Sunday, 10 September 2017

We arrived!

It seems only yesterday that I was marveling at the Swiss mountains and filling my heart with the sound of cow bells and my belly with delicious cheese and wine. After a wonderful time at home followed by 4 weeks at French language school, I re-joined the ship in Gran Canaria and after a fairly smooth 13 day sail, we arrived in Douala, Cameroon. If I say it quickly, I can forget the sail, but truth is, it wasn’t my favourite time. In the past it has been fun – but for some reason, the necessary anti sea-sickness drugs made me more weary than normal and the gentle roll of the ship left me semi-comatose most days. It’s a weird feeling and somehow it exacerbated the discomfort of the transition between home and here.

We arrived in Douala, where we were then not allowed to leave the port for 5 days! The reality dawned on us that we were arriving mid rainy season and that the river we now called home was a rich muddy brown and the skies a permanent grey, with bulging rain clouds…. there was a bit of self-talk necessary… it was going to be alright. Right?

It’s now nearly been 4 weeks since we arrived and I’m slowly falling in love. The sun has shown itself at least twice (!) and Mount Cameroon even revealed itself across the river during a most beautiful sunset. Our Day Crew who help us translate pretty much all we do are fabulous. The meetings we have had with local healthcare staff have been engaging and have fanned the flames of hope that we can partner with some wonderful people and hopefully learn from each other as well as encourage and empower them to make surgery safer here in Cameroon.

                                         An all crew photo the day the clouds cleared!

If I told you there are 1.15 surgical specialists per 100,000 people (compared to 92 in the UK) with a total of 83 surgeons and 24 anaesthetic doctors for their 23.4 million people would you believe me? Because such injustice is true and it’s part of the reason 5 billion people in the world lack access to safe, affordable and timely surgical care. It’s not right.

I begin to hesitate as I lament my lack of cheese and wine and mountains. How dare I.

It’s our first time in Cameroon and I’ve been challenged once again as I consider what it means to serve, ‘the forgotten poor’. That phrase conjures up lack and somehow hails us as the heros… but what it doesn’t do is describe the rich I see before my eyes. Because somehow life at home has taught me that my lack and my discomfort of where I find myself translates to who I am and it’s how I measure my joy. I’m happy when I have stuff, a good job and when all is well but when these things are not true, I am somehow less and my joy fades. But what I notice once again is the privilege to encounter those who know far more about building for eternity than I. I notice a people who are laughing and cheering each other on despite the relentless rain, despite the holes in their roofs, despite their spoilt crops. Somehow there’s a joy that doesn’t rest itself on what they have and don’t have. It’s deeper than that and it reminds me of my distance from eternity and makes me question where my identity lies.

And so I try to find a balance between the facts – the utter injustice of lack of access to healthcare and the reality of the deep joy I see. There’s no doubt about it – God didn’t create these people to die at 53 and so it fuels my purpose and reminds me both what I have to learn and what I have to share.

What if the question to ask in suffering isn’t so much “Why this?”— but “What for?”
For such a time as now, we move into people’s suffering, so love moves right in and kicks suffering right out.
For such time as now, we tear down our fences so we can build longer tables.
For such a times as now, we show up even when it seems small because this is how we love large.
For such a time as now, we love just one, like we’d absolutely love to love everyone. Like we would love to be loved.
For such a time as now, we live shaped like a Cross, reaching right out, because this how He begins to reshape the world.
When our “Why This” is made into “What For” — we find what we were made for —made for Brave Love, for Great Givenness, for Unafraid Joy — for such a time as now.
When all our Whys fade into What Fors, our deep pain leads into out deeper purpose.
(Ann Voskamp)

As the Field Service begins, we are corporately taking time to fix our eyes on the Kingdom of God.  Here on the Africa Mercy, our managing director asked us to consider what it would look like for, ‘His Kingdom to come and His will to be done’ for us here. I love these kinds of questions because I believe that’s exactly what God is calling us to – to partner with Him, in His dreams and in His plans, as he reveals Himself through all we do.  He has not called us to run nearly 20 courses, or travel the country to over 30 different Hospitals teaching about the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist, or prepare mentoring for over 50 Surgeons, Anesthesia providers and nurses or partner with the Cameroon Clubfoot program and train people how to straighten bent feet or select over 30 participants to take part in the Food for Life program just to keep us off the streets!

We believe we have been called to strengthen local surgical capacity and to somehow affect the 5 billion people in the world who lack access to safe, timely and affordable surgical care. We want to join the efforts around the world to transform surgery globally. What an incredible opportunity.

As a team, we are praying together for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done:

  •         We hope to continue building trust with our local partners and for God’s love to be seen in all of our interactions
  •       For our Ponseti program, to not just treat patients and provide training but to help broaden understanding and support for the Cameroon Clubfoot project.
  •          We pray we can find eager participants for all our courses and those who come will also have the authority to affect change in their work place.
  •          For our Courses, we teach using a ‘Train the trainer’ model. We hope to find excellent trainers who are willing and able to take the material they learn and continue teaching once we leave.
  •          For our Mentoring programs, I would like to see us continue to build a model that truly strengthens the professionals that work alongside us. This is complex as it involves a big commitment from the individuals as well as us. We pray we can really affect change in Cameroon as participants leave us having gained new skills that will enable people to access surgery here long after we have gone and for generations to come!
  •          Using the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist is mandatory in many operating rooms across the world. We hope to have conversations that explore whether this would also be a helpful step to make surgery safer here in Cameroon.
  •          In Madagascar and Benin we have been a part of initiating discussions with the Ministry of Health to create a National Surgical Plan. Often surgery does not feature heavily in a Country’s National Health plans – because it is so complex to fix. We hope to be a part of these discussions here in Cameroon.

This is just a taste of what God has put on our hearts and we are expectant to see Him open doors for us.

                                         Me and the Medical Capacity Building Team

May His Kingdom come and His will be done!

Love always, KWW