Hello Friends and Family,
Happy Easter! We have a 4 day holiday – Good Friday to Easter Monday. So we thought we’d start off with an update for you!
When we last wrote to you in February we were preparing to have our large screening day here in Cotonou, Benin. As we prayed and prepared to go to the screening, we asked God to prepare our hearts for His people, to give us grace, a peaceful spirit and to help us show His love in each opportunity.
As we arrived at the screening at just about dawn, the people were already there waiting. Some people had been waiting since the day before. Many people in Benin had hopes of being helped by the free Mercy Ships specialized surgeries.
This is a picture of about the middle of the line going past the Arts and Crafts Market to the Hall des Arts in the distance (upper right hand corner). Over 2,500 people came to be seen (not counting the caregivers and relatives) during the two day screening in February. We were able to give appointments for surgery to 423 people. We were able to refer 600 people to screening at the Mercy Ships Eye Clinics held 4 days every week throughout the Benin Field Service. We were also able to refer another 263 people for a later specialty screening. We will hold another screening day for specialty surgeries on June 8th.
The Beninese people waited patiently in line as the screening began, moving slowly towards the Hall des Arts entrance gate.
The line of potential patients winds around as it comes in the gates of the Halls des Arts. The pre-screening was just in front (outside) of the stadium and in the line are the potential patients and usually a caregiver or relative. The Eye Screening team set up a pre-screening just off to the side of this line.
Rob worked with the security team to help keep the long lines orderly. Rob was positioned at the very end of the line which began from the entrance gate and went down the block in front of the Hall des Arts and around the corner for about another block.
There were many curious “Zemidjan” (pronounced zemi john) drivers who would stop to enquire about the screening. Fortunately Marcus, another team member working in security spoke a little French and could communicate with the drivers. As one “Zemidjan” driver would stop to talk, soon there was a small crowd of drivers setting on their motorcycles all wanting to get the latest word. Several times we had to walk away from them as they seemed to have their own understanding of what was happening.
As the line became shorter in the afternoon, he came closer and closer to the Halls des Artes.
In the picture - Rob has on the tan hat, black slacks and bright yellow vest with orange shirt. The colorful wall behind the people in line is the wall around the Central Arts and Crafts Market in Cotonou.
The heat was incredible and the people didn't want to get out of line for food or water. Some brought food and water with them, others didn't. Mercy Ships crew go up and down the line with water and then about lunch time handed out bread and butter to the people waiting. Most of the people waited for hours and hours in the heat. A friendly face and a cup of water was a welcome sight.
Denise worked inside of the Hall des Arts compound, at the beginning of the screening line, to escort those selected for further screening into the Hall des Arts to the appropriate station or to escort those we couldn’t help to take them to the prayer team or out of the compound to return to their home. A video of the screening day can be seen here (Click this link). We can't view the video from the ship...but we think you may see Denise in a bright yellow shirt and green and white long skirt near the end escorting a patient (if this is the right video).
This is a view of the pre-screening under the tent. The people come through pre-screening after standing in the lines for hours. This is the first place they meet with some medical personnel that will give them entry into the Hall des Arts to meet with a Doctor or they find out that theirs is a condition that we cannot help them with. The patient escorts met them here and walked with them into the stadium to wait for the next step (patient history) or if we couldn't help, a walk to the prayer station (shown in the picture below) or to the gate if they didn't want prayer. It was difficult to take many people to the prayer station or to the gate! It was a blessing to be able to take them into the Hall for further screening!
We spoke with Dr. James, one of the Orthopedic Surgeons and Mercy Ships Orthopedic Coordinator, about all the bowed legs we saw in children and in adults as well. He said it was not due to the moms carrying the babies on the back and they couldn't determine a vitamin deficiency for the cause either. He said this condition seems to be more common here in Benin than in other African Countries. There hasn't been a study on this condition, so they just don't yet know what causes the condition.
While standing outside the Hall des Arts along the line of people, the hardest point for Rob was when a young girl and her mother came to the line for screening and the young girl was unable to stand with her back straightened up. As she stood, unable to straighten up, she was bent over at the waist, and her legs were also bent partially. If she could have straightened all of the way she may well have been 4 ½ to 5 foot tall.
