Sunday, 13 December 2020

slowly slowly if you want to catch a monkey


Ndank Ndank moy diap gollo ci niaye – slowly slowly if you want to catch a monkey in the forest!

We were a little taken aback as a Country Engagement Team when we realized that both the team in Senegal and Liberia had learned this proverb this last week – independently. In Senegal, we had been waiting for a meeting and our translator was teaching us in Wolof and making us laugh (and us making him laugh too!). My desire for control and to push my own agenda and timeline still struggles to fully accept the message this phrase carries, but somehow it felt timely.

I have noticed an extraordinary beauty during this 3 week trip to Senegal in which we’d been charged to re-engage with the Government and our local partners in view of our desire to return and finish the work we have started in 2021. I always feel alive when I am on this continent and bouncing from one crazy adventure to the next, but I suspect escaping from lockdown in the UK and the isolation of living and working alone for the last 8 months made the contrast all the more stark. As I was driving through one of the highway tolls from the airport, the cashier said to me, ‘Is Mercy Ships back? Why did you leave? We need you to come back!” – it’s a response we have heard multiple times during these last 3 sweet weeks and it touched my heart once again. There was something about the joy and the freedom with which his words were carried and his genuine desire to welcome me that touched me deeply. As I pulled away, I asked God what it was that made these people so beautiful? I have missed this pure joy so much. Immediately God replied, ‘Control! At home (UK), everyone is trying to control everything and it steals your joy and brings sadness and stress’. I recognized the heaviness that I feel weighing down so much of the world, and I wept. It was like God was doing a surgery within me and removing a desire for control and replacing it with a renewed trust in Him. In His plans, in His timing, in remembering that the only thing that is important in this life is the Kingdom. I could feel the joy returning. What is the point of trying to control anything? I was confessing for myself, but also for my family, for my country, for our organization. We need to let go – by trying to push our own agendas and timelines, we simply hold God back. Our each and every step must be led by the Holy Spirit.

And so as we face different challenges, all over the world, let’s go << slowly, slowly if we want to catch that monkey>> Let’s trust that God really is King of the universe as we root ourselves in Him. May the King from on High speak to you about all that you need to let go of as you renew your trust in Him.

It was a whirlwind 19 days of a trip to Senegal and as a team, we have been so blessed. Our team included Eliphaz Essah who was following up on the Food for Life (FFL) program that was forced to finish so abruptly in March. He also continued with plans for a new FFL course that will start in February 2021. He left with a full heart – feeling the blessing of meeting so many participants who were putting their teaching into practice, helping them overcome obstacles and encouraging them to keep on going. Joan Kotze and Becky Handforth joined me, together with one of our former Day Crew, in our quest to re-engage with the government and many of our local partners. We were met with hearty welcomes, open doors and we left each meeting feeling so encouraged. I remember praying in early 2019 as we set off for trust to be built and for relationships to be established and it has been a privilege to see and hear the fruit of that. We have many many friends here now and Mercy Ships is received with love. We heard testimonies from both those who had received surgery and training and it filled our hearts. The very lovely Commandant Badgi who is the Port Harbour Master told how one of his relatives had a large facial tumour removed and of the transformation she has experienced. I reminded him that we could not have done our part, if he had not done his and facilitated a prime berth space for us. I think we both had tears in our eyes as we shared. Our God is so good.  

The message is clear: we are welcome back and people so appreciate our desire to deliver the promises we have made to patients and health professionals who await training. We visited Hospitals where we have donated equipment during these last months and they too told of how blessed they have been. The one and only Christian Hospital here in Senegal shared how they had received a prophetic word many years ago about God’s abundant provision and they felt that Mercy Ships were a real representation and fulfillment of this promise.

There are few Christians in Senegal, but we had the honour of re-connecting with one doctor who has a dream to establish a Christian nursing school in Senegal. She said when she visited our HOPE Centre (our pre & post op accommodation facility for those living far away) and saw the abundance of the love being showered out in that place, she thought to herself, ‘ils sont les preparateurs’- meaning….. these people are preparing the ground for the people of Senegal to receive the good news. Isn’t that a beautiful reminder? Our work to strengthen the local health system, to improve access to surgical care, to embrace each one we meet in a holistic way through all our programs, is ultimately about the Kingdom. Nothing else matters. The upcoming Food for Life course planned for February will hope to include some of our former patients as participants. The story of transformation is endless and I am so in awe of the fresh and creative ideas that God is birthing as we continue to serve Him here.

