Rob and I have been plenty busy during the day with our jobs, but the atmosphere around the ship is more relaxed and we are enjoying many Christmas activities.
This blog is a journal of Rob and Denise Miller. Currently, we are caregivers and serving God in our community. We were volunteers with Mercy Ships from December 2002 till December 2011. We were long term volunteer crew members on the Africa Mercy and the Caribbean Mercy. The content of this blog is written and maintained by us and is not official Mercy Ships communication. The official Mercy Ships website is www.mercyships.org.
We are writing you from the Port of Cotonou, Benin (West Africa) onboard the Mercy Ships vessel, Africa Mercy. Just a couple more weeks before we’ll be sailing and leaving Benin. We have been here in Benin for almost 10 months! The Benin 2009 Field Service continues into the month December. We still have some patients in the wards that are needing care. Please pray for them.
We are fortunate this year to have Daslin (a former Anastasis Executive Director) and her husband, Ernest, living here in Benin and running their NGO, Miers. They will continue to care for the patients that may need dressing changes and other care after we sail.
Since our last newsletter in which we shared with you about our wedding anniversary, we’ve had occasion to celebrate another anniversary. This anniversary is celebrating seven years of service with Mercy Ships! You are an important part of this celebration! Thank you so much for making this anniversary possible!
We celebrated by going to dinner with one of our Crossroads classmates, Don Wolven. Don was onboard to complete some safety audits and to provide some technical training for our crew. Don and his family serve at the International Operations Center and he was here for about 3 weeks. We enjoyed spending time and catching up with him!
We have been very blessed to serve and are just as excited about serving with Mercy Ships now as when we began in 2002!
You are also a part of changing lives!
We hope you are blessed as you read about the differences that you make in so many lives!
Thank you for your support!
We are so blessed!
The picture below is the Engineering Department when we were on the Caribbean Mercy taken in June 2003. We continue to serve with three of the thirteen crew! Ciaran (5th from the left) serves at the International Operations Center (IOC) in Texas; Tom (to his right in the blue bandana) and Joe (4th from the right) serve on the Africa Mercy.
The next picture was taken just a couple weeks ago of the Engineering Department here on the Africa Mercy. Tom and Joe are in the back row 3rd and 4th from the right. Rob is right under the anchor! It's an honor to serve with such a great group of guys!
We want to take this opportunity to express our appreciation and love for all of you, our family, friends and supporters that have stood with us all these years. We are here serving with Mercy Ships and are able to continue to serve because of your support. Thank you so much! It is because of your prayers, tears, laughter, encouragement, understanding, love, discernment, and financial support we are able to continue serving here in Africa!
We picked the name MercyWatch for our newsletter, blog and website early along. We are privileged to Watch God’s Mercy being poured out on His people in so many ways. We hope that as you read you will know that you are part of God’s hands, just as we are!
Last Tuesday (Nov 17th), we (the entire Africa Mercy crew) were invited to the President of Benin’s Palace for dinner. It was incredible! The picture above is the hall in which we ate dinner. If you look closely you may be able to see us!
Approximately 320 crew had dinner with President Yayi Boni. The President even sent food to the ship for the 80 crew that had work duties on the ship and couldn't attend! The government honored 5 Mercy Ships Leaders for all the work that Mercy Ships has accomplished in Benin. Those honored were Don and Deyon Stephens, Mercy Ships Founders; Ken Berry, Africa Mercy Managing Directior; Dr. Gary Parker, Africa Mercy Chief Medical Officer and Maxiofacial Surgeon; Dr. Glenn Strauss, Sr. VP of Healthcare Initiatives and Eye Surgeon; and Daslin Small Oueounou, Mercy Ships Benin Representative (former Mercy Ships, Anastasis, Executive Director).
We know without the Lord's help and support from many, many people this work could not be done! We depend on Him daily! Thank you for your part in what has been accomplished!