In her condition her head was only about three feet high in a constantly looking down position. Both she and her mother were in the same color dress, appearing to be new. As the line moved the mother stayed in line to maintain their place for screening and the daughter sat down leaning against the wall. Slowly the lined moved forward and the young girl was left by herself leaning against the wall. It was not possible for her to walk forward to the position of her mother in line, but it seemed so unkind that she was being left behind.
Unsure of the cultural acceptance of my thoughts to assist her, I hesitated. Finally as she was about 50 yards behind the line, I had to act. Going forward in the line I found the mother…fortunately they were wearing the same color outfit. I returned to the daughter as she sat leaning against the wall, unable to speak to her in French, gesturing to pick her up.
I’m very thankful God has made me a strong man. She accepted my offer, so I carried her forward to be with her mother. I wasn’t thinking of the impact this would have on the people standing in line…I just didn’t want this young girl to be left behind. As I gently put her down next to her mother, she smiled saying “merci beaucoup” (thank you very much).
As I returned to my spot at the end of the line, the people still standing in line smiled at me, some giving me the thumbs up sign. I thought the attitude of those standing in line became a little gentler, more considerate of each other.
As the morning progressed the line eventually shortened until the end of the line was inside of the compound of the Hall des Arts. So I now had a new job, I got to go inside of the Hall des Arts and escort patients who had finished screening and received an appointment card to the front gate. As I was returning from one of these trips, the young girl I mentioned earlier was trying to make her way out of the Hall des Arts after screening. She and her mother looked a little overwhelmed at the task. Again I gestured towards her and she allowed me to pick her up. As I carried her, the tears ran freely down my face. Whether we are able to treat her or not I’m unsure. I pray we are and I’ll look for her and her mother.
Dr. Glenn set up a pre-screening for the eyes. Normally, our eye surgery screening is done at the eye clinics offered 4 days a week - every week throughout the field service. There were 660 people at screening for eye issues. So, Dr. Glenn pre-screened and referred 600 people to the eye clinics as they waited in the line, before they reached the pre-screening tent. Dr. Glenn is one of the Eye Surgeons and Mercy Ships Senior Vice President Health Care Initiatives. He has developed a technique that is great for the larger and harder cataracts seen here in Africa.
This little girl is patiently waiting on her mama's back. Mama has hopes for her little girl to have a life changing surgery and spends the day waiting through the line, testings,etc. prior to receiving the long awaited appointment card.
We see the physical deformities here and feel great compassion. We wonder at times how our spiritual deformities must grieve our Lord and how He has compassion for us.
As we are adjusting to Benin after being in Liberia the biggest difference here seems to be the spiritual warfare we are experiencing. So we ask that you would put on the full armor of God and pray with us and for us for protection and the strength to accomplish the task God has set before us.
Denise and I have been reading several books lately one we just finished is called Beyond Surrender by Barbara J. Singerman which speaks of her experiences along with those of her family ministering in
One story she shares, especially highlights the benefit of prayer; to the point that their very lives were spared because of faithful prayer for them.
Admittedly, we don’t live in the villages; we are very safe and secure onboard the ship.
However, Denise will be going out once a week to Calavi to help teach computer software to a couple men with a foundation that teaches children about computers. (More about this in the next newsletter)
We are reminded of Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
As you pray, please do remember Ephesians 6:10 Finally be strong in the Lord and His mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Just in case your wondering about our spiritual armor - Ephesians 6:14 to 18b Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and request.
One prayer request we just heard of today is for one of our Mercy Ships doctors. His name is Dr. James McDaniel (mentioned above) and he had a heart attack last night. He was here with us on the ship a few weeks ago, but is back in Texas now. He is the Orthopedic Coordinator and one of our Orthopedic Surgeons. He is having a triple by-pass on Monday in Texas. Please keep him in your prayers. He is a good friend of ours and his wife’s name is Nikki, she is a prayer warrior! This picture was taken of Dr. James at the screening in February.
In addition, please pray for the health of the crew. We have had many crew come down with a flu that lasts for about 2 weeks! We have been blessed (thanks to your prayers!) and have not been sick.
We value each of you and appreciate the prayers you offer on our behalf! We will continue to pray for you. We would consider it a privilege to pray for any specific prayer needs you would like to share with us. Please call, email or write ... we love to hear from you!
May your Easter be blessed as you celebrate what God has done for us through His Son, Jesus!
Rob and Denise
currently serving in Cotonou, Benin (West Africa)