During our stay we have seen the number of COVID cases in Senegal slowly rising and yet they have been hailed as one of the top 24 countries in the world in the way they have handled this pandemic. The incidence is minimal compared to so many other countries in the world. Please be on your knees for this nation, that it would be spared a second wave, that God’s love and light would shine through, that His will would be done and His Kingdom would come. Pray for wisdom as we continue to make plans for our return, for God’s timing, for God’s protection and for Him to open the doors He has for us. There is still uncertainty ahead of us, but we trust God with it all and we look forward to seeing the ship arrive back in the Port not too far from now.

…and so back to that guy at the toll on the highway – because, most unexpectedly, I passed through the same toll 5 days later and as I wound down the window to pay, the guy greeted me and said: ‘Bonjour Kirstie d’Angleterre!’. I was totally perplexed and was slow to realise…. this was the guy from the time before and I guess I must have given him my name! There with his encouraging banter and telling me again how Mercy Ships need to come back. As I drove away, still perplexed that this guy had remembered me (admittedly, there aren’t many white people driving Mercy Ships vehicles around at the moment…),  I had another encounter with Jesus. He said to me, ‘If it amazes you how much a stranger knows your name, how much more do you think I know your name? The one who made you…. I know your name. I know what you need. I see all that is on your heart. I will provide for you. I know your name Kirstie.’… these whispers were subtle and I could easily have missed them, but there is something that is hard to describe that makes the air crisper on these kinds of trips. Less distractions, more situations that feel impossible, less control, more dependency on Him. There is intimacy with Jesus.

There are things on my heart that I long to see so much and in these moment I find deep hope. As we each find ourselves in what has been a crazy year, we have to surrender, we have to admit that we cannot control anything and we have to acknowledge that there is a God who knows our name. 

Ndank Ndank moy diap gollo ci niaye...

Happy Christmas to you my friends. May you know the joy of renewed trust in the one who was born to bring you hope and everlasting joy.

 Love always, KWW

From Seasons by Hillsong:

I can see the promise

I can see the future

You're the God of seasons

And I'm just in the winter

If all I know of harvest

Is that it's worth my patience

Then if You're not done working

God I'm not done waiting

You can see my promise

Even in the winter

Cause You're the God of greatness

Even in a manger

For all I know of seasons

Is that You take Your time

You could have saved us in a second

Instead You sent a child

Monday, 15 June 2020


There’s something slightly lonely about waking up alone in an empty home on your birthday. For years, I’ve been cooped up on a big white ship or with others on the African continent somewhere or tucked up on a Cornish beach…. but today, alone. I think lockdown has shown me a few things about being ‘alone’ and it feels like such a negative word, but I don’t think it needs to be. I don’t mean to suggest it comes without its struggles or to dress it up as something it is not, but being ‘alone’ can be a beautiful thing. Who else gets to ponder in the deep quietness and hear the whisper of their Maker? He seemed to want to have a breakfast party together and so we did. Like an excited child, He woke me soon after 6. I didn’t have to dress up or even brush my hair. We shared some strawberries. He came real close and began to talk.

He told me why He made me and breathed life into the embers of my soul. It feels self indulgent to think about oneself, doesn’t it? It was. But it’s between me and Him and it was empowering and I felt the delight of His breath on my face. I chose to embrace it and it made my eyes twinkle. We have a phrase, me and Him, “He sees it all’ – He reminds me of it when I am frustrated or feel unseen or misunderstood. He whispers it to me when I feel alone and it settles my Spirit into eternity. His whispers hold the broken parts and somehow their fragility lets the light shine through, even deeper. Even if I’d been surrounded by the closest of friends, they would never have been able to get this close. What a lucky girl I am.

Lockdown loneliness has not been a negative thing for me at all. At the beginning, I feared it would be but it has been a joy to breathe, to feel, to somehow even be-friend myself. I can be fairly hilarious company and make some pretty funny jokes!! I’ve found pure delight in country lane walks and evening bike rides. I’ve felt exhilarated by freezing cold swims in the sea and I have received love in so many different ways. I opened my front door to find a handmade birthday banner, some wine and freshly cut flowers from my neighours. I’m not gonna lie, I cried. I couldn’t hold the tenderness of that moment. A tenderness that lockdown had boxed away and yet one that human life could not help but breakthrough.

As I think of all the pain in the world – the grief, the hatred, the <black lives matter> and wonder why such a phrase should even need to exist, I remember, too, that He sees it all and I pray that over every human I can think of. May each precious life know joy that can be found in being ‘alone’, of having the sight of  their Makers eyes on them, of knowing that His love changes everything and that, if you are willing, breakfast in bed with Him is an option open to all. Take a moment and let your Maker whisper. In Him there is purpose, in Him there is intimacy, in Him there is such vibrant beauty.

I’m thankful for my life, I’m thankful for all the ways I’ve experienced joy and love and I am filled with hope as I trust that the best is always yet to come. Who knows if my passport will get to see the light of day in 2020? I know Mercy Ships are just doing their best and whilst we wait, I won’t make that my goal, but instead I will learn to love and be loved right where I am. I will have more breakfasts in bed with Him, if I can.

