Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Screening Day.

Disclaimer: This was a painful blog to write and may be a painful blog to read, so read at your own discretion.
The last 2 weeks the ship was busy preparing for the big patient-screening day which was held this past week.  A lot of planning and organization went into this day, and nearly everyone from the ship was needed to help.  Only a few bare bones crew were left on the ship to keep it running.  We spent a lot of time praying for this day, because thousands of people were expected to come from all over the country who are desperate and see Mercy Ships as their last hope.  Security has to be very tight, and things have to stay very controlled and organized otherwise they could get out of hand quickly. We were fortunate enough to have use of the national stadium in Lomé.  The event started with security at 2pm the day before the screening.  People started lining up that evening, and a crew of people worked to pre-pre-screen patients throughout the night.  By 4:30am, the ship was emptied, and a convoy of landrovers took everyone to the stadium to begin the long, exciting, yet heartbreaking day! 

For me, the heart break started as we pulled up to the stadium, and in the dusky morning light, I could see the thousands of people lined up outside the stadium.  It was at that point that I realized that screening day was not going to be a busy, fun day of seeing thousands of people and giving hope to the hopeless, but it was going to be one of the hardest days of my time here in West Africa.  I started crying right then in the front seat of the Landrover and it took everything inside me to control the sobs.  I knew that only a small percentage of these people were actually going to make it on the ship for surgery.  Before screening day, I lived in a naive little bubble where every patient I saw was someone that we could help, and now I see the reality of the thousands that we can’t.  As one of my friends put it, “I feel like this is a sick version of American Idol, and we are choosing who does and doesn’t make it through”.

I was fortunate enough to be a part of the children’s ministry team.  We split up and went to find children to entertain and occupy their time while they waited for hours to be screened.  My friend Jenny and I decided to leave the stadium and head out to the long line up of people who were standing in the hot sun since at least 2 or 3 in the morning.  We had so much fun walking up and down the line, greeting people and giving them something to do; blowing bubbles, painting nails, coloring, stealing and holding babies—anything to help them pass the time, and give the parents a little rest by entertaining their children for a while! 
I don’t know if I would consider us extremely blessed or horribly punished to be one of the few crew who got to be outside the gate and have the devastating reality of interacting with the thousands of people who never even made it past the initial screening.  Approximately 3500 people came to the screening, and less than half of those even saw the surgeons.  There are very select surgeries that we do, so it is very difficult to tell people who have been standing in line for hours that we can’t fix their stomach ulcer that they’ve had for years, or their arm that broke a few years ago and healed completely wrong.

Before the screening day, I asked God to help me see his people the way he saw them, and he definitely answered, and held nothing back!  Throughout the day, Matthew 25:40 kept infiltrating my head and breaking me to pieces: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  And here I was, telling thousands of helpless, hopeless people that we couldn’t help them.  I felt like every time someone walked out of the stadium, we were saying, “Sorry Jesus, I can’t help you”.  I am still having difficulty fully processing the day because it really challenged the way I see the world and my position in it.    

 I think the hardest job of the day was the prayer team, who was in charge of talking and praying with the thousands of people who we were not able to help.  My prayer is just that everyone who came to the screening came for a reason, whether it was for a chance at a life changing surgery, or for a chance to see Christ’s people in action and receive prayer.  By 7pm, everyone had finally returned to the ship, dirty, sweaty, tired, and hungry.  What a long, exhausting day, but I am so glad that I was able to see this part of Mercy Ships and be a part of it. 

This is a broken world that we live in, tainted with pain and corruption, and that won’t change until Christ returns to bring us home.  All we can do is to continue to plod along seeking one hurting human after another and showing them love.  God is Holy and Sovereign and can do greater things than we could ever fathom.  It was in His plan and will that every single one of those hurting people came to the screening.  I have no doubt that His glory was seen and His purpose was achieved at the stadium that day.   


These are a few more pictures from screening day and everything that went into it. To the right is my friend June working on collecting patient history.  Lots of work went into collecting histories and doing physicals, which was especially difficult due to the language barrier.


Prayer requests:

Please continue to lift up in prayer the thousands of Togolese people that we were unable to help.  God is a big God and a miraculous God and has the power to heal these people- and he doesn’t need a scalpel and a surgeon. 

This little cutie is a picture of hope.  She has already had surgery, and I was playing with he and rocking her to sleep just a few hours before I finished writing this blog!  She is down in the ward and will probably go home tomorrow!  God is good and despite the heartbreak I had during the screening, God never fails to shine His glory through and reveal His purpose!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

"Yovo, Yovo, bonsoir..."

“yovo, yovo bonsoir,
Ca va, bien, merci”

This is the song that is sung by a chorus of children around every corner that I walk in Togo!  It says, “white person, white person, good evening, how are you, fine, thank you”.  It is a joke ridiculing the fact that white people, or “yovos”, generally only know these 4 common phrases in French! 

So far during my time in West Africa, I have been called an Opoto (Temne), Pumwe (Mende), Obruni (Twi), Toubab (Wolof), and now Yovo (Ewe)!    I’m making quite a collection of names for myself!

