Saturday, May 11, 2013

Satisfying the heart

2 ½ months onboard the Africa Mercy is not nearly enough to satisfy a heart craving to see hundreds of lives changed and hearts renewed.  But it does serve to quench the thirst a bit.  It was hard for me to leave when so many of the patients I was caring for were still in the midst of healing.  I hated knowing that I wouldn’t be there to see their skin grafts all healed and the function that they would gain from their newly changed limb or face.  But I knew that I was leaving them in very skilled and qualified hands who would update me on the outcomes!  All this said, it really wasn’t too difficult to leave the ship because I was so excited for what was coming ahead!

5 days before Dogara and I left Guinea on our way to Sierra Leone and Nigeria, we had a nice night out in celebration of his last day working on the ship.  Over the past few weeks, we were both very feeling very tired of our time in Guinea; tired of the political difficulties in Guinea, tired of long work days, and tired of him living off the ship and me on the ship.  So celebrating his last day of work was a nice sigh of relief.  We dressed up nice and went for a drink at an open air- ocean side garden restaurant called Fugu-Fugu-Faga-Faga.  Great name, huh?!  It was a nice and relaxing place to sit and talk and debrief our time in Guinea and look forward to our trips to Sierra Leone and Nigeria.  After enjoying the warm breeze and each other’s company, it was time to start heading back to the ship.  We walked along the ocean until we came to a soccer field that sat on the ocean.  We had never been there before, so we decided to go in and explore.  Dogara’s roommate was also with us at the time, walking around snapping picture, trying out his new camera.  After a few minutes, we stood at the side of the field by the ocean, and Dogara suddenly started talking real serious and saying extremely nice things about me and our relationship... I was starting to wonder if he was feeling alright.  Then I realized what was happening—in this perfect place, with this perfect man—was about to be a perfect moment that I would never forget.   I soaked in every detail of the moment as he got down on 1 knee and asked me that fateful question, “will you marry me?”  “Yes, of course!” was my ecstatic response as his roommate started snapping shots left and right!

Me at the soccer field pre-proposal
wondering why he is talking so serious...
The moment of truth

It was that beautiful moment that every girl looks forward to and I couldn’t have asked for a better story to tell.  We had discussed our relationship and future extensively over the few months before this, and God had made it very clear to us that marriage was the next step, so I had been anxiously hoping and waiting for this moment, and couldn’t have planned for a better time.   I asked him later if he was nervous, and he said no, nothing could make him nervous again after having the “discussion” with my dad on the phone!


5 days later we left for Sierra Leone to visit some of my old friends and favorite places.  After 1 week there we flew to Nigeria to spend a month with his family and friends celebrating the Big News with all of them, and on June 1st I will be flying home to celebrate with all of YOU!
early morning departure from ship
Enjoying our friends wedding in Sierra Leone

visiting with old friends in Sierra Leone

I have some serious prayer requests this time that I earnestly ask you all to help me with:

-      -  We have applied for a fiancĂ© visa so that we can get married in the US.  It’s not easy for West African’s to get visas to the States, but we are confident that our relationship is designed and encouraged by God and by His grace we will get the visa!  We ask for your prayers in this, especially for a speedy process!

-     -   Also pray for wedding plans to come together smoothly, as there is a lot of unknown as to when we will get the visa, and once it is granted we have 3 months to get married!

- Last but not least, pray for our relationship- that we will not get bogged down with concerns about the visa process and all the logistics of the situation, but that we can continue to grow and remember why we are doing all of this!

Monday, April 1, 2013

"Jesus Wept."

 Bringing hope and healing
Screening day: This boy is having surgery on his eye and hand
This hand belongs to the young boy pictured above
 2 weeks ago, I finally started the job that I came here for, and the job that I love oh so much-- dressing changes!  Plastic surgery has started, which means lots of skin grafts and complicated, delicate dressing changes!  I love wound are of all types, but skin grafts are near the top of the list.  They require a lot of patience and precision; it's an art really, to wrap it just perfectly so that the new skin is properly protected, but yet has enough freedom to move and do therapy exercises.  It's similar to the relationship my sister and I have with painting-- I am very careful and precises to be sure that the whole wall is perfectly covered with no streaks, splatters, or bumps on the floor, ceiling, or trim-- similar to doing a skin graft dressing change! Nicole, on the other hand likes to use fast, dripping brush-fulls of paint, no matter where it lands: floor, ceiling, dog, mom..-- similar to doing a quick patch job on some road-rash before shipping to the hospital.  Needless to say, I don't think Nicole would be cut out for my job!

