Thursday, 30 July 2009

Back in Cape Town, ZA...

After a lovely time in the USA, my stay there has drawn to a close. I am now safely home in Cape Town, South Africa.

My friend Lisa dropped me off at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport on Sunday afternoon and a little over 36 hours later, this past Tuesday, I walked out of International Arrivals at Cape Town International Airport. My flights were largely uneventful - apart from when I spilled coke and ice all over my pants... I would blame it on turbulence, but alas at that time there was none. I was going through my photos on my camera and attempting to drink coke at the same time... not a good combination. Thankfully my camera didn't get wet. Good times in the skies.

At Cape Town International my parents and nephew Rhyenn were there to pick me up and it was great to see my family again back at 6 Norfolk Lane - and of course my Scruffy-dog!

So now the next few days the focus turns to Benin as I prepare myself to return to the Mercy Ship come September 3rd. I have quite a long list of things that need to be done in the next five or so weeks, so it'll be a busy time... And the most exciting family news is that my sister is expecting her second boy and my second nephew in the next week or two so stay posted for photos of him - when he arrives!

Thanks for all your continued support, prayers, and e-mails. They are appreciated! Until the next time, from a cold and wintery Cape Town, God bless!

*The majority of the photos here were taken on final approach into Cape Town International - looking down on the mountains and suburbs of Cape Town from my South African Airways flight from London Heathrow. We came down the West Coast of South Africa and flew over the Cape Peninsula (as seen in these photos) before banking left over False Bay and approaching Cape Town International on a southerly approach - flying into the northerly wind. The other photo here is of Lisa and her family in Richardson, Texas.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Farewell USA...

After leaving Oklahoma City on Thursday I've spent my time back in Richardson, Texas, with my friend Lisa. We drove out to the IOC on Friday and spent a fun day there catching up with old friends from the ship. It was also great because we went out to lunch at the Dinner Bell, a little roadside diner in Van. I always wanted to have a roadside diner experience!

Yesterday my good friend Josh came up from the IOC to Dallas and it was fun to spend time with him as well. The three of us (Josh, Lisa, myself) also met up with Paris, a friend from the ship back in 2007. It was fun to share stories and chat about our Mercy Ships experiences. Good times.

It's nice being back here in Richardson because I see it as somehow fitting that I'm ending my US adventure where I started it nearly six weeks ago. So, after a wonderful time in the USA on Gateway training as well as seeing many friends this past week, my adventure in the US draws to a close for the time being... I must thank all those lovely friends who put me up and really treated me as family during my time here. Thank you all! Next stop Cape Town!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Oklahoma City Adventures...

The past few days have been quite a whirlwind, hence I am a little behind in my blogging. But let me start where I left off at the last post. After completing Gateway on Saturday, my friends (and fellow Gateway participants) Jamie and Kelly and I drove the five or so hours up to Oklahoma City and there I met up with Dan and Lisa Bartol. Lisa was on the ship last year and is a really good friend. So I've been here in Midwest City, Oklahoma, for the past few days.

Sunday I went with Dan and Lisa to their church in Edmond and then in the afternoon we met up with another ship friend, Vandi, and her mom in Oklahoma City and walked the streets of downtown with them. We went to a Mexican restaurant for lunch and then moved onto the Olahoma City National Memorial and Museum - where the OKC bombing occurred in 1995 - and that was an interesting, sobering experience. From there we walked across to Bricktown and caught a movie at Harkins Theatres. We watched "Ice Age 3" and in so doing I accomplished three "firsts". First time I'd been to a movie theatre in the USA, first time I'd watched a movie in 3D, and the first time I'd eaten a giant pretzel! We then took a leisurely stroll back to the Sheraton and said bye to Vandi and her mom. It's always different seeing someone from the ship in a different context! But it was lovely to catch up again!

Monday was a very chilled day. Dan and I relaxed here and then in the late afternoon we went and got hot wings (first time I've had hot wings) for supper and they were really good! In the evening all three of us played Mario Party on Wii and then watched a movie. It was a great day! Tuesday was also pretty relaxing and then in the late afternoon Jamie's dad, Paul, picked me up and we headed over to Jamie's parent's house in Edmond, Oklahoma. I spent Tuesday night there and also enjoyed meeting Jamie's family.

Wednesday I went to the Farmers Market and then for lunch we all headed to Pops on Route 66. Pops is a famous landmark - with its soda bottle upfront and the soda bottles decorating the restaurant. We then visited the historic Round Barn in Arcadia and then headed to Guthrie, Oklahoma's first capital. This is a quaint little town which is chock-a-block full of antique stores and is soaked in history. Here we looked in the State Capital Publishing Museum and also browsed through some antique stores.

Last night Jamie dropped me back here at Dan and Lisa's place and then this afternoon I head back down to Dallas for a couple days before flying out from Dallas Fort Worth on Sunday. I will blog once more before then. Until then, farewell from Oklahoma City!

Gateway Goodbyes...

Saying goodbye is never easy, but it is easier knowing that you'll see each other in a few weeks time. This was how it felt leaving the IOC on Saturday. We had our final morning session on Saturday. Here there was a time for final group exercises portraying what we had learned over the past month, times of sharing our "ah-ha" moments, and a few encouraging messages from our wonderful Gateway staff, before certificates and photos were handed out to each Gateway participant. We then watched a video slideshow that I had put together for the closing session - incorporating some memories from the past month or so. Hopefully one day I'll put it up here.

