Thursday, August 25, 2011

my heart is beeping.

before i get started i have a few things to get off of my chest (and since last post was a heavy and heart wrenching entry for me to type out, this one is going to be mostly pictures and nothing serious really...)
1. i forgot to take my doxycycline for the first 3 days i was here, but i didnt get any mosquito bites during that time, so holla.

2. ive forgotten to take my doxycycline for the last 3 days, and i can currently count 4 mosquito bites on my body. one is on my head. so im hoping to itch all the malaria out before it reaches my blood stream

3. i saw a shark, and no one believes me, so i would like to personally apologize to anna mozley, ashley ward, jordan karr, and emily smith for patronizing your shark story. i believe you. marie wasnt convinced it was a shark, so im not apologizing to her. but thanks for quoting me in your blog, i love you.

4. ive done insanity 3 times since ive been here, and i think ive done more pushups in the last week than i have in the last 4 years.

ok. so. the last week has been more than full of activities and adventures, so i figured i will give you a 1-2 picture snapshot of some of them...
here we go.

the men's prison: we weren't allowed to bring cameras, so theres no pictures. but it was AMAZING. i had the best time in the world. 9 of us went...2 americans, a south korean, ghanaian, australian, german, dominican republican, canadian, and one other place, but it was a while ago, and i cant remember. make up one. about 200 of the inmates piled into this little chapel in the prison and immediately the chorus leader just started yelling out a song, and everyone followed him clapping on the off beat. for like 45 minutes. these men worshipped and prayed like men who were truly in love with Jesus, they were so passionate and filled with joy. it was so fun. we danced a lot. then people got up and shared different messages and kind of tied scriptures roomate michael brought the Word, and they all love him. he is he is (he is also good friends with the mozley family, and spent a lot of time with them in ghana.)

and then we basically prayed for the guys for the rest of the time. they just walked up to us individually and sat down and began to tell their stories and about their families and what they needed prayer for and we got to know them a little better. it was such a good time of ministry and relationship building. i had a great time, and i cant wait to go back. it also smelled like death.

church: it was quite the adventure. we went to a church in waterloo about an hour away because michael had been asked to preach at a church there, so a small group of us went along with him. we got to experience the country side via public was quite the adventure. we crammed into a little van with about 15 other beautifully smelling sierra leoneans until they dropped us off outside the city on a dirt road, and we took the encata's (motorbikes) for the rest of the ride through the mountains and such. at a couple different points along the way i thought to myself, "my parents would probably be disappointed with this particular life choice", then got into/onto the motorized vehicle of choice. we made it safe and sound though :)

theres a little video of the end result of the trip on facebook. church was really good. 3 hours long. but good :)

the beach: the beaches here are probably the best beaches ive seen in my whole life. we had a little freetime, so we spent the afternoon at John Obey Beach. there was so much to explore, so much to take pictures of, and i got toasted. apparently malaria medication makes you get sunburned. good thing it always looks like i got tan.

(this is the beach we went to, but for some reason it wont let me upload my pictures from facebook, so i got them on google....) if youre friends with me on facebook, have at it.

aaand lets see. we went on a scouting mission in town because we really wanted ice cream one night, but no one could tell us where we could find it. luckily i have found some adventurous comrads who set out with me into town...really we just picked streets to walk down using eeny meeny miny mo, going through crazy markets, trying to remember which way we turned last, and being stared at by pretty much every person we passed. its really fun, because if you are a white person in freetown, there is a 95% chance you are from mercy ships, so the locals will yell "mercy chip! mery chip!" and the kids come up and grab our hands and say "elloooooo! elloooooo!, elloooooo!" about 37 times until they have been satisfied with the interaction. buncha cutie patooties. 
after about 30 minutes of exploring, danielle spotted a little soft serve ice cream stand on the side of the street! i cant believe i didnt take a picture of it. we were victorious. i dont think ice cream has ever tasted so good in my life. i was so satisfied. like at the end of the last harry potter movie.

i have more pictures to upload, but my camera is down stairs and i cant currently move my legs. insanity was the worst invention ever....

i spent half my day at the hope center today with a boy named Osman. he just had his leg amputated and is still doing therapy and learning to function with one leg. he was the bravest 8 year old i have ever met. he told me that right before they cut his leg off, he said to his mother (who was a mess), "God is in control. it will be just fine." we played soccer for like 2 hours, and he seriously scored on me like 18 times. at first i wasnt really trying, and then i decided to go a little harder on him, and he still wooped me.

