Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Christmas on a Mercy Ship...

I wrote the piece below two years ago about my thoughts on Christmas on the Mercy Ship. Not too much has changed in the last two years, so I reproduce it here, with photos from our Christmas on the Africa Mercy 2009.

Christmas onboard the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship is an incredible experience. It is amazing to see so many different cultures and races brought together in celebrating the birth of our Saviour. One song that kept echoing through my head during this time was DC Talk's Coloured People, and how there truly is “joy in diversity”. Especially when all this diversity is worshipping God together, as one, united.

Prior to Christmas decorations are put up all over the ship – from the cabin doors that are decorated with so much attention to detail (Some pictures I include here from 2009), to Starbucks CafĂ© and the stockings hanging from the counter. Christmas trees are located in the Midships Lounge, Dining Room, and International Lounge. The music that is played over the sound system in Town Square is filled with joy and warmth, such as the lyrics of the Christmas Song, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire. There is certainly no shortage of festive cheer on the ship.

Most of the festive season for me was spent working, but I also got to spend quite a bit of time off-ship. Tenerife is an amazing place to visit – especially over Christmas. The city of Santa Cruz is nestled between hills that gently slope down to the sea. The port is located at the “bottom” of town, and we are located at the very end of our dock, Dique Del Sur. It is a thirty-minute walk to reach the city centre from where the Africa Mercy is berthed, but once in town one is spoiled for choice by the classy restaurants, shopping malls, and the historic Spanish architecture. On Christmas Eve I made this long trek into town, and was overwhelmed by the decorations and the Santas walking around town wishing one a “Feliz Navidad”. What struck me was the commercialism of the occasion. How many of those people celebrating actually care about our Saviour's birth? Are they only interested in presents, sleighs and mistletoe? And this is all over the world. It seems that every year the celebrations become more and more grand, and yet every year the reason for the season becomes smaller. Where is the Christ of Christmas? One thing was clear to me in all this turmoil. The world needs prayer. And if we can show people a glimpse of God's glory and majesty by our being here, then I believe a seed will be planted. Yes, Mercy Ships bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor. But we must also bring hope and healing to those privileged few, so that they, like the wise men, may also see a light shining bright this Christmas.

On Christmas Eve we had our main Christmas dinner, and that was really special. It was good to be surrounded by friends and loved ones. There was roast turkey and ham, stuffing and vegetables, as well as lovely Christmas cake for dessert. After our dinner we continued to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the International Lounge by meeting as a community and worshipping together. One could really sense the unity in this time. It was so special to be together and know that there is more to Christmas than crackers and a decorated tree. Christmas Day was spent waking early to discover shoes full of goodies and treats. It is a tradition here to leave one shoe outside one's cabin overnight, so that by the morning it can be full of goodies! Of course, let's hope that the smell from the shoes does not mingle with the taste of the treats! That could be rather unpleasant! Some crew members did, actually, have the bright idea of putting a packet inside their shoes. After the initial excitement of discovering the shoes full of goodies outside our doors, we had a Christmas brunch in the Dining Room. Again, there was turkey and ham and other treats a-plenty. Everybody left feeling full and satisfied.

Another tradition on the Mercy Ship is “Open House”. This is an event that occurs in the evening of Christmas Day, and is where families and crew members open up their cabins to other crew and visitors. It was really special to be able to visit the families and chat with them in their own cabins, away from the hustle and bustle of their daily lives.

Being my first Christmas away from home, I was rather homesick. (It was now my second Christmas away from home - 2009 - and I was still homesick - but the rest is true as well.) But, I was amazed at the way God placed such wonderful people in my path. And I came to realise that despite being many miles away from Cape Town and my family, my family is actually right here with me. The people who I'm working and living with here on the Africa Mercy are my brothers and sisters. And it was this thought – and, indeed, the love they showed me – that made this first Christmas away from home such a memorable one.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

History meets modernity...

On the day of Christmas Eve Mercy Shippers were invited for a tour of the Russian Tall Ship Kruzenshtern, the second largest sailing vessel in the world at 4,700 tons. Her tallest mast is 56 metres high and the ship has a length of 114 metres and is crewed by 120 cadets and 50 general crew members. She had pulled into Tenerife a few days before the Africa Mercy on her International Trans-Atlantic Expedition.

The Kruzenshtern was built in 1926 and was initially a German cargo ship sailing under the name Padau. With the conclusion of the Second World War, she was given to the Soviet Union as a war repatriation and renamed the Kruzenshtern. She has sailed under the Russian flag ever since.

It was really interesting seeing a totally different type of vessel to the one that we are used to. There is such a blend of history on a ship like the Kruzenshtern. Indeed, much of her story is preserved in a lovely museum onboard, which chronicles her visits to many different ports - including Cape Town - and the history of this fascinating ship.

