Sendra and I are the same age. He is my Gasy Brother. It doesn’t mean that he’s windy, and as many times as I explain it, that joke isn’t funny in another language. ‘Gasy’ can be placed as a prefix for anything that is a Malagasy version or done in a Malagasy way. ‘Madagascan’ doesn’t actually exist here, although it looks nicer without red wiggly lines underneath it. I guess if we referred to vanilla as Malagasy Vanilla no one would know where it came from?
We sat in a restaurant eating tapas under the shade of a large tree and she gently said,
“I really don’t understand how I got here”
Which is a strange yet understandable statement. Serenety is a young, fun, adventurous Chinese woman who serves alongside me on the Africa Mercy. She started last November in Sales and is a wonderful cheery face that serves me coffee every now and then.
Serenety chose her own name a few years ago. She chose it because it means peace. Her Chinese name is Liu Ting. Ting means beauty & elegance; Liu is the name of the first ever female Chinese astronaut. This ‘Liu’ isn’t the only Chinese woman making waves in history. Serenety is the first ever Chinese crew member on the Africa Mercy; she was also the first Chinese person to come to Texas and complete the training program for Mercy Ships.
Serenety came from a north western province of China called Lanzhou. From a province full of factories, to the red dirt and pine smells of summery Texas, to the chaos of Congo. It’s an understatement to say that Serenety had to cope with a lot of new cultures. When I first met her, she delicately pointed at something and asked “what is this?” I replied with “oh yeah it’s not very good cheese, it’s some processed stuff ” thinking that she was just as unimpressed with this ‘orange jack’ fellow as I was. But I was wrong. She meant “what is cheese?”. .. as a Brit it’s difficult to imagine a world without cheese. This was the first of many situations where I was suddenly flung into this sweet woman’s shoes, realising that she was in a very foreign world where nothing was familiar.
Serentey found God in 2011 in an underground church in China. After 4 years of sleepless nights, struggling with depression and looking for answers; she came across a book that recommended finding a religion. She visited a government church and talked to people there until they showed her the way to an underground church. During her first visit she explains how she felt overwhelmed by the atmosphere and by the goodness she could see all around her. She had never heard of Christianity before this point.
The people she knew at home in China said that she wouldn’t be able to achieve her goals of going abroad and joining Mercy Ships because she is a small Chinese girl who is too weak. Without a shadow of a doubt I can tell you that this woman is the bravest person I have ever met. Serenety doesn’t believe me when I tell her she is brave, but she is learning each day that God can use any one from any background for his kingdom.
There are many stories about Serenety that illustrate this but I will share just a short one.
I shared awhile ago about my trip to the prison in Point Noire, Congo. Serenety asked me one day what it was like. I told her it was a great experience but it was a little scary and quite intimidating. The next time I spoke to her she told me she went to the prison too. She said that she was scared and didn’t like the atmosphere, or the eyes that were upon her and vowed (in her head) never to go back . Then she prayed to God that he would put the right people in that place as she felt ill-equipped and too inexperienced to help. However, as she sent up those prayers a Chinese man came out from behind a wall. Serenety was there with a fellow missionary. Together they spoke to him and Serenety translated in her respectful and gentle way. They listened to his story. He had been imprisoned because he had killed another Chinese man. He was a 50 year old fisherman and after being bullied and beaten by the Captain of his ship, he was overtaken by anger and he killed the Captain. He was sentenced for 30yrs in this Congolese prison. Serenety went back to see him with a Chinese Bible and later that man gave his life to God and was baptised in a prison that doesn’t even have running water.
Serenety keeps telling me that she is weak and that she is unable to God’s work, but I don’t think that’s what God thinks. He is using her mightily for his kingdom. She didn’t think she was the right person and God showed her that she was the perfect person.
“Even if I think I can not do something, God always provides people and resources for me”
God has much planned for the future of this brave woman from China!
Potatoes of any variety, shape or size
Good quality toilet paper; she says it’s a sign of a good and respectable establishment – I think we’d all agree on that.
Freshly squeezed juice (especially with ginger)
She also loves being surprised by God
Things that motivate Serenety
Learning new things
How to support this fun potato loving woman…
Serenety finishes her Mercy Ships whirlwind in September when she will join YWAM in China in order to complete a DTS (Discipleship Training School). She wants to learn more about God and would one day love to be a Christian counselor.
As my friend continues to grow and follow God’s plan for her life she will need financial support.
If you would like to be a part of Serenety’s journey and sponsor her, you can send me a message or you can donate directly to her Mercy Ships account online up until the end end of August.