another boy told me the story of how he got all of his burns on his face. he had asked his aunt for money to get a drink on  his way to school, and his aunt got angry at him because she thought he was trying to steal money from her. she began to yell at him and pushed him into the fire near their hut. his father saw her push him, so he killed her on the spot. he is in jail now, and the boy has burns all over his body. he is full of joy.

one of the day workers at the hope center told me about his experience during the war today. it was the first time that a local had really opened up to me about what actually personally happened to them so far. some of the things he shared with me are too grusome to share on here...but friends, let me tell you that most of us have no idea what kind of evil and tragedy has happened to the people here. i dont understand how these people have been able to rebuild and continued on with their lives. they have so much faith, and so much trust that God will provide and be their strength. i love that they dont just call him God here. it is always, "Papa God."

my heart is alive, and i am inspired daily by these people in my life.

Monday, August 22, 2011


a week and a half in, and of course (like most new places that you start to get comfortable with), it feels like ive been living on this boat for a couple months...i actually know my way around a little bit better, i have friends to sit with at meals, and im actually beginning to learn my way around town a little bit. like a really little bit. needless to say, each day has its own adventures :)

i want to write about all the excursions that ive been on over the last few days exploring around, but that isnt really what my heart wants to tell you about tonight. or right now anyway, it may change by the time i finish writing what im thinking about...

so when i first started looking into mercy ships and getting to go to Africa, i had some pretty big dreams (day dreams, if you will). i had high hopes and expectations of getting to go to Africa, living on this amazing ship and going to the front lines, saving the lives of the poor and downtrodden (however you spell it...), with heroic sacrifice and stories of getting to help people recieve their sight again...the lame who were carried into the hospital would be walking out of the ship after surgery with me by their side, embracing me with a big African smile and thanking me in broken english for how i had changed their my mind, i would get to the ship, and i would be important. people would hear my stories and read my blog, and raise their eyebrows at how much i had done on my trip, and the great things i had done with my life. i had significance because of all i had done, and i would feel like a hero. i'd be in the limelight.

so i get here, and i am immediately immersed in a community of people on this ship of people who have been doing this for years, and years, and years. they have done thousands of surgeries, pulled thousands of teeth, taken out thousands of cataracts, fixed cleft palates, removed tumors, and helped people to walk for the first time in their life. people that have given up everything: their practice, western comforts, family, relationships, a normal life, to serve the poorest of the poor in the middle of west africa. nurses work tirelessly, sometimes through the night, the dentists pull anywhere from 60-100 teeth per day, per dentist. its hot, and humid, and rainy, and muggy, and smelly. these people are amazing. they are doing what God has called them to do in obedience, and using their skills to change people's lives.

continuing i get here...not much certification. not much experience. more than ready for the importance and the heroics though (i can assure you). where is my placement? the galley. the kitchen. really?? easily the least recognized  and least glamorous position on the ship. (now when i say "placement", its not all that that do by any means or stretch of the imagination- but when people ask me what i do on the ship, i tell them i work in the galley). i cut the meat, peel the ginger, pick worms out of the lettuce, wash the mangos, mop the floors, and whatever else may be on the menu for that day. when i first got here, i was trying to think of any way that i could get myself out of having to do this insignificant, un-limelighted job that i had been placed in. how was i suppose to have the heroic experiences that i had dreamed of for so long? i wanted to be featured on the mercy ships website holding the hand of a boy who used to have a giant tumor on has face but now looks normal! how was that suppose to happen while im CUTTING THESE ONIONS FOR BEEF STEW? but, in the midst of my minor temper tantrum, God spoke to me more than clearly-"james, was i not the one that made the way for you to be here? was i not the one that ordained this entire trip, this entire experience? did i not provide all of the money and funds (PLUS some) in order for you to be sitting where you are? do you think i am somehow letting your time here accidently slip out of my fingers? you are exactly where you are suppose to be. i love you, shut up."

something like that.

what have i learned here so far? that God is not impressed with heroism. he is not impressed with people who feel really important, or who have significance in the eyes of everyone around them. he just wants our obedience. the maxillo-facial surgeons, just as much as the galley workers, have been commanded to be obedient in the areas that they have been placed. period.

