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Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hello! We're back!

We haven't posted in several years and are now coming back to this blog to share our thoughts and experiences with those of you who choose to read this blog.  We enjoyed our time and experiences with Mercy Ships from 2002 - 2011.  What a privilege to serve God with Mercy Ships.

Currently, we are caregiving for Denise's dad, serving our church and our community here in the Washington DC area for God's glory.  We, also, still share about what's going on with Mercy Ships by speaking when we can to various organizations and any opportunity given.  

We were challenged by a class we are taking on sharing your faith through social media to start a blog.  Since we already have a blog, we decided to continue sharing our experiences and faith stories as an online journal.  We will keep our blog content from our time with Mercy Ships as we still refer back to it from time to time for encouragement.  We will just start again now with sharing what is happening in our lives by serving God through caregiving, relationships, and serving Him in our community.

We hope to share prayer points, experiences and other content that will be encouraging to our faith and yours. Please join us in this journey of faith by commenting and sharing with us your stories, too!

We are looking forward to see what God is doing and how we can bring Him the glory!

God's abundant blessings,
Denise and Rob

Sunday, September 18, 2011

R & R – Happy to be Back in Sierra Leone and…..some News…..

Mercy Watch           September 2011
R & R - Happy to be Back in Sierra Leone and some News .....

Hello Family and Friends,

The Africa Mercy and Freetown

As we ended our last Newsletter, we let you know we were going to take a vacation during June and July. We returned to Freetown, Sierra Leone on the 21st of July. We really enjoyed our time and are thankful for being able to reconnect with many of you. The picture above is of the Africa Mercy docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  We took this picture from the ferry coming from the airport.

We thought when we began rescheduling our vacation time from the Christmas season to the summertime it was to allow more time for family and friends over the summer vacation period allowing for more opportunities for short breaks together. This change took us about two years to make with the Field Service schedule and our responsibilities. All along we felt this was a good change to make. We purchased our tickets several months ahead, after processing our vacation request with our respective departments.

Jason and Kendall

As our vacation time grew near and all of the details began coming together we received a surprise from our oldest son. About two weeks out from our travel date, we received a phone call from him advising us that he was to be scheduled for back surgery soon after our planned arrival in the USA. We were surprised to receive this news and humbled when we realized God all along had directed our plans so we could be home when our son had surgery. We later became aware that he had been going through, physical therapy, core strengthening exercises, chiropractor appointments, pain therapy for about eighteen months. Even when we think we are doing all of the planning, if we are following God’s will for us He will direct our paths.  Jason had back surgery and is now doing well.  (The picture above was about 1 week after Jason's surgery - on July 4th) 

Jeff, our son, the guide and driver

Jeff has a job in St. Augustine driving the Old Town Trolly.  The picture above is of Jeff driving, Kendall and Rob enjoying the tour!

Six weeks seems like a long time to vacation…but when you factor in travel time from Africa to the United States along with family and friends located hundreds of miles apart across several different states; it becomes a challenge to see everyone. We didn’t get to see all of you and yes, we spent the majority of our time in St. Augustine, Florida with our two sons and their families offering what little support we could during and after Jason’s surgery. We are blessed to have family and friends that desire to visit with us and spend time with us.

Rob at the Helm

We also were able to take a short break in the Netherlands with our friends Jan and Elizabeth and their darling daughter, Bella. Rob went into work with Jan, who is a Captain of the inland waterways. Jan was working on a refueling ship and now he is at school in England taking courses to become a Chief Officer on unlimited ships, such as the Africa Mercy! The picture above is of Rob at the helm in Rotterdam harbor!  And the picture below is of Jan, Elizabeth and Bella on the train to Amsterdam!  We had a grand time and enjoyed the Netherlands very much! Such a beautiful country!


Since our return we’ve made Saturday our day to join together in one of the Mercy Ministry opportunities available. We are personally involved with the Fatima Children’s Home, Ladies Prison and Yams Farm Wharf. Denise coordinates the Mercy Ministries program, and has Team Leaders for each site. We enjoy going together on Saturday to these different sites as volunteers. We sing songs and tell a bible story and include a skit or activity to reinforce the story we’ve just shared. During a recent Saturday, we went to the Fatima Children’s home and shared the Creation story from Genesis. Afterwards we used Play-Dough to reinforce the story and the point that God gave us dominion over the earth and the ability to create. So we made all sorts of animals and some cookware out of the dough.


Yesterday, we traveled to Yam’s Farm Wharf, a fishing village about 40 minutes drive from the ship. This is a nice drive through the countryside after you leave the municipality of Freetown and all the traffic. The picture above is of the bridge out of Freetown.  We have fun with the community, parents and children. We all join in and just have a great time singing in the church and then going out to the football field to play games, of Frisbee, soccer, catch with beach balls, jump rope and bean bag throwing. It is such a joy to spend time with the children and people from the village.


This is a picture of Rob playing a running game with the children of Yam's Farm Wharf.  You can watch the video by going to:

We have some exciting news to share with you… we believe that God has revealed our next season of service to us. After nine years with Mercy Ships, we will be going to Rockville, Maryland (near Washington DC, our nation’s capital) to help Denise’s Dad. Dad has asked us to come and stay with him, so we will be making that move at the end of November. We have always prayed that God would reveal our next season clearly to us, just as He did when He directed us to join Mercy Ships. We thank the Lord that these next steps are just as clear to us as they were in 2002!  

What does this mean for you our prayer warriors and financial supporters? Loads of prayer as we make all the decisions during this transition! For financial support, Mercy Ships has just given us a new way to manage donations! Please follow this link to make tax-free donations to us.   We will continue to receive donations until December 2011. Please consider continuing to support Mercy Ships or a Mercy Ships crew member. You may contact us to recommend a crew member that needs support or to learn how to continue to give to Mercy Ships. We intend to continue to be active with Mercy Ships while in the DC area and help in any way we can.

We continue to enjoy our time here serving in Sierra Leone and look forward to what the Lord continues to do here! We would like to close our newsletter with a story about a young man who came to Mercy Ships for physical healing of his twisted legs. Fanie was always a joy to see and he returned home up country to his mountain village in August! The following story and pictures are provided by our marketing department.

Fanie Kamara
Fanie’s contagious smile mesmerizes those around him. At age twelve, his charisma captivates everyone he meets. He relies heavily on this powerful attribute to distract people from reacting to the extreme curvature in his deformed shins.


Fanie’s mother remembers her despair when her son was born. Everyone mocked her crippled baby, but she was determined to give this child – the youngest of her nine children – all her love. After suffering the loss of two children, she was determined that this baby deserved the best life she could provide.


By the time Fanie was twelve years old, he had rarely stood up. When he occasionally tried to take some steps, his bent legs stumbled hopelessly, leaving him clinging to his shepherd’s staff.

Teasing rained down on him, and he fervently wished he had a father to defend him. But he never knew his father, who died in the country’s civil war before his youngest child was born.

Despite these sad realities, Fanie had an amazing ability to turn difficulties into entertainment. He was popular at school because there was always laughter ringing in the air around him. He had earned the reputation of being the class comedian.

Life at home was very different. Although he sometimes played cards with his brother, he spent much time alone. His future in a farming town was questionable. “They have no work if not walking,” his elder brother, Lamin, succinctly explained.

However, his mother’s positive attitude kept hope alive for Fanie. “Jesus has helped me. For this reason I believe in God. People laughed at us, but Jesus has freed me, so I have a strong faith and love God. I believe God will heal Fanie,” she declared.

Then, suddenly Fanie’s life changed. Lamin heard that Mercy Ships was arriving. And when Fanie was accepted for surgery, his mother was not afraid. She recalls,” I was happy and praising God.”

2011 Ortho Fannie SierraLeone

From the first moment after his arrival on the hospital ship, Fanie was talking and cracking jokes with the Mercy Ships crew.

He was not afraid because he prayed every day.  

Fanie underwent complex surgeries only a few days apart.

The surgeons broke and sculptured his shin bones to straighten them.

Then pins were inserted into his knees to keep his legs straight until he was fully grown.

When he awoke after surgery, his legs were covered in long heavy casts up to his thighs.  

He responded in a way only Fanie could.

With his broad, radiant, smile he proceeded to play games, prompting giggles and laughs from the other patients.

After a month of wearing long casts, he was moved to the HOPE Center, where patients stay while completing their post-operative treatment. 