One of my dear english-speaking patients on screening day

The first 2 weeks were refreshing, doing what I loved and teaching other people the delicate art as well.  Then after 2 weeks it's time to start pulling out K-wires.  If you rewind to 1 1/2 years ago, I also talked about pulling K-wires while in Sierra Leone.  A K-wire is a metal rod that holds a joint still so that the graft has time to heal.  I like pulling them, but I don't like the pain and torture I cause the patients by doing it!  I usually just pull it out, whether they are screaming or crying-- just like a bandaid- you just have to do it!  Sometimes nurses would cry after pulling out K-wires and I would think to myself, "what a weakling! have some backbone, don't be a baby!"  Last week  I pulled 4 wires out of a girl named Nancy*.  She is 24 years old, and even after a hefty dose of valium to relax her, she screamed bloody murder, told me I was killing her, and had to have 3 people holding her back.  It took an hour, and by the time I pulled the last one, she was off the chair, swinging at me and screaming.  I left the room while the others patched her up and calmed her down.  I went into the ward to ask the nurse to get her some pain medication, and when the nurse asked me how it went, I instantly started crying.  I went out into the hallway and tried to control myself but the heaving sobs kept coming uncontrollably.  A small 8 year old patient from the ward was walking by and started petting me and hugging me trying to console me.

It was a strange feeling, I had no idea how much it had affected me.  It's not a good feeling- to torture somebody.  And I now fall into the category of weak-sauce nurses!

It is currently Easter season, so the story of Jesus' journey to the cross is fresh on my mind.  Jesus went through so much pain and torture, both physical and emotional on his way to the cross.  He was beaten and mocked and had the ultimate torture of dying on a cross.  Before his trial, Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death." (Mat 26:38)  When Jesus was lead to Golgotha to be crucified, he was beaten, had his clothes stripped from him, thorns put on his head by the soldiers, yet he never showed any anger or vengeance against them.  And when all is said and done, and Jesus was sitting on his heavenly throne- if those soldiers asked for his forgiveness, he would give it without question, even after all the torture they put him through.

I was reminded of this amazing forgiveness when I went back into the ward an hour later to see Nancy.  I was so afraid that she would hate me forever and never understand why I caused her so much pain.   But when I walked into the ward, she called me over to where she was sitting on her bed, she gave me a thumbs up and then hugged me.  I could have cried all over again!  I was so thankful that she could see through the pain and understand that I wasn't trying to hurt her, that I really cared about her.  

It's not always easy to help people, and sometimes you have to cause them pain in order to give them healing.  Thank goodness we have a God who is merciful and gives healing when it is most needed!

Some of my patients:
This young woman was burnt due to an accident during an epileptic seizure.  She and I had a dance party last week when I left the bandage off her leg because her wound was healed!
This sweet lady is from very far up-country and is one of the sweetest, strongest women I know.  She smiles at me every time I pull a staple out of her and never shows any fear or pain.     

A few pictures from the ward, post surgery with all of their splints and bandages, which I change for them everyday!

Just a good lookin baker I know!

Prayer requests this week:
- quick healing for all the patients, and pain free dressing changes!
- healing for 3 of our patients who are struggling with infections
- for my upcoming travel to Sierra Leone and Nigeria in 2 weeks!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Be Strong and Courageous

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6.  The need for courage is a theme that has been reoccurring several times over the past month as I watch and care for my patients.

When I first arrived to the ship, I was working with the VVF women who had had surgery 2 weeks prior, and were just finishing healing and treatment before going home.  Last April I also worked with VVF, stands for vesico-vaginal-fistula.   VVF is a complication of child birth where a women who has no access to medical care labors for days or even weeks.  Normally in a developed country a women in obstructed labor would have a C-section and be fine.  But here in West Africa, these women have so much trauma from the pressure of the baby who is literally stuck inside of them, that they end up with tissue damage which causes them to leak urine and/or feces constantly for the rest of their life.  They are usually left by their husbands and banished from their village due to their foul smell and forced to fend for themselves, alone, for the rest of their lives.

