Surgeries have begun; actually, they’ve been ongoing for over a month. Sometimes as we walk along the corridors of the ship, it takes a minute to realize that just over 2 months ago we were transitioning into the vibrant community we are today. In our last newsletter, we spoke much about transition and change. There has been much change, but as we’ve been through this, one axiom for community comes to mind and this is “common unity”. With the Holy Spirit empowering us, we are given the strength and the extra measure of grace required to be a member of this “Common Unity”.
I (Rob) must confess that on some days I’ve caused others to use their full measure of grace to allow me to grow within our community. Thankfully, God’s still working on me and within this community many old issues are being healed. Funny isn’t it…We come onboard a hospital ship to bring “Hope and Healing to the poorest of the poor” and sometimes we are the ones who receive the healing and are given a new measure of hope. So, it is as we begin this newsletter; we’d like to share with you a little of what life aboard the Africa Mercy has been like over this past month and as you read, we hope you’ll see what God can do through a community serving together.
First, just a bit of background, the Anastasis arrived in Liberia in March 2007 and we stopped surgeries and most ministries while we transferred crew, equipment and supplies during most of the month of June. We will be in Liberia until December 2007 and are serving here in a country where there has been a 14 year civil war ending in 2004. The Anastasis was here in March-June 2005 and in Nov 2005 – May 2006, so this is Mercy Ships 3rd time here in Liberia.
The people of Liberia are precious and friendly; however, they have many issues concerning the trauma they have been through. Many of the young men were child soldiers and the violence they have seen is tragic! Also, there was no schooling for many during the war and many adults are unable to read. Monrovia is the capital city of Liberia and even here there is no electricity or running water in most houses and businesses. Generators provide electricity in some churches, businesses and government buildings. Prior to the war, this was a beautiful and modern city.
Liberia has just celebrated, on 26 July, their 160th year of Independence. The Liberian people are very happy for the peace in their nation at this time. We are reminded with the presence of the UN soldiers that the peace is very fragile. Most of the population here claims to be Christian...but the African Traditions have also made their way in as well. In serving with the Liberian people, please pray that God would give us opportunities to help restore hope to these precious people and to show His love for them.
We are very busy now as always, but it is so good to finally be here and in ministry to these lovely people in Liberia! We are able to serve side by side with them on the ship as there are about 100 day workers serving as translators in the Hospital, serving in housekeeping and in food services. Most of these day workers are from the area's many churches. There are translators in the Hospital 24/7 as many of the patients speak local languages (most in addition to English - which is the country's primary language) Sometimes the English they speak to us is difficult, at best, to understand. Some of the patients come from a village away from the capital city of Monrovia and speak a native language, especially when they are in pain and don't know the English word to explain themselves.
We find it amazing to see all of the different types of services that Mercy Ships is able to offer to Liberia. We will try to describe some of the ones we were able to participate in this month.
Eye Surgery was the first surgery done on the Africa Mercy on Monday, June 25th and then the next day we began VVF surgeries. I (Denise)was able to adopt a 36 year old VVF patient, Bendu. She had been leaking urine for 20 years...since she was 16 and lost a baby while still in her womb. She does have 2 children born before this 3rd one was lost. She had her VVF surgery on 29 June and she is doing great!
She was a bit frightened that the surgery may not have totally made her continent, but the surgeon said that was not true, she had developed a urinary tract infection and so she had been urinating more frequently. But the bladder is holding tight as it should! Her bladder was not use to holding tight and that gave her much pain as it would spasm before she went to the toilet to relieve the pressure. The spasms frightened her and so she wouldn't want to get up to go to the toilet, so she was a bit tense and that just complicated the matter! I’ve since learned that it is their belief that if they lay down then they won’t leak, so this explains why she didn’t want to get up and walk around. So I tried to help her to relax and just praise God that He had healed her!
On 7 July 07, Bendu had a wonderful celebration day and her dress ceremony! I was so excited for her! The dress ceremony was wonderful! She looked lovely and after the ceremony found out that she would be able to go home as well and when our communication photographer took the ladies on the gangway for pictures of the 6 lovely ladies... Bendu saw her family waiting on the dockside...she was so excited! Many more surgeries will be done on the Africa Mercy for VVF. We have one Operating Theatre dedicated for this type of surgery.
Mercy Ships organizes the dress ceremony and makes the dresses for the ladies and also provides them with a card to have a C-section at a hospital here in ELWA. This is the only hospital in Liberia that can perform a C-section - the hospital is run by a Christian inter-denominational organization called ELWA.... Eternal Love Winning Africa! They also have a radio station here. Bendu will give God the glory (she is a Christian)...she was given a Bible and a little pocket mirror at the ceremony and Clementine (one of our disciplers) told the 6 ladies that they had been given these Bibles to share the Good News with their people. The pocket mirror was for them to be reminded of how much God loved them!