2011 Ortho Fannie SierraLeone

Here, his favorite past-times were making houses out of Lego blocks and playing memory card games. He worked hard at the physiotherapy exercises, circling his foot to draw the alphabet in the air. After a month of wearing long casts, he was moved to the HOPE Center, where patients stay while completing their post-operative treatment.   Now, he enjoyed the freedom of mobility by using crutches. He expressed his delight in his flamboyant African dancing during gospel singing in the garden. 

2011 Ortho Fannie SierraLeone

Within a few more weeks, it was time for an x-ray analysis. Fanie’s right shin had changed from a deep curvature to a ruler-straight bone. The pinned-together bones in his left leg were healing well but still needed a cast to maintain the position.

2011 Ortho Fannie SierraLeone

On one of his weekly trips to physiotherapy, team members checked his foot’s ability to move.

Then flat disk weights were provided so Fanie could stand up straight on his right foot.

He was curious about the purposes of the exercises, and he was delighted when he discovered that Mercy Ships was preparing to make a raised sole on donated shoes so he would finally be able to walk.

His excited mother laughed joyfully and hugged the physiotherapy team.

“I have a deep feeling in my heart. I’m so happy. I look forward to going home to do some farming to pay for Fanie’s school fees,” she said with a smile.

Finally, after four months with Mercy Ships, Fanie stood on the dock amid a crowd of well-wishers who sent him off with waves and cheers for his bright new life.

He returned home to his charming, sleepy, mountain town. The thrill of anticipation to see Fanie’s new legs had rippled through the community. Upon arrival, the streets were filled with joyous laughter.

2011 Ortho Fannie SierraLeone

Fanie soon settled into a happy new life.

Lamin revealed, “He is very different now. Before, he was unhappy because his mother had to carry him everywhere, even to school. Now he is very active and walking. Fanie has a good future.”

And Fanie smiled and proudly announced, “I walk round the town every day to visit my friends. Now I can walk to school and finish my education to be a doctor.”

Story by Claire Ross
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell, Liz Cantu and Tom Bradley

Thank you for your continued prayers, letters, emails and support. We are humbled by your faithfulness.  Thank you for being a part of the hope and healing here in Sierra Leone!

God's blessings,
Rob and Denise
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Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mosquito Nets

Malaria is something we don't often think about in the developed world, however, here in West Africa (we're in Sierra Leone this year) malaria is as frequent as a common cold. You don't ask someone feeling bad if they have a cold, you ask do they have malaria! I'm looking forward to giving mosquito nets to some of the partner organizations that we serve alongside! It's rainy season here and the need is great as the mosquitoes spread malaria to our day workers (local volunteers with Mercy Ships), their family members, and even to our crew.

One of our partners is Missionaries of Charity (Mother Teresa's order) and they hold a medical clinic twice a week. Many children under 5 and their caregivers (usually their mother) are admitted to the mission for malaria. The sisters ensure the medicine is given properly and IVs are used, if necessary. Sister Josianne is a trained nurse and she holds the clinic. A local doctor comes to the mission once a week (more if needed) to check on the patients. They care mainly for malaria, TB and HIV patients. We visit the patients there on Wednesday mornings and sing, play games, do simple crafts and sit to talk with them.

Recently, an article was written about a donation from a church in England given to Mercy Ships for delivering mosquito nets to the people we serve here in Freetown, Sierra Leone:

In West Africa, over 3,000 children die of malaria every day; 1 out of every 5 childhood deaths is due to malaria.2 Malaria kills a child every 30 seconds in West Africa. 2 The disease can cause anemia and jaundice and, if not promptly treated, can cause coma, kidney failure, or death.

To make matters worse, the West African rainy season that begins in June will cause flooding that will aggravate the problem, since standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes that carry the disease according to Robert Agyarko, UN Childrens Fund Specialist on Malaria for West Africa. In Freetown, Sierra Leone, it is estimated that between 60% and 70% of mosquitoes are malaria carriers.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that malaria can be controlled, and even prevented, using anti-malarial drugs, insect repellent, or mosquito nets in sleeping areas. UN Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, reports, Mosquito nets are still the most effective tool for preventing malaria in West Africa.