VVF dress ceremony celebration for the "dry" women

When I arrived on the ship in February, most of the women who had healed properly had already had their joyful party and gone home to celebrate and rejoin their communities.  The women who were still on the ship were mostly failed surgeries.  It is a very difficult surgery, and there is such a small amount of tissue area to work with that sometimes the fistula can’t be fixed.  When I talk about courage, these women are a shining example.  They have come to the reality that they have to go back and face their communities- still leaking urine and feces.   Despite their devastating news, the women continued to be joyful and uplifting on the ward.  They would sing and dance, give the biggest, most loving hugs every time you started your shift, and never let their circumstances affect their kindness towards others.  Though many of them weren’t Christian, they were truly a reflection of Christ in His love for others despite his grim future of death on a cross.

A normal day on the ward, with patients, nurses, and translators

I saw courage portrayed again during our screening day for patients for plastic surgery.  Our plastic surgeon is now here (yay!) so we saw about 50 possible patients with issues need skin grafting such as burn contractures or large tumor removals.  Some of these patients came from very far, traveling for days to get here just for the chance that they might receive surgery.  Not only that, but some of them have such large deformities that they probably never enter the public eye for fear of mocking and ridicule.  But they have learned to hide it so well with scarves around their neck, or draped over one eye to cover large tumors, or long skirts to cover bent legs or deformed feet. 
On screening day I was working to go over each patient’s paperwork and to help move patients from the waiting area in to see the surgeon.  It was encouraging to see their transformation from sitting in the waiting area with down cast eyes, looking tired and scared and unsure of their decision to come to the ship.  After they see the surgeon they have a long waiting time again, not knowing if they will be accepted for surgery or not.  At the end of the long, hot day we start handing out appointment cards and instructing the patients when to come for surgery and it is incredible to see how they change from fear to joy as they find out they are going to have surgery and hopefully have an miraculous change in their life.  The courage it took these patients to decide to come out of hiding and take a chance on a life changing surgery is inspiring.

Now that plastic surgeries have just started, I will be working on the dressing change team doing the dressing changes on all of the skin graft surgeries every day.  We started already this week and have done a few dressing changes on hands and legs.  The hardest part about doing a dressing change is the pain and fear that we inflict on a person!  I remember last year in Togo while I was doing a dressing change on a young boy, my friend came in to watch and when the boy started screaming and crying he got a sour look on his face and left immediately.  Afterwards I asked him why he left, and he said, “It made me nauseous to watch you torture that little boy!  How can you do that?!”
The first few dressing changes I did here in Guinea were difficult for the patients, but I always go into the ward a few hours later and check to make sure they still like me and don’t hate me!

Now don’t think it’s been all work and seriousness for me these past few weeks!  Here’s a look into the fun I’ve had exploring Conakry:
Roume Island (photo by June)

Ship wreck! (photo by June)
Trip to Roume island!  What a beautiful place!  We took a wooden boat out of the local fishing village, weaving and winding through the harbor.  Why were we weaving and winding you ask?? Well to get around all of the ship wrecks of course!  I kid you not, I saw at least 6 ship wrecks on our 45min trip to the island.  And not little boats, BIG ocean liners!  I have no idea what happened, but I don’t think I want to find out!  Once we got to the island, we set up camp in a cute little palm branch bungalow and played in the sand and water all day.   
our tasty dinner (photo by C. Fast)
We made a delicious dinner of fresh fish and French fries (Ok, all I did was peel the potatoes, the boys did all the cooking!)  Then we made a campfire on the beach and watched the stars!  As we were lying on the beach watching the stars, my friend Christina says, “where is the moon?  …wait, is there no moon in Africa?”  We bust out laughing at her, but let me tell you--- I have YET to see the moon in Guinea!  I’m starting to think she might be right... I’ll keep you updated on my investigation.

part of the crew at the beach (By C. Fast)

Up to this point in my island-adventure-story, the island was a beautiful adventure.  But then the beach demons came out.  AKA- crabs!!!  I did not sleep a WINK that night because 1) contrary to common belief, sand is NOT soft and fluffy, and 2) I had crabs running over me all night long!  Every time I would get comfortable something would scamper over my foot, or run into my leg, or try to climb up my side.   Not pleasant.  Needless to say, Dogara did a few crab-chases and removals for Christina and me! 