i am beginning to learn that i am going to have PLENTY of time with the patients, PLENTY of time doing ministry, and more than enough time to do about a thousand other things available for crew to get involved in on the ship. i just pray that God would continue to show me exactly what i am suppose to be doing with that time, and to be obedient to every.single.thing. he tells me to do, and to not be afraid to do a job that will get no applause, no thanks, and no recognition, and to do it with obedience and joy in my heart. i cannot believe i have the honor of getting to be apart of this amazing ministry and most of all, that i have the honor of getting to serve such an amazing God. thank you Jesus for being so patient with me.

more to come very soon about some adventures ive gotten to go on recently. but for now, its time for bed. getting up in a few hours to starting making lunch for about 500 of my infinitely hungry crew mates :)

love you all. please keep praying for me. i need Him so much.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

oot and aboot.

so ive been trying to upload a video on the blog, but the internet has been struggling a bit for the past few days....the bandwith on the ship is too small to do anything before 2am...if all of this high tech internet lingo has you confused and you wanted a simpler explanation via comparison using an animal, i have thought of a good one. just now in my head: imagine a turtle. he's the greatest and most people friendly little turtle you've ever seen in your life, and you want to show all of your friends how adorable he is. all of your friends are across the atlantic ocean though, and you have to ride the little fella aaaall the way across the ocean to show them, since you dont have a boat or any money for airfare. the turtle is my video that i want to show you. riding him across the atlantic ocean is how long it would take in order for you to actually see it. so. pictures it is, for today...

some friends that i work with and I went for a little hike to get off the ship yesterday and explore around freetown a little bit, and it was a blast. i have never actually lived long enough in a foreign place to actually be able to just go out with some friends and explore, not have to tell my team leader where im going, or have to be back by any certain time, or have any rules or guidelines placed on my outing. we just started walking, and ended up up hiking the mountain closest to the ship, basically weaving our way around no particular path or direction, going around shacks, meeting the locals, talking and laughing. and tripping a lot. it was steep.

in my humble opinion, exploring a new place with no real end goal in mind is the best way to do it, because there is really no such thing as "lost" persay. just more like "hm, now would be a good time to turn around, he isnt smiling." but we always managed to find our way back to a road. and its the best way to find the places that no one else knows about, or views you wouldnt have been able to find other wise, or coffee shops tucked away in a corner somewhere. not that those exist here. but. you get the idea....

the higher we got, the better the view got. you cant really see it, but our floating house is somwhere down there....

 these are my friends who all work with me when we prepare food for the ship a few times a week. on the far left is rachel, who graduated from culinary school in california and joined the ship a year ago and has been going strong ever since. she is the main hot food cook on the team. next is jen, originally from Taiwan and who i usually work with on the other end of the galley cutting up cucumbers and peeling garlic and trying to convince her that i really am just kidding and im not actually mad at her for spilling water on my shirt. she is still working on understanding the whole sarcasm side of my humor... on the right is Ghislain from Benin, who i also work with and has probably become my best friend on the ship so far. this guy has the funniest personality, and we have had a lot of good talks together. the guy has faith like no one i've met before. i've started teaching him guitar, and he is picking it up so fast...i thank God for him.

he also sings louder than i do in the kitchen. which is impressive. he is in love with Kim Walker. he doesnt know the majority of the words to her songs, but he still sings. as loud as he can. and i love it. i had to break the news to him that she got married, and he ran over to the computer to google if it was true or not. true dispair.

 here's the ship a little closer up...and my face.

 i got to work in the hospital ward tonight, which was a blast. i got to spend a lot of time with a little boy and girl who were really bad burn victims. the girl, alberta,  had been burned on her arm and side so her skin had healed back in a way that her left arm was fused into her torso. its kind of hard to explain, but her parents had no money to have it fixed, and she was going to have to live the rest of her life with her arm essentially grown into the rest of her body. the boy's burns were so bad that his fingers on his right hand had completely fused together. through their surgeries and 3 months of living on the ship doing physical/occupational therapy, both of them will have their lives back again, with full function in their limbs. i was able to spend time listening to their stories and both of them were so excited to show me (kind of distusting) pictures of their burns and before and after pictures, but i loved it anyway, they were hilarious. i met a lot of the other adult patients and well. so many names that ive never heard before and already dont remember. and honestly, (just like all white people look the same to them), i can never tell any of them apart. i will get better. i hope.

tomorrow i work in the galley in the morning, then later i will be going to the hope center for the first time to see what work is being done off the the ship. i've heard from everybody that it is an amazing place, so i cant wait to see it. they ask us not to exploit the patients in the ward and at the hope center by taking pictures of them (many of them are deformed or still very early in the recovery process and are very sensitive), so forgive me if i dont put up many pictures of me and the patients. saturday im going to the only maximum security prison in sierra leone with my ghanaian roomate to do a bible study with some guys he has built relationships with there! i am so excited! please be praying for that experience specifically please, i think it could be the start of something really cool.

last but not least. i cant figure out how to respond to your comments. ive tried a million times, but it wont seem to let me... so if any of you have advice on this matter, please help. if its an obvious answer, pretend like its not and explain it as if you were explaining it to a 5 year old.

anyway. time for bed. heres the sunset from the ship tonight. love you all very much.


