Saturday, March 31, 2012

Operation Christmas Child - LIVE from Togo

I believe most of you who read my blog know what the title means. I remember both in Hungary and in Norway around Christmas we went to the stores and bought items for kids and put them into SHOE BOXES with a label "for a teenage girl", "for a 5-10 year old boy". For years I was on the other side of the whole operation, I was the one sending the boxes, and I must admit, sometimes I was wondering what will happen to those boxes. Will they ever reach the kid I had in mind when I put the package together? What country, what continent the boxes will arrive to? Will I ever see the face of a child who received a box?

Well then, if you had similar thoughts in your head or ever wondered about the "other end" of this worldwide operation, let me insert my good friend's, the Jacobsen Family's blog entry. Deb, the mum wrote an amazing account. My only sorrow is that I couldn't be there with them when it happened. Enjoy!

"While we have been in West Africa, we have had some incredible/amazing experiences.  Last Sunday topped the list.  For years, since the kids could remember, we have participated in Operation Christmas Child sponsored by Samaritan's Purse . I would take Alisia and Joshua to the local store and have them choose items for children the same age they were at the time.  We would pack the items into a rubbermaid container, take them to our local church/school, and even helped organize them at the designated drop off location.  While we have been in Africa, we donated online to Samaritan's Purse.

Last Sunday, Mike and Joshua were able to participate in the handing out of the "Shoe Boxes" at the church we have been attending!  (Alisia and I had to take my friend to the airport so we were unable to attend.)  I have loved looking at the pictures of our African church family being blessed by the generosity of others-it bring tears to my eyes!!!!  THANK-YOU!!!!
Praise and worship time with the boxes from Samaritan's Purse.
Carefully packed boxes.
The pastor's son helping to prepare the boxes for the children

Always carry a heavy load on the head!
The kids patiently waiting while they are being organized by age.

The older girls examining their boxes.
Mike handing out the boxes to an older girl.
Now the boys turn.
Excited boys and their shoe boxes.
I love this picture...shoe boxes being carried on their heads!
Thank you to everyone who participates in the Operation Christmas Child program...their shoe boxes are a true blessing!" (by Deb Jacobsen)

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yes. You will have a surgery!

From a young age, Radiatou Boukari learned about loss. When she was only four years old, her mother abandoned her and left her with her father. At the age of 10, things became even worse when she started having pain in her gums. The painful spot quickly turned into a lump. As her deformity became obvious, she was shunned by everyone . . . including former friends.
Radiatou at the mass medical screening in February
In 2010, Radiatou’s father heard about Mercy Ships from a radio program. He was excited about the possibility of helping his daughter. Sadly, when they finally made it to the port, the Mercy Ships hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, had already left.

Radiatou’s reaction to being told she

Imagine that...

Radiatou’s reaction to being told she is beautiful
When they arrived back home, they learned that Radiatou’s grandmother had died while they were gone. Radiatou felt even more isolated as she started spending more and more of her days hidden away from the world. Even though she struggled with depression, her father was always there to cheer her up.
Radiatou very excited to show her appointment card!
In January 2012, Radiatou was devastated when her beloved father passed away. She was alone and terrified. A great-aunt, whom she had never met before, came to take Radiatou home with her. Distraught about losing her father and only caregiver, Radiatou attempted suicide, but her great-aunt stopped her. That night, like many others, Radiatou cried herself to sleep.

The next day, a man came to visit Radiatou. He had heard that Mercy Ships had returned to Togo! What a difference a day makes! Within one day, Radiatou went from having no will to live . . . to having an abundance of hope. Radiatou was able to attend the mass medical screening in Lomé. After waiting for five years, she finally found someone to help her.

Neighbors visit Radiatou to give her money – a gesture of sorrow for her.
Radiatou grew close to some of the Mercy Ships crew while at the screening. They even went to her home a few days later to visit her. One crew member assured Radiatou, “You will not go through this alone. We will be there every step of the way.”