We approached the hospital with no real expectations. After previous disappointing encounters it’s best not to set the bar too high. High heights to fall from. We went that morning to attempt to evaluate a training course in neonatal resuscitation. The three day course took place 3 months before, led by Nurses from Mercy Ships for Midwives and Neonatal Specialist Nurses in Adolphe-Sicé Hospital, Congo. The subject is definitely not my strong point. I’m trained as an Adult ICU nurse with some A&E experience. But I tagged along with a new hat on. As from August I will have a new title; Clinical Ward Educator. As I am moving into my new job, I went to observe and attempt to learn more about assessment and evaluation in the work place. In the Congolese work place, it’s a little bit different.
We walked up to the hospital hoping that the current Clinical Ward Educator, Hannah, would be recognised and be let in. Luckily the guard unlocked the gate and welcomed us in to the shiny white hospital. We walked up the stairs and entered the neonatal unit to be met by one smiley Mamma. She not only recognised Hannah but threw her arms around her and did the two kissy thing on the cheek (French left overs). We all followed suit and were welcomed in to the unit. Another Nurse greeted Hannah and agreed to answer some questions. We started with our first question:
“How have you found the course material… have you been able to put it in to practice?”
The nurse became animated as she cut of the end of the question to respond.
“Of course, look at that baby there, it was born this morning and it was dead. Now it is alive because of that training! We resuscitated it like you told us!
We were all a little taken aback and that funny inexplicable thing happened when all the hairs stand up on end and you feel a little choked. The next question was about the ambu bag (resuscitation mask); we realised that a lot of the units had one (albeit old) but some didn’t keep them close by. They would be under lock and key to be kept safe and no one really knew how to use them. They were encouraged on the course to use them, shown how and given lots of practice. Hannah asked “did you use the bag and where is it?” The nurse responded “of course, it’s next to the baby incase we need it again!”
And at that moment in my head as I stared at that little baby with it’s quick little breaths and beautiful black fuzzy hair, lying quietly beside a mask… some fat ladies started singing hallelujah inside my head in perfect harmony.
We had impacted something!
We talked to some other nurses across two different units and they all gave the same feedback, they remembered all the information, used it and taught it to their colleagues. And they really did because people showed us how to resuscitate a neonatal baby that weren’t even on the course.
We walked out of that place shocked and to be honest I was slightly ashamed of my original low expectations. The boss lady said they had had fewer deaths since we delivered the training. Amazing.
During the next field service I will be taking over Hannah’s job so I will be running programs for local nurses from Benin (our next destination from Aug 2014- June 2015) It will be a 6 week program where nurses come and work on the ship, learn in the classroom and build relationships at the same time. I will also be organising some day courses and short courses like this one. I’m so excited to teach and learn from the nurses there that I haven’t even met and now, after today, I am expectant not just optimistic.
Expectant of what we can achieve.
Expectant of what we can learn.
Expectant of what will change.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” Nelson Mandela
“Wealth, if you use it, comes to an end; learning, if you use it, increases”~Swahili proverb
Some pictures from the last group who participated in the Mercy Ships education program.
We are now going to Benin instead of Guinea … mainly due to the Ebola outbreak. Firstly it’s not so great if we end up spreading the disease, secondly we may not have a big enough work force to go. So after a lot of careful consideration from the people at the top and chats with all the organisations involved in Guinea, MercyShips decided to change course. So off to Benin we go. First stop Canary Islands for some maintenance on the ship. We leave on the 1st of June. Byeo!
My phone rang today and it was one of the Gurkhas. They said a patient was waiting for me on the gangway. I looked at the calendar, nothing was booked but that doesn’t mean anything. They said they weren’t sure why she was here. I asked which patient it was and in their Nepalese accent they said Angely. I guessed they meant Angelique. I was surprised because she should be in her village by now. She was officially discharged a few weeks ago and has been staying with an uncle in Pointe Noire. Angelique and her son Riche live miles away and they need to get and train and a few trucks before they even get close to home.
I told the Gurkhas I was on my way to see what was going on. I must admit I was a little worried that her wound had broken down, that she had some kind of surgery related complication. I got there and it was Angelique. She was sitting on the dock in a beautiful blue flowery dress. It’s funny how when you catch only the left side of her face you realise how amazingly beautiful she is. The right side turns and you remember the heartache she has been through … the three operations, the problematic wound healing, the pain, the ridicule and all those dressings. But nevertheless beautiful to me.
She waved at me and laughed as I shouted “copina muna” which means my friend in KiKongo. She wrapped her arms around me in a way that only Angelique does, kinda snuggles her soft corse curly hair in to my neck. With that big grin you really have no choice but to smile. I asked what she was doing here and she said she knew we were going soon and wanted to come and say a final goodbye. She said she was very sad that I was leaving. I asked whether she had come for anything else, money, things, to see anyone else? She said no. Just to see me one last time. This is where the title came in.
She came all this way (she is staying far from the port and transport here is expensive!) just to see me. Me! A few sad tears fell out as I sat humbled by her act of friendship and beauty. What a women. We sat and chatted for a while and then said our goodbyes. I prayed for her and we had an elongated hug. I told her that she is a strong and beautiful women no matter what people say, then after our little pep talk we parted and she jumped back on a Mercy Ships car and drove away from this big white ship that we call home.
Again life is about love and loss … you’re not really living if you don’t experience either.
*Angelique lives in Mayonze, Congo. She had a large Maxilla Tumour that actually turned out to be a very rare form of Cancer. It grew back a little and so she had a few operations with us. She was less than 30kg on arrival even with a tumour weighing 2.5 kg she’s now more like 55kg. She seems to be doing fine now and so we hope she will be able to go back to her village and lead a normal life. *
So todays job is to make photo albums for our colleagues and friends that we are leaving behind in Congo. It doesn’t seem that long ago since we we’re waving good bye to our parents in Heathrow Airport. Now the time approaches when we say goodbye again, this time to friends we have made here in the Republic of Congo. We leave in less than three weeks. As I sit and make their albums I am overwhelmed with a sense of loss. I may never see these people again but they have welcomed me in to their homes and in to their lives.
But I am learning more and more that this is the nature of Mercy Ships and of Life.
Love and Loss is inevitable regardless of who you are or your circumstance. People come in to your life and they leave. It is the way of things.
I live on an oversized ferry parked up alongside a central African country. I live with 450 people. I see the same people everyday. Some say “Hello”. Some don’t. Some say “How are you?”; some mean it and some don’t. I find myself searching and longing for rawness and a realness that is apparently rare, regardless of environment.
For the first few months I struggled – dealing with the abundant life I have here in terms of beauty, fun and adventure, but the emptiness I sometimes feel in terms of relationships, family and community. As odd as it may sound I found it incredibly hard to build relationships here. Confusing? A big ship filled with people that are passionate, inspiring and want to make the world a better place? You would think (and i did) that it would be a land flowing with friendships and a never ending stream of possible relationships. However, although my expectations of many things regarding living in Africa were accurate, I was well off the mark with this one.
My first impression of the ship was how spiritually dry it felt. Perhaps the reality of a faith based organisation – living out love in action to some of the worlds poorest people – has it’s toll spiritually in terms of how much more can be given out. Maybe when you give all your time and engery to the local people whom we are here to serve, there is nothing left for your neighbour? But my question was, and still is, how do we fill up? Where is that energy coming from? How can we give 100% to the mission and still be able to support, encourage and love our shipmates?
I was surprised because the Mercy Ships training in the US was so focused on God and everything was built on prayer. The management team there were incredibly inspiring and constantly chasing after God. I see that here too; but in individuals, not as a group. Not as a community. Somewhere there is a disconnection.
I see people that are striving to make a difference in the world. People that have massive amounts of integrity and I want to learn from that. People that love the poor, are committed to serving others, have compassion for people and a thirst for God/ However, I don’t see that on a day to day basis in the community, collectively. I see business, I see a quick and professional “Hello, how are you?”
I arrived on Ship just before Christmas and many people were preparing their bags and their hearts for their departure date. I felt like there was no room for me as the people staying were mourning the loss of their ship mates. After a few months and still lacking genuine relationships that go further than how are you? I’m fine: I began to wonder, is it me? What am I doing wrong? Why does this community not feel like home? A little while longer and I had a handful of very special people in my life that I felt I could be free with and the community started feeling a little smaller. I’m not saying that there weren’t people during that time that I could talk to or laugh with … there were many, but I mean people to be vulnerable with, to have coffee with, to be your stupid self with, people that want to hang out with you! There was only a handful of them.
Last week I went on holiday with a small group of friends (photo minute~ Ode to Congo and Her Country) for a week and when we came back there was a note on my door saying “Welcome home”. Inside was a card from one very cool lady. I said to Ally, “why has she sent this to us, is she leaving?” Ally replied “no, she’s just good at community”. I paused and thought
“Wow, I want to be good at community!”
I got in to the cabin only to be met by a few iMessages and Facebook messages from concerned Congolese colleagues who thought I had left for England. Then I went to work the next day and all my patients asked where I had been. People stopped me in the corridors and said
“It’s so good to have you back, we missed you!”
And I began to wonder did I come back to the right ship? Was I wrong about how I felt before? Were my perceptions all wrong? Where ever I was I felt like I had come back home.
I realised this week that Home is not something I can make happen with pictures on the walls or keepsakes; It’s somewhere I feel welcomed and comfortable being me and that place can be created by your community. Your community can make you feel important and create that thing we call HOME! I realised that I am cared for and that I can belong here. And that was all changed by an outward expression of love and appreciation from others. People that took time to say a simple “we missed you!” or put a note on the door made me feel at home.
This made me realise that I have the ability to make others feel at home. I have the power to make someone feel loved and like they belong or the ability to make someone feel uncomfortable. There’s a well known saying;
“Be the change you want to see”
Which is argueably some form of shortened version of something Gandhi maybe, may have possibly said…
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do.”
Well I do want to change and live in a way that positively impacts those around me. It’s the greatest commandment right? First love God and then your neighbour… simples.
And so I embarked on a small challenge. To see if I could do it…. If I could be good at community. So I did what I know… I baked. I delivered cheese scones. A few to office spaces, a few to my husband having a nap and a few to some cabins. In return I got a lot of smiles, a few speechless faces and pure joy manifested in a little bit of hysterical laughter. That was nice, of course it makes you feel good to make others happy, but wait there’s more. I also got the favour returned. Someone made me flapjacks for my night shifts and then I had a percy pig delivery to my door.
It’s not just about gifts or acts of service but about indiscriminate acts of kindness. Just loving one another. What would this ship look like if we just loved each other? If we said the good things that run through our minds out loud like “I missed you” or “I’m so glad you are here”. I’ve realised that I often have positive thoughts about people, however, I’m far more likely to speak out about the negative things than the positive ones. I felt at home just because people came out and said the positive things. So I tried that out too; today I met a new crew member and when she opened her mouth I was all happy inside to hear an Irish accent. I worked with a lot of Irish nurses in London and so it was just like being at home. I thought about it for a while before giving my self a talking to, “Amy just say it!” So I did I gave her an almighty hug and declared;
“Oh It’s so good to hear an Irish accent again, I have missed that so much. I’m so glad you are here!”
A few hours later she found me and thanked me for making her feel at HOME. She said that was the first time she had really felt like she belonged here!
Is it right or wrong that the acts of others can make the difference between belonging and not belonging?
Should I just be able to feel at home through being at peace with myself and God?
I don’t know.
But I do know that I too can make a difference. It’s a big ship with a lot of people but for today I’m going to start a new mission. To love others with kind words, indiscriminate acts of kindness and attempt to make other people feel at home:
To be good at community! And then maybe change the world!
These are completely my own thoughts and ponderings and do not represent Mercy Ships … they just represent me and my observations about life here on the Africa Mercy.
After weeks of bonding with the same patients and we had arrived at common ground. We danced together. We taught each other songs and prayed together. I would laugh at the way they would mimic my mysterious english words and they would cackle and fall to the floor as I tried to learn congolese dances and speak in their mother tongues. We had come to know each other although we could not understand each other on a linguistic level there was a trust and a deep recognition of compassion and love from both sides. When there is trust and those initial walls break down you begin to really see the cultural differences and learn a lot about each other…. maybe more than I expected.
One day whilst working on the ward I was preparing some medication and then it happened; my cultural incident.
The mammas had been discussing something about the nurses, they would occasionally look at us and smile. They were analysing something. Then one of the older Mammas approached me from behind and grabbed my breasts!! She quickly squeezed them and then ran away laughing like a little girl. The whole ward fell apart laughing including one slightly embarrassed Nurse. I called a translator who found the whole experience very funny. He got to the bottom of the matter once the laughter dyed down and informed me that all the mammas were desperate to know what our breasts felt like. She said that our white breasts point a different direction and she didn’t understand why. We entered into a nice chat about bras and the fact that none of the white nurses working at that time had children and so hadn’t breast fed. This was also very funny to them as we are all old enough to have had many children. What followed was an comical few days on the ward where if you got too close to the mammas they would aspire to follow the first mammas example and fuel their own curiosity. I learnt a lesson in trust. I learnt that if you are willing to whole heartedly integrate and trust someone from a completely different culture you have to expect to be surprised, prepare for the odd red face and be willing to laugh and to learn together.
Most of these patients have suffered terrible burns, they have lost fingers and toes and the use of some limbs. They are undergoing surgery and physiotherapy to improve their movement, dexterity and quality of life.
All credit and collies go to Ruben Plomp for these beautiful portraits. Thankyou Mr Crab.