Wednesday, 25 June 2008

The Blind Receive Sight, The Lame Walk...

One of the unique opportunities that one has serving with Mercy Ships is to be able to sign up and observe a surgery. This is a great privilege in that one is able to be in the Operating Theatre with the surgeon, and to be able to see exactly what happens. However, this is not for the faint-hearted.

And so I went and observed a surgery yesterday. Before entering the Operating Rooms, I had to don scrubs, as well as a head covering and plastic shoe coverings. I'm sure they have a proper name, but I'm too ignorant to know it. I was also told that if at any point during the surgery I begin to feel rather hot, then I must immediately step outside. This is the first sign of fainting. Step 1: Step outside. Step 2: Take off the mask. Step 3: Get fresh air. Thankfully I didn't need to leave the room, other than to get some water.

The procedure I observed was in the Orthopaedic Operating Room, and thus I had to wear a face mask and, of course, not touch anything that had been sterilised. I'm not familiar with the proper terminology, but the surgery I watched involved repairing the right humerus, the bone that runs from the shoulder down to the elbow. In this case, the man had been shot several years ago, and so his humerus was broken in two, making his arm useless. So what the surgeons did was they went and cut open his arm and then inserted a metal plate which was screwed in, to hold the broken bone together. They also took some bone from his hip and put this between the two broken pieces, so that in time they'll fuse together.

This surgery took around three hours, but what amazed me was how calm, skilled and dedicated these doctors are. There were two surgeons performing the actual surgery, and they were assisted by an OR Nurse and an anaethetist, as well as a few other nurses. We are certainly blessed by our skilled health care workers here on the Mercy Ship. They certainly bring plenty of hope and healing to Liberia's people. I am reminded of Matthew 11: 5 and I end this entry by quoting from Jesus in the NIV version:

The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.

So Long, Farewell...

This past weekend saw a number of my close friends leave the Mercy Ship. Peter Fullerton, of Scotland, and Jay Brundage, of New York, both departed on Friday. They were both "Deckies" and had served admirably throughout this whole outreach. Jay joined the ship in Monrovia last October, and Peter joined in Tenerife in January. A while back I wrote a short article on Peter, and I feel that it is somewhat fitting to reproduce it here:

"Whilst keeping a grasp of one's heritage is important serving on the Mercy Ship, there are more important things for volunteer Peter Fullerton. Peter, 25, is from Kintore, Scotland and volunteers as a Deck Hand on the M/V Africa Mercy. He joined the ship in Tenerife and, as he has a background in Civil and Structural Engineering, initially wanted to serve in CDS. However, he was placed in Deck Department and has thoroughly loved the experience. As Peter says, “I'm really chuffed that it worked out the way it did”.

But it is not just in Deck Department that Peter serves the ship (and the Lord). He is involved in showing the Jesus Film on certain Wednesdays and helps with the construction of an orphanage on his weekends. Peter has also been a real blessing to the crew. Being a native of Scotland, he is familiar with the bagpipes, and is a talented musician with this instrument in hand. He learnt the bagpipes at a young age, as his father is a piper. Peter has also organised Ceilidhs out on the dock, and these have brought much entertainment to the crew. Ceilidhs are traditional Scottish dances that are held at most important events, such as weddings, birthdays, New Year's eve, Christmas, and are thus integral in Scottish culture.

Peter has been sharing his trade with the children in the Academy. As he says, “That was a highlight for me [...] it was great to show them an instrument they'd never seen”. After letting the children play his pipes, they had an impromptu band practice up on Deck 7, with marching, drums and cymbals. And as Peter realises, he is also using his talents to glorify God. Living in a Christian community is, in Peter's words, “quite a beautiful thing. And any talents or gifts that you have if you share with others in fellowship, I think, you worship God.”

When asked where he gets his most fulfillment from, serving here in Liberia, Peter is quick to point out that it is seen in the interaction between other people. And this is especially due to the “love and compassion that you can just witness, especially when you walk through the hospital on Deck 3. It's quite amazing.” Asked to sum up his Mercy Ships experience, Peter says that it's all about love or beauty. And this can be clearly seen in his involvement here on the Mercy Ship."

On Monday one of my closest friends departed. Lisa Welker had served as an OR Nurse for three months, and had been a blessing to all whom she had met. We'd spent many hours out on the dock walking, chatting, laughing and praying together. She taught me a lot about myself, and instilled in me a self-confidence that I have often struggled to find. As is my custom with close friends leaving, I drove her to the airport. But I must say it was a very sad farewell.
All three of these crew members have a special place in my heart and will be sorely missed.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

A Heart For Africa...

Today has been an amazing day. But before I get into it let me give you the history behind the story. The other day my good nurse friend Jenn Carrol and I were chatting out on the dock and she asked me whether I would consider getting involved with a Bible Study out at an orphanage in New Matadi, an area of Monrovia. A group of girls along with Jenn already ran one with the girls there. But now there was a need for some male leaders to start up a Bible Study for the boys. And there was also the reason that none of the girls are Ship Drivers and thus had to catch unreliable public transport. Being a rather apprehensive type, I um-ed and ah-ed for a while, prayed about it, and then decided "well, this would be a great way to get involved with the local community". I'm not working shift work for much longer, and so this will be a great opportunity. And so I told Jenn my answer.

Last Wednesday was my first outing to New Matadi. Josh Becker, one of our "Deckies", and I led the guy's group. Imagine the setting. We sit inside a rural church building, with crude walls built of mud and stone. There is a corrugated iron roof, fastened on roughly cut beams. We are seated in a circle in old wooden school desks. Outside are the screams of delight of young children, enthralled in a game of miniature soccer on the dusty ground. And in this atmosphere we study God's Word. And I am amazed. These young men, aged between 16 and 20, are so eager to hear about God. They wanted to learn especially about the passion of Jesus, and the calling of Jesus's disciples. So we started reading through the Gospel of Matthew.

