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