Sunday, 30 November 2008

War Child: An Art Exhibition...

Last Saturday, 22nd November, I joined a few fellow-Mercy Shippers and we went to see a gallery of Liberian art in the National Museum of Liberia. The exhibit, "War Child", was organised by a freelance journalist friend of ours, Christina Holder, and was held in conjunction with the Liberian Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism.

All of the art was done by people who grew up during Liberia's brutal civil war (1989 - 2003). Some of the artists were even soldiers. It was a great exhibit as it portayed the changing dynamics of Liberia, from the brutality of the war to the post-war revival.

There were three sections to the exhibit. The first was entitled "The War Street" and through the paintings one was able to experience the horror and destruction of war. However, this was shortlived as one came to the section "From Ruins To Reconciliation". Here the focus was on the changing situation, as initially ECOMIL (Economic Community of West African States Mission In Liberia) and then UNMIL (United Nations Mission In Liberia) came and brought stability. Here the process was on disarmament, reintegration of soldiers (and child soldiers), the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and the establishment of free and fair presidential elections in 2005. The final chapter was "New Hope, New Land", which looked forward to a brighter, hopeful future for this beautiful nation.

It was a privilege to be taken on a journey of revival and reconciliation through the artist's paintbrush. It was a wonderful exhibit and there are definitely some talented artists here in Liberia.

Rising From The Depths...

The story of the M/V "Torm Alexandra".

Friday, 28 November 2008

Dedication Ceremony of Tenegar...

Last Friday, 21st November, the clinic out at Tenegar was officially dedicated. The Communications team and Public Relations team were there in force. Carmen and myself, the two Africa Mercy writers, busied ourselves getting information for the International Operations Centre in Texas. Both of our pieces were used to spread the word about Mercy Ships - in terms of a press release. Below is an edited version of my article on the dedication of Tenegar. I hope you enjoy it!

There was a jovial atmosphere in the Tenegar community as people waited for the arrival of Madame President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Her Excellency was coming to officially dedicate the newly-reconstructed Tenegar clinic.

The clinic was destroyed during the civil war and it lay in ruins for many years, until a joint effort by Mercy Ships and the local community rebuilt it. The clinic will be able to reach over 6,000 people in the surrounding area, who previously had been without adequate health care facilities.

The anticipation in the crowd was tangible as they waited, some for more than five hours. Hundreds of people from the community and neighbouring villages had turned up, the vast majority in traditional Liberian dress or their Sunday best. Some just came in the hope of getting a glimpse of their President. Children dressed in school uniform came marching up the dirt road from the neighbouring villages. Shakers were shaken, songs were sung, people danced. The scene was set for the arrival of Her Excellency Madame President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.

There were many dignatories and officials present, as well as between 30 and 40 Mercy Ships crew who had been integral to the project’s success.

And then, at 4:30pm, the President arrived. There was dancing and shouts of joy as she arrived. Her Excellency walked up to the VIP tent with the whole community. Her arrival signified the start of the formal proceedings for the official dedication of the Tenegar clinic.

Dr Meimei Dukuly, the master of ceremonies, started proceedings by saying, "This is Liberia’s day." He also expressed the community’s gratitude at the President being present.

A certificate was presented to Ken Berry, Managing Director of the Africa Mercy. This was from the community in appreciation of the services rendered to the people of Tenegar. Ken Berry then spoke on behalf of Mercy Ships. He started by saying how in the city of Monrovia, there’s a billboard. This billboard has a picture of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf with the words "Liberia will rise again."

"Today we are celebrating a wonderful demonstration of rising again, both in this beautiful building being dedicated today and the faithful people who built it," Ken said. "Yes, indeed, Liberia is on the rise."

He also stressed the fact that the community of Tenegar did the work. It was not about Mercy Ships. It was the local community who did the hardwork and ensured the project’s success. Ken went on to present the keys of the clinic to Her Excellency The President.

Next a gowning ceremony was held in which Mercy Ships crew members Ken Berry, Charles Awagah, Marcel Eveleens, Karl Schmutter and Paul Waldron all received traditional gowns in appreciation of their hardwork to the community of Tenegar.

Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Walter T. Gwenigale, spoke and emphasised the importance of a Christian organisation coming in and building a clinic for a Muslim community.

"I am very pleased that this Christian ship did not say, ‘No, we will not serve Muslims.’"

Her Excellency Madame President then spoke:

"We have been trying to find someone to [repair the clinic], and we talked to many people. Everybody said, ‘That is not a real priority. We will get around to it in due course.’ But Mercy Ships, which has done so much for our country, which has served our people so well, administering to the sick people whose lives have been changed by their operations, by the fact that they had nowhere to go and no money to get medical service or no facilities to go to. They go to the Mercy Ship, and they get treatment. They have done very well for us.