Prayer requests:
- We have 5 weeks of plastic surgery ahead of us.  Pray for NO infection! And pain free, quick recoveries.
- Pray for peace in Guinea due to some political and tribal conflicts
- For my upcoming plans once I leave the ship end of April.  More details to come!

Monday, February 18, 2013

Belated ending and a new beginning

 I have finally arrived back on the Africa Mercy after being away for 8 months!  I left the ship in Togo with mixed feelings: not quite ready to leave, but not quite ready to stay.  The ship is a difficult place to leave, because you know that even if you come back, it will never be the same.  Turn-over is high, and the dynamics on the ship are always changing.  But regardless, it was time for me to leave after a 10 month commitment. 

In Nigeria with Dogara and his parents
After I left in June, I had an adventurous trip to Nigeria where I met some wonderful family, and then I traveled to Wales and Norway to see some ex-shippers.  It was a great transition between leaving the ship and going home- to have some time in the western word with people who understand where I'm coming from and what the last year of my life has entailed.

In Wales at a castle with some amazing fellow nurse!

In Norway with 10 other shippers- on top of "pulpit rock"

It took me a long time to understand and digest everything: learning how to be home again and live in the Western world, trying to fit in with family and friends again who have had a whole year of life without me, and then try to figure out what the heck God wanted me to do with my life now!

Should I stay in Wisconsin, should I go back to Mercy Ships, should I join another ministry?  Whatever it was, I knew I wasn't content where I was, and travel nursing didn't seem to be panning out.  Besides, my heart was still in West Africa- in more ways than one.

On February 13th I joined the ship in Conakry, Guinea, and after stepping foot on African soil, I finally felt some contentment.  There was a happy, smiling face to greet me at the airport that I had been dying to see for so long, and as soon as I stepped onto the ship, I realized how much I had missed being there.  So many old friends to see, and so many great friends to reconnect with.  For the time being, I know I'm back where I need to be!

It will take some getting use to- learning new faces and a new country.  Even though I left not too long ago, I feel like the new kid on the block again... that awkward person who lurks in on conversations... "will you be my friend?" "can I play with you guys?"  But, they'll all learn to deal with me eventually, right?!

In the ward, VVF (Vesico-Vaginal-Fistula) surgeries are just finishing up, and the patients for plastic surgery (burn contractures, skin grafting, etc) will be coming in a few weeks.  I will be on the dressing change team, which is my dream job!  Stay tuned for patient stories in the next few weeks!

Prayer requests:

- for my continued integration into ship life and learning the country
- for the patients who will be coming in for plastic surgery- that those who come we can have a huge impact on their lives
- pray against infection before it even starts in all the skin graft wounds we will be creating and healing!

PS: If any of you didn't watch the CBS 60 Minutes episode on February 17th, check it out online, they featured Mercy Ships!! They were filming when I was in Togo last year!

Celebrating the Olympics in the UK!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Not all fun and games...

I am only 2 months away from ending my 1 year adventure in West Africa, and I have been seriously thinking about how I have displayed my life and journey through these blogs.  And I am deeply wrestling with the fact that I have not shared a very real and horrifying part of my life here, and I think it is time you all know.  It's not always rainbows and sunshine with fun times bummin around Africa, and heart warming stories of patients lives being changed.  I have been painting a very sugar-coated picture of my life here on the ship, and I need to let you know the truth about the life-threatening terror I go through here almost daily. 
Living in a port is not easy.  When you visualize a port, you may picture stacks of neatly organized shipping containers, a steady flow of ships docked at the shoreline loading and unloading cargo, and semi trucks following their steady route of carrying products to and fro.  You may even be saying, "yes, I have been in many ports and this is exactly what it's like".  Well let me ask you my friend, have you ever been in a port after dark? 