Mosquito nets are infused with Permethrin, a long-lasting insecticide that acts as a barrier to prevent mosquitoes from penetrating the nets. It drives away the mosquitoes and kills the ones that land. Unfortunately, only 40% of households in Sierra Leone have an insecticide-treated mosquito net (ITN). 2

Deck Hand Steve Sesay receives the shipment of mosquito nets onboard the Africa Mercy in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

St. Marys Church in Olveston, Bristol, United Kingdom, is taking a stand against this deadly killer. They have donated 5,000 to Mercy Ships for the distribution of mosquito nets at the HOPE Center in Freetown. This land-based facility houses patients who are awaiting surgery and those recovering from surgery onboard the hospital ship, the Africa Mercy.

Day-workers Patricia Kamara and Fatmata Parker install mosquito nets at the HOPE Center.

When the patients are discharged from the HOPE Center, they will each be given a mosquito net and told how to use it properly.

They will also receive additional information on how to prevent malaria. This promising strategy will make a difference in fighting this deadly disease.

1 WHO 2003 Africa Malaria Report
2 WHO 2010 Africa Malaria Report

Patients are enthusiastic about showing off the new mosquito nets at the HOPE Center.

Story by Elaine B. Winn
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell

Monday, April 25, 2011

Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed!

Happy Easter to all our Family and Friends!

Denise and Rob - Easter Morning 2011
We have had a wonderful Easter and Holy Week on the Africa Mercy.  We’d love to share our Easter with you… Click here to see some pictures and videos----Easter 2011 on the Africa Mercy   if you click on “show info” you will see the descriptions as you look through these.

We have certainly hit the road running since our arrival here in Sierra  Leone. We are sorry that we haven’t been in touch for a while.  When we looked at the last update we realized it was just before our first screening.  It was extremely difficult here on the ship after that day for a while.  The screening went terribly wrong and we were only able to be at the stadium for a few hours.  There was a huge crowd of people estimated between 10,000 and 15,000.  About mid-morning after a few hours of screening, there was a huge push of people at the gate and the gate broke down, and one man died and several were injured. 

This picture below was taken at the Hope Center of some of our patients before and after surgery.  The Hope Center is a place just outside of the port gate where patients and their Caregivers can stay when they come from outside of Freetown before the surgery or afterwards if the patient needs physical therapy or wound care ongoing.

Some of the Patients before and after surgery at the Hope Center.

Our hearts were broken as we had to leave quickly from the stadium after trying to get the crowd under control without success. It was one of the hardest things to do….to leave without being able to help those that so needed our help.   We were asked not to communicate about it and then focused on how to hold another screening that wouldn’t put our potential patients or us in harm’s way.

Fortunately, we had several previous screenings up country so we had plenty of patients for a while.   Our communications team made the video below to help  explain about the need in Sierra Leone.  The pictures and video come from our 2nd general surgical screening on March 26th. 

We had a successful second screening day on March 26th. Rob and several other guys went about 2 pm the day before to manage the line and see that those we couldn’t help would not be waiting in line for a long time.  They had pictures of the types of conditions that we can help with.  Rob and the guys stayed there at the site all night walking the line to ensure peace and give confidence to the people that they would be safe.  The second screening went very well and we were able to schedule most of our surgeries. We may do another screening in August….we’ll have to see if its needed. 

Our time here has been good, but we certainly keep busy. Denise is loving her new role as Mercy Ministries Coordinator. It keeps her busy six days a week visiting with the different partnering sites. We visit the prisons, an old peoples home, a home and school for handicapped children, the Blind school, the Missionaries of Charity, Don Bosco’s for the street boys and other sites.

Mercy Ministries visits the Hope Center

The picture above is of one of the Mercy Ministries visit to the Hope Center during a singing time.  We go there twice a week and have a great time with the patients.  Denise was commenting the other evening at dinner that while visiting the Hope Center she was amazed at a young boy (in the picture below) who had cast on both of his legs due to club feet.   This didn't slow him down though, he was crawling all over the center. He'd managed to almost wear through at the knees where the cast had become soft from all of his crawling.

This little guy with casts on both legs, due to club feet, is quite a character!

This little boy…I call the “hello” boy!  He comes over to the ship to have his casts removed and put back on or physical therapy and my (office) is across the hall from the Physical Therapy and cast removal area – Ward E.  We can always tell when he’s waiting in the passageway….as we can hear his little voice parroting “hello!”
In this picture below he is on the move at the Hope Center!