"But in addition to serving our people, they so readily agreed when we asked, ‘Please do Tenegar Clinic.’ When we got the message that Mercy Ships would do the clinic, what a wonderful day it was! And now we have the results of this major contribution to our medical services."

The President went and cut the ribbon and in so doing officially dedicated the Tenegar clinic. After a brief tour or the clinic and agricultural programme, Madame President left and headed back to Monrovia. In the meantime the community continued to sing songs in celebration. It was a wonderful day that highlighted the unity that can be achieved through hardwork and commitment to a project.

The word Tenegar means "on the hill," and it is certain that this clinic "on the hill" will be a shining beacon of hope for many people in need.

*Photo of the Nigerian UNMIL soldier above courtesy of Tayler Neill.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Making All The Difference: The Adopt-A-Patient Programme...

The Adopt-A-Patient Programme is a key part of Mercy Ships. It encourages crew to get involved with patients down on the ward. Click to enlarge.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

New Matadi Appreciation...

This past Wednesday at the New Matadi Bible Study something special happened. Something we did not expect. We went into the yard at the orphanage as usual, but this time there was a large circle of chairs set out.
Not knowing what was happening, but just told by our group to sit down, we waited. It was both the guys and the girls combined. They then opened the evening in prayer and sang a song for us before each one of us were presented with wonderful gifts: shirts for us boys and dresses for the girls.

We were overwhelmed by this show of love and appreciation they showed to us. It will certainly be a difficult goodbye this coming Wednesday. Please continue to pray for these great guys: Emmanuel, Jacob, James, Lamin, Moses, Mulbah, and Winston. Here is a photo of me in my new traditional Liberian shirt, as well as a group photo of all the leaders in our new attire. This photo courtesy of Josh and Sarah Becker.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Your Work Is Your Worship: Phil Chandra...

Phil Chandra. One of my friends here. Also one of my favourite stories.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

God's Children Home - The Finale...

Yesterday, Saturday 15th November, a group of us headed out to God's Children Home in Dixville. This was the last time that Mercy Ships are visiting this orphanage. As our 2008 Field Service here in Liberia slowly winds down, the Mercy Ministries come to an end. We now have the reality of saying so many goodbyes to our local friends here. And yesterday was tough.

We played various fun games with the kids and loved on them. But it was sad when it came to the goodbye. Picture the scene. A group of ten Mercy Ships crew from all over the world. Between thirty and forty little children. We are all standing in a circle, holding each other's hands. Heads bowed, praying. And the tears just start to flow. Especially during Arthur's prayer. Arthur is the caretaker/overseer of the property. He is praying and this is the most heartfelt, meaningful prayer I have ever heard. The tears are flowing as he prays, and this causes all of us leaders and most of the kids to start crying too.

We then closed it with a well-known Liberian goodbye song:
You're My Brother, You're My Sister,
Now Take Me By The Hand.

While this was sung we all went round the circle shaking hands and embracing these kids who have meant so much to us over the past year. I will miss little Anointing, the “baby” of the group. I will miss the soccer stars Joshua and Aaron. The friendly smiles and loving hearts of all these kids.

In one sense it was good to say goodbye now, and not later. It is definitely beneficial to start pulling out my commitments now, as my time comes down to just on three weeks before I return to Cape Town. But it is a good reminder of how difficult it will be to leave this place: this ship, these people, this country.

Hope For A Little Prince: Prince Tamba...

Prince Tamba's story was one of my favourites. He was one of the many cherished children that Mercy Ships had the privilege of treating here in Liberia. Click the image to read.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

True Worship: Peter Fullerton...

Please click on the above image to read.

Stories From The Past Year...

During my time in the Communications department I've been writing stories - either on crew, patients, or special events. The completed version is packaged together into PDF format and once approved is free to be sent to family or friends. I am going to start interspersing my blog with these stories, especially now as my time in Liberia winds to an end. I hope you enjoy them.

New Matadi Revisited...

Today we had Bible Study as usual out at New Matadi. We read Matthew 27. We only have one more chapter left in Matthew, and only two more Wednesdays before we finish up at New Matadi. It will be difficult to say goodbye to our friends. I've known them now for nearly six months. Over the months I have really come to appreciate this group. Not only do they amaze me with their knowledge of Scripture, but also the genuine love and concern they feel toward us.

