Thursday, 30 April 2009

Visa approved!

I went to the Consulate General of the United States of America more nervous than when I wrote my Postgraduate Honours exams. The butterflies were having a field day in my stomach!

I knew that this was it. This appointment would determine whether I would go to Texas for the Mercy Ships Gateway course, the training programme for crew members intending to serve long-term on the ship. I had been officially accepted by Mercy Ships. I had taken a leap of faith and bought my air tickets a couple of weeks ago - against common wisdom which dictates you have the visa before purchasing air tickets. The travel agent wouldn't hold them any longer and I needed to make a decision. So I bought the tickets. And if I didn't get the visa where would that have left me? I didn't think about it and prayed that all would go well.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the Consul Officer say “Well, everything’s in order here. Proceed to the DHL counter and you’ll have your passport with the visa couriered to your address by Monday or Tuesday next week.”

Thanks must go to the Mercy Ships team at the International Operations Centre for doing a great job in supplying me with the necessary documentation. God is so good! Thanks for your prayers!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

An all-important appointment...

My US visa appointment is at 10h00 (South African time) tomorrow morning.The all-important appointment that will determine if I will be heading to the Mercy Ships International Operations Centre in Texas in June this year. I am nervous, which I guess is normal ahead of a very important interview, but I have been supplied all the necessary paperwork from Mercy Ships themselves and have filled out all the required forms, and so I'm hopeful it will be a smooth process. God has already shown me that He is in control of all things this year and I know He will be there with me in the interview as well. Nevertheless, I'd appreciate your prayers. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Random Acts...

As some of you may know I am working in the centre of Cape Town until the end of May, when I begin gearing up for my time with Mercy Ships. And because commuting by car into town can be a nightmare in rush-hour traffic, I have to catch the train every working day. I walk to Rosebank Station, about a ten-minute amble from my house, and catch the train (a fifteen minute train journey) from there.

Now catching the train offers plenty of opportunities for people-watching, but above that it offers a chance to see first-hand the diversity of South Africa. It is awesome to see so many different cultures all heading into work. Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have a common bond that unites us - that of building the economy of our beautiful Rainbow Nation.

Yesterday was an interesting train journey. I caught my usual train and we had a strange, rather random experience. A short man came around to each passenger and gave everybody a kiss on the cheek, perhaps to brighten up their day. I could tell he had lived a tough life. Now don't get me wrong, I'm all for being positive but cringe when this pushes the boundaries of appropriate behaviour - especially by infringing on personal space.

Now, being one who generally shies away from physical contact of that nature with a complete stranger (and being a slight hypochondriac doesn't help the situation), I must say I was not really looking forward to this. And there's nowhere you can go when the train is moving. But thankfully I had a height advantage (I was standing - no free seats) so when he came to me he chose to shake my hand and gave me a hug.

It was just so funny because of the complete randomness of it. It did put a smile on my face - especially seeing the reactions of different people to this man's actions!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Hiking Table Mountain...

Table Mountain is one of South Africa's most recognisable landmarks. Rising over 1,000 metres above Cape Town, it is also one of Africa's premier tourist destinations.

It is now Thursday afternoon and I am still hobbling around like an old man. This is not really due to the fun run and cycle over the weekend, but more so because this past Monday, a public holiday (Family Day) here in South Africa, I climbed Table Mountain.

My friend Jamie and I organised the expedition up the mountain, and myself and my Dad acted as the tour guides. Montassir, my brother-in-law, and Eric, an islander from Tristan Da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean, also joined us, along with five other American girls - all friends of Jamie. And of course I mustn't forget to mention my dog Scruffy - who at eleven years of age came along as well.

We set out from Cecilia Forest on the south side (and the back) of Table Mountain in the early morning and hiked up to the Contour Path from where we trekked across to Skeleton Gorge - our route up to the Back Table of the mountain. This gorge is located above Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens and is filled with huge boulders that make for some dramatic scenery, and in winter a waterfall cascades down this ravine.

After two or so hours of climbing up we came out on the Back Table, where there are dams that in the past used to supply the City of Cape Town with water. Some of them are empty now (coming off a long summer) - but will fill up again during the winter months. We then headed uphill for another couple of hours. (Although to keep spirits up - and probably more because I didn't exactly know how far it was to the top - I kept telling everybody "only another 30 minutes." This became the phrase of the day.)

Eventually, after around four and a half hours of hiking, we emerged at the highest point of Table Mountain, MacLear's Beacon, at an altitude of 1,085 metres above sea-level. (That's around 3,560 feet for American readers.) At this point it was just me and the six Americans as my Dad, Montassir, and Eric had dropped back to take it easy. It made me think of my many adventures on Mercy Ships when it was just me and a group of (usually) American girls.

After a few minutes rest at the top we walked across the top of the mountain (which is mostly flat - hence the name "Table Mountain") to the Cableway where we enjoyed the views down on Camps Bay and the centre of town. We also grabbed some lunch at the restaurant there.

Despite sore legs and the temptation of the Cableway, we all decided to hike down Platteklip Gorge, which overlooks the City side of the mountain. This route zig-zags all the way down the narrow ravine and is pretty tiring on the legs! After two hours of constant downhill, at soon after 17h00-ish, we finally came out at Tafelberg Road, the highest road above the City.

Here the girls caught their taxi home and we were met by my Mom who drove us all home. It was a pretty tiring day - but oh so worth it! Not only in terms of the breathtaking views and beautiful plants, but also the quality of the people who hiked in our group. It was a great day and much fun was had by all. Feel free to click on the images to see them bigger.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Easter Testimony...

