"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29: 11

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Annie's starting her journey home

   I'm having a bit of trouble getting to sleep tonight. The reason is that Annie left the ship today. And even though there about four hundred people onboard, it already seems a little bit lonely without her.
Annie with the other VVF patients at their Dress Ceremony
    For the past few weeks, I have visited her every day bar one and sometimes twice a day on weekends. I held her hand when she cried tears of frustration and anxiety even though I could not understand what she was saying. We laughed over my poor French and as she tried to teach me some Lingala as well. We walked the hospital corridors and sang together.  We sat together at hospital ward service. We played countless games of Uno on Mark's Ben 10 cards, which have left with her. We made each other friendship bracelets and I plan to wear mine until it falls apart because I know it was made with such love.
    I've tried to figure out what made our time together special. What made me come away from each visit glowing on the inside. And I think it is best summed up by Mother Theresa:
"You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving."

Annie telling her story at the Dress Ceremony
All I gave was my time but it showed love. Annie's face lit up every time I visited her and I know it was a mirror of my own. We spoke through an interpreter today in her last minutes on the ward and she told me how much she appreciated my visits and my family saying hello as well. She was so articulate about her feelings and I couldn't even put into words how blessed I have felt to walk beside her as she healed. I felt so accepted into her community even without any language. She told me that even though there is no phone in her village to keep in contact with me, she will never forget me, that she will pray for me and my family and that she loves me.
    I am finding it difficult to express how happy I am for Annie that she is starting her journey home; even though her leaving makes me sad. I understand that she lives beyond Impfondo and that she was one of a group of women that took canoes over three days down the river and then flights to get to the ship. I can't even imagine the courage it must have taken to begin that trip. I can't even comprehend what Annie must think about our ship and how different it is from her village. The main thing I think about though, is how absolutely fantastic it is going to be when she finally goes home to her husband - whole again.
As she walked down the gangway for the final time today in a new dress, I wished I could have captured the moment. She's spent almost a month in a hospital gown and she looked so bright and happy - like a new woman. In some respects she is.
    Annie will be at the Hope Center for outpatients for a few days yet. She has her final check up on Monday morning at 0800. It will be my last chance to say goodbye and "Bon courage mon ami. Je prier pour toi. Au revoir." I know it is unlikely that we will ever cross paths again but I am thankful that we had this time together - it has changed my thoughts on friendship and love forever. Please continue to pray for my beloved friend, Annie.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Driving in Congo

We are very blessed to have a fleet of vehicles to support the work we do in Africa. These are a mix of Landrovers and Toyota Land Cruisers. They are very ably managed by another Australian onboard - Andrew Rothwell - who is here as long term crew with his wife, Jodie, and daughter, Jessica.

The road leading out of the port

To drive you must have a current licence from your home country and an International Drivers Permit, generally also issued by your home country Automobile Association - mine is from the NRMA. You must also sit a driving test with Andrew.

Toyota 70 Series Land Cruiser

They are all left hand drive and manual transmissions or "stick shift" if you are from the US. For most Aussies, Kiwis and Brits the biggest challenge is the left hand drive initially though I am now finding after almost a year of driving on the right sitting in the left hand seat that I am quite used to it. For the Americans the "stick shift" is often a bigger hurdle as most seem to have limited experience with manual transmissions.

On the road to Dolisie in a Land Cruiser

Having driven manuals most of my adult life the biggest adjustment has been using my right hand to shift rather than my left. And it has taken me some time to feel natural shifting, particularly 2nd to 3rd without finding 5th. The other trick is finding reverse as the different models have reverse in different positions so you need to pay attention to which vehicle you have signed out.

Harry, showing who we are.

Landrovers have been synonymous with Africa and NGOs for over 50 years but in recent years have been displaced by Toyota Land Cruisers as the 4WD of choice. Mercy Ships is following the trend and the Landys are being gradually replaced by Toyotas at the rate of about 3 a year so the process is going to take about 6 more years.. The Toyotas are more comfortable and seat 10 verses the Land Rovers that seat a maximum of 9. And I find the Toyotas a bit under geared. There have been plenty of times when travelling at 80 kph I have shifted out of 5th looking for 6th only to remember there isn't a sixth.

Whilst the vehicles are primarily used to support our work, we may use them for private use for a per km cost on the weekends and after hours if they are not being used for official purposes. This is a real blessing and we have visited the beach, gone camping and taken a trip to Dolisie.

Out at Baptism Beach where a few people have got stuck - but not us!

Cook out at Baptism Beach.
The road conditions and driving etiquette are something else. Overtaking can happen anywhere, crests, intersections, the inside, the outside - I have seen and experienced it all. The use of the horn is prolific. Taxi's use it continually to tout for fares, it is used to encourage one to move and on rare occasions to warn you of impending danger. Flashing lights is not a courtesy to let one in; it is a warning that the approaching vehicle on collision course with you intends to keep coming....so move out of the way. 

During the dry season the roads are fairly good. Pot holed with soft edges but not too bad. This changed drastically during the wet season when some sections of road became muddy lakes. The main concern is you never know how deep the potholes under the muddy brown water are. They can be shallow or deep enough to strand a vehicle on the chassis. Not so much an issue with our 4WDs but when it happens to others it causes chaos with the traffic

Main North road into town during the wet season

Wet season driving.

Main road going south out of town.

Out towards the Ngoyo Plains Orphanage

The challenge - how deep is that water?

The answer - wait and watch someone else drive through first.

The road to Dolisie was fabulous, even in the rain.

Off the main road near Cabinda border. Chinese grader was working here but not making much improvement.

