"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

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Ship sisters

It's late May. Aboard the AFRICA MERCY, that means the season of farewells. To places but more importantly, to friends.

Almost two years ago, we arrived in Texas, knowing no one in our Gateway course. Within 6 weeks, we had become a close knit support group for each other. Within 3 months, we had our ship family. We have shared two Christmases, Easters and field services. Countless conversations. Too many dining room meals. Prayed for and with each other. Comforted each other. So many hugs and tears.

And now we are here - at the end of this stage and contemplating the next. But this is a painful place to be. It hurts when your friends go because when you share your lives as deeply as we do onboard, you cannot help but give away little pieces of your heart.  And a little hole is left - a little vacuum - where your friend use to reside. It doesn't hurt as much if you keep your friends at arms distance. But if you open your heart to be loved, you open your heart to be hurt as well.  Though this is the good hurt - it tells you that you are capable of love and being loved in return. I have my identity as being beloved child of God. It is immensely comforting to know that He continually places people in my life, that seek to see me in this way.

I don't have any sisters by birth. But I have several very close "ship" sisters who are leaving in the next few weeks.  

To my "little" sister:
Thank you for showing me what a daughter is, irrespective of age. For becoming part of our family, even to the the point of getting vegetables on the boys plates when I wasn't there. Thank you for sharing your heart and dreams with me - for allowing us to be in your story.

To my "African" sister:
Thank you for being vulnerable, real, sarcastic and fun!  For including us, all of us, in your adventurous plans. For being willing to join our family. Thank you for staying the extra year. And for the many hours of conversation giving me a whole new and different perspective on life. It has been awesome seeing you "shine" over the past few months. 

To my "youngest" sister:

Thank you for your wisdom. Your advice has left me speechless so many times as it belies your voice and your age. Thanks for repeatedly showing me what is really important but also your enthusiasm for what you do and what you plan to do. And for so many hilarious misquotes "Buddha -y ism" and laughs - a whole songs worth of actions! But most of all, your God given strength. I can't wait to see how He will use you.

To my older and wiser sister:

Thank you for kicking my butt when I needed it, for challenging me on a daily basis but above all for listening, over and over again, without judgement. Thanks for being my organisational translator and for an opportunity to do something different. For cups of tea and movie night. And occasional pommes frites. I am more than appreciative. Most of all, thank you that you are coming back to visit!

Overall, I know that God will bring new "sisters" to the ship but at this moment, I'm going to take some time to grieve over the relationships that are changing from "incredibly accessible" to "geographically challenging".  I'm prioritising my remaining days and hours to create more memories with these ladies and to reminisce over our shared experiences, enjoyable and otherwise.  Mostly though, I'm making the most of our time left so that they can all leave well and I can let them go. I know that we will catch up again in the future sometime. I don't know when or even where. What I do know is that Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. And I'm glad and sad at the same time, that these "sisters" chose me.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

ANZAC Day - Madagascar Style

We wished to honour our fallen servicemen and women on the 100th anniversary of the landings at Gallipoli so arranged our own little ANZAC Day dawn service on the dock followed by a gunfire brunch at a local restaurant, El Harato. Tammy did a great job pulling it all together with an order of service, music and gunfire breakfast. The rain stopped just as we arrived on the dock at 0525 and started again as Mick read the final prayer.

Welcome by Mick

ANZAC Day commemorates the landings at ANZAC Cove in Gallipoli that occurred a century ago, at this time of the day.  The Allies - including Australians, New Zealanders, British, French, New Foundlanders and Indian, lost some 50, 000 killed with almost 250,000 casualties. The Turkish forces lost 87,000 killed and sustained similar heavy casualties.

Gallipoli was the first time that Australians and New Zealanders participated together in a major conflict. The name ANZAC – from the acronym Australian and New Zealand Army Corps - became universally recognized symbol for the soldiers of both nations and for those who fought and died during this conflict.  It is a significant occasion in both countries to pause and reflect on all who have served and died in the service of their nation. To understand what the first ANZAC day was like, we have an extract from a letter from LT William Britt, Australian Infantry describing the landing in a letter to his mother.