We prayerfully started on this journey in 2001 - 2002, some thought it was a mistake and thought we were being reckless and fool hearty with our future. They saw it as stepping away from jobs, home, friends, family and church home. How could we expect to survive in such a setting? We fully believed and still do believe we were following the will of God for our lives.
We weren’t experienced in trusting God to this degree, but we wanted to be. God knows our hearts and honors our prayers to allow our hearts to be broken by the things that break His heart.
He heard our prayers asking him to allow us to see His people as He sees them. Not to be scared of their deformities, physically, emotionally or spiritually but to meet them where they are and show them His love.
This little girl is Alba and she had a huge tumor growing out of her mouth. She covered it with a cloth and couldn't eat around other people. She is just 8 years old and has struggled with this tumor for 2 years.
Alba's mother said, "When the tumor first appeared, my husband and I took Alba to the hospital, but we didn’t have money to pay for it, so they wouldn’t treat her. We had to use traditional medicine.” Alba was taken out of school so her mother could give her the traditional medicine daily.
After her surgery, Alba looked down into a handheld mirror, paused in a state of bewilderment, and began touching the empty space on her mouth.
The tumor was gone. After 20 seconds of staring, a single tear rolled down her cheek. Alba will now be able to go back to school and live life again as a little girl! She is beautiful and her mother is so happy!
We continue on this journey, not without challenges. There are days when we feel defeated and wonder if we are really making a difference. The needy seem to exceed our abilities to help … yes they always will, we have to stop and remember where our strength comes from. Then we are reminded as we were recently.
We were hosting a good friend’s parents on the ship. As we were talking with them, they came to realize that the people that Mercy Ships helps are actually people just like them and not witches or a cursed person. They had previously thought that a baby with a cleft lip and palate or a person with a tumor was a witch. They were amazed and it was a revelation to them. Traditional religion here is very prevalent and many people, including Christians, believe that the witchdoctors or fettish priests curse and cure people. Mothers die in childbirth and the children are left by their fathers along the road, at the beach or under a tree to die. This is due to the traditional religion and/or the fact the father cannot feed the baby without the mother's breast milk. We often don’t think of the types of situations that are reality here. It is often difficult for us to understand. We can come alongside and show God’s love. And when they have a revelation that it is only a medical issue and can be helped, we can see that we are making a difference.
Recently, we had a Women’s Retreat at Bab’s Dock, about 10 miles from the ship. We, the women (about 25 of us) slept under the stars and mosquito nets a couple weekends ago. It was a wonderful time of refreshing and bonding for us. We had a lovely dinner and time for fun and sharing. It was a beautiful night, the weather was perfect and the stars amazing! God really blessed us!
We pray for you today and everyday that God is Lord of All your life!
May you wake each day, excited about the possibilities that the new day brings.
For surely… “This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it.” Ps 118:24
and a huge Thank you from us and those we are able to serve due to your prayer support and generousity!
God’s abundant blessings,
Denise and Rob
Phone: 954 538-6110 ext. 4423
It is difficult to explain Rob's job on the Africa Mercy. The crew usually never see all the parts and equipment that Rob orders for the ship. This is due to the fact that most of it goes into the engine room or somewhere around the ship, so that the ship can continue to function properly. When the Procurement/Logistics team works seamlessly (which is how they prefer) the crew may not even be aware of anything being different. Sometimes it is not cost effective to replace parts and our team at the International Operations Center and at the office in the Netherlands work hard to support the ship in every thing they do! Some of the newest items received onboard have a definite impact on the crew morale...cause it has to do with FOOD!
Thank you to all the Procurement/Logistics Team and the company who provided a great discount on these wonderful additions to the Galley - New Steam Kettles!
Here is an article written by our Communications Team recently:
Every day onboard the Africa Mercy, a staff of twenty daily prepares nine hundred meals for crew and patients. Previously, the galley had only one operational steam kettle, which was difficult to use.
“We were working with only one operational steam kettle, which was old and often stopped working,” said galley manager, Jesse Mitchell.
