Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Africa Mercy - Launch (sort of): One Nurse's Journey

My friend is on her way to Africa and has given me permission to record her journey. Here are three emails dated Jan 27, Feb 28 and Mar 4. For the sake of privacy, she is using her first initial (M) only. Click here for the original post describing the nurses and doctors on board and some of their stories. I hope you find M's journey as fascinating as I do! Has anyone else out there dreamed of doing (or done) something like this?

Sunday, January 27, 2013 5:38 PM
1/27/13 "launch (sort of)"

The adventure begins.  I've arrived to the Mercy Ships property outside of Tyler, Texas.  Yesterday was the first day of orientation--mostly getting acquainted with the other people who have come for the "On Boarding" program.  Some will be here for the first week of training, which is called Foundations of Mercy Ships--so I suppose it'll be foundational values, an overview of the programs, and some understanding of how it's all put together.  Some of us will be here for five weeks.

The middle three weeks address spiritual issues and cross-cultural issues, I believe.  The last week is basic safety training for living on a ship--fire fighting, water rescue, and so forth.

Who is here?   We come from the USA, England, France, Spain, Canada, and Netherlands.  Ages range from 5 (well, she's just a kid, but part of a family) to 18 (the youngest volunteer, I think), to 68 (me, the oldest volunteer, I think).  Experience ranges from one who's never left the country to one who has spent decades managing refugee camps throughout Africa.  There are several nurses, a radiology tech, a deck hand, an electrician, an accountant, a security officer, a teacher, an overseer for some development programs, a supply chain manager, a fire safety expert.

There are others whose job I haven't figured out yet--but you can see we have quite a variety of job descriptions represented in our group of 28 or so.

Now, how does the Lord take that kind of diversity and make a coherent team?

But He does!  In two days, we are fitting together quite nicely, it seems to me.  As I type, a fair number of them are in the other room singing, making beautiful harmonies together.  Soon I will join them, adding to their number, if not the quality of the music.

So, no real news--just a quick peek at my first stepping stone on this journey to Mercy Ships.

Thursday, February 28, 2013 5:41 AM
"we're on our way"
I've been in Texas for almost five weeks doing the Mercy Ships orientation program.  They packed the time pretty full--foundational stuff about Mercy Ships, spiritual grounding in the character of God and other assorted topics, social grounding in personality types and conflict resolution (do they think that living 4-8 people in a room might produce some conflicts?), and a fair amount on cross-cultural issues and world views.

This last week has been basic safety training--required by maritime law--including both water rescue and fire fighting.  Imagine me, if you will, all dressed up in 40-50 pounds of fire protection gear, crawling into a dark, smoke-filled tunnel to rescue a 165 pound dummy. Or dragging a fire hose into a building with real live fire, smoke, and heat.  Yes, sir, I am now officially educated and ready to fight fires in the engine room with the best of they say.
We leave March 6 for Africa.  We will spend 2 1/2 weeks doing a "field service" before we actually join the ship.  This is a part of the orientation program, to give us a taste of African culture and shake out some of our kinks before we settle into our jobs on the ship.  It's best to get over the "deer in the headlights" syndrome beforehand, because it's full speed ahead with our jobs once we reach the ship.  Our field service will be in Conakry, Guinea, only a few miles from the ship, building some playground equipment for a local children's hospital and spending a couple of days running a mini-vacation Bible school for a local Christian school.  They guarantee us that it will be hot and dirty work, but the playground will be a lasting benefit to the kids in the hospital and the surrounding neighborhood.
I think that I will be out of touch from March 6 to March 22--no internet available during field service, so far as I know.  And with a new job to learn once I reach the ship, I may be slow to answer emails even then.  I am praying not only for health and endurance for field service, but also for some significant connections to local folks as we work.  Cultural adaptation is much more important when you are there for a couple of years instead of a couple of months, and it happens best in the context of a friendship or two.  Pity I don't speak French--it's the official language of Guinea from colonial days.  I'm sure most of the people speak their own tribal languages most of the time, but I'd imagine that many of them also speak French.  I suppose they also speak gestures and emoticons--if a translator isn't handy, I guess that will have to do.

Perhaps I'll have some fun stories next time I write.
Blessings on each of you,


Monday, March 04, 2013 11:18 PM
"you have to be fluid"

I don't know if it has made the news or not, but there is increasing unrest in Conakry, Guinea.  With an election on the horizon, the competing tribes seem to be jockeying for position, using stones to make their points.  I hear there have even been a few deaths, but apparently it is not out-and-out rioting or civil war. 

Naturally, Mercy Ships command is watching the situation closely.  The southern end of the peninsula is well guarded and safe--that is where the expats live and the government has their buildings.  The Africa Mercy is within the safe zone, and business continues as usual for them.
Our field service is affected, however.  Both the hospital where we intended to build a playground and the school where we intended to spend a couple of days with the kids are too far north, not in the safe zone.

So, we won't be going there.  There's a saying in Mercy Ships that when you work in Africa, you have to go beyond being flexible, you have to be fluid.  So, we'll flow into an alternative project--probably we'll do some work at the dental clinic site.  It needs some repair and is in the safe zone.
The airport where we land is also not in the safe zone.  But, the tribes are throwing the stones at each other, not at westerners.  We will be met by vehicles with Mercy Ships logos on their sides, and that is a fairly powerful protection in itself.  Both tribes benefit from our services and regard us with favor--they'd probably stop the conflict to let us pass.  And, you can be sure that the folks in charge are planning alternative routes to get us safely to our destination by skirting any conflicts that are in progress when we arrive.

So, we leave Wednesday morning as scheduled...but after we arrive, the schedule is kaput. It will be interesting to see how it all comes together.


  1. Wow, what a rad adventure! Thanks for sharing these:)

  2. Sharon. thank you for sharing this. I'll keep them in prayer. I have a friend who was on a Mercy Ship. They have amazing stories. It is a wonderful ministry. God bless, Maria

  3. Thanks, all. Yes, aren't they amazing? It gives new perspective to small neck of the world!

  4. This is so wonderful! Thank you for sharing this, Sharon, and please thank your friend for allowing us to read about her adventures. She will be in my prayers. Currently, my brother, who is a dentist, is in Haiti, doing dental work in a tiny village up in the "mountains." He'll be home in a few days, and I can't wait to hear about his experiences. My sister-in-law has had some communication with him, and he says he has a lot of stories to tell. I'll be eager to hear them!

  5. Wow, a dentist in the mountains of Haiti. It gives me hope knowing we have brave people who sacrifice their lives and time like this. They need our prayers. Thanks for stopping by, Kim.


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