Here are some of the photos from the final day of Gateway. Enjoy!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Gateway Training Week Four...

I can't believe Gateway has now ended. I am now in Oklahoma City visiting friends from the ship and arrived here last night. The last week of Gateway was the most intense physically with Basic Safety Training, which consisted of PSSR: Personal Safety/Social Responsibility, CPR/First-Aid, Firefighting and Personal Survival Training (At-Sea Survival)... It was really great learning the theory and practical aspects of the course, and we had written assessments and multiple-choice tests on each subject.

For me the highlight was the firefighting on Wednesday and Thursday. We had to don an SCBA (Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus) and be breathing the compressed air in under a minute and also get fully kitted out in bunker gear (firefighter's clothing) in under two minutes. Thursday morning was our firefighting practical. We went through various exercises including a search and rescue, using fire extinguishers on different types of fires, spraying hoses, and the final practical was entering a burning container with a hose and having to go in and aim the nozzle high at the deckhead above the flames and then retreat slowly. And always retreat walking backwards, so that you can always see the fire. This exercise was done in full SCBA kit and bunker gear, and it was extremely hot inside! The temperature inside the burning container was between 150 and 200 degrees Celcius. But everyone in the class was successful and it was a great bonding experience.

Friday was the water practical and we went to the pool at Tyler Junior College and that went really well. We started out by treading water for a minute, and then donning lifejackets and immersion suits, and finally clambering aboard a liferaft. We then got a chance to right the overturned raft. The evening ended with a lovely pizza dinner at CiCi's Pizza Place in Tyler, and it was here that we were each given our certificates for completing the BST course. And this is not just an add-on to Gateway. This is a highly recognised course that is accredited by the US Coast Guard and the certificate itself is valid for five years, for service onboard any IMO (International Maritime Organisation) or US ship.

So that was Basic Safety Training which concluded an amazing month of Gateway training. I was honoured and privileged to meet many wonderful people and I am looking forward to seeing them all in the near future onboard the M/V Africa Mercy. I hope to blog more tomorrow about our closing session of Gateway this past Saturday. But for now, from Oklahoma City, God bless!

Here are some more photos from the firefighting and water practicals - enjoy!


Water Survival!

With Captain Jon Fadely, head instructor of BST and head of Mercy Ships Marine Operations.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Caddo Lake Canoeing...

This past Sunday we all went to Caddo Lake State Park, a good distance away from the IOC, for a day of canoeing fun in North America's largest cypress swamp. There were alligators around, but unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!) they stayed hidden for the four or so hours we were on the water. I would have loved a photo of an alligator in the wild! Canoeing is certainly thirsty work in the hot East Texas sun - in the car on the way home I drank an entire litre of Gatorade! Here are some photos from our fun daytrip!

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Gateway Training Week Three...

So the third week of our Gateway training has come and gone... It's strange to believe that we only have one week left and then will all be finished with our Mercy Ships long-term training!

This past week we looked at the three differing World Views (Animism, Secularism, and Biblical Theism), the Potential of the Poor, Tensions in Working with the Poor, and Cross-Cultural Communication. We also spent a fair amount of time looking at the difference between Relief and Development. Mercy Ships is a relief organisation with a strong focus on development. The main speaker this week was an old friend from the ship, Vincent Luwizhi of Zimbabwe. It was great to have a fellow African giving us a new perspective on these matters.

I found this whole week pretty interesting, and so it is difficult to summarise my main points. However, I will do my best to convey what my heart is wanting to say after this week. We had to do a presentation for Friday morning in which we highlighted an aspect of the week that had hit home - through either a poem or a written piece or song. In the end I chose to do a poem with a bit of an explanation, and I'll reproduce it here. But please know I am not a poet!


So much poverty, so much strife,
Countries warring day and night.

So much corruption, so much need,
Governments toppled by pure greed.

So much distress, so much sadness,
What can end this madness?

AFRICA! This is not what you were created to be!
You were made to SHINE!
There is someone proud to call you "mine".

AFRICA! You have wealth, you have resources,
But this alone cannot defeat the evil forces.

So much diversity, so much colour,
But something else will make life fuller.

AFRICA, my AFRICA, see your potential!
It was God who made you to SHINE!
It is the great I AM who is proud to call you "mine".

So rise up AFRICA!
Rise up my brothers and sisters!
Rise up AFRICA, for you are richly blessed!
Now go and take this blessing to the nations.

"if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." (2 Chronicles 7: 14 NIV)

This assignment was a really difficult one for me to do. Maybe it is because the situation back in South Africa is so desperate in places. It breaks my heart to see beggars at nearly every traffic light. Poverty is always a mere ten minutes drive away from where I live. And the fact that if Africa put its mind to it we (as a continent) - with God's help - could feed ourselves. We are so blessed with resources and natural wealth, and yet it feels as if Africa is under a curse. A cover of darkness hovering over the continent, waiting to devour. This is NOT how it's meant to be! We have potential here! We have wonderful people, eager for knowledge and education! We can make poverty history. It just will take a shift in perspective and mindset and a little help from God. And if my heart breaks about my home, how much heavier is God's heart - to see His creation in bondage. He wants to bless us. We must just, as it says in 2 Chronicles 7: 14, repent and seek His face. He will heal our land. He will heal Africa.

Photos here from the Gateway classroom and the Oasis Dining Room at the IOC.