Sunday, August 14, 2011

one body.

so today is sunday, and i have officially been in sierra leone for 3 whole days. i already have that feeling like i've been here for a month, which seems to happen every time i go to a new place...just like starting highschool, or the honor academy, or college, or a new church, i'm in that wonderful stage of feeling like that new kid that people kind of recognize because they had an awkward side step with him in the stairwell or saw him pass by 4 times in 15 minutes because he was lost wandering around the ship with that dazed look (and obviously clueless) and couldnt find the bathroom that he swore he saw 3 turns ago but the layout of the ship makes about as much sense as Kresge dorm does so he just keeps walking. and yes, i have had the "standing in the middle of bustling cafeteria holding my tray desperately searching for the 4 familiar faces on the ship i know of before someone realizes that ive been standing in the same spot for 2 minutes" experience a couple times already. love it.

as much as this little awkward stage is inevitable, i love it. there are actually a lot of things i have already come to love about this unique community. i love waking up to 4 different accents in the morning. i love trying to figure out what my Benin friend Ghislain is trying to say to say me as he is laughing histerically at a joke he had apparently just told but i didnt catch it. so i laugh anyway. i love dancing with the Sierra Leonean day workers in the kitchen to west african soul music while we cut onions and mop the floors. i love making fun of Dutch people saying "gee gersh." i love living on a boat in africa. I love listening to people tell me about how they came to know Jesus, how he has healed so many of them, how alive he is in their hearts. I love hearing people's stories of how they ended up in Sierra Leone on a hospital boat, and why they chose this life style of serving the poorest of the poor. every single person on this ship has a beautiful story and background, and i cant get enough of them.

tonight was the community church service on board. now- i've been to quite a few international church services before, and i have definitely experienced the amazing joy that comes with gathering together surrounded by different cultures and languages, worshipping together, but in one voice, praising the same God who has changed all of our lives in so many ways. tonight i think i have seen one of the coolest pictures of the body of Christ that i have ever seen before. to be with so many people who have literally given their lives for the cause of Christ, to see to it that every tongue, tribe, and nation would know the gospel of Jesus...i felt like i was literally living in Acts 2. 41 nationalities, all in one place, with one vision, and one love for Jesus.


how deh body??

the way they ask how you're doing here is by asking how your body is....they say, "how deh body?" and you say, "deh body fine, brudda (if its a guy...). its funny and i like it.

on the nationality list so far, i have met people from Canada, Brazil, Korea, Malasia, Togo, Benin, England, Spain, Sierra Leone, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Colombia, Italy, Austria, Czech Republic, Holland, Scotland,  Russia, Germany. Belgium, Ghana, Sri Lanka, and someone from South Dakota. I have also found one person who knows how to play euchre. so. i've got some work to do.

so as far as work goes, im going to be able to get to have a taste of a little bit of everything... I will be working in the kitchen, i'll be doing prison ministry on saturdays, helping out in the nurse ward a few nights per week with the kids who have to stay over night post-op, i will hopefully be on the emergency medical team (when something happens off site to one of ours or a Sierra Leonean and we would be able to help) which will be a team that will be on call for emergencies both on and off the ship, i will be making regular visits to the Hope Center, mercy ship's off ship center for both medical help, classes, and a place for women and children to come for different programs, and depending on  how much they need me, they may train me in the next few weeks to do medical sterilizing for the eye i would get to work a little more in the hospital too. I will be able to observe surgeries pretty regularly, and i'll be occasionally shadowing one of the post-op doctors who was on the flight with me and offered to teach me anything i wanted to know. she is great.

