Thursday, 22 January 2009

Poignant Moment...

I was cycling the other day along a route I know like the back of my hand. It is a route I have ridden many, many times before. But now, as I rode it on my own, out training for a bike race this coming March, it has gained so much more meaning. One of the roads I cycled along was the road where this whole Mercy Ship adventure began. I have never written these events down on this blog, the events that led me to become involved with Mercy Ships. I don't know why I haven't. I just haven't. But I think I should share them now. It is an encouragement. It is a calling. It is how God led me to the Mercy Ship.

My story begins in October 2006. But in reality the roots were laid many years before. Looking back many areas of my life were preparing me for serving on the sea. My Grandad, Allan Bryant Crawford MBE, one of the foremost authorities on the Island of Tristan da Cunha – and author of many books on this island – passed away in the UK in February 2007 at the age of 94. The charity that he supported through the sale of his books and at his funeral was Mercy Ships. On page one of his Memoirs, published in 2006, my Grandad says,

"It is for me a great pleasure and privilege as an ex-naval reserve officer and maritime meteorologist to dedicate these memoirs to my favourite charity [Mercy Ships]."

I have also been sailing onboard the RMS St. Helena to the Island of St. Helena in 2002 and immediately fell in love with sailing and the sea. And what was extra-special was that I was not once seasick during the five days there and five days back! I have also been interested with anything nautical, dating back to my early childhood when I fell in love with the tragic story of the RMS Titanic (long before the movie came out). I made it my mission throughout my childhood years to collect books and know the facts pertaining to the Titanic disaster. So the interest in the sea has been long-standing.

But let's return to 2006. In October of that year my Mom came home from her church, Pinelands Baptist Church, with a pamphlet/newsletter on Mercy Ships, and an article in the church bulletin announcing that John Rae had been made National Director of Mercy Ships Southern Africa. I paged through the document and thought, “Wow. That would be a fantastic thing to get involved in”. But as I had University of South Africa (UNISA) Postgraduate Honours exams approaching in January 2007 it seems that this initial enthusiasm slipped out of my mind.

But evidently not out of God’s mind. It was in early February of 2007 that my heart was stirred again – in a really amazing way. And this is where my cycling comes into play. I often struggle to see God at work in my life, but this experience was undeniable. I had taken a couple of my close friends, Brad and Lydia, out cycling (training for the Argus Cycle Tour, a large cycling event held in Cape Town each March) and they, in turn, had invited a friend of theirs, Jacqui Boden, to join us. I had only met her once before and thus did not know her at all.
Whilst we were cycling along, she asked me if I’d ever considered getting involved in missions. I replied (in words to this effect) that, “Well, because I really enjoy maritime and nautical things and the sea, there was a brief period last year when I was considering getting involved in Mercy Ships”. To this she started laughing and said, “The reason I asked you, Murray, was that I felt a real conviction that you should go on Mercy Ships!” I was in awe and didn’t really know what to say. And when I was considering Mercy Ships back in October I didn’t really tell anyone – not even my closest friend. So she had no access to this information. My conclusion: It could only be God at work, and He wants me on the Mercy Ship. It turned out that Jacqui served on the Caribbean Mercy and so she was able to answer many questions I had related to Mercy Ships.

I applied to Mercy Ships and was accepted. And so I joined the Africa Mercy in Monrovia, Liberia, in November 2007. The rest, as they say, is history.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Mercy Ships Cape Town Reunion...

This past Wednesday, 7th January, we had a reunion for all Mercy Shippers - both past, present and future - in the Cape Town area. It was great to spend time with some good friends, reminiscing about ship life and sharing stories as we braaied meat and sat down to some wonderful food. We also watched a dvd on the Liberia Field Service 2008 and it was great to relive some moments from the past year. It also created much laughter!

The one photo here shows three great South African men: Bates Alheit, Lee De La Rue and myself. Bates served in the Dining Room for seven months from March to October 2008 and Lee was the Chief Officer (or Second Officer) with Mercy Ships for many years. The other photo is a group shot of all the past and present crew along with the National Director of Mercy Ships South Africa, John Rae and his wife Rose.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Transportation Transformation or Where Are All Those UN vehicles?

I find that now, being back for nearly four weeks, I still expect to see UNMIL (United Nations Mission In Liberia), MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres or Doctors Without Borders) and ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) vehicles around every corner. As well as those unmistakable yellow taxis. I miss the UNMIL number plates and the big black letters "UN" stamped on white SUVs, Land Rovers and tanks.

In fact, I have never been more aware of white Land Rovers than I am now. They appear everywhere. And I always expect them to have the Mercy Ships logo on the front door and an AFM (Africa Mercy) or ANA (Anastasis) number plate. And I know I won't see them here - and yet I always find myself disappointed. I guess it's a small small part of the re-entry process.

The first week back I went from driving these Land Rovers to driving a 1991 Mazda 323-1300 hatchback. It was another change. But I don't really mind - it gets me from A to B and that's the most important thing. It was a small adjustment from driving on the right (in a left-hand drive) to driving on the left (in a right-hand drive). More than once I felt the urge to change gears with my right-hand, and trying to do so all I found was the handle to wind the window down. But readjusting to driving on the left has been a pretty smooth transition. It just comes naturally. However, the road conditions are a world apart.
Driving here in South Africa is so different. It's strange having tarred roads, street lights, practically no potholes and speed limits enforced by cameras and traffic cops. Certainly a change from Liberia.

Despite the rules and solid infrastructure of Cape Town, I really miss the adventure of driving in Liberia. Because it really was an adventure - not only in what we saw, but also in the adventures that came our way. You really had to expect the unexpected.

Pictures here of driving and road conditions in Liberia and UN/Mercy Ships vehicles.