The Hope Center

We are ever encouraged when we see the renewed hope and joy in the patients when they're awaiting their surgery and when they are recovering from the surgeries. The surgeons can repair their physical conditions, but only Jesus can repair their hearts. Many have been outcast and marginalized for so long from their families and communities it is very hard for them to feel accepted and included.

A visit to the Hope Centre.
They soon learn they are valuable as a part of this community onboard by our acceptance of them and the love we share with them. As they heal from their physical conditions as wonderful as this is...many times the greatest healing is inward as their hearts are softened.  God will take our hearts of stone and give us a new heart, a heart of flesh. One softened by His love. And as we've received His love and forgiveness likewise we can share this same love with others.

We are excited to share this news with you … We just got our tickets back to the United States for about six weeks during June and July and look forward to seeing many of you.  We hope to be able to share with as many of you as possible. 

We’d love to have an “open house” in different locations to be able to share and interact with small groups.  If you are willing to host us for an “open house”, please let us know and we will put it on our schedule.  Also, if you’d like to meet with us individually, please let us know and we will try to schedule that as well.  We’d love to see as many of you as possible. Please contact us if you’d like to have us speak at your church or to a group and we’ll also get that on our schedule!  We will be leasing a vehicle so this increases our ability to visit at many more places!   

We plan to arrive on June 7th at Dulles and fly out of Dulles on July 15th. We have a tentative plan to be in the areas below during our time back in the US:

Delaware and DC area – June 7th through June 12th
Virginia – North Carolina – Georgia - June 13th through June 17th 
Florida – June 18th – July 10th
Back up to DC area – July 11th – July 15th
Visiting our friends Jan and Elizabeth in the Netherlands – July16th and back to the ship on July 21st!

Awaiting surgery at the Hope Center.
We’re not going to be able to make it to Tennessee and Texas on this trip.  We are so sorry for that!  We look forward to hearing from those of you in the areas we will be in and how we can meet up!!

Thank you for your continued prayers, letters, emails and support. We are humbled by your faithfulness.  Thank you for being a part of the hope and healing here in Sierra Leone!

God's blessings,
Rob and Denise

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Up date on Screening, yesterday...

So sad to think of the people we came to help that we weren't able to screen today! Please pray that God will make a way for them Please pray today for our Leadership as they look for a way forward to see those we couldn't yesterday. We were able to do several hours of screening.  We do have plenty of patients to begin the surgeries with, so it won't affect the surgery schedule as far as I know. We had a good debriefing meeting last night. Lots of questions...working on the answers. Seeking God to see His way! Our hearts are broken for the people of Sierra Leone. Thank you all for your prayers! Link to the article about the Screening Tragedy ---> Here.

View of the ship from outside the Port

Originally uploaded by keith.brinkman.
Our ship is surrounded by containers and just down the road from the Hope Center (where our Dental Clinic and Hospitality Center are). This is the view from outside the Port.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Please Pray for Screening Today!

Screening Day - Togo 2010
We arrived in Sierra Leone a week ago, today!  It's been an incredible week!!  And tomorrow is our surgical screening at the Sierra Leone National Stadium!  Tomorrow is the day that we will screen hundreds, perhaps thousands of potential patients.  People that are usually hidden away or outcast from their communities.  We will look in their eyes to see them as Jesus does.  There are probably people there waiting already at the stadium as I write this... local people have told me this week that people have already come from the outside of Freetown in hopes that they will receive a surgery that will release them from their bondage!  Please pray for us as we listen to the Holy Spirit intensely tomorrow, so that each person who comes will receive what God has them there for!  It may be prayer, it may be a touch, it may be a hug, it may be someone who will listen, it may be a word spoken, it may be love shown.  We don't know, but God does and we will be His hands and feet!  Thank you so much!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Where are we?

Location 19 Feb
Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
We are headed to Sierra Leone and currently we are in the Atlantic Ocean well off the coast of Angola! I'm thinking that we will soon be as far into the Ocean as this ship has ever sailed! We are having a wonderful smooth sail and most of the crew are really enjoying it! Last night they played sock golf and Friday night was Karaoke in the cafe! Thanks for all your prayers!