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Saturday, December 12, 2009

We're sailing and enjoying the beauty of God's creation!

Tonight, the sunset was beautiful!  The seas were calm, even after a brief storm earlier.  We sailed from Cotonou, Benin on Tuesday and have been at sea for over 4 days!  The sail has been absolutely great!  We've seen dolphins, pilot whales, a water spout and flying fish! 

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.

To see a few photos of the sunset...     

                       click here!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The beach road in Benin

The beach road in Benin
Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
We took a lovely ride along the beach road, today, going to Casa de Papa. Our engineers needed to turn the power off on the ship (Blackout Saturday), so we took a group to Casa de Papa for the day. We took a gentle enjoyable ride down the beach road and had a wonderful day! We had a great group with us from the ship and had a very relaxing day! When we returned this evening, the power was back on and the engineers had finished in record time! We hope they will get a rest tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Mercy Watch
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Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

Africa Mercy in Benin

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!

Don, Rob and Denise at our 7th Anniversary Lunch!

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. Little boy in the box 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.

Engineering Dept June 2003

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!

Engineering Department

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.Albas

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.PRESIDENT'S DINNER AT PALACE FIVE MEDALS AWARDED 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.

Women's Retreat at Bab's Dock 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!

Sunset  30Oct09We pray that you will experience a life lived fully in love with God and allow Him to amaze you morning after morning.

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

Happy Thanksgiving!

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

email: and

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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Making a Difference

The primary purpose of the Mercy Ships Hospitality Center is to provide a comfortable setting in which patients can regain their strength and health before, after, and in-between surgeries. The results have been extremely positive, resulting in the highest turnover of surgeries to date. But the Hospitality Center (HC) is proving to be more than just a temporary medical facility.

Recently, Ellen de Pagter of the Netherlands took on the role of Mercy Ships Disciple, which has resulted in patients having the opportunity to receive counseling and basic education. "Half of the time I try to be one-on-one with the patients. The other half of the time I try to do group teachings on things like the alphabet, French, English, and basic mathematics," said Ellen. "It's mostly about helping them regain their confidence by being in a group again and to be more secure about themselves."

Ellen, who worked as a primary-school teacher for five-years in her home country, has her own classroom - an unused therapy tent - in which she conducts her classes at the HC. As there are patients of various ages always coming and going, her class is forever changing. "It can be difficult because some patients stay for eight weeks, while others for only a few days," she explained. "The type of teaching depends on who is there."

Ellen encourages classroom participation, as she believes this is the key for patients to regain their self-confidence and reintegrate themselves back into community once their disfiguring ailments have been surgically corrected. "It makes them believe in themselves again; it gives them confidence to speak up in a group. Nobody here is laughing at them because everyone has a problem," she said.

But sometimes the humiliation and pain suffered can be so severe that some patients have difficulty even adjusting to the HC community. Fortunately, this is why Ellen is on hand to counsel such individuals.

"We had a patient some time ago named Christina. She had a hole in her face, and she would just sit in the corner by herself all the time. It took me a few days to realize it because she would always hide in the dark where nobody could see her.

"I began to sit with her and slowly began to ask her why she wasn't participating or attending the classes. 'People think I smell bad, that I look ugly, and they are not happy to be around me,' she told me. It was very sad. I encouraged her and prayed with her. It was the start of the weekend, so after that I didn't see her for two days. But when I came back, I saw her happily sitting with the other people, and I thought, 'Wow! It takes just thirty minutes to speak with someone, and it can make such a difference to them.'"

There are always opportunities for Ellen to minister and educate. Recently, twenty ladies suffering with VVF (vesico-vaginal fistula) arrived at the HC from the north of Benin. Their surgeries and recoveries will require them to remain for up to three weeks in the care of Mercy Ships. Ellen hopes to be able to impact their lives in some way. "I think about eighty percent of them never went to school. I'm going to teach them to read and write," she said. "That's something important I can give them."

With the Hospitality Center having proved its worth during the course of this year, the concept will continue to be implemented in future Mercy Ships field services.

"The Hospitality Center is an environment where you can see a change occur in someone within a week," Ellen said. "I don't think anybody leaves the same as when they arrived. I see this change in parents and the way they treat their children - they become more gentle, more caring, more friendly."

"I do feel like I am making a difference. At first I was just doing what I could and trying things out, but last week I took time to observe the people, and I could see in some that they were learning something," she added.

Ellen's work is helping to bring hope and healing of another level to the people of Benin. As she continues her valuable ministry into next year's field service in Togo, she is already thinking of ways to improve her effectiveness - which, no doubt, she will achieve. "It's about healing the inside by serving from the outside. I think they have a lot of pain inside. This is a way to solve it."

Written & Photographed by Richard Brock

Edited by Nancy Predaina

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Two new Steam Kettles installed on the Africa Mercy

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.