Today we read Matthew 2, a chapter that follows the Magi as they travel to visit the baby Jesus, as well as Herod's reaction to the birth of the Messiah. I have so much to learn from these young men. Their knowledge of the Old Testament (we were looking back at the prophecies - the one in Jeremiah of Rachel weeping for her children) far surpasses mine. Our Bible Study ended up discussing the morals and culture of Israel at the time, as well as looking back to Solomon and his 700 wives and 300 concubines. They discovered that, although this was a cultural practice, it was displeasing to God. As it was these wives who turned Solomon away and blinded him to the One True God. So we had some pretty meaningful discussion.

One of these young men also asked whether we could memorise a verse each week. And so we are starting to memorise Scripture as of today. I have often wanted to memorise Scripture, but have often lacked the motivation and discipline. I believe God has led me to this group for a reason. And He is already teaching me so much. Maybe He wants me to learn more about Himself. To get back to Scripture. Either way it will certainly be good. Josh and I are also going to try and get out at least once a month on a Saturday to play soccer with these guys. Speaking of soccer, I am equally impressed by their knowledge of South African soccer. They know about Bafana Bafana, the name of the South African national soccer team, and ask many questions about my home nation. One of the guys is also a fan of Lucky Dube, a popular South African reggae artist.

The above photos are of the children at God's Children's Home, another orphanage with which Mercy Ships is involved. Just look at the joy in the faces of these children. So much joy in so much poverty. A real challenge for us in our comfortable Western society. So today has been a wonderful day. I feel that this is where God really wants me to be. To be a friend to the friendless, to bring love to the unloved, and to be a light shining in the darkness. Hope and healing. That's what it's all about. God bless.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Where Has My Motivation Gone?

Yes, I know this is a random title to head this long overdue post, but over the past few weeks I've really lost my motivation to keep this blog updated (bad Murray!). But hopefully today will mark a change as I write this entry. So what has kept me from writing? Why have I been neglecting this website?
I could say "work" but that would be a lie. I could say my friends take up my time. But that would also be a lie, as there aren't that many left at the moment. I think it is just general apathy. And the fact that I'm feeling rather tired. Tired because I feel that it is time for a change. I'm tired of my job in Reception. I enjoy it, yes, and I try and do a good job, but I want to move into the field that has had my attention for a while now - Communications. And this change will be happening shortly. The long-awaited transfer of Murray Crawford from Reception to Communications. My boss, the Purser, called me into his office last week. The short of the matter is that I will be moving out of Reception on June 23rd at the earliest and June 30th at the latest. This works well as these were my initial dates of departure from the M/V Africa Mercy. Which means that I will be fulfilling my original commitment to Reception and then able to serve the remainder of the year with Communications. This is very exciting for me.

But it is also a time for reflection. What have I learnt during my time in Reception? And the answer to this is a lot. Not only the technical aspects of the job (which are really interesting - such as the Fire Panel and ship's emergency systems), but I have learnt so much about myself. Before I came I was shy and didn't know how I would handle the pressure of being upfront all the time. But God has been so faithful. He has given me so much confidence - confidence that I never really knew I had until I came here. God has stretched me and has forced me to come out of my shell in ways that I would never have seen myself doing a year ago. I am awed by His faithfulness to me - even when I'm unfaithful. He continues to give me opportunities to be who He created me to be - and this also excites me. Especially as I now have this opportunity in Communications - an industry I could see myself moving into in the future. So I am so very thankful. All glory to God.

What else can I talk about? Well, there is one thing. Last night (Sunday night) I watched a documentary on Liberia's civil war: Liberia: An Uncivil War. It was an eye-opener - make no mistake. Just five years ago a heavy battle was fought right outside the Freeport of Monrovia for control of the city. It was fought just three kilometres away at the bridge that connects Bushrod Island (where the Freeport is located) and the main city of Monrovia. Government troops under Charles Taylor fought against the LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels, who had over 70% of the country in their hands. And whenever there is war the civilian population suffers. The LURD had control of Monrovia's major supply route, the Freeport, which meant that Monrovia was essentially under siege. Thousands of refugees sought safety at camps set up on land near the US Embassy, thinking they would be safe under the eyes of the Americans. A mortar shell proved them wrong. The battle for the bridge continued for many days in late July 2003, with neither side gaining a clear advantage. The Americans were heavily criticised for their lack of action - they were seen as having abandoned their closest African ally. Eventually the outside world intervened and 700 Nigerian peacekeeping troops, from ECOMIL, the military force of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) were deployed. And with that the war was over. The presence of these peacekeepers brought an end to the fighting. Not a single shot was fired after they arrived in the country. Charles Taylor stepped down and sought asylum in Nigeria. The UN arrived in numbers over the next few months and with over 15,000 UNMIL (United Nations Mission In Liberia) soldiers deployed, Liberia was the UN's largest peacekeeping operation in modern times.

Wow, I went into some detail there! But then again I do love my history. This documentary not only highlighted the cruelty and brutality of war, but it also brought home the fact that Liberia has, as the UN says, "a calm but fragile peace". At least there is peace. Something which is desperately needed in this turbulent world. And this peace is largely thanks to the UN peacekeepers deployed in this country. The above photo is of one of these Nigerian "Blue Helmets", who guards our gate. As Jesus himself says in Matthew 5: 9, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God." God bless.