Radiatou and her great-aunt show us their home.
Those comforting words were a lifeline that gave seventeen-year-old Radiatou new courage. After being abandoned, banished, and orphaned, Radiatou arrived for surgery with hope for a new life and an eagerness to meet new Mercy Ships friends. 
A glimpse of Radiatou after surgery! Stay tuned for the next chapter in her story.
 by a ship writer

Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Modi Assenou Sings..."

Her voice resonates in the hospital ward on the Africa Mercy. Her song was one of joy and praise. Everyone pauses as they hear her voice ring out - the medical staff looked overjoyed. For Modi Assenou, her prayers have been answer. For the medical staff, there is amazement over Modi’s ability to sing so soon after surgery. For all, Modi’s joy spreads throughout the ward.
Four years ago, Modi started having pain in her neck. Gradually, a lump started to form below her chin. Before long, it was clear that Modi had a big problem. Modi suffered from an enlarged thyroid gland; also know as a goiter. While the goiter did not cause her any pain or breathing problems, the affect it made on her appearance was clear.

Neighbors would mock her and constantly give her a hard time. While life was becoming difficult, Modi was surrounded by a good support system. Her close friends would give encouragement and help her out. They would say to her, “One day, by God’s will, you will be healed.” Not only did this encouragement give her the resolution to face each day, so did her husbands loyalty and support. Every step of the way, he has supported Modi, giving her love and care. He even traveled with her to Mercy Ships to act as her caregiver so that she would not have to face it alone.
After waiting in line for several hours, Modi was finally seen by the doctors at the mass medical screening in Lomé, Togo.  When it was decided that she would receive surgery, Modi was overjoyed with the answer to her prayers. Even though she would be experiencing so many new things, none of this scared her. “No matter what is going on around me, I am so happy now, nothing can take that away!”
After receiving surgery, Modi began to heal very quickly. After the removal of the thyroid, it may take a little time for the patient to start talking again. For Modi, this was not the case. Within a day of her surgery, she could be found singing in the ward. Her song echoed in the hearts of many patients as she sang, “I will thank the Lord; I will thank the Lord forever!”
Modi is happy to sing for the patients and to share her joy with those around her. She walks away with the parting words, “I am so thankful and grateful for the surgeons and everyone else on the Africa Mercy. It is my prayer that the Lord blesses Mercy Ships to be able to do more and more surgeries.”
Written by a ship writer

Friday, March 23, 2012

The day before the wedding

... I just returned from the bathroom where I managed to throw up again. Practically it's nothing, but the pills that were supposed to settle my stomach. :(  Yuck. Darren was holding back my hair with one hand; the other held the IV bag that was still connected to my right hand...

The hospital director (who was also my "Dad" to walk me down the isle), came in to suggest we postpone the wedding. To the others I just nodded and didn't bother to explain, but to Gerrit I felt like I need to tell him the truth - well, at least what I thought was the truth:

God knew that I was still not excited about this whole wedding thing (mind you, I said 'wedding' and not 'marriage'!) and me being a perfectionist when it comes to organizing things... let's just say God in His infinite wisdom knew that things are NOT going well for my liking. He also knew that I needed a distraction, otherwise I would get first upset, then angry and finally I would cancel the whole thing. You may be smiling now, but let me assure you I was VERY close to call the whole nightmare (a.k.a. wedding ceremony) off several times.

So, how to distract Reka? Easy. Knock her off her feet for a day. Oh, and BTW, let her know of the plan so she can truly rest and trust that all will be fine the next day.

And guess what? That's exactly what happened! Deep down I knew that this is God's plan for me. Sure, I would have chosen a different, less unpleasant way of taking me out for a day, but in general, I must say I 100% agree with God's plan. :)

I explained that to Gerrit who seemed to accept this reasoning and agreed to proceed. 2 hours later the IV was finished and I indeed felt much better. I KNOW many people were praying for me all over the ship and also around the world. Let me just say here I was so grateful to everybody who prayed or came to offer help or just to check on me.

I was told that Don Stevens, the Founder of Mercy Ships was on a business trip with our Managing Director on that Friday and even they prayed for me! How cool is that???? :)

You saw the wedding photos... I looked fine! :)

I hope you believe now that God IS ABLE TO DO EXCEEDINGLY ABUNDANTLY ABOVE ALL THAT WE ASK OR THINK (Ephesians 3:20).

And the real moral of the story?
I was quite sick during the honeymoon. :( Yeah, that's too bad. I know, I felt horrible. But I learnt 2 valuable lessons:

1. Darren is an excellent nurse and caring husband! :)))

2. God DOES answer prayers in a specific way. Everybody prayed that I would be healed for the wedding day - and that's exactly what happened. Nobody said anything about being healed for the honeymoon! :) We just assumed that they go together. Well, they don't!

Leadership Conference upcountry...and beyond

So it happened that I really had nothing to do before the wedding...
Must have been a blond moment... that is why I agreed to go with Franck, my boss to help him with the Leadership Conference in a place far-far away...

This is the official report I wrote while taking pictures, while listening to the translation, while printing the certificates, while bringing more chairs to the room, while turning down marriage proposals, while trying not to think about my own wedding in a few days...

So, read the report, check out the pictures and don't forget to read the short comment AFTER the story. Trust me, it's worth it! :)

"The location is Kara, a city 7 hours drive away from the capital, where the percentage of Muslims and Animists is considerably higher than Christians. This is the place where Mercy Ships organized a Leadership Conference with the objective of impacting the local community.
Over 300 invitations were sent out ahead of time and 350 notebooks were printed for the future participants. On Monday morning (March 5) we started to set up one of the main auditoriums in the Palace of Congress building. Soon participants started to arrive and the slow, but steady flow of people didn’t stop until 10 am. Soon the conference hall was filled with people eager to hear what Dr. Chris Ampadu, a Ghanaian Director of Samaritan Strategy in West Africa had to say. He has been a main speaker since 2007 in conferences organized by Mercy Ships.

Dr. Chris Ampadu teaching
The conference was opened by the Mayor of Kara who came to share a short message. Mr Bakali-Hemou Badibawu thanked Mercy Ships for organizing the conference and thanked the pastors for taking their role in developing their communities seriously. He reminded everybody of President Gnassingbé’s objectives which includes all the different communities around the nation to be initiators of their own development. Mr. Badibawu applauded Mercy Ships for coming alongside this initiative in such a powerful and inclusive way.

Franck Gouhizoun, Off Ship Projects Manager, a native Benoise spoke briefly about Mercy Ships. The medical aspect of our work is well known to the Togolese people, however they applauded loudly to the non-medical work that Franck was speaking of – this conference being one of the many ways Mercy Ships seeks to assist the nation’s capacity building efforts. Dr Ampadu started his presentation with a question: Is Africa cursed? That got everybody’s attention since this is a common misconception among West African people regardless of their country, tribal background or even religion.

from left: Chris, Happy, me, Franck, Atavi
Imam reading our Christian materials :)
One of the materials we used
The answer to his question is an obvious no. As Dr Ampadu introduced himself he explained why a Ghanaian was chosen to speak. He emphasized the fact that „we, West Africans have to work together. What happens in Nigeria or Liberia affects us in Togo, Benin or Ghana, whether we like it or not. It’s time to look beyond the tribal or language barriers and learn new ways of working together.”

People sitting on stage behind Chris
When the first break came more chairs were needed as people kept on pouring into the room. In an effort to facilitate as many participants as possible chairs were put on stage as well behind and around the speaker. All around the hall animated discussions took place and participants had a chance to comment or ask questions from Dr Ampadu.
After a traditional African lunch the conference continued with