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.

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