Rob adopted a patient, Kolee and he went home a week ago. He was an orthopedic patient that had a broken arm from about 6 years ago. We found out that it happened during the war and the x-ray showed a strange form in his wrist as well. Well, when Dr. James operated on it, there was actually a piece of shrapnel (metal) about 6 inches long, a 1/2 inch wide and 1/8 inch thick! Dr. James removed it and it just kept coming out! There was also a sack of infection around it and Dr. James was able to get it all cleaned out and fix one of the bones in Kolee's arm. He couldn't do anything for the other bone...but he assured us and Kolee that his arm would be much better.
Kolee is from Lofa which is a long way from here (up country) and the Red Cross brought him to the ship by airplane. He needs to come back to the ship for a few follow-up appointments. Fortunately, Kolee’s sister lives here in Monrovia, so he will stay with her until he is able to go back home to Lofa. He loved sitting outside on Deck 7 with Rob and they would talk about all kinds of things! He also is a great checker (draughts) player.
Rob and I also went to an orphanage and played with the kids one Saturday. The kids just want to be held, we sang with them and played with them and of course, we held them. We love it and so do they! I've gone to another orphanage a couple times and met a young man about 15-16, named Tommy that is interested in computers. He has been in the orphanage since he was 3 ½ years old. I asked him if he had worked on a computer and he said no, he doesn’t have a teacher. So a couple weeks ago, we went to the Internet cafe in his village. He had only ever watched people on line and he went on line for the first time! It was quite exciting! I believe the Lord has linked me up with him and that he will be able to go to school and learn computers and fulfill his dream! He is so excited to have a teacher and I am thrilled to be able to help him learn a life skill!
Community Development Services
This ship community is just incredible to say the least and the work in so many areas that can be done through it is amazing! I (Denise) was privileged to go out on 31 July and see some of the work in progress with a Vision Team. A vision team is a group that Mercy Ships sponsors to come see the work being done while on field assignment. The group pays their own expenses and Mercy Ships arranges their time on board to really get a good look at the various ministries that we are involved in on and off the ship. They are usually here for just a week or sometimes not even that long. Anyway, I was able to go out and see some of the projects with them. We visited the prison agricultural project, a school building project for a church in Monrovia, a medical clinic building project for another church in Gayetown and another agricultural project in a village called Bernard's Farm.
I am always so impressed with the work planned and completed by Mercy Ships! It is just so excellently done! From the planning through the completion you can see God's hand in it all! The initial assessment trips search out projects that are sustainable and ones that we can come alongside the community and really help them achieve what their felt needs are.
Just an example of this is the school at Congo Town in Monrovia....(wording is from the proposal for this project - click here for a look at the Mercy Ships proposal) "The state of education in Liberia suffered greatly during the war. Congo Town, a war-torn area of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, is one such community. Many times during the course of the civil war, children of Congo Town, like others throughout the Liberia, would start a school year and then have to abandon their studies due to the fighting and unrest. Sometimes children weren't able to go to school at all for several years. Congo Town has a considerable population of ex-combatants, which complicates the social structure. These young men and women were some of the child soldiers during the war. Many were taken forcibly and trained to commit terrible crimes, including murder and rape.
The young people of Liberia – many who have missed years of education – are now trying to put their lives back together. Open Bible School, founded by Open Bible Church, is based in Congo Town and has been in existence since 1976, albeit tentative at times due to the war. The school operates a biblically-based learning facility for 650+ students in kindergarten through 12th grade with evening classes for adult education. Open Bible School is currently based in a rented facility in an escalating rent environment which is threatening the financial viability of the school. There are other schools within the surrounding area, but the need is greater than the combined capacity to provide educational services."
The church has had drawings done by an architect who is a member of their church for 3 wings of a school building. Each wing has 4 classrooms in it. So they started building it. The way they build buildings here is they buy the materials as they build and so they stop when they run out of money...raise more money and start again. So the church had begun putting up the walls of one wing of the school. Mercy Ships determined that this would be a good partnership as they were willing to be involved and the project meets Mercy Ships criteria for being sustainable.
Mercy Ships came alongside them in March 2007 and agreed to put up the other two wings of the building (just one floor - with preparations for the 2nd floor). So working as they do, and alongside them with only tools that are available to them and buying local materials ... we help them build the building.
So it is now at the stage to paint and it really looks nice! It is complete with a stairway to the roof (what will be the second floor one day) and a good solid roof to hold the 2nd floor (one day), complete with rebar wire for the support columns on the second floor. These 2 wings will be ready for classes beginning in September! They will have 2 sessions of classes, morning and evening... the evening is for the adults to learn as they didn't have school when they were school age due to the war!
Some of the adults are former child soldiers that were forced to fight. They are so happy to be going to school now!
Rob would like to get more involved in the Community Development Projects...especially water wells and water well drilling. So we'll see what the Lord has in mind! We are not drilling wells here in Liberia as the water table is so high...the hand dug wells are a better fit here. The Liberians don't have the machinery or money for machinery, but can dig a hole to get water, so that is more sustainable here! We are doing much more education training for them, such as where to dig a well (not too close to your toilet, etc.) and the importance of clean water.
Life in General
Rob’s job on the ship is basically doing similar to what he did on the Caribbean Mercy. Finding the parts that the engineers need and keeping up with the computerized scheduling of maintenance. The engineers bring him parts that need replacing or he determines the consumable items and orders them for scheduled maintenance work.