Friday, October 09, 2009

New Video - October Alumni Report

We hope you'll enjoy this video - Click here to view it. We are not able to watch videos from the ship, so please let me know if the link is not working properly. Also, let me know how you like the content! Email me at! Thanks!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Today is World Sight Day!

Mercy Ships Surgeon Addresses Blindness Through Sutureless Technique

Patients onboard Mercy Ship, Africa Mercy “Celebrate Sight” and World Sight Day

Cotonou, Benin, West Africa, October 8, 2009Four-year-old Celine was born with congenital cataracts in both eyes. Her father, a tailor, wanted the best for her. However, he could not afford the $180 (US) for surgery for each eye, plus the money required for hospital supplies in his country. Unable to begin school because she could not see, Celine faced an uncertain future.

A free five-minute cataract operation onboard the Mercy Ship has restored hope for Celine and more than 3,000 others. They are receiving cataract surgery onboard the Mercy Ship during the hospital ship’s 10-month stay in the port of Cotonou from February through December of this year.

Not only do approximately 150 patients each week participate in a “Celebrate Sight” event, but many more Africans are set to benefit from a new training program onboard the floating hospital. African ophthalmologists receive training in the specialized procedure to remove the very dense cataracts that are common in Africa.

According to Vision 2020, cataracts are the leading cause of blindness, and 80% of blindness is treatable, curable or preventable.* Simple and effective strategies could address this inequity, claims Dr. Glenn Strauss. He gave up his eye practice in the US to serve fulltime with Mercy Ships as Senior VP of Health Care Initiatives with the charity.

Since 2004, Dr. Strauss has fine-tuned a procedure of cataract removal called MSICS (Manual Small Incision Cataract Surgery). The technique, which has been developed in Nepal, India, and onboard the Mercy Ship, requires no sutures. It is also cost-effective and efficient, and it allows for a high-volume turnover of patients. Strauss says he can serve approximately 40 patients per day.

South African ophthalmologist Dr. Gcobane Tuswa has recently returned to Sabona Eye Hospital in Queenstown, East Cape to implement the new techniques learned from Dr. Strauss onboard the Africa Mercy. He states, “The knowledge he [Dr. Strauss] has to share is invaluable and will increase capacity to address blindness.”

Mercy Ships will also continue to run remote eye clinics throughout the year in Benin. Volunteer professionals will see more than 200 patients a day, thus expanding their service throughout local communities.

Watch a recent Mercy Ships “Celebration of Sight,” held for patients who have completed their final checkups in Cotonou, Benin: Click Here

Celine’s story can be seen by a Click Here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Divers Unseen Service Keeps Africa Mercy Operational

In order to keep the machinery onboard the M/V Africa Mercy running effectively, divers must plunge into murky, polluted water every week to prevent obstructions from blocking the ship’s seawater intake valves.

The Africa Mercy’s machinery is cooled by seawater pumped in via intake valves on the sides of the ship. Without a continuous intake of cool water, the generators that power the ship and the various facilities onboard, including the hospital, would all cease to function. Also, the air-conditioning system would shut down, resulting in a rapid increase of temperature that would cause discomfort for crew members and patients, as well as creating a risk for certain pieces of hospital equipment that require a steady temperature to function. The emergency fire hoses receive their water supply from the same intake valves. Thus, the need for constant monitoring and regular maintenance of these valves, as well as having standby divers for emergencies is all of great importance.

Because the Africa Mercy docks in third world ports for months at a time, it is in slow-moving, severely polluted water for the majority of a year. Some days, trash completely surrounds the floating hospital ship. “Sometimes the layer of garbage is so thick you could walk on water,” joked P.J. Acceturo, one of several ship divers.

Plastic bags and other refuse get sucked into the vents and restrict the flow of water into the valves. Within minutes, the air-conditioning shuts down, and the entire ship is in danger of losing all power. The Dive Team must be quick to respond to clear the vents of any blockage. Sea growth, including barnacles and seaweed, is another problem that affects the intake of seawater. Divers have to remove the build-up of this growth regularly. It can be an extremely strenuous process.

The Dive Team currently consists of nine divers. At the beginning of each week, Olly Peet, Dive Team Coordinator, contacts the various divers to find out who is available to dive. Because the divers all have other jobs that take priority, it is sometimes not possible for them to help.

On occasion, divers have been required to suit up and descend below the ship as early as 4 AM. Night diving is extremely dangerous, but even diving during the day can be hazardous. “The water is usually so cloudy, you can’t see your feet,” said Peet. “Visibility is only six inches, which sometimes makes it difficult to find the intake valves.”

But a lack of visibility is not the only risk facing the Dive Team. “The sewage discharged from the Africa Mercy is fairly sterile, but it’s the sewage from other ships in the port that is a problem,” said Peet. Before any crew member attempts to dive, the medical department assesses their vaccination forms to ensure they are covered against serious diseases like hepatitis C, typhoid, and cholera. “Whenever divers have gotten water in their mouths, they’ve ended up with an upset stomach,” said Tracy Swope, another member of the Dive Team.