I am grateful that I did a 4WD endorsement in the Navy years ago with Chief Truckie (Motor Transport Driver), Annie Short, who taught me a little about driving a 4WD off road and in challenging conditions plus the basics of vehicle recovery. At the time I had no idea that I would be putting this into practice in Africa as a volunteer missionary.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What I have discovered that I no longer need...

friend posted the "Buyrachy of Needs" on Facebook a while ago. It's something that I realised we have unconsciously adopted - since making the move to the ship. Actually, perhaps even before as we packed up our house. So I thought I might write down my top ten "Buyrachy" things I have learned..

1. I do not need matching crockery to be happy.
2. My kids don't need heaps of gifts for birthdays or Christmas - they were totally satisfied with what they received last year - a huge surprise to us!
3. Our kids loved the idea of baked goods wrapped up - obviously the thought counts and so does wrapping!
4. Nothing is as a good as cardboard box and textas / markers for a 6 year old boy.
5. If I haven't used it for the last twelve months, do I really need it?
6. I had a lot of clothes that I never wore...
7. We had a lot of toys that were not played with..
8. We had a lot of stuff that we only used "sometimes"
9. All we need are appropriate clothes - suitable for occasion and weather and not that many either
10. If you wait long enough, everything you need eventually turns up at an Op shop or the boutique Onboard - we pay more to have something now that we don't need immediately

What I know I do need: in no particular order....
1. Grace - thank you Jesus...
2. Clean clothes, towels and sheets - at least once a fortnight!
3. Good friends who are great listeners
4. A flexible boss and a challenge at work
5. Some kind of plan even if it's the "basis for change"
6. A husband who loves me
7. Food - less particular about that now
8. Hot running water for at least 90 seconds each day
9. Exercise to run out frustrations
10. Lots of time with my children - who are energetic, idealistic and fun!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Capturing a moment

This is a photo of Annie and I together yesterday. There is a story behind this picture.  
Firstly, there are restrictions on photography in the Wards to respect patient privacy.  So it is a little challenging to get photographs with any patients you befriend.  To tell you the truth, I was not going to bother - kind of like when you are at a famous landmark and you try to capture it on camera - but you may as well enjoy the experience and buy a postcard instead.  Well, that is kind of like how I feel about Annie.  We spend about 20 - 30 minutes together each day - and I want to be fully present for her during that time, not trying to get the best shot to describe our friendship.  
Then Annie asked me if we could get a photo together. So I asked one of the official ward photographers, Michelle, if she would be able to help.  We set a time a few days ahead, I set a reminder and made sure to be there only a few minutes late.
When Michelle and I arrived at the Ward, all the patients, including Annie, were fast asleep.  A little unusual because at the same time yesterday, they were all "marchez" along the hospital passageway, singing and dancing.  So dilemna - do I wake Annie?  The nurses always tell you to wake up your patients because the visits break up the monotomy of their days in the hospital.  Still, I love my sleep and it goes against the grain to wake Annie.  Yet, Michelle is here so I feel compelled to do so.
As usual Annie is pleased to see me, even half asleep, and I feel the same.  She has this beautiful smile which appears whenever I see her.  Funnily enough, as soon as Michelle asked permission and held up her camera, Annie put on a stern face.  Neither Michelle nor I, could get her to smile.  As soon as the picture was taken, she would laugh and grin.  However, once the camera went up to Michelle's face again, she would look quite grim.  I wonder about the cultural significance of this?  Is there some meaning behind her actions?
It was an interesting experience getting our pictures taken.  Michelle however, is not a newcomer to the ward. She snapped away and managed to capture this lovely image - possibly when Annie hadn't realised she was still taking photos.  I am grateful to Michelle for her patience.  I am thankful to Annie for the idea.  And I feel blessed to spend time with both these ladies.

As an aside, Annie's catheter was removed last Saturday and she is progressing well. We won't know yet how long she will stay onboard as she learns to retrain her bladder.  In the mean time, I'm enjoying our time together and looking forward to the day where she will have her Dress ceremony and leave the ship to return whole to her husband and home.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Baptism Beach Barbeque

A couple of weekends ago we went to the beach where we camped at Christmas time for an afternoon of swimming and a campfire barbeque. We call the beach Baptism Beach as this is where the eldest son, Jacob, of our good friends, Mark and Gretchen Bullock was baptised during the early part of the field service. 

The beach barbecue plus campfire cookout idea was Tammy's and initially was going to be just us and the Bullocks in one Landrover, and then it began to snowball and ended up three Landrovers and 27 people. Tammy took all this in her stride and expertly delegated duties and responsibilities.

As we arrived the thunder clouds rolled in but after only a few drops the storms passed by us. Tammy had already advised the wet weather plan determining there were two types of rain - 'just give up rain' because it is too torrential to do anything and God clearly does not want you to go to the beach or 'just get on with it rain' also called "English rain" - at some point it will clear, just go swimming, you are already wet.

We ended up with a really great mix of families and singles all willing to pitch in for what turned out to be an exceptional afternoon.  The pictures are a fantastic record of a memorable afternoon.


Gretchen, Tracy and Mark - chillin'

Mark and Harry
 And I had a bit of fun photo bombing!

Davi and Ans.......and the photo bomber.

Nikki and Curtis.....and the bomber again.

Nikki, Tam and Curtis....and of course the bomber.

Rob, Tam and Leanne

Here he comes again

The photo bomber


Matthew's head growing out of the sand.


Leanne and Emma

Nick, Lizzy and Rob

Harry with war face on

Mick barbequing

And of course you can sit on top of a Landrover to eat dinner.


Super principal - Nikki

Our great friends, Mark and Gretchen


Nikki and Ans

Our great Brit friend, Lizzy

The sunset was just amazing. Whichever way you looked, it was different and yet awesome. We took dozens of photos and I still can't choose a favourite. It was truly a great demonstration of the splendour of God's creation.