Walking the wooden decks one is brought face-to-face with a real mix between the modern world and the old world. Here radar and GPS go hand in hand with older navigational aids such as the sextant and chart table. Diesel engines meet flowing white sails. Air-conditioning and a modern interior are contrasted with the old sailing ship exterior. The ship still has her original old brass bell located all the way forward, tolled when the lookouts spot hazards, and yet she also has a fully integrated telephone system making communication easier. And contrary to the days of sail, the Kruzenshtern also has two MOBs (Man Overboard Boats) to be deployed in an emergency, and more than enough liferafts to meet the requirements of SOLAS (Safety Of Life At Sea).

Kruzenshtern left the port this evening (Saturday 26th December) and is sailing across the Atlantic Ocean to the port of Colon on Panama's Caribbean Sea. She is sailing around the world to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the cessation of hostilities in the Second World War.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas!

Wishing you a WONDERFUL mercy-filled Christmas and a blessed 2010 from here onboard the M/V Africa Mercy! God bless!

Saying goodbye...

One of the tougher aspects to serving with Mercy Ships is having to say goodbye. In an atmosphere where you live and work in the same space as 350 other people, close friendships form very fast. However, being a ministry that relies largely on short-term volunteers, there is also a high staff-turnover of crew. Therefore, the farewells can often be frequent and painful.

This past Tuesday (22nd December) was a tough day. I had to say farewell to five really close friends who all left for home. As is now one of my traditions, I drove several of them to the South Airport to say goodbye. I am honoured and privileged to call such wonderful people friends. You guys have a special place in my heart and will be missed!

It's true that saying goodbye is painful, but that's what happens when you love deeply and give completely of yourself in a friendship. And I'm not going to stop.
Above (from top to bottom) are photos of me with Meg, Jess and Paul.

"Naked I came from my mother's womb,
and naked I will depart.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised."
(Job 1: 21 NIV)

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

An Attempt on Teide...

Last Sunday (20th December) I attempted to climb Mount Teide with a group of good friends. Mount Teide is the highest mountain in Spain and the highest free-standing volcano in the Atlantic Ocean. It rises nearly 3,800 metres above sea-level. So it is not the easiest hike.

We had a Land Rover booked out for the day and drove up winding roads and passed some amazing alpine scenery before we emerged out at an altitude of around 2,000 metres. Here the landscape changed drastically as the pine trees were replaced by low shrubs which in turn gave way to a barren, lunar-like landscape.

The weather, whilst warm and sunny in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, was cold with a sharp wind blowing. There were some threatening clouds, and the peak of Teide was barely visible. Conditions also meant that the cableway was closed. We parked a few kilometres back from the lower cableway station and started our climb.

The hike started on a gradual path that curved upwards through volcanic rock and dust, eventually coming out at the base of the volcano itself. I was amazed at how hard my legs were having to work. It felt as if they were made of lead. But that was the effect of the altitude. I have never done exercise over 2,000 metres!

After a while we started up a steeper path that cut its way up the mountain, following the course of an old lava flow. However, by this time the weather was closing in and time was working against us. A group of us turned back after two-and-a-half hours of hiking (it is a six-hour hike) and we abandoned our chance of ascending the mountain. Heading down the wind chill factor (the temperature was probably between 0 and 5 degrees Celcius with the wind chill factor) really started to have an effect and I was freezing by the time we got back to our trusty Land Rover.

That being said, despite the disappointment of not being able to get to the top, Sunday was a fun day spent in the company of wonderful friends who have been real blessings to me over the past months and even years. And anyway, there is always January to try again and be sure that I will be there to capture the moment. So be sure to stay posted for that!

The ravine up the side of the volcano - note the black lava flows.

The breathtaking scenery from the slopes of the mountain.

Amazing cloud formations over the arid landscape.

Old volcanic rock formations.

Heading down the mountain. It was so cold!

The rain really began to come down as we returned to our Land Rover.

Jess, Meg and Richard - happy to be heading home after a fun day out.

On the drive down God gave us the most amazing sunset visible through the trees. It was beautiful!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Arrival in Tenerife!

Just a short one to say that after eleven days at sea the M/V Africa Mercy safely docked in the port city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, at around 08h30 this morning (Saturday 19th December). Thank you for your prayers and praise God for a safe arrival! Here are some photos of our arrival in Tenerife.

Our pilot approaches with the dawn...

... Comes onboard...

... While the pilot boat speeds back to port!

Good friends make for good photo opportunities!

With Christina and Leah, a couple of my lovely Gateway sisters!

Approaching the entry to the port.

Getting closer!

Clearing the breakwater!

Crew members watch as the AFM is nudged closer and closer to the dock.

The Port Authority building across the harbour.

Hardworking deckies secure ropes on the aft mooring deck.

Our faithful friend who greets us each year with hymns and carols on his trumpet.

Nearly there!

The Gangway is down!

And the AFM is safely docked in Tenerife!