Two new steam kettles, sold to Mercy Ships at a greatly discounted price, were recently installed in the Africa Mercy galley. The new steam kettles will allow the staff to prepare meals more efficiently.
“We use the steam kettles for many different things – including stews, pastas, and soups. They are really multi-purposeful. We are cooking for so many people on the ship, and we don’t have the space on the stove for pots. Instead, we can use the steam kettles. They are fast and make cooking much more convenient,” said Mitchell.
Currently in use, the steam kettles are making it easier for the galley staff to perform their jobs. “We really needed the steam kettles. Everyone is happy to have them,” said Mitchell.
This is just a short note to ask a favor actually. On board the ship we are blessed with a variety of amenities to allow us to relax a little from time to time. We are blessed to have televisions and satellite access to view the news,sports and other entertainment. There seems to be a great following of Cricket, Rugby and Football(Soccer for Americans)While all of these sports are interesting and great fun to watch...we long to see some of our own sports American Football. If any of you would want to really bless us beyond the blessings you already provide. It would be wonderful if you would record a disc of the Jaguars or Redskins game each week and then mail them to us. Obviously these are our two favorite teams, however if you want to record us your favorite team and send that along, we would be most grateful as well.
So tomorrow as the Redskins play the Jaguars preseason in Jacksonville at 7:30PM we'd really think it would be great to see the Jaguars win their last preseason game at home. From the news we've seen they are currently 0-3. Go Jaguars!!
Rob and Denise
Here's a great article for getting back to work for those of you who may have had time off during the last few months.
by Karen Leland, co-founder of Sterling Consulting Group, Inc. www.scgtraining.com
B - Big Picture: Before getting caught up in the raging river of small details, begin by catching up on what has happened while you were away. Is their any recent news regarding your department or company you need to know about? What is the status of that major project you were working on when you left? Although it seems like a short time, a lot can happen in a week or two. One senior manager came back from a ten-day vacation in Hawaii to an email informing him that the company had been bought! Before you leave put one or two staff members in charge of preparing a big picture report to be presented when your return.
A - Actions: What important requests, that require action, came from your boss, peers, staff or clients while you were gone? Make a list in order of priority and then email or call each person to:
Remember, you may not be able to get everything done within the first two days back. By scheduling the actions you need to take over the next week, it will all get done.
C - Communication: Chances are while you were away, tons of snail mail, email and phone calls piled up. Not all of these incoming communications warrant dropping everything and responding to right away. Try organizing your communications into the following priorities:
Dear Family and Friends,
Dear Family and Friends,
We pray you are in good health and not too tired from all of the summer activities. Where have June and July gone? It seems that there have been so many activities here and many crew members coming and going these past several months. Denise has tried to load up some of the promised pictures from Pendjari with some success.
We are blessed to have internet access via satellite, especially when you read about the fiber optic cable that supplies
I (Rob) must confess I’ve found myself in that situation lately. It is sometimes hardest for me to stay focused during the summer months. Many families on the ship vacation home while the children are out of school or Grandmas and Grandpas come to the ship to visit. Sometimes it is easier to think about also going on vacation, and the fond memories of past vacations we've enjoyed with family and friends. Having these thoughts and desires is not bad, but when I find myself in a position where taking a vacation is not possible for a variety of reasons and am not careful ... I may become embittered about the whole situation. I found myself in this mindset and even became jealous and bitter towards those who are taking their well deserved vacation. I started comparing my sacrifice to theirs and started thinking ... it just wasn’t fair. I started to withdraw a little, because I was ashamed.
Fortunately, God will not allow me to stay in this place if listening to Him and not to myself. I find that when I take my focus off of Jesus and onto myself, it is hard to feel loving and understanding.
I don’t know what your challenges are or what situation you may find yourself in as we are nearing the end of this summer season (or for some of you winter season). Whether you need a vacation or have just returned from one. I can only tell you where I found myself for a little while and how it affected me and the relationship with those around me.