Sometimes the parts are quite challenging to figure out what they are….see the picture on the right of some of their latest parts needing to be replaced. To me it is amazing that he can figure these out and actually find new or replacement parts! The engineers will bring the part they need to replace and ask for “one just like this” ….Rob says “Ok…I’ll work on it” and then brings them the new part and says…”Sorry I couldn’t get one just like the old one, but I hope this new one will do the job.”
It is not as hot here as I had expected. The wind is usually blowing some and the temperature is in the low to mid 80s. It is even cooler, if it's been raining! So it's quite nice outside. I've been able to explore a little off the ship with some of my girlfriends. We went shopping and for lunch one day. That was an experience! Shopping here is very different! The vendors sell mainly from small stands, wheelbarrows or plastic tubs.
Some of the larger shops in downtown Monrovia have a space inside a building that has a narrow doorway and then the goods laid out on tables. Usually, no electricity!
So that means only the sunlight that comes in through the narrow doorway lights the shop area. I did get some fabric to have a couple dresses made and a couple shirts made for Rob.
Soon after we sent out the last newsletter, we learned of the death of one of our former crew members, Dallas. He worked with us on the Caribbean Mercy several times and also in Newcastle, UK on the Africa Mercy earlier this year! He passed away suddenly in May from an apparent heart attack. Last Sunday, a crew member here on the Africa Mercy in Liberia, drowned at one of the beaches here. Collin was 21 and he was our Assistant Dental Coordinator. He chose to volunteer in Liberia for 6 months after graduating from Texas A&M. Collin wrote on his application to Mercy Ships, "I have two options. I can start a meaningless job that I would soon have to leave to continue my education, or I can do something that will have a profound and meaningful effect on my life while glorifying God and helping those in need. I choose the latter." To see a short Mercy Ships video in memory of Collin please click, here.
Also, soon after our last newsletter, our oldest son, Jason, had a mini stroke and lots of tests. Jason is doing well now and is working on some lifestyle changes to reduce his stress. I think more golfing is his favorite! This next year is critical to see that he is ok and is handling stress alright. Thank you for your prayers! Please continue to pray that he is able to put some good stress management skills into practice for his health's sake! Jill, Jason’s wife, has been so supportive of him. Knowing that they have a strong marriage and love each other so much is a blessing to us!
We are going to fly to Orlando on Dec 16th and stay with Jason & Jill until January 16th. The ship will be in Tenerife, Canary Islands at that time and we thought we'd fly to Florida and have the holidays with our family! The ship will leave for Sierra Leone about the 25th of January. So we'll be back in time for the sail to Sierra Leone.
We have just begun a new website, www.mercywatch.org and we are moving some of the information on our other site, www.mercywatch.com to our blog or the new site. We had some difficulties earlier in July with the old website. The provider had a major server crash and couldn’t fix the buttons on our website, and also lost about 4 hours worth of work to update it. It has been sort of flakey since then, so we decided to go with another provider. Since our internet connection here is so slow, it takes quite a bit of time to update the website, so please bear with us as we create the new one. Add it to your favorites and check out there to see the new features. The blog is a bit easier to update and that is why it gets updated more regularly and with more pictures! Our newsletters are being dated where they should go chronologically on the blog so that we have the history out there. The address to our blog is http://mercywatch.blogspot.com.
As I worked in reception the day before the Orthopedic Surgeries began, there was a screening for orthopedics....oh my! Many people came through reception with limbs that were out of shape, club feet, broken feet that hadn't healed. Wow! It was amazing. One little girl, I think ... maybe about 7 or 8 years old walked sideways but forward. I've never seen it before, but her hips must have been broken somehow. Her clothes were very loose so you couldn't really tell unless you looked at her legs as she walked. One man walked with his foot laying on it's side. Many had strange breaks in the limbs that had healed and were now bent. One little boy had a foot that was a club foot and he walked on it and his foot pointed about half way around backwards. One lady had a shorter leg, but only the tips of her toes touched the ground and she walked on them.
I was reminded of how fortunate we are to have medical care when we are injured or born with a deformity. We just can’t imagine the pain and perseverance that these people have been through as their life was changed by an accident, the war or even since birth.
We are very excited and blessed to be a part of this crew field service to Liberia. Thank you so much for your part in everything here in Liberia as you are a part of all of this too! Please continue to pray for us as each day brings new opportunities and challenges! “May the God who give endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:5-7 (NIV)
God’s abundant blessings,
Denise and Rob
Contact information for us (Hint…please email, write or call! We love to hear from you):
http://mercywatch.blogspot.com (for up to date info of what’s going on in our lives and those we serve)
Phone: US number – 954 538-6110 ext. 4423 (our cabin), 1002 (Denise’s office), 1215 (Rob’s office) We are GMT…4 hours ahead of EST and 5 hours ahead of CST
Rob and Denise Miller
PO Box 2020
Lindale, TX 75771
UK and Europe Post:
Rob and Denise Miller
Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships Holland
3083 AS Rotterdam