… I look forward to a bit of independence and even perhaps digging up some French… but I know without a doubt, I’ll look forward to the day my floating home comes into sight on August 21st… cos I also know, I’ll miss it like crazy too.
I look forward to seeing some of you soon and in the meantime, here’s to believing that hope can rise from dead places and impossible stones can be rolled away… cos they really really can. Happy Easter!

Love always, KWW  

Friday, 3 January 2014


No snow. I’d dreamt of it for months. I’d talked about it. I’ve had my office decorated with it since last winter. I’d pictured floating flakes dancing outside the window. I could feel the warmth of the fire and smell the smoke of the burning wood. I could taste the wintry flavours on my tongue, I could hear the silence as it fell and I could imagine the creaking crunch as I stepped my foot onto it. I knew where the sledge would take me and I knew how my lungs would cry for help as I re-climbed its slithery course. I could sense how cold my nose would get and could feel the soggy socks that would need a post sledge dry. I knew how full my heart would get.

And it’s not because I like all things white or the cold or delicate things or even the magical mystery snow brings. Well, it’s not just that anyway. It’s because… well, it speaks of something so much bigger. The intricate beauty, the unique form, the careless float, the transforming power, the ability it has to make me a child again, the effortless beauty. It speaks of something so much more. I could say the same of lots of other things. The birdsong in mum and dad’s wintry garden, the crashing waves on my favourite beach, the wild sea spray, the reflections on the sand, the juicy tang of a cox’s apple, the places in my heart that a film about real life in its raw beauty unveils, the rainbows that speak of promise and hope, the clear blue skies after days of relentless rain, the giggles to be had with my little friends, the courage and humility that my nephew displays as he faces huge surgery… yep, these things speak of something so much more too. And it’s not because I’m soft and fluffy. It’s really not. It’s because these things waken a deep part of my heart. And they leave me thirsty for more. They all remind me of my Maker and I wonder; how did it all get so beautiful?

Thirsty hearts are those whose longings have been wakened by the touch of God within them. A.W Tozer

It’s been a beautiful year of growth in a million ways. Thousands of people’s lives transformed through surgery and the power of love.  And love’s transforming power in my life too. I’ve stretched and grown, I feel like I’ve become more of me and encouraged others to be more of them. It’s been about learning to love and being loved. It’s been about hearing God’s voice, learning what that sounds like and learning to quiet my own heart in it. It’s been learning that there is so much more. I didn’t say it had been easy - I just said it was beautiful.

But the snow. It never came you know. It’s ok, it’s sometimes how it goes. Thank you, England for 3 weeks of rich gifts. Thank you 2013 for 52 weeks of deepest joy.

My dreams for 2014?  I want to be fully me. I want to love deeply and I want to open my eyes to all the ways I can receive love too. I want to be at rest in my heart. I don’t want to be running to the next thing or longing for the beauty that has passed. I want to be embracing the now and see the metaphoric snow falling in it. I want the touch of God to awaken my Spirit to all the ways He calls me to pour out deep love and I can think of nowhere better than to do it on my big white boat. We’ll continue on in the Republic of Congo until June and after that it’s yet to be finalized.

Oh and I’d like to build a snowman too.

But most of all, I dream of making my Maker smile.

Love always, KWW