Because Mercy Ships is a non-profit organization, much of the Dive Team’s equipment is getting old and worn-out. New equipment, including full-face dive masks, would drastically decrease the health risks that divers endure so frequently and ultimately increase their efficiency and effectiveness. “The dive masks we want to get would prevent us from getting any water in our noses, eyes, or mouths,” explained Accetturo. “They would be a welcome addition to the aging equipment, some of which is more than fifteen years old. However, they are quite expensive,” he added.

Until then, the divers continue to risk their health to keep the Africa Mercy operational, ensuring that Mercy Ships can continue bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. “Even though it’s dirty work, I’m happy to dive every week,” Accetturo said. “It’s all part of serving the crew and continuing this ministry.”

Written by Richard Brock & PJ Accetturo
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by PJ Accetturo

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Football Anyone?

Mercy Watch
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Hello Friends,
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!!

God's Blessings,
Rob and Denise

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stay Sane Getting B.A.C.K. From Summer Vacation

My co-worker, Winston, comes back to work tomorrow and I'm so looking forward to that! Winston is from South Africa and has his family (wife, Naomi and daughter, Chenell) onboard the ship, except he came back without his oldest son, Tashwell. Tash graduated from the Academy in June and decided to go back to South Africa for college. So... Winston and his family took Tash back and got him settled. I know it was a tough trip coming back to the ship without Tashwell. We're glad to have them back! They have been missed in our community on the Africa Mercy! Welcome Back, Winston!

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.

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:

  • Acknowledge that you have received their request
  • Provide a timeline by when it will be handled
  • Inform them whom the item has been delegated to or where the request should be re-directed

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:

  • Handle right away
  • Can wait a few days
  • Handle next week
The first one or two days back respond to the A's. Schedule the B's for your 3rd and 4th day back and put the C's off until the following week.
K - Keep Calm:
You will be more focused and more effective if you can avoid getting stressed and overwhelmed on your first few days back. One practical way to do this is to force yourself to take a morning, lunch, and afternoon break on your first few days back. For those of you thinking ‘heresy’, think again. Studies show that taking a few breaks at work gives the brain a chance to take the equivalent of a cat nap and return to the tasks at hand more focused and refreshed. Ultimately, that short walk, lunch away from your desk or quick trip to Starbucks, may help keep your head clear and get you back into the swing of things with calm and focus.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Possibly a new link between Jacksonville and Benin!

Click here to read an article about a delegation from West Africa to meet with port officials in Jacksonville on August 23 - 27!

In the Stillness....There is Mercy

It’s in Benin. It’s dark. It’s quiet. It’s peaceful.
But in the stillness there’s a stirring.
It’s 4am. Yet thousands of people wait.
Sleepy eyes droop yet refuse to sleep.
Tired arms carrying babies slip but hold on tighter.
The old man’s limbs are weak. He refuses to rest...
He might loose his place in the queue.
It’s 7am. It’s apparent these people need help.
I see a face hidden behind a veil. I look closer… it is disfigured.
Behind the veil, there is fear, doubt and yet…
The more I look around; I realize the sea of faces are desperate.
Look closer. Look in their eyes and there is hope.
It’s a medical screening day.
Mercy Ships volunteers are here to use their skills to bring change to the lives of
thousands who have no access to medical help.
Here, people ostracized for years are hugged.
Children teased because of a deformity are kissed.
Incontinent women shunned by husbands have hope.
The day is buzzing with activity. People have waited for hours. Medical checks ups
with doctors from around the world. Appointment cards for surgery…More waiting.
In spite of the thousands and activity, there is a stillness. There’s peace. There’s hope.
For the first time in their lives...
The shunned are being shown mercy.
By Esther Biney / Benin 09

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rob's struggle and Anniversary Safari!

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 West Africa being cut/broken. Several countries in West Africa (Benin being one) lost all of their internet access unless they have access via satellite as we do on the ship! Sometimes it is easy to take our blessings for granted and even grumble about those we don’t have.

Parc National Pendjari

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.

Rob and Denise on safari!

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.

Setting out for Pendjari!

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!

Pendjari was really beautiful!

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.

Map of Benin - showing Pendjari National Park

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.

At a bus stop along the way!

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!

Denise, Rob and James

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!

Here's a great picture of the kids!

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 we only understand parts...but he was quite entertaining in his style!

Figuring out where we have been

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.

At the watering hole - Mare Bali (Bali Pond)

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.

We heard a splash and saw the crocodile had come out of the water!

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!

Sound asleep

This is a sound asleep baboon! We saw many baboons and antelopes, but this was the only one asleep!

Open wide!

At another lake, we saw many hippos! There was also a viewing 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!

A lone elephant .... Horton?

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!

The village just outside Pendjari

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.

Dawn at Pendjari

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 was INCREDIBLE! The space is limited in this newsletter...but for those of you that want more about the 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...

Pendjari Safari

Enjoy! We wish you could have experienced it with us!

God’s Blessings,

Rob and Denise