Living on board is like living in a large extended family and most of the time it is great! Sometimes though you may want a little less family ... maybe the six berth cabin is a little too close for comfort on one day. Granted I can’t really relate to this, because I have the pleasure of living in a couple’s cabin with my lovely wife. I don’t have to worry about my cabin mate changing. But I do have a responsibility to her and to the rest of the community. Sometimes I like to believe that my actions are only affecting Denise and me. People on board aren’t nosy or pushy; they are genuinely friendly and concerned about you.
Recently, I’ve had more occasions to have this reality brought home to me. I have had a couple of weeks of less than excellent health. This is unusual for me; normally I’m as strong and healthy as an ox and at times may act like one. A couple weeks ago my lower back was aching on the left side so I tried to think of what strenuous exercise I had done to pull a muscle. I couldn’t think of any and could only remember carrying a couple of Igloo water containers down a couple decks on Saturday for the engineers. I thought, my goodness if carrying 20-30 pound water coolers causes me to pull a muscle I’m in bad shape. I’m a big baby when I’m hurting ... so after a few days of soreness and sleepless nights. Denise suggested I go see the doctor. Not my favorite thing to do ... but my wife is wise, so I went.
My pain didn’t seem to fit quite right for a pulled muscle, so the doctor gave me some Ibuprofen and we decided to keep an eye on it for a few days over the weekend. On Sunday, I noticed my back seemed to be itchy in the same area that it was hurting in. Denise looked and told me a rash had developed in the same spot, by Monday there was a rash on my stomach and side as well. OK, back to the doctor, aha now she was able to complete the diagnosis ... I had shingles!
I was actually relieved to know it wasn’t a pulled muscle but a virus. I may be sick, but at least I wasn't a wimp. Now several weeks have past and I’m recovering. Well, my immune system was down so I managed to catch a cold. Nice ... I don’t miss work ... I don’t get sick ... I’m tough ...OK, so I get grumpy. In spite of my grumpy ways, I’ve found people are genuinely concerned about me and my welfare. Not how strong I think I am ... how good of a job I may do ...or any of that. Just how are you Rob? Yes, sometimes there are those you may expect to ask ... sometimes those that you want to ask ... but what about people that come up and ask you that you can’t remember their names? What about people that you are obviously affecting that you don’t even realize?
I would suggest that we affect and impact people far more than we realize ... for good or maybe somedays not so good. Through this I’ve had to come back to realize, God cares and God’s people care ... there is a difference. I didn’t forget God cares ... but sometimes it’s like I’ve taken His love and blessings for granted.
I’m thankful He doesn’t take me for granted and loves me even when I’m not loveable ... even when I’m jealous of other peoples blessings and can’t see my own. Even when I get embittered He loves me. I pray that you are able to experience this same love ... and hopefully if you have ... and do ... you won’t keep it to yourself but will be like the crew members I have the pleasure of serving with and will share it with that brother or sister that needs a reminder.
Here’s the promised summary of our 36th Wedding Anniversary Safari Trip to Pendjari. It was incredible! Our first time to actually see in the wild African animals! After having spent over 2 years in Africa, we thought it was about time! A few groups of Mercy Shippers had been up to the Pendjari Wildlife Preserve Park. They had a great time, brought back pictures and stories of the animals they were able to see and the incredible experiences they had. We listened to them and began to think it might be possible for us to do it, too!
We have found that travel in a developing country is definitely not something to take for granted and something that we need to consider carefully. We have been on local excursions throughout our travels with Mercy Ships. Sometimes it pushes us farther than we can physically handle (we still would like to think we are in our 20s or 30s... not always realistic!) Also, the food, ride and places to stay overnight must always be taken into account. So a trip 11 hours away from the ship in a local bus and by a local guide's vehicle is something to consider carefully! We also needed to consider the timing as the rainy season was at hand and word was that roads may not be passable and the lodge in the park would close if the rains begin, so it may not even be a possibility.