After preciesely 9:07pm every night, every port around the world is supernaturaly morphed into a deadly jungle of prehistoric creatures lurking around every corner.  The driving force behind the movement of containers in a port is primarily done by a gigantic horrifying creatures called a T-Rex.  You may have mistakenly thought that the T-Rex was extinct, but I can assure you my friends, it most certainly is not!  (many port-savy people may refer to these machines as a "Terex", but that is just a decieving disguise for what they truely are!) 

They are quite silent for such large creatures.  You can hear the sound of their rolling footsteps and eerie machine-like screams just seconds too late.  Their claw marks (which very closely resemble oil-soaked tire tracks) are seen covering the grounds of their latest handy work-  An area you must be sure to avoid, just in case the nasty creeper comes back for more containers. 

Let me fill you in on another little secret- these so-called containers that apparently hold cargo for export... not even close!  They are actually the T-Rex's main weapon for destruction.  The T-Rex digs his fangs into the insanely heavy metal containers and lifts them up high over his head while he slowly creeps though the urban jungle looking for an innocent victim to drop his weapon of mass destruction on- whether it be rat, cockroach or human. 

It takes a highly skilled and trained person (much like myself) to stealthfully maneuver around the port after dark without being spotted by the beety, lazer, night vision eyes of the T-Rex.  It's eyes sit way up on top of its arms so it can better spot it's pray as it lurks around the containers at night.  If you walk carelessly through the port without first stopping, listening, and safely peering down your chosen route, you may just waltz around a corner and find one staring you down, charging straight for you as your body is frozen in terror with no place to hide except to jump down one of the open sewer holes scattered around the port. 
And just to make it more terrifying, once you bravely pass through the main portion of the port and miraculously avoid any encounters with the T-Rex, you have one last obstacle, and that is to make a run for it through a large clearing where a T-Rex could pop out at any minute, his death-filled eyes staring straight at you, his weapon of mass destruction held high over his head, and your only hope is to out run him and reach the safety of the ship's security gate before he dominates you!

Every night I return back to the port, the moto taxi drops me at the front gate, and I stand outside for a brief moment to gather my courage, strap on my running shoes and stealth jacket before bravely entering Jurassic Park part 4.  Some port gaurds may describe me as strange and delirious as I routinely tip toe into the port and assume my best spy-postion; with my back up against a row of containers, carefully side stepping my way to the corner and listening for signs of T-Rex's before Par-Core-ing my way to the next container row.  But they are the delusional ones- living frighteningly close to the edge of disaster and carelessly underestimating the capabilities of the T-Rex's. 

 So next time you are all sitting at home thinking, "Man, Danielle is living the dream over there in Africa- snuggling cute babies and frolicing around in the sunshine".. Well, yes you are correct-- but don't forget about real-life horror film I am daily living through!  It is NOT all fun and games here in Africa!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A small glimpse of Eternity

In my last post I told you about a young woman named Chantal who has been with us since February.  Every outreach we seem to have that one special patient who becomes like family and steals our hearts away.  This outreach, Chantal is that woman.  She is a 25 year old woman from Ghana who had burn contractures on her neck and arm fixed with skin grafting last time the ship was in the area in 2009.  Initially she was a wonderful success story with a completely healed skin graft.  Shortly after her recovery and after the ship had left, due to a chronically suppressed immune system, her graft reopened and she was left with a large, painful, infected wound covering her right chest, shoulder and arm.  For 3 years she suffered with this wound, unable to move her arm and doubled over in pain with no signs of hope or relief.  That is, until the ship returned this past January to Togo.

I can just imagine her reaction at the news.  Could it be? Is it true? After 3 years of intense pain, rejection and haughty eyes constantly on her, the smell of infection haunting her every move, the inability to hold, care, cuddle, and love on her 4 year old daughter.  And now that big white metal floating box that once gave her hope and healing is back!  Normally the ship does not take on medical patients because we aren't equipped to handle care to that extent.  With few exceptions, our patients are relatively healthy people who are in need of surgical help- to remove tumors, fix birth defects, hernias, bone and joint deformities, burn contractures, etc.  Because Chantal was a past patient of ours, we took her case on in an attempt to help her heal again and regain function.  I could go on and on about the ins and outs of her months and months of medical treatment, but it can be summed up into a long road of infections, antibiotics, agonizing daily wound care, physiotherapy, surgery after surgery, skin graft after skin graft, moments of hope for the medical team, followed by moments of disappointment and confusion after each failed antibiotic treatment and surgery. 