This past weekend was, of course, Easter and in South Africa the Easter weekend is always a four day weekend. Us South Africans get Good Friday as well as the Monday (Family Day) off from work. (I had a really fun Monday but will blog about it in the next post.) In fact, April is never a really productive month work-wise and especially this year where there are five public holidays within the space of three weeks, including the South African National Election that takes place next Wednesday (22nd April). But with all these holidays it does mean that you do have plenty of time to spend with family and friends, and this characterised this past weekend.

I was able to do my traditional (when I'm in Cape Town) 5 kilometre fun run on Good Friday. This is part of the build-up to the Two Oceans Marathon, a 56 kilometre race that takes place every year on the Saturday before Easter. Although I am definitely not a runner, I enjoy taking part in sporting activities and especially when this means seeing how Cape Town comes together to create great events. My new American friend Jamie also decided to do the fun run and that was also cool - although she is by far a stronger runner than me.

Saturday was the Two Oceans Marathon and I was an official cycling marshal for this major sporting event. I cycled with the front runners and it was my job (along with a few other cycling marshals) to lead out the race. This is an entirely voluntary task that I have done for several years now. But wow, do those top runners motor up those hills. The leading runners actually run faster than a reasonably fit cyclist can cycle - well, they certainly ran faster than I was able to cycle!

Sunday was of course Easter and it was great to spend the day with family having a lunchtime braai (South African English: barbecue) and a little Easter egg hunt for my nephew Rhyenn. There was also a pancake breakfast at church in the morning (before the service) and it was fun to spend time with my church family. In the evening I was part of a panel discussion at church and was asked the following question: "What has the living Jesus done for you that makes you so sure that He is real and that you have a valid relationship with Him rather than just an emotional attachment to a spiritual idea?" Well, the best answer to this question is to simply share my story, my testimony of God's goodness to me. This is what I shared:

"Wow, where do I even start? Jesus has done so much for me in my life. To be honest when I was younger Jesus and His role in my life was always something abstract. I had asked Him into my heart at an early age and knew that I was saved, but I often struggled to see Him at work in my life in a real way. It was only in my 20s that Jesus began to reveal Himself to me in real, undeniable ways.

One of the most memorable moments was, without a doubt, when God called me into missions with the Mercy Ships fleet. I had briefly contemplated some form of ocean-going missions, either Mercy Ships or Operation Mobilisation’s fleet of floating libraries, but as I had exams coming up for my Honours this idea swiftly disappeared.

However, once my exams had finished God brought Mercy Ships right back to the centre. I was cycling with some friends and the one person I had never met before (or certainly never spoken at depth before). We were talking and she asked me if I’d ever considered missions before. I said, well, yes, last year Mercy Ships because I’ve always had a deep love for the sea. She started laughing and said to me, "Murray, the reason I ask is that God has given me a message that you should serve Him on Mercy Ships."

Now this freaked me out because God had never worked like that in my life before. He spoke directly into my life. My heart was stirred. I was scared, but I knew that this calling was undeniable. The two years since then God has constantly and consistently been challenging me to make the most of my gifts, talents, opportunities, to bring Him glory.

But it is not just a one-way conversation – God challenging me. To be in relationship with God is a two-way communication flow. It takes time and effort. Time in prayer, reading the Bible, listening to music, fellowship with believers, spending time in His beautiful creation: all of these are forms of communication with God. I am by no means close to where I would like to be in this relationship, but I am so thankful that God still wants to be in relationship with me… and if I am drifting or doubting He often calls me back to Him again.

So I hope that answers your question. Thanks for asking."

It was really amazing because I did not come to the service in the right frame of mind. I came a little rushed for time and stressed. But I was amazed that God still uses broken vessels like me. One man came up to me after the service and told me that he is always so encouraged whenever he hears me speak. My words warm his heart. But it is not my words. It is God speaking through me. And this is a great encouragement and blessing to continue sharing God's goodness in my life.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

It's Official...

It gives me great joy and happiness to be able to share some of the e-mail that arrived from Mercy Ships International Operations Centre yesterday evening:

"Dear Murray

We are pleased to confirm your acceptance as a long-term crew member onboard the Africa Mercy from 1 September 2009 to 28 February 2010 in the position of Receptionist in our Purser/Reception Department and beginning 1 March 2010 as a Writer in our Public Relations Department while the ship is in West Africa.

In order to better prepare you for your service with Mercy Ships, you have been accepted to Gateway from June 20 - July 24, 2009."

I am so thankful for this e-mail because it means my return to Mercy Ships is official and I can now begin to make solid plans for the next few weeks and months. God is so good!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

God is Good (All The Time!)...

This past week has been a mixed bag, with stress from work and a few doubts as to whether things will all come together in time for June when I am supposed to do Gateway, the prerequisite training for Mercy Ships long-term crew. Things seemed insurmountable just two days ago.

And yet I am, once again, blown away by God's provision. He has come through in a HUGE way and provided me with the funds to cover my return airfare from Cape Town to Dallas for the Gateway course - and this came through just yesterday! I did not expect it which made it all the more special. It was another confirmation that God is wanting me to return to Mercy Ships. So whilst I still wait for my "official" confirmation and acceptance from Mercy Ships International Operations Centre, I will be purchasing my tickets to the USA. God is so good.

Yesterday was also a great day because I spent the afternoon and evening with a new friend, Jamie Day. She is from Oklahoma City and came to Cape Town this past Wednesday and will be helping pilot a Child Life programme at the Red Cross Children's Hospital here. She is then also heading to do the same Gateway course as me and will make her way to the Mercy Ship in August. She has a really good blog at

We went to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which is one of the five main tourist attractions of Cape Town. It is also the headquarters of the South African National Botanical Institute. There was a Summer Sunset Concert and so we listened to it while picnicking on the grass. It was great fun! (Albeit maybe a little too noisy at times!)