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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