Sunday, 25 March 2018

it always seems impossible until it's done

On March 9th it was 15 years since I first walked on African soil and up the gangway of the m/v Anastasis for the first time. I remember those 3 weeks well – I worked as a nurse in the Recovery Room and whilst I marveled at my first tastes of Mercy Ships life, I spent most of the time swallowing the lump in my throat and hiding my bulging, tear filled eyes. Shielded by my introverted heart, I stuck it out, but I missed home and I couldn’t understand for a minute how people could devote their lives to a life like this. I vividly remember a Bible verse on the wall outside the Operating Rooms – Mathew 29:19, ‘And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life’ – and I remember thinking, ‘it better be true…!’.

And yet here I am 15 years on and my heart is full. Fuller than I ever thought it could be.

The weekend of March 9th, I went on a big hiking trip to what Mercy Shippers call the ‘crater lakes’. A 4 ish hour drive north-west from Douala, takes you to a nice little rural town called Melong and to a tranquil guesthouse called Villa Luciole.

Over 2 days, we walked 5 hours up and 4 hours down – camping at the crater lakes 2100m above sea level the night in between. The scenery was breathtaking and it was a welcome break from our grey and dusty container walled dockside home.

It was physically satisfying, not to mention very special to do with friends who were willing to take breaks even when they probably didn’t need them and who walked slower than their legs may have wanted to, just for me. That’s what friends do and it was a sweet reminder of the gift of so many friends I have made over the years. It was also another reminder that it always seems impossible until it's done!

Back in August last year right after we docked in Cameroon, we began to dream as a team – we allowed God to fill our hearts and minds with His hopes and dreams for the next 10 months for a place and people that would become our home. You can read more about them here 'We arrived' but the top 3 are captured on a note card that I keep above my desk.  

And so on busy days when I sometimes don’t even know where to start or when I look back on a whirlwind of a day and wonder if I even achieved anything, I look up at it and focus. The calling of a leader comes in seasons – others before me have been asked to do different things and no doubt those who come after me will be trusted with a different array of goals. But these were mine.

Nearly 8 months later, I am lost for words. We have a very special team – just now, I was trawling through the photo archives and seeing many of our team in action and my eyes are bulging once again. Hope takes courage. Believing in others takes courage. Seeing the beauty in others takes courage. But my team of capacity builders is full of people with big hearts who do just that and I am so proud to walk with them. Here's a tiny taste...

A team of 34 participants celebrated their graduation from the Nutritional Agriculture - Food for Life program last Friday. They completed a 22 week program and as with all our programs, they have been trained to teach others. Eliphaz and his team can be proud. 

Nick and his team have 8 trained people in the Ponseti method of correcting clubfeet. We are dreaming big for the National Clubfoot program here in Cameroon to grow from strength to strength.

Here are 2 of our favourite mentoring participants – Dr Hentchoya (Anaesthetist) and Dr Jacques (ENT Surgeon). During our time here we have had 32 surgeons and anaesthesia providers work alongside us in the ORs. The numbers might not sound that big but they have spent 100s of hours working 1:1 with us and the feedback has been incredible. People comment not only on the opportunity to improve their technical skills, but on the attitude of love and the presence of God in this place. I would say it’s been one of our most successful mentoring programs so far and I am so very thankful. Sophie and the whole team can be so proud!

This is Dr Eyoup – she spent several months working with our Ophthalmic surgeon, Dr Glenn Strauss. She had never performed surgery before and is now a fully fledged cataract surgeon!

And besides all the capacity building, the lives transformed continue...

Salamatou And Mariama
“Because you never smile, I’m going to heal before you!” said Salamatou (left) to her younger sister Mariama. The sibling rivalry throughout their time on the Africa Mercy encouraged recovery as they competed with one another to reach each milestone. Now, both girls leave the ship having had successful surgery to correct their windswept legs! You might notice that the horse is the same one pictured above who carried our camping gear up the mountain! 

“I believe I have freedom from head to toe now,” says Claudine, who has received surgery to remove the goiter she’d carried for 10 years. “I am so comfortable now, I feel free to move and eat and breathe with no problems!” Her family has even started calling her ‘the resurrected one,’ believing she has come from the brink of death back into a full life.

Djenabou’s neck had been growing for over 18 years. For more than half her life, she carried its weight…

I can only think these precious ones, once thought what they needed was impossible too. 

We never run out of life transforming stories here and as much as I love it, I have decided to take a breather from all this in June and as the time gets closer, I am realising how much I will miss it all. Sometimes people talk about transition as a negative thing and I know from previous experience that it can be challenging. Seasons come and go but God is always the same. He’s always good.

Sometimes I fear that my identity is wrapped up in what I do, and maybe some of it is. Who am I outside of this place? It's been a while and I'm not totally sure but I have a deep sense of commitment, a big heart of love and am passionate about injustice and I hope I will be these things wherever I am.  I’m looking forward to a break and to new life and fresh perspective. I will take a couple of months to catch up with friends and family before starting 6 months of French Language School in Albertville, France. I see it as a time for refueling and equipping myself for the next season and I have to say, I’m pretty excited! 

I know there will be adventures and ones that loom like huge crater lakes, too big to climb. So remind me if you can – it always seems impossible until it’s done.

Love always, KWW

‘Never doubt God’s mighty power to work in you and accomplish all this. He will achieve infinitely more than your greatest request, your most unbelievable dream, and exceed your wildest imagination! He will outdo them all, for His miraculous power constantly energises you’. Ephesians 3:20