We carefully weighed all the factors that we could find out about (also difficult due to the language barrier!) The opportunity came of a new group forming to go up and we decided to join them! Most of the group was a part of the communications group from the ship, so we were privileged to be able to join them and enjoyed our time with them. We also decided to bless James with a trip up north to see the African animals in his own country! James is a local man who volunteers on the ship and works with Denise as the ship's French teacher (he is very good at teaching language). James is studing language at the University in Benin and is fluent in 4 languages (French, English, Fon and Yorba). French is the recognized language in Benin. Fon and Yorba are two local tribal languages. James is studing Chinese at the University and will soon be in his final year of University. James is 37 years old, single and taught French at an International School in Cotonou for several years. He had never been north of Savalou in Benin (if you look at the map - it's not even half way up the country) and he had never seen any wild African animals either! He was very excited to be able to go and experience more of his country!
We took the trip on a long weekend (we had a Friday holiday on the ship) and took off an extra day on Monday. (May 22- 25) That gave us Friday to travel up (11 hours) and Monday to return back (9 hours) . Three nights off the ship... One in Tanguieta, just south of Pendjari... second night in Pendjari Park.....and third in Natitinguo where we could catch the bus back to Cotonou. All three nights in a hotel with A/C and mosquito nets (very important here with malaria) and bathrooms attached (also important for us - that we don't have to wander around outside during the dark night!). We packed snacks for when food was not available (or we couldn't eat it - spicy local food) and water (also, important!) Charged our batteries, for the camera and phone (also important as there could be an emergency or breakdown of transportation). We set out at 6 am on Friday morning (see picture above of the hazy morning) for our adventure!
We were so blessed by a great bus ride! Incredible traveling companions, we really had a great time! The weather was good... not rainy! .... also the bus was not too crowded. People did not need to stand up during the trip or cram together in a seat for two with three or more! So everyone was relatively comfortable! We did pick up a traveling salesman that kept us entertained for a time telling the whole bus of the type of traditional herbs and medicines that could be used for various ailments! He did actually sell some of his wares. He spoke in French...so we only understand parts...but he was quite entertaining in his style!
When we got to Pendjari we were very blessed to see more animals that we ever expected to see and we missed a lion pride by just about 5 minutes...the morning after we spent the night at Pendjari! The timing of our trip was perfect and weather was not a problem. God blessed us greatly! Here are some of the pictures that we took on our safari.
This picture is at one of the watering holes called Mare Bali. Beautiful scenery, birds and all the wildlife. So picturesque that the photos really do not show the beauty! We were able to get out of or off the vehicle at times to go to a viewing stand and this was possible at Mare Bali.
This picture is also at Mare Bali and on our side of the pond! I heard a splash and looked around to see this crocodile out of the water! So I'm not sure why he was out of the water, but I was fortunate to be able to capture him in the photo as he was!
This is a sound asleep baboon! We saw many baboons and antelopes, but this was the only one asleep!
At another lake, we saw many hippos! There was also a viewing stand...so we got out and enjoyed watching them for quite a while! In this lake there were three large groups of hippos. Occasionally, one of them would let out a roar. I don't know why they do this, but it made us all start clicking our shutters on the cameras!
We also saw many elephants! This was a lone elephant that we saw early in the morning, just after dawn. Tracy nicknamed him, Horton! He was actually quite close to the lodge that we stayed in on Pendjari! Across one road and a field!
This is a village that is just outside Pendjari Park. The people of this village used to live in Pendjari and when the government set the land aside for the preserve the people had to move off the land of the preserve. They moved just outside the park entrance and this was just about 40 years ago.
This is a beautiful sunrise in Pendjari! You've got to be up early to see the animals at the water hole! We wanted to share the full experience with you...it was INCREDIBLE! The space is limited in this newsletter...but for those of you that want more about the safari...you can get a cup of coffee, tea or soda and your computer. The slide show is on our Flickr site and you can go there by following this link...
Rob and Denise