One incident clearly outlines this to me. I missed last week's Bible Study due to the flu that I was battling then. Today Winston, one of our boys, came up to me and asked how I was and whether I was better. I replied that I was getting there small small. To this he replied, “Thank God, thank God.” The concern in his voice was clear. These guys care for us.

It is also great to see that there are signs of spiritual growth, not only in their questions, but also in the answers they give. We encourage them to answer their own questions: to search amongst themselves for the answers. Not to rely on us. And God is working in their lives.
I'll let you know how our final two weeks out at New Matadi go. We have encouraged them to continue meeting up together and studying Scripture after we leave. I pray that they do. Please also pray for these boys, this community, this country.

*Photos here are of the sunset from the dock last week. No photos from New Matadi this week. Sorry-o!*

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The People's Church Of Christ...

This past Sunday I headed out to New Matadi to go to church with the boys. Their church, The People's Church Of Christ, meets in the same building that we meet together in on Wednesdays for Bible Study. But this was my first time there for church on a Sunday. It was really good. The service was well-structured and many of my favourite Liberian worship songs were sung, including:

By My Side, By My Side,
By My Side, By My Side,
I Have A Very Big God-o,
He Always By My Side.
As well as:

You Will Carry My Load,
You Will Be My God-o.
When I'm In Your Presence,
I Will Have My Own Portion.

After the service the congregation welcomed the visitors, myself and Rachel (who is involved with the girls group here on Wednesdays). We had to stand and introduce ourselves (our names and where we come from). We were then asked to sit down while the whole congregation stood up and sung a Welcome Song for us. Whilst they sang, everybody came and shook our hands and embraced us as brother and sister. The love and warmth that the people showed us was awesome. The culture of churches here is different compared to churches back home, but definitely refreshing. I will miss the closeness of Liberian culture and lifestyle when I go back home.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

One Year...

It's been a year. A year since I left my hometown of Cape Town, South Africa, to join the world's largest charity hospital ship. It has been the most wonderful year of my life: an amazing adventure that God has led me on. This year has certainly been one which will shape the rest of my life.

And yet now, with my departure date of December 8th rapidly approaching, I have had a number of vivid dreams lately. One dream has recurred now three times in the past fortnight. I dream that I am back in Cape Town, back home with my family and friends there, back home under the shadow of that beautiful mountain. And yet it is not the same Cape Town I left twelve months ago. It has undergone a transformation. It is different.

And perhaps because of this I am so sad in my dream. I am close to tears and it is not because I have missed home (don't get me wrong, I have certainly missed home) or am happy to see family and friends (and again, don't get me wrong, I will be very happy to see my family and friends), it is because I miss this ship. The people. This community.

If there is a message to be taken from my dream it's that I must be prepared now for the future. I will be returning to a Cape Town that viewed through my eyes will never be the same. Please pray for my transition as I slowly prepare to return home.

And here are some photos of the back of Table Mountain and Devil's Peak as seen from the top window of my house back in Cape Town.

Fire Safety...

Fire safety on a ship is everyone's concern. I was amazed the other night when I was walking in the corridor and saw that someone had put their fan in front of the fire point just outside my cabin. It may not be very big and is easy to move, but it should never be stowed in front of this vital fire fighting equipment.

New Matadi Visits The Ship…

This past Sunday Josh, Drew and myself hosted our Bible Study group on the ship. The vast majority of them had never been to the ship before - or even the Freeport - and so this was an extra-special time, showing them where we work and live.

It was great to take them on a tour of the ship, from the Bridge on Deck 7 down to the Hospital on Deck 3. We even went into the main fire locker on Deck 4 aft. This is the main fire station on the ship, where all the emergency gear is kept. This was also where I spent much time in Tenerife, helping Marius check the fire equipment and the pressure of the SCBAs (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) - see blog entry from Sunday, January 13th 2008, Fire Fighting, Cycling, and a Dragon Tree.... Wow, that was a long time ago now! But this time Drew, one of our Watermen and also the leader of Fire Team 1, showed the boys how he could get fully kitted out in full fire fighting gear inside of two minutes. The boys loved it.

Having finished the tour, we all had African food (rice with spicy potato leaves and chicken/fish pieces) up on Deck 7 together. I must try and get the recipe of potato leaves before I go home! They’re awesome!

During the Bible Study on the Wednesday before their visit, one of the guys asked if the ship was bigger than their orphanage compound. And then while we were all sitting up on Deck 7, eating our dinner together, he said, “I can see now that it is much bigger than our home.”

We then had some photos together on the dock, with the large Mercy Ships website address (that is painted on the side of the ship) in the background. Here are some photos from this fun afternoon.