(According to a few of them).
Continued in part II.
February, March 2017
‘If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.’
–1 Corinthians 13:1-3
I asked a few of the patients and their family members what their favourite part of being aboard Mercy Ships was.
To my surprise, fascination, and great delight, the answers of all the people I asked were themed around the same thing.
Auriette, the grandmother of one of our orthopaedic patients, worded it in a way that made my heart squeal,
‘They cure us with love.’
Photo by Deb Louden.
Of course they appreciated the big, obvious forms of love – the free surgeries, healthcare, food, accommodation, etc. … But we humans are soo much more than just flesh and bone. We need love, as our bodies need air.
As physical therapist Dean Hufstedler says, ‘We’re not going to just put a band aid on the physical and send you back. You’re a whole person and we’re going to address you as a whole person. We start that healing process and validate them and I think that validation is more important than the physical healing.’
Our patients’ (the ones that I asked) favourite memories
were always to do with how the
Mercy Ship volunteers took care of them with genuine love.
This was one of my most favourite things too ❤
Photo by Katie Keegan.
I met genuine, unconditional Love and Compassion on that ship. She/he* was ALIVE, and she was STUNNING. Hooow I loved to watch, and simply marvel, as beauty danced sweetly in front of me. She wore many faces. Please, let me share some with you.
(*I don’t want to endorse any gender stereotypes haha – any gender can symbolize love of course, but I’m gonna arbitrarily run with ‘she’ for the sake of not writing ‘he/she’ because that slash makes it looks messy :))
Love looks like a frikkin’ badass …
Some of our patients have deep issues. Loneliness, low self-worth, experiences as an outcast, grief, hopelessness, the list of how the heart can hurt is endless. Some have never shared their pain with anyone else before. Day after day, our tenacious hospital chaplaincy team poured of themselves, unconditionally, into these broken hearts. It can be hard, especially when situations seem hopeless, or patients are difficult, but compassion and the love of God spurred them on. Love has the courage and strength to walk into the darkest places to be with the patients. If that’s not badass, I don’t know what is.
Love looks like double-volunteering …
Our volunteers pay to do their work, work really hard, and then on their time off, some people volunteer yet again! #Double-volunteers. Mercy Ministries is a project run in partnership with Maison de Retraite (old people’s home), the H.O.P.E. Centre (recovering patients), Hopital Be’s pediatric ward, Semato School for the Deaf, White Orchid School for the Handicapped, Ankarefo Children’s Bush Home (orphanage), the prison (both men and women) and our dental and eye teams.
Co-ordinator Mike Silverstein shares, ‘I think I have the best job on the ship … To me, the best part is when I’m there, at the site. I let the people out of the truck, and then I just watch. I get the privilege of watching other people in action showing God’s love … For example, we visit this guy … Physically he’s 25, but mentally maybe like 5 … There is no stimulation … Seeing how he lights up, smiles and laughs when you come and sit next to him and pay attention to him – it’s beautiful. He just comes alive because someone comes to spend an hour with him. He’s usually lonely – nobody comes to see, him, play with him, spend time with him … and he’s not the only one. How can we have faith without deeds? We just want to love them.’ This field service, our team made 139 site visits, serving over 2700 people.
Love is contagious …
As our orthopaedic patient Nestore said, ‘Seeing how these doctors take care of their patients makes me want to be a doctor … I want to help people like people (Mercy Ships) have helped me.’
Love looks like ‘medicine the way it was supposed to be’ …
Director of Research at the Program in Global Surgery and Social Change at the Harvard Medical School. Head and neck and reconstructive surgeon. With a PhD in health policy and decision analysis. Meet Dr Mark Shrime, volunteer surgeon who’s been coming back to Mercy Ships for years. When asked why, he said, ‘You know, that is a harder question to answer, because there are so many things that keep bringing me back … But also the people that you’re working with – we’re all here to do one thing. There is not a lot of ego, there’s no chasing after money – none of that going on here. This feels like medicine the way it was supposed to be. Which is kinda why I keep coming back.’
Love looks like tending to another’s feet …
Emily shares about fellow nurse Emma Morrison, ‘Emma noticed that one of the caregivers was very sad … Emma attempted to make this momma feel special by offering her a pedicure. This seemed to brighten momma’s mood and even made her smile, but once the other mommas saw this, they all wanted pedicures too!
Without thinking twice, Emma devoted her entire afternoon to going around to each momma and soaking their feet, filing and trimming their nails, massaging their legs with lotion and painting their toes with the colour of their choice. Malagasy women’s feet are worn, dirty, battered and tired. It was not a pleasant job. Furthermore, she used all her own supplies … The degree of transformation that happened in those mommas was tangible. They were all so excited … Talking to Emma, it was evident that this act of servanthood came out of an overflow of love from her heart. When asked why she did it, I just got the idea during church today and I wanted to help this momma. It reminded me of when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. These women deserve to feel special.’ … Watching the entire act was inspiring, and spurs me on to be more generous with my time, possessions and privileged position.’
