"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

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Commit to the Lord whatever you do

Sometimes I question how my work contributes to bringing hope and healing to the poorest of the poor. How am I following the 2000 year old model of Jesus?

I don't have pictures of me with patients or stories from work of miracles, lives changed by surgeries or hope restored. What does a typical couple of weeks of work look like for me? Most of it is fairly mundane, routine, boring, dirty and not particularly connected to the patients we have come to serve. Would my work look much different if I was serving on a regular ship being paid?

For our first two years onboard I was the Third Engineer - General. This year I have been filling the role of Engineering Training and Safety Officer but have also spent 3 & 1/2 months in the UK studying to upgrade my licence to Second Engineer. In three weeks I will return to the UK for another two months of training and exams. At the end of this I should be qualified to take over the Second Engineer's position onboard.

Last week I conducted a safety orientation for a returning crew member. This is required by our Safety Management System (SMS) to ensure that all engineering department crew members are familiar with the safety procedures and equipment in the engine room.

As the Engineering Training Officer I have been reviewing the training progress of our ratings working towards their Rating Forming Part of an Engineering Watch (RFPEW) and Able Seafarer - Engine (AS-E) qualifications. As a Maltese flagged ship we usually use the Malta training book but I have also been researching the requirements for an American crew member to pursue the same qualification through the US Coastguard. And then several of our ratings have a long term ambition to become Engineering Officers through the experienced seafarer route so I have been investigating the requirements for this. Getting this right is important because if it is not done correctly then Malta or USCG may reject the applications for RFPEW or AS-E. And this may impact our ability to meet our minimum manning requirement.

At the end of 2016 new international requirements come into force requiring all mariners to refresh their firefighting and survival qualifications every 5 years. I have been busy reviewing all our long term engineering crew's qualifications to ensure that they are all in date in 2017 and if required identifying what training they will need and where they might complete it. Challenging when our mariners come from all over the world with licences from Canada, USA, Portugal, Australia, Norway, Holland, Ghana and UK. Getting this right again ensures we all remain current and in date.

Last week I participated in a lifeboat drill where we launched one of our 50 man open lifeboats and then rowed it against a team from the Logos Hope. They had been training most of the day as part of their Proficiency in Survival Craft course they were conducting and soundly beat us. As the boat's engineer I didn't row but was pleased that the engine started and ran perfectly.

Lifeboat testing

I also oversee the training of a Norwegian cadet and a Norwegian apprentice. Each has a different training book, both with separate online logins and reporting methods. These are in Norwegian and English but sometimes the English is not so clear. And I have great admiration for my two trainees who complete their assignments in a second language. I certainly couldn't do it in French. But it does require me to look past the grammar and spelling to see if they are competent. Although they are trainees they do valuable and useful work too. I help facilitate that and maybe in the future they will return to serve on a Mercy Ship again.

Last Friday I had the pleasure of diving under the ship. This is part of our regular maintenance to keep the seawater inlet grates clear. We rely on seawater cooling for our generators and air conditioning however during 10 months stationary in port in warm 30 degree celsius tropical waters an underwater forrest grows on the ship. Left untended the grates would become blocked so we remove them for the deck department to clean them off and then refit them. The dive team consists of a carpenter, the school principal, a receptionist, a storeman, a deck rating and an engineer. None of us are medical professionals. None of us are commercial divers. None of us is paid. Yet this work is essential to the ship remaining operational. Unfortunately I have no photos of me diving over the last few years. I am generally more focused on completing the job than recording it!

And then after diving I took over as duty engineer for 24 hours, ensuring all essential services for the ship and hospital remained online. This was a relatively quiet duty with only an overheating medical air compressor due to the very high ambient air temperature and a fridge evaporator that had completely iced up. And a late night ballast transfer to maintain the ship upright.

Yesterday I escorted a Canadian media team through the Engine room and then today they came back to interview me and take some stills. I hope I came across as a good ambassador and maybe this will inspire others to come and serve or support the work we do.

Main Engines

I also have spent time completing an online Crisis Management and Crowd Management course. This is another requirement for me to move up to Second Engineer but also will help me oversee this training for others. Online Computer Based Training (CBT) is much cheaper than flying to Europe or USA for a 1 day course!

And today we also bunkered Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) for the generators. I wasn't part of the bunker party but relieved one of the other engineer officers over lunch time. 

Bunkering (in Congo)

And I still have a soft spot for the sewage treatment plant even though I am not looking after it on a day to day basis. I check it daily even if I am not duty and provide advice to the engineer looking after it at present. I also have half an eye on other areas currently under the Second Engineer, knowing I will probably inherit this in the future so offer suggestions based on my experience.

Buckets of insoluble and undigestible muck from the sewage tank

This morning I led devotions, something I don't do often, but may do more often. I read Proverbs 16: 1-9. Two verses in particular stand out for me.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans. (verse 3)

In his heart man plans his course, but the Lord establishes his steps. (verse 9)

These verses helped me stay focused whilst studying in the UK last year but also help me realise day to day that my work is important to the operation of the ship. My ministry is my work. I follow the example of Jesus by committing my work to His ship and His work through this ship.

As a Marine Engineer I have always loved the wake - it is a tangible symbol of my work.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

One of the Best Days of the Year

Having had almost 4 months apart we planned a family getaway after Christmas for 4 days to Acacia Bungalows at Manambato. We have previously stayed there twice before with our good friends Tracy, Frank and Kathleen as well as a few others. However this time it was to be just us and no other Mercy Shippers. Don't get me wrong, I love hanging out with fellow crew members but sometimes it is nice not to hang out with fellow crew members.

Anyway we packed Viking Chess (Kubb), Dao, cards, frisbee, skimming balls, books, kindles and swimmers. No iPods, iPads or Nintendos. The drive down went okay - that is no one vomited this time, just a little nausea. It is about 100 km of "highway" driving followed by 7 km of typical dirt track non-road. The AC in Alexis van was broken so it was pretty stuffy. Once there we got into swimming, reading and Viking Chess. Whilst playing a couple approached us and asked us about the game and then more about what we did. They introduced themselves as Stanislas and Vola and invited us to drop in on them the following day at their holiday house.

Dinner that night was great - beautiful zebu steak for Mick, soup Chinoise for Tammy and 3 serves of spaghetti bolognaise for the boys followed by crepes and banana flambé.

Banana Flambe

The next day it dawned with overcast skies. Mid morning with spray jackets on and carrying our frisbee and Viking Chess we wandered up the beach to Chez Luigi and asked for "la maison de Stanislas et Vola". The staff knew who we were looking for and led us to their house. Stanislas and Vola were delighted to see us and introduced us to their four beautiful children - Julie (19), Louis (17), Zakasoa (15) and Malalatiana (9).

What followed was one of the best days of the year. The weather cleared and the sun came out. The kids played wonderfully practicing their french and english. We swam in the lake, played football in the yard and on the beach with the local kids, played frisbee, played Viking Chess, buried each other in the sand, shared lunch, prayed together and generally had a most wonderful time.

Malal, Zak, Mark and Harry playing front yard soccer

Harry playing beach soccer

Malal after being buried


Malal, Zach and Mark. I think Mark and Malal use the same hairdresser!

Julie, Jack, Mark and Harry. Harry asked Julie to bury him.
She thought he asked her to marry him!

I loved this - all the kids playing in the water together oblivious
to their different languages, colours and nationalities.

Harry and Malal were both doing flying forward rolls into the water
but I couldn't catch Malal

Tammy and Vola

Beach soccer

Beach frisbee