SO. with all that said. i will be busy, and learning a lot, and getting to do everything that i hoped and dreamed. i trust that God will be directing me to the palces he wants me to center in on while i am here, because as you just read, it can get a little overwhelming with all of the places i will be able to serve. He brought me here for a reason, and i am so excited to watch His plan for me unfold every day. please be praying that i will have open eyes and open ears to every opportunity that i am presented with, and that i will never lose sight of why i am here.

ive been getting morning sickness lately, and i finally figured out why. i ruled out pregnancy real early on, which narrowed it down quite a bit to either to sea sickness, or something that is combined with sea sickness (cause this sucker rocks back and forth enough to make your stomach turn a few loo-loo's)... luckily i live on the smartest ship in the world, and one of the doctors said at lunch said, "let me guess. youve been taking your malaria meds when you wake up before you eat." and then i said back to HIM, "yup." woops.
so im looking forward to not feeling like throwing up every morning now. or throwing up in general.

i think the video blog may still work. check in soon. if not, facebook is gonna have to do.

i love you all, thank you for the prayers, and thanks for being interested in this :) pictures to come soon too


Friday, August 12, 2011

Safe and sound...

25 hours of travel time later, I am safely aboard her majesty the M/V Africa Mercy :) holla. i actually just woke up a little while ago and the clock says its 10:21am but my body is slightly disagreeing with that.

the traveling part wasnt bad at all. i prayed before i got on the flight from chicago to Brussels that i would for some reason get bumped up to first class (because i dont sleep on planes. ever. i can only sleep laying down or something...and with a standard sized medium firm pillow, half cotton, half feather..), and before i got on the plane, i just asked the woman at the desk straight up if there were any empty seats in first class, and she said no, but if i wanted it there is an entire exit row with extra leg room that is empty if i wanted that one....and the crazy thing is that they usually need a pretty strong guy who would be fearless in case of emergency to sit there and open the emergency exit door (kind of like your basic everyday hero, like a fireman, or thor), so we were perfectly able to fit each other's needs. praise Jesus. the exact same thing happened on the 8 hour flight from brussels to gambia to freetown.

i met a man in the row next to me that is basically the main frontrunner for human rights and for the peace process between the rebels and the victims from the Sierra Leonean civil war that ended in 2002. his name is named John Caulker, and he may have been one of the most incredible humans that i have ever met. he just wrote a book, and his close personal friend, Ishmael Beah (author of the book A Long Way Gone) wrote the forward for it. anyway, for about 3 hours he told me of all the stories of peace and reconciliation that have happened between mothers and sons, brothers, tribal members, and families through his organization  and all of the progress that has been made. some of his stories left me in tears (check him out... for our whole conversation, he explained to me the culture that i am about to move into and the difficulties that are faced in the reconciliation process...he described it as "a land where former soldiers live again alongside the women they raped or whose husbands they killed, or the men whose hands they cut off. They didn't apologize; didn't acknowledge the past. They just moved back in. Fambul Tok (his organization) is trying to bring restoration to these people."

so much to get used to, and so much to learn. he asked me if i would come for a 3 day trip with him to see what he does in the villages to understand first hand the state that this country is in. if they let me, im in.

I am in the internet cafe right now on the part of the ship that they call the town square, and it is a huge lounge with a starbucks cafe(ish....they dont use real milk. other than that its starbucks), games, a big piano, and lots of tables for people to sit around and drink coffee and talk and stuff. lots of love connections going on at the moment. its like asburys student center, but smaller, no one is laying on anyone else, the people are a little older, and it rocks ever so slightly back and forth. i feel home. i have 4 roomates, one from Benin, one from South Africa, one from Holland, and my bunk mate is british. all great guys.

in the brussels airport i talked with a sweet old british man who introduced himself to me as Ian. we all talked with him for about 30 minutes in the airport he was HILARIOUS and one of the most interesting people ive met. he is a short term surgeon on the ship for about 3 months per year. to give you an idea of what he was like, i asked him what he thought the cause of all the riots going on in his home town was. he paused for maybe a half second, looked at me, and in his little british accent he says, "well probably original sin i should think." and that was it.
it wasnt until i got on the ferry that someone told me i was talking to Lord Ian McColl, one of england's most renown surgeons, who also happens to be a member of the House of Lords (English Parliament.... i had been talking to royalty like he was my grandpa in our tree fort. woops.

so i have some great news, and some not so great news. starting with the great news, i am in Sierra Leone, and healthy as a little baby clam. not even a sore throat or stuffy nose or anything. bad news is that the video blog and skype maybe a no go. they really limit the amount of things you can do on the internet because of limited bandwidth, so skype is a no for sure i think, and ill have to get back to you on the videos. but i can for sure do pictures!

i gotta go. love you all very much, continue to pray for me please as i begin to learn my way around this gigantic ship.