"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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Student Life Bike Maintenance

Each term the high school students undertake a class taught by a crew member for 2 hours on a Friday afternoon. This last term I taught bike maintenance to 4 of the boys - Eli, Malachi, Rick and Jack.

Madagascar is a great place for cycling and many crew have bikes but very few know how to maintain them. The aim was to give the boys the knowledge, skills and experience to "have a go" at both maintaining and fixing both their own bikes but also those of other crew members.

We had 6 bikes in poor condition to practice on - 3 x 20 inch bikes with back pedal brakes and 3 x geared bikes - 1 x 24 inch and 2 x 26 inch. Over seven weeks we studied tyres, tubes, valves, puncture repairs, wheel truing, spoke replacement, chain replacement, pedal replacement, repacking wheel bearings, bottom bracket overhaul, headset overhaul, gear and brake cable replacement and gear adjustment.

We also blessed some crew members by fixing their bikes for free.

By week 5 we had all 6 bikes completely stripped and I had the frames and forks repainted by a local Malagasy man - Chong - for 15,000 Ariary each - about $6. And then in the last class we set about re-assembling the bikes. We finished the 3 simpler ones in class and Jack helped me finish the three geared bikes off after class.

Finally we had a graduation and certificate presentation last week. It was a real pleasure to share my passion for tinkering with bikes with these young men and to see their skills and confidence increase.

Jack's bike before - nothing worked

Future short term crew loaner bike before - nothing worked

Stripping down bikes in the warehouse

Eli stripping down his bike

Eli's bike in bits

Malachi's bike in bits

Jack's bike in bits

Rick's bike in bits

Eli on his rebuilt bike

The bike that Eli built

The bike that Malachi built

The bike that Jack built

The bike that Rick built

New bike for Mark, built by the group

New short term crew loaner bike - built by the group

Six finished bikes

Graduation and certificates

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


We haven’t shared many patient stories but a few weeks ago a truly remarkable surgery was conducted onboard.

Meet Sambany. For nineteen of his sixty years a tumour that had slowly been growing from his neck had consumed his life. The tumour was massive; it was a burden that represented nineteen years of misery and disgrace.

He said that because of the tumour, he had stopped praying. He didn't believe that he would ever have relief. One day, near the end of 2014, a friend told him, “There in Tamatave, there is a ship, Mercy Ships. You can go there and be fixed.”

He decided to take the chance and set out with his grandson.

For three days they walked and walked until they finally reached a town with a paved road. They rested there for some time and then took a four-hour car ride to finally reach Tamatave where we are berthed.

Sambany had one of the biggest tumours Dr Gary Parker – our Chief Medical Officer and Max Fax surgeon - had seen in his 28 years with Mercy Ships. Knowing the risks, the Mercy Ships medical team and Sambany reached a decision; they would go ahead with his surgery.

The night before his surgery Sambany said, “I know without surgery I will die. I know I might die in surgery, but I already feel dead inside from the way I'm treated. I choose to have surgery.”

After twelve hours of surgery (around twice as long as planned), the 7.46 kg (16.45 lbs) tumour he carried for nearly a third of his life was finally removed.

An interesting fact about the ship is that the crew are the blood donors. And Sambany needed plenty of them – fourteen in total. The cool thing is that they he got to meet them all after his surgery. They are truly international with Australians, Americans, Canadians and Brits all represented. How awesome would that be to meet the man who now had your blood flowing through his body after such a life changing surgery?

When he awoke after his surgery, he said, “When I have recovered, I want to repay you (Mercy Ships), because I am very happy, because I am saved. God gave to take out my big tumour. God helped me to become like this. God saved me.”

My little part in all of this is that I was duty engineer on the day and so was extra vigilant to see that the power and other services for the ship but particularly the hospital were supplied without interruption.

And the same applied to crew all over the ship who in their own way contribute to the operation of the hospital and the life changing surgeries such as Sambany’s.

Now I’m not a medical expert but I would guess that if you were a Max Fax surgeon anywhere in the developed world you would never see a tumour like this as it would be operated on far sooner. So Gary Parker is probably one of the most experienced Max Fax surgeons in the world for dealing with such large tumours. And I am not an expert on the hospital capabilities of Africa but I would doubt there are many able to conduct such a surgery – probably only in South Africa and Egypt. So God has truly blessed Sambany bringing this ship and this team of surgeons and medical staff to Madagascar this year. Remember, we were meant to be in Guinea or Benin, not Madagascar.

I have often joked with Gary Parker that seeing the patients is my “salary” and last week I felt like I received a huge bonus.

He will remain with the ship for many months of recovery, but today Sambany is a new man and he is happy.

As you might expect Sambany has become a bit of a Mercy Ships legend already. His story was picked up by The Daily Mail in the UK and several others have written far more eloquent blogs than I. Here are a few links: