Bonjour d’Afrique de l’ouest! Officially I have been living on board the M/V Africa Mercy, docked here in Dakar, Senegal for ten days now! It has been fairly easy settling back into ship living – the tight communal living, shared bathrooms, eating in the dining hall, and steep stairs down to your cabin at night. You get used to the night noises and the gentle swaying of the ship, and I love living with people from so many nations all around the world, sharing skills and life with one another. Tonight I had dinner with a guy from Sierra Leone, and a gal from New Zealand. I worked with staff from Senegal, USA, Canada, and Sweden this morning. I got help from a lady from Ghana, met a man in the stairwell from the Congo, and had breakfast with someone from the UK. It’s a whole world, right here on a ship in West Africa.
The floating hospital officially opened on Monday this week, where each ward welcomed her first patients that had been preselected in the years and months leading up to the ships arrival here in Senegal. Most of our patients are coming in from the countryside, where access to health care services, especially surgery is limited. We welcomed two beautiful young boys who were to be on the first list for surgery that commenced on Tuesday. One had gigantism, caused by an excessive amount of the growth hormone, which results in limbs, though usually fingers or toes growing to ‘giant’ size. The other had a burn contracture to his right arm, after his shirt caught on fire when he was 5. Both had been living with their different abilities for more than 10 years. The boy with the burn contracture was unable to really use his right arm. Another today had one hand completely deformed into a permanent fist after he grabbed fire 10 years ago as an infant. My first response was almost mild shock. I wouldn’t see these conditions at home, because they would be treated earlier. Like the adults coming in with cleft lips and palates. My second, almost immediate response is sadness. Sadness for poverty’s failure to provide these boys with immediate help. Sadness for the ridicule and in-access they have experienced due to something changeable, but out of their control. Compassion for who these boys were, and who they could be, though burdened by their current options. Then, feelings of Hope. Hope for what the ship could bring, hope that tomorrow they would wake up, after free surgery, less burdened for the first time since they could walk or talk. Hope that literally, tomorrow they would be different.
I spent my first shift preparing my patients for theatre, and then welcoming them back to the ward post operatively. Although there are the general nursing skills and tasks that I am required to attend too; the IV lines, the vitals signs, the medications. The real exciting bit is that I am now permanently a part of their story. And better yet, the Love of Jesus is too. The morning of the first surgeries, the head surgeon, Dr Gary Parker, prayed over the intercom and committed the day to the Lord. We are all here because we love what we do, and we have a passion to see people freed from disease and poverty. But more than that, we are here because we believe that God is a God of love, who does not cause people to suffer, but dearly shows compassion to His people. It was Jesus who showed me how to love first. It was Jesus who taught me to be compassionate. And it was Jesus who showed me how to be moved in compassion to heal the sick. I can do all the work I do, like clockwork, but without the love that God has given me, flowing through me, then none of it really matters. It isn’t going to be my nursing that is going to make a difference in the patients lives, it is going to be love.
I cannot wait to meet our next patients coming through the ward, and as my patients begin to recover, I cannot wait to get to know them and their families more. All anxiety felt in Dubai left the second I landed in Dakar. There is so much to be seen and explored at the edge of ourselves. It is here, that God is so much bigger. I’ve been really encouraged by this passage today, so I’ve shared it to finish up.
“If I speak the tongues of man, or angels but do not have love, I am like a resounding gong, or a clanging symbol. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship, but do not have love, I gain nothing… [love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres… When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror. Then, we will see face to face. Now I know only in part, then, I shall know fully, just as I am fully known. And now these things remain: Faith, Hope & Love. But the greatest of these is Love.”
~1COR13:1-13 (paraphrased in part).
This too shall last.
– K xx