So I arrived in Togo about 2 ½ weeks ago. I had a lovely relaxing time with the family in Ireland, Germany, and Belgium.  You can read all about the adventures at spotofblueadventures.blogspot.com.  It was a perfect and much needed break and a good half-way point for my time in Africa.  I was getting a bit tired and run down on the ship, especially because we were in transition between countries, the hospital was closed, and there was about a quarter of the normal amount of crew members on board.  I came back excited and ready to start a new field service! (and excited to be back in the warm weather!)

My first Togo adventure was to the beautiful Mt. Agu.  We had no real plan of how we were going to get to the top of the mountain, but we packed our camping gear and hit the road.  As we were aimlessly wandering up the mountain, we stumbled upon a YWAM (Youth With A Mission) base, and stopped in to ask for help/directions to the top.  After making fast friends with the ladies who live there, we ended up staying at the base, and then hiking up the mountain the next day!  The people at the base were so sweet, and I will definitely be returning there anytime I need a little getaway for some R&R up in the mountains!

Me, Stephen, and Jenny on our way up to the YWAM base

June cookin Breafy!

 This is Aimee- one of the amazing women at the YWAM base!  She didn't speak English, but that didn't stop us from becoming fast friends!  They were so welcoming and cooked us some delicious fried plantains after our tiring hike!
And it was tasty!

We walked through many villages on the way up the mountain.  It was the best part of the hike, winding up small trails and around houses that cling to the side of the mountain.  There were tons of goats and the cutest little baby goats!  My obssession with them has given me the title "goat girl" once again... I thought that title was history, guess not.
This is a picture with our amazing friend and guide, Gilberto.  He works at the YWAM base as a teacher and was kind enough to lead us up the mountain after a very long week of work!  Fortunately he spoke English!

 He bought a stick of sugar cane and let us try some. It was a deliciously sweet snack at just the perfect time!  We were almost down the mountain, hot, sweaty, tired, and shaky legs!

The 3 amigos :)  Jenny loves Wisconsin, she's a keeper.

Our jungle trail

 We made it to the top!  This is standing on the highest point in Togo.  It's nearly Everest. We are awesome.

The last 2 weeks, the hospital has been busy at work getting the hospital set up and ready for patients.  One of the fun things this included was hospital open house.  This is a time when the whole crew is invited down to the hospital before we get patients, and every ward and department set up fun activities.  For example, we did things such as learn to put in stitches, intubate a dummy, do brain surgery, put in an IV, remove a cataract,  and one of the best things (in my opinion) was my ward’s activity which was be a nurse for a shift.  Some of us nurses played patients, and the crew had specific nursing tasks to do in a relay race against each other.  It was hysterical and fun as the crew ran around trying to give medicine to someone who kept spitting it out, putting a bed pan under a patient and being surprised to find coffee grounds poo, and changing a dressing on a ketchup and mayonnaise wound!  

This is me- dead on the dinning room table during lunch!  (I survived, don't worry)

Advertising in the dinning room for the hospital open house- rocking out to
 "staying alive" while they are doing CPR on me

Fake surgery at the hospital open house

June and I laughing at "nurse for a shift"

This is how our crew try to give medications to an unruley patient during "nurse for a shift"

All of the ward nurses in a group photo! See if you can find me.. it's like Where's Waldo!
So some of my friends tell me I’m getting too comfortable Africa, but I choose to think of it as “cultured”.  I’ll share some of their evidence with you and let you judge for yourself:
      1. If I have the choice between a squatty-potty and a porcelain throne, I will choose to squat.  I mean, how many times do I have to explain that it’s a more natural and healthy position for the human body!  And I’m pretty proficient at the “African bidet”(if you don’t know what this is, then I will spare you the details)! 

2.     2. I ate cat.  And I liked it.  I don’t condone the way the poor little Garfield died, but if it was served to me again, I wouldn’t hesitate to chow down.  The only weird thing is that it gave me a strange sensation about an hour later like I had a hair ball stuck.  And the after burps… not so appetizing. 

3.      3. And last but not least is the possibility that I have a little friend named Willy.  Willy is a worm that lives deep down inside me somewhere.  OK, I don’t really think I have worms, but my friends are convinced that I do simply because I enjoy the occasional street food and street juice.  When it’s hot out and I’m parched from the sun, I just can’t deny those enticing baggies of homemade juice!  Or better yet the old used water bottle half filled with the delicious concoctions.  Besides, it’s nothing a little Albendazole can’t cure!  

Prayer requests:
-Screening was yesterday (blog to come), please praise God for the patients who were accepted for surgery and will be coming to the ship in the next few months.  Pray that they will be able to see Christ’s love on this ship and have their hope restored!

-For the people that we were not able to provide medical care for, that they were able to walk away from screening feeling loved, cared for, and having a renewed hope in the Lord. 

- For the cultural interactions on the ship- that people won’t cling to the cultures that they are comfortable with, but that the crew can be better integrated and learn to understand each other better.

- For my continued French and Ewe learning!!

Thank you all for your love and prayers!  I’m looking forward to a great outreach over the next 5 months, but I can’t believe my time here is already half way over!  I love hearing from all of you so continue to update me on your lives!