About 1 month ago, as I shared in a past blog, Chantal accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and redeemer.  For a while she was in higher spirits and had more pep and motivation in her step. (And she didn't mind my embarrassing dancing anymore!)  But shortly after that her tired body had had enough, our last ditch attempt at antibiotics failed, sepsis took over, and we were at the end of the road for medical healing.  Our medical regime turned towards comfort and pain management instead of aggressive treatment.  

 I was fortunate enough to be able to spend the last few evenings as Chantal's nurse.  She phased in and out of lethargy and alertness, and I was able to be there for her awake moments, to make her smile a few last times, and to talk with her and give her comfort.  After spending months down in the dark, window-less ward with few opportunities to see sunlight, my friend June and I packed Chantal up in a comfy wheel chair full of pillows and took her up to the top deck of the ship to sit for an hour and enjoy the sunset and warm breeze.  It was a moment I will never forget as it was in her last 48 hours of life in that tired, broken body.

Last night, in and out of moments of clarity, Chantal was able to enjoy some more fresh air from the comfort of her bed as she was rolled in front of a big door right at sea level that was opened especially for her.  In a very peaceful moment, with people who cared so much for her sitting by her side, Chantal said "Jesus is here, Jesus is here", and she was finally taken home with our Lord and left her broken, hurting body behind. 

It was a sad and difficult evening for us nurses and caregivers who had poured out so much love and energy onto Chantal over the past few months, but our sadness was only selfish because it is truly a joyous moment that she has finally gone home!  It is easy for us, as logically minded medical professionals, to feel like we failed Chantal, that our efforts and the pain we put her through were all for nothing.  Why would God let her go through this only for medical treatment to fail?  But as one of my colleagues said, God was never surprised by what happened.  Everything that happened with Chantal was exactly how God had it planned all along.  She was in constant pain for over 5 years- struggling from burns, wounds, and infections.  She didn't receive medical success while she was here, but she did have a better outcome than most of the patients we see-- she received spiritual healing, which is the primary purpose we are here.  For the first time in a long time, Chantal is without pain, without wounds and infections, and has a new, restored body.  Not only that, but before she left this earth, Jesus came to the ship, sat in the ward with her, and took her home. 

It was a sad, happy, frustrating, relieving, and incredible experience, all mixed together.  God had a purpose in Chantal and it was faithfully fulfilled.. she came to the ship to meet Jesus so that she could go home to Eternity with Him.  For the first time Chantal is walking down the golden streets of heaven with no wound, no infection, and no pain, hand in hand with our Creator.  The biggest success stories from this outreach are the hearts that are redeemed by Jesus, and Chantal has helped to refocus us and remind us of our true purpose here-- to share the love of Christ.

"Encourage one another and build each other up.."

 Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 that as brothers and sisters in Christ we need to encourage one another and build each other up.  I have seen the most beautiful display of this in the hospital this past week.  The plastic surgeries are finished, and we are now just continuing to heal the wounds and do physical therapy on joints and limbs that haven't moved in years, and slowly trying to get all of the patients well enough to go home so we can start a new round of surgeries and patients.  The healing process for burn repairs and skin grafts can be a very slow, painful, and discouraging time for patients (and nurses!).  Wounds we thought were healing well suddenly become infected, and skin grafts that we prayed would take root are lost.  As some patients become well enough to go home, others are left behind frustrated and disheartened because their wounds haven't yet healed.  But so far, God has been amazing and our infection rate is much lower than previous times and nobody seems to be getting "burned out" but energy and excitement are high and the ward is always filled with music, joy and dancing!
Just a regular evening on the ward!