Love looks like the love of other mothers …
During a previous field service in the Republic of Congo, nurse Amy Jones saw a mother whose baby kept crying. Baby just wanted to be tied to someone’s back with a sheet, but mother was too weak; she was recovering from her surgery. The nurses would take turn. Watching all this, from another bed, was another mother; her plate was full with her recovering child and little baby. Without anyone asking her to, she took on the baby as her own for three days solid.
Amy says, ‘I just think that this would never happen in my culture, back in the UK … It’s so beautiful in these cultures, even though sometimes they don’t have the necessary resources, they understand how to love each other. On the wards, we see many things like that, where they think outside their own situation. The other mother did it selflessly, didn’t want any congratulations, didn’t ask for anything … From working in the wards, I think a lot of people come here to make a difference, and they learn that these countries have an awful lot to give and teach in how to love one another, and they have much better grasp of community than I see in hospitals in the UK.’
Love looks like Nathan …
Lol xD Every time I see Nathan, he makes me chuckle. He is living evidence that our ward day crew workers not only act as translators and care-givers, but also as victims for what happens when our patients and their caregivers have endless amounts of time and Nathan at their disposal. His hair is often interestingly styled. Often with colourful little hairbands and braids. Whenever I ask him about his ever-changing hair, he gives me the same answer, ‘Patient caregivers.’ Often, he will have his nails painted various colours. It’s the patients. I see him playing Jenga with the patients, joking with them, being their friend. It’s because of the many crew members like Nathan, who every day give of their time (and occasionally hair and nails), who make the monotony of the in-betweens of surgery and discharge something enjoyable. Something to be treasured, because they make our patients feel loved.
Love looks like learning their language …
Learning the patients’ language is a way of saying, without having to actually say it, I am interested in you. I value you enough to make the commitment, and take the time to learning this, because it’s a key part of you. I want to connect with you. Nurse Marta Chase did all that. As fellow nurse Catrice Wulf shares, ‘Anything she can say in Malagasy, she does – which means she’s mostly talking in Malagasy when talking to patients … It’s only been a few months, but she’s managed to learn an impressive amount … Not only that, but she’s always ready to go the extra mile. She does whatever she can to make the patients laugh. She can sing, ‘Happy birthday,’ in Malagasy, which is pretty amazing because it’s a crazy long sentence! She can sing several other songs … They just take such delight in how much of their own language she speaks. It’s not just one dialect – it’s the dialect of multiple tribal groups that she’s learned … The patients are just so excited to see that this nurse from far, far away has made the effort to try and speak their language.’
Love looks like Catrice giving to her fullest in the way only Catrice can …
Catrice shared, ‘I find that when it’s hard for me to express myself verbally, I can express myself through art and creating small gifts that I can give to people to show them that I care.’ I can vouch that Catrice does this 1000% – for patients and crew members (I still have my little card from her; she makes them for so many). She puts a lot of time and energy into making photo albums for the patients. Why? ‘It’s a way to show that I love and care about these patients and that I remember them …This is my way of showing that I was thinking of them and that I cared enough to make sure … that they would have a more tangible memory of it (the surgery). A way to show people in the future … how their lives had been changed. And who knows? We’ve had patients in the past who, when we returned to their country, have returned to the ship. They still have their photos … Hopefully the photos that they have will be a reminder not just of what Mercy Ships has done for them, but what God has done for them through Mercy Ships … that God cares about them … It’s my way of making a difference in their lives, leaving a legacy, showing love.’
Love looks like ‘rebuilding a broken house’ …
Our comms team interviewed obstetric surgeon Dr Itengre Ouedraogo. His words are beauty:
Tell us why you chose to serve with Mercy Ships.
Through Mercy Ship, the dignity of the outcast is rebuilt. Mercy Ships gives the opportunity to people from all nations to demonstrate their passion for the forgotten. Yes, as an obstetric surgeon, maybe it’s true that I could get more money and popularity working in a big city and a big hospital. But every time I see a woman joyful because she is healed, I know I have contributed to the reintegration of an outcast into her society. I have helped rebuild a broken house. So, when Mercy Ships accepted my application this year to serve as fistula surgeon, I felt it was an honor. It is like I am adding my block to the building of the new Africa that Mercy Ships is helping to build.
If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would say that maybe for the world we are one person, but for one person we are the world. We cannot change the entire world, but we can change the world of somebody. Let everybody seek and accomplish the purpose of God for his life, because mortals become immortal by the things they do and that remain after them.
Love is love for the highest …
‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
’Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
’The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
–Matthew 25: 34-40
‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.’
– Galatians 5:6b.
‘We love because He first loved us.’
– 1 John 4:19.