And so I’m praying that I may never lose this joy of being ‘alone’. It’s beginning to mean something different and the negative connotations have gone. It’s a rich place, a secret place, a place free from distraction, perhaps even a favourite place. There is pain mixed in but pain that has led me to the most beautiful intimacy of all. It’s full of imperfection and it seems, perhaps, that is where the joy was hidden all along.

May you hear His whispers too.

Love always, KWW

Wednesday, 1 April 2020


It’s a bright sunny spring day here in England. The daffodils are swaying in the wind – sometimes found in tidy gardens and other times pickled beautifully along rural hedgerows. They kind of hold a smile and their bright yellow literally gleams at me and brings such joy. The cherry tree blossom is in bloom and the magnolias are starting too. The grass is a lush green and if you’re brave enough to go outside, you’ll feel the harsh cold wind carrying springtime birdsong. It is pure music to my soul in a season I had not imagined experiencing for the 9th year in a row. I’d literally boarded a train 3 weeks ago, heading for London Heathrow, when I saw the news that COVID-19 cases in the UK had reached over 200, which would mean I’d automatically get quarantined on arrival in Liberia for 14 days. It was a 3 day business trip which quickly got cancelled, together with the trips that were booked for Senegal and then the one that would lead me to Liberia for the next 6 months right after that.  
There are so many things to process and the recurring thought in my mind is: what does it take for the world to stop? I am saddened at the answer that is in my mind – because I think it seems to only be when things become personal that we start to care and the alarm bells call us to stop. I’m sure that’s not the whole truth, but the world hasn’t stopped for the 1000s that are caught up in the horrors of war or for all those with their own crippling battles that isolate them every day, or for those who die because they don’t have access to clean drinking water, or to treatment for malaria or to access to safe surgery. The world hasn’t stopped for the thousands of babies that get aborted every single day. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be stopping. But why haven’t we stopped before?

I’m writing as one of the lucky ones. No one I know has been affected personally and so I have the privilege of pondering without the pain of loss. I acknowledge that immense gift with deep thanks and my heart breaks for those who cannot say the same whether that's right now or for many years. Perspective is an interesting thing and as I consider my own losses in all this, I cannot help but think of those caught up in lockdown on floor 19 of a tower block where the violence or addiction or abuse now knows no daylight ceasing and the silent cries of those suffering unimaginable pain.

As life takes on a whole new twist for us all, we are learning to take one day at a time. In the last weeks, I’ve been pruning apple trees at mum and dad’s – delayed because the rain of the last months has prevented anyone getting outside for long enough! The delay means that some of the tress are already sprouting buds and their tender new leaves are visible signs of fruit to come. I asked my mum, ‘do I even cut the ones with buds?’. ‘Yes’, she answered, ‘…they need it. It’s good for them’. And so as I positioned the shears, I boldly chopped away and let the fragile new sprouts fall to the ground. After all that growing, all that trying, that is it! And so it got me thinking of this strange season and the pruning we have all been called to do. No bursting schedules, consumerism curtailed, no personal contact except for those with whom you live, no driving except for essential journeys, a feeling of loss of purpose, perhaps. And yet, of course, He always has purpose.

I’m considering what I need to prune, even the bits that are showing signs of life – are they really what God has called me to for now? As I consider the words – ‘it’s good for them’ – I realise I need it too. We need it. It’s good for us. It makes me wonder what fruit it is I want to grow anyway and so I ask God to reveal the bits that need cutting away. What do I need to make space for? Is it the physical or emotional piles of accumulated stuff – hurt – memories - that need a bit of a prune? Would that make way for more joy, I wonder.

One of my favourite's
 In terms of Mercy Ships work, I’m continuing to work from my home, going out for my once a day airing and keeping in touch with friends. I saw a real human today as I put my rubbish out and it was a delight! As Mercy Ships ponder and plan and figure out if we can pivot our programs in a way that will serve those who need them and how we can build our own systems and processes to prepare us for the future, I’m finding much grace is needed as we all navigate the unknown. I’ve also submitted forms to start working in my former ICU in Exeter and will await to see what that brings.

A bike ride away from home
I hope we learn from all this. I hope that we learn to stop and show some tender care even when it’s not so close to home. I’m really wishing we had stopped before now.

To those of you who aren’t up for pruning, or have even been brutally hacked away at already – this question isn’t for you. But for those of you like me, privileged to be healthy and safe, are you ready to do some pruning too? I heard a whisper in my heart the other day, ‘come to me for all that you need’ and I think some pruning will help me do just that.

Love always, KWW  
by Charlie Mackesy