One young woman I asked you to pray for last time, Chantal who has been with us since the beginning of the outreach, has been going through a lot of surgeries, painful dressing changes, difficult medical complications, and it seems to be a never ending road of frustration and discouragement for both Chantal and us nurses.  Last week, we saw something suddenly change in Chantal.  One afternoon I walked into the ward, and she was sitting up in a wheelchair in the middle of the room visiting with the rest of the patients.  We were all pleasantly shocked to see someone who never got out of bed except to hobble to the bathroom with lots of pain and assistance, sitting up by her own choice!  Someone who rarely joins in the ward dance parties (except to laugh at me and say, "my sister, please please, stop dancing")  We were all encouraged and excited to find out that she accepted Jesus as her Savior early that day!
Chantal with some incredible ladies

Unfortunately things didn't stay in such high spirits for long, as more medical complications, pain, and wound care are continually happening.  But this past week I saw something that lifted my spirits and made 1 Thessalonians 5:11 come alive for me.  I was working in the ward and I had my back turned to the patients, when all of a sudden I heard an outbreak of cheering and clapping!  I turned around and Chantal was up- all by herself- ,walking to the bathroom, and all the other patients and patient-mama's were standing up applauding Chantal and encouraging her on her first solo-excursion out of bed!  It was so beautiful to see how the patients have all partnered together in their difficulties and challenges and come alongside each other to show love and encouragement.  It was a true picture of what a healthy Christian community looks like, and half of these people were Muslim or animistic!

Chantal still needs lots of medical care, prayer and frankly, a massive miracle in order to heal her.  But I have faith in the words of James 5:15 that says, "the prayers offered in faith will make the sick person well, the Lord will raise him up!"  I know that with prayer, fervent prayer, she can and WILL be healed!

I saw another display of 1 Thessalonians 5:11 in another patient who has been here since the beginning of the outreach as well.  Kokou's knee was contracted at a 90 degree angle from a burn many years ago.  We straightened his knee, but since even before her came to us, he has been struggling with infections at that site.  He has been in and out of isolation (which means he is in his own room, isolated from all the other patients so the bacteria doesn't spread) as his wound continues to be infected.  Within the past few weeks, he has been very down and discouraged for a number of reasons.  His wound was healing very well and he had gone home for a while, but then had to return  back to the isolation room when he became re-infected.  He was so disheartened at having to come back, especially since he is a very very active, social-able person.  He is a farmer by trade and spends majority of the day outside, so being trapped in a windowless hospital is very difficult.  That paired with the fact that West African culture hates being secluded-- they are a very community oriented culture-- makes living in isolation pure torture for Kokou! 

Dance party begins!
One evening I was in the main ward, and the patients were all singing, dancing, playing the guitar and drum.  It was a regular night on the ward when someone had the great idea of going down the hall to the isolation rooms and singing and playing for Kokou!  So a whole pied piper line walked down the hall, patients, nurses, day workers- the whole lot of us! and stood outside Kokou's room and sang and danced.  He was so happy, he was up dancing around his room singing!  It was so amazing to see how the other patients cared so much for Koko and were so encouraging for him.  It's not just medication and medical treatment that heals- a little smiling and positive thought goes a long way in healing wounds!
Kokou laying in his bed enjoying the musical show

Richara- unable to walk after foot surgery- enjoying the music and dance whilemy back!

It is less than 2 months until the ship leaves Togo, so there is still a lot to go- a lot of wounds to be healed, and a lot of surgeries to be done!  We really need to heal these infected wounds so that we have room for more patients!

Prayer requests:
- Since I initially started writing this blog, Chantal's health has progressively gotten worse.  Please pray for her comfort, that she will be free from pain, and also for her family who we are trying to bring in to the ship to visit.  Chantal has accepted Christ as her Savior, so truly she has the best outcome out of many of the patients we see.  But it is hard for us medical staff to see that at times when it seems that our efforts and work has been in vain.  All we can ask of any patient who enters this ship is that they will get to know Jesus!  So also pray for the nurses caring for Chantal- that they will be able to see the amazing success story that she is!  And even though it is painful on this side of Eternity, we will see her again- smiling and praising the Lord!

- Please pray for Enyonam who is rescheduled for surgery on May 29th-- please pray that we will be able to find her and get her here!!

- Please pray for the VVF (vesico-vaginal fistula) women who have just come in last week and have started surgery.  Pray for successful surgeries and lives to be restored!!

I don't know who this baby belongs to, but it was handed to me and I wasn't about to say no!  Any takers??