Reading 1 by Tam Lowe

"We knew what we were there for - the attack on the Dardenelles," he wrote. "The 3rd Brigade was picked for the covering party - that is to land first and clear the enemy away from the shore. The 11th Batt was the first to land. We left the island at 2pm on a Saturday afternoon and steamed up towards the Straits. At 12 midnight we anchored and climbed silently over the side down rope ladders onto a destroyer.

"When all was ready the destroyer crept silently away in the darkness. We layed on the deck and had a short sleep. At 3.30 we could see land in the dim light and we crept closer and closer the big battle ships looming up on either side of us. It was fast getting light and when we were 600 yards from the shore the destroyers stopped and we prepared to get into the boats.

"Our first warning was a sharp crack and a flash from the hills in front of us and the ping of a bullet overhead followed by another and then a score. One of our comrades was hit and died after wishing us good luck. We scrambled into the boats about 50 in each boat and started to pull for the shore. By this time the bullets were splashing all round the boat and a great many of our fellows were hit some fatally. We had to row 600 yards in the face of a murderous fire, machine gun and rifle and not a man flinched. We could see the flashes from the hills in front but not a Turk could we see.

"The boat grounded 30 yards from the Beach and I jumped into the water icy cold and up to my waist. I was carrying 250 rds ammunition. Pack with clothes and kit weighing 30 lbs. Haversack with 4 tins dog biscuits etc, a water bag, 3 cement bags rolled up to be used as sand bags. Well I waded to the shore (by this time they had our range and men were dropping all round me. They had measured the range previously of course.

"I got a bullet through the cap as I stepped out of the water. I threw off my pack and took cover behind a heap of pebbles. There was no cover from bullets as the Turks were entrenched on the top of a cliff which ran round in a half circle and rose straight up at a distance of 500 yards from the water. Well I was loading my rifle by this time and trying to make out the trenches in the half light but could see nothing but the rifle flashes. We were getting it hot by this time. They were using dum-dums & explosive bullets which crack over your head like a cracker.

"Two of my chums fell here both killed instantly. Then one of my lacrosse chums, Corporal Danes, was shot and a lot more. Then someone spotted the trenches and we put a hot fire into them and drove them out. The first Turks I saw was crawling up the slope. I underestimated the range first shot but got him the second. We took the hill and advanced about half mile and the Turks counter-attacked and then the fight started properly.

"The machine gun and rifle fire was deafening and the shrapnel burst all over us. My rifle got so hot once I had to stop firing. The Turks were estimated at 50 to 1. The fight lasted all day..

Reading 2 by Larry Robbins

LTCOL William G Malone, Commanding Officer, Wellington Battalion to his wife from Gallipoli, 5 August, 1915
My Sweetheart,
In less than two hours we move off to valley where we will be up all night and tomorrow in readiness for the big attack, which will start from tomorrow night.  Everything promises well and victory should be with us.  God grant it so and that our casualties will not be too heavy.  I expect to go through all right but my dear wife, if anything untoward happens to me there are our dear children to be brought up.  You know how I love and have loved, and we have had many years of great happiness together.  If an anytime in the past I seemed absorbed by affairs it was that I might make a proper provision for you and the children.  That was due from me.  I is true that perhaps I over did it somewhat I believe now that I did, but did not see it at the time.  I regret very much now that is was o and that I lost more happiness that I need to have done.  You must forgive me also for anything unkindly or hard that I may have said or done in the past.  I have made a will and it is in the office in Stratford, I think it was justly drawn.  Anyway, I intended it so to be.  I hope and think that the provision for you and the children will keep you and them in ease and comfort.  I know that you will never forget me or let the dear children do so. I am prepared for death and hope that God will have forgiven me all my sins.  My desire for life – so that I may see and be with you again, - could not be greater but I have only done what every man was bound to do in our country’s need. It has been a great consolation to me that you approved my action. The sacrifice was really yours.  May you be consoled by our dear Lord.
Your loving husband,
William G Malone.
LTCOL Malone was killed in action three days later on 8 August, 1915.

Address by Tammy

The landings a Gallipoli were a military catastrophe for the ANZACs.  The campaign was a litany of errors from the word go: they landed in the wrong spot, Turkish troops were already entrenched and waiting for them in superior positions and they were cut down in their hundreds before they even reached the shore. And yet we commemorate this failure annually.  What is it that we are commemorating?

When I was child, I went and watched my Grandfather, a World War II veteran, march every year through the streets of Sydney.  We clapped and cheered the original ANZACs as they rode in vintage Jeeps, looking frail and ancient to my young eyes. I sat with him and my Grandmother through the memorial services.  And we took the time to remember those that did not return.  Those soldiers, sailors and airmen that fought for freedom – to thank them for their sacrifice and to promise them that we would not take it for granted. 

As time went on, the World War I diggers, became fewer and fewer – but other conflicts brought more veterans to the marches – those from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and more recently, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as a host of smaller but no less significant, conflicts. ANZAC day marches were predicted to wane as the original veterans grew older and eventually passed.  However, this has not been the case at all.  In fact, there was a ballot in Australia for places at the ANZAC Cove service today in Gallipoli – to cope with the influx of expected visitors in such a small strip of land.  Gallipoli has almost become a place of pilgrimage for young Aussies and Kiwis. They want to see that it is real.  It is so steeped in our national mythology that young people want to know it’s real and see it for themselves.   What is it that they are seeking? 

I believe they are seeking the real stories behind Gallipoli. Those individuals lives’ are inspiring: men who faced certain death with courage and fortitude. They thought beyond themselves. They laid down their lives for each other. And they were ingenuous – as evidenced by the cleverly planned and well executed withdrawal 9 months later.  And they faced all of this and more with a dry sense of humour – a typically ANZAC trait.

Jesus said in John 15:13
"Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends"

And there were so many stories at Gallipoli in both nations, of men who did just that.  And that is what the young people seek.  That love.  People who would sacrifice themselves for their mates. And that is what we commemorate on ANZAC Day – those that gave their today, for our tomorrow. So despite the fact that Gallipoli was an unmitigated military disaster, it left both nations with a united legacy, that we will never forget. 

Prayers by Sue Clynes

Prayer of St Francis – A Soldier’s Prayer

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, let me sow pardon;
Where there is doubt, let me sow faith;
Where there is despair, let me give hope;
Where there is darkness, let me give light;
Where there is sadness, let me give joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.

The Ode by Harry Dunne

They shall grow not old, as we that left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

The Lord's Prayer

The Australian National Anthem - Advance Australia Fair
The New Zealand National Anthem - God Defend New Zealand

Final Prayer by Mick

In ocean wastes no poppies blow,
No crosses stand in ordered row,
There young hearts sleep… beneath the wave…
The spirited, the good, the brave…
But stars a constant vigil keep,
For them who lie beneath the deep.
'Tis true you cannot kneel in prayer 
On certain spot and think. "He's there."
But you can to the ocean go…
See whitecaps marching row on row;
Know one for him will always ride…
In and out… with every tide.
And when your span of life is passed,
He'll meet you at the Captain's Mast.
And they who mourn on distant shore
For sailors who'll come home no more,
Can dry their tears and pray for these
Who rest beneath the heaving seas…
For stars that shine and winds that blow
And whitecaps marching row on row.
And they can never lonely be
For when they lived… they chose the sea.

It was quite a bit of work to pull it all together but totally worth it knowing that all over the world wherever Kiwis and Aussies were they would be gathered together remembering those first brave ANZACs. The thought of rowing one of our 50 man lifeboats 600 yards to shore at dawn under murderous machine gunfire from entrenched positions on the cliffs is absolutely terrifying, and very sobering as you look up to the open lifeboat in the dawn light and imagine it. 

Plenty of others have commented that they really wanted to do something for ANZAC Day but were not sure how to go about it, so we are glad we made the effort.
Photo credits - Dave Forrest