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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Greetings from Rob and Denise as we sail to South Africa!

Mercy Watch


The crew of the Africa Mercy - 29July2010.  After the fire drill, the communications department had planned for all the crew to have a group picture taken!  This took a lot of planning as they needed to figure out how we could all be seen...the crew is about 400 people!  So they decided to use the Land Rovers.  So crew climbed up on the Land Rovers sat on the hoods and stood on the running boards.  Rob and I stood in front of the Land Rovers.  See if you can find us....hint:  Denise has on Orange and Rob has on Green. We were told to where our branded shirts!  It was great fun and only took about 15 minutes to get the picture!  

This has been a really busy month for us. We’ve had several adventures to tell you about. You might want to get a cup of coffee, tea or some other comfort drink to settle in. This may be a longer than usual Newsletter, so be forewarned.

A Trip to the Village of Gape Aloyi
During July, we had the pleasure to accompany Tim and Sharon Tretheway to the remote village of Gape-Aloyi, north and east of Lome, Togo - about a 2-3 hour drive from the ship.

Tim and Sharon became involved with this village through a friendship with the French Navy Attache in Lome, Togo. On this particular trip Tim and Sharon were taking donated medical supplies from the Africa Mercy to the village of Gape-Aloyi.
The story of a previous visit to the village can be read here.  We were not along for the first trip.  We were privileged to join on the second trip and drove a Land Rover full of medical supplies for the village.

The trip to the village took about three hours by vehicle from the ship. The first hour going along on the highway and paved roads. The second part of this trip began when we turned off of these developed roads onto the dirt roads through the bush for a couple more hours through the lush West African countryside.  The washboard roads and assorted water filled portions of the road made the ride slow. We were in the last vehicle in the four vehicle convoy and occasionally took the opportunity to stop for pictures. 

We were amazed by the size of some of the trees. These trees must have been there for centuries!  In this picture you can see the size of the trees compared to the SUV going by it! 

Upon arrival at the village of Gape Aloyi we were all greeted by the Chief with warm hand shakes and smiles. Getting directly down to business we were escorted to the community meeting place. Relationships are very important and time is given to introduce everyone for the guests to be properly welcomed by the Chief and other elders in the village. Many of the villagers only spoke and understood the local language, so translation was from English to French to the local language or the other way around depending on who was speaking!

The business at hand was to sign an agreement of understanding between the village, a building contractor and a French Foundation (represented by Tim's friend, Eric) for the building of a new school.

This process had been ongoing for two years with incremental steps along the way. With involvement and actions required from all parties. The village provided the land and the labor to clear the land for the new school site. Additionally the village had taken the step to hire a school teacher themselves to begin the process of teaching their children with the curriculum from the Togo school system.  The school where the children currently attended school was nearby to where the new school would be built. 

The first year there were eleven students eligible to take exams and eight passed the final exam. This second year there were again eleven students eligible to take exams and only four passed their exams the second year. This was an area of discussion and concern at the meeting.

The difficulty experienced is that the classes are taught in French which many of the villagers do not speak. Therefore, many of the parents can not help their children with their lessons. Secondly, there is the need for the children to work in the fields and continue many of the traditional responsibilities expected of them, other than doing school work.

The picture to the left is of one of the current school "rooms" and a student moving a desk that the French Navy had built for them previously.  There was much talk about how having a new school building wasn’t going to make the students learn any better. The parents needed to make sure the children attended classes and studied hard.  The village support of having a permanent school structure showed the commitment of the Chief and elders of the village for their children to be educated and equipped.

The Tretheway version of this trip can be read here.  After the contract was signed and everyone had discussed their concerns, we walked through the village to the area where the school is now.   The children of the village were very attentive as awards were given to the top 3 children academically in each class.  They were awarded a book or coloring book, some paper and pencils or crayons.  Eric and his wife had brought the awards and gave them to the students.  They also commended the teachers for their faithfulness in teaching the students for the past school year. 

As we watched the ceremony, the children watched us, too!  I snapped this picture of a little boy looking at Capt. Tim very intensely and Eric keeping an eye on him! 

There are over 200 children in the school and they were all dressed in their best clothes for the ceremony.  After the ceremony, we played with the children.  They loved interacting with us and we enjoyed playing with them, too! In the picture below, one of the little girls wanted to give me this plant and then all the others thought that was a great idea too!  Please click here to see a video of Rob playing with the children.

After the award ceremony and a time to play with the children, we were treated to lunch with the Chief and the elders of the community.  The Chief of the village has 4 wives and they fixed the meal of Fufu and Goat Soup. It was very good. 

The brother of the Chief also brought from his distillery, some Sodabe.  Sodabe (I'm not sure if this is spelled right, but pronounced soda - be) is a Palm wine.  Rob tasted it and it smelled like gasoline.  It is in the small blue glass in the picture.  It is a clear liquid and quite a common type of liquor in West Africa. When we left the village, the brother of the Chief gave each of us a bottle of Sodabe.  We all gave them to Eric as he was able to keep them and we couldn't bring them on the ship! 

After a filling lunch, we drove the Land Rover over to the clinic to unload the supplies that we brought. 

The men of the village unloaded all the medical supplies as the women celebrated and danced with joy!  After unloading the supplies, we had a tour of the medical clinic.  In the front of the building was a small waiting room and then another room was a ward with 6 beds for the patients.  There was a room that was a pharmacy and a small office or lab room for the nurse. 

There was one room of particular interest to us.  The delivery room for the women to give birth in.  The French Navy had just finished tiling the bare concrete and it was shiny and very clean!  

In this picture, you can see the platform (table?) that the women give birth on. 

We asked the nurse what would happen if the family could not afford the 1500 CFAs (about three US dollars) to come to the clinic to give birth. He said that he would still help her.  He was most excited that we had brought a baby scale for the clinic!

We had to say "Goodbye" to our new friends and head back to the city of Lome and to the ship!
It was an incredible day and one that we will never forget!

A visit to
the Logos Hope
in Ghana
Our next adventure was the opportunity to travel to Tema, Ghana to visit the crew of the Logos Hope, with Operation Mobilization. This was a very interesting and fun time. It was an opportunity to view how God is using the Logos Hope and its crew to impact the people of Africa and so many other countries through their ministry. Our Senior Management Team was invited to visit and see their ship and how their ministry was run.  We learned how our ships are very similar and our challenges are very similar even though our missions are very different and our styles of management are different. 

They "bring Knowledge, Help and Hope" through their floating bookstore and their crew brings evangelism to the communities they visit. They are typically in a port for 2-3 weeks and have thousands of people come through their ship each day!  The crew also goes out into the community and do projects once a week.

We traveled throught the city of Lome to the border of Ghana and then on to Tema. 
This is normally a 3 hour trip, however, there was an accident that blocked the road soon after we got through the border and we had to take a detour through cactus and heavy traffic!

It took us about 5 hours to get to the Logos Hope and the last part in the darkness.

We had a lovely dinner with their management team when we got to the ship and then toured the ship.  The next morning, Peter, our Chief Steward brought the devotion at their daily devotion meeting.  Peter presented their Director with a print of the mural representing our ministry that hangs in our International Operations Center. 

After the meeting, we continued our tour and learned much about how the crew lives on board. We learned that they have a 2 year program that most of the crew goes through and as they go through they rotate through the various departments.  Their crew is much younger than ours, more college age to 30.  Our crew is mainly mid twenties and over! 
Interestingly, the laundry is done for all the crew, rather than each doing their own loads as we do.  This causes it's own issues.  We have a lost sock line...they have procedures on what to do if your clothes are missing! 

The exchange of ideas between our two management teams was enlightening as we face many of the same challenges. It is encouraging to see God at work in both our ministries in many different and wonderful ways.

We particularly enjoyed browsing through the bookstore and purchasing many books at a great discount on a variety of subjects.

Denise had to make a couple extra trips to the book store, some for pleasure, and some for work. We were reminded of the many blessings we have as crew of the Africa Mercy and the length that our leaders have gone to provide us a comfortable, functional and safe environment in which to work and live.

Here are a few pictures of the record crowd of almost  8,000 people that visited the Logos Hope bookstore on the Saturday that we visited! 

Thank You Event for our Day Volunteers from Togo

Recently, we had to say goodbye to the many Day Volunteers that we‘ve worked side by side with during the Togo 2010 Field Service. This is always bitter-sweet for us.

We praise God for the opportunities we as a crew have had to impact so many lives. We thank God personally for the new friendships we’ve forged with the people of Togo.  Without the dedication of our Togolese Day Volunteers, we couldn't do all that God has in His mind for us to do.  They translated for us to help us communicate with our patients, helped cook with us, helped clean with us, helped us learn French, and helped us in Deck and Engineering!  We had over 200 Day Volunteers working alongside us in Togo!  Thank you soooo much!  Merci Beaucoup!
A visit from our friend, James, from Benin!

We were blessed greatly by our good friend James, who we met and served with in Cotonou, Benin last year. He blessed us by visiting twice from Cotonou…most recently on the last day that visitors could come Tuesday, August 8th.  We are blessed to be his friend and wish him every success in his studies at the University.  It was so good to see him again! 

The Africa Mercy continues on a southeasterly course of 8 kts.
Distance traveled: 1145 nautical miles
Distance to go: 2259 nautical miles
The weather is nice at the moment, about 20 C.
The AFM is rolling slight to moderate.
Based on weather forecasts, Captain Tretheway expects rougher conditions in the next few days. 

We are now sailing off the coast of Angola and bound for South Africa and whatever adventures await us there. Thank you for your continued prayers for our health and safety. They have been answered!  Thank you for your continued support, through your prayers, your encouragment, emails, letters, and phone calls. News from home and your efforts to keep us up to date on events is most welcome and blesses us tremendously!

May your life be truly blessed as you seek to be a Follower of Jesus!

God's blessings,
Rob and Denise

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Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Crew of the M/V Africa Mercy

Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
The communications team had a plan and the transportation crew set the Land Rovers out in a line across the dock, so that our crew of about 400 could all be seen in the picture. After the fire drill, the emergency teams came to the dock to join all the crew who had mustered on the dock. All of the crew was not here as some were working in the wards with the patients or off the ship at the hospitality center or in various roles that needed to continue. Most of the crew gathered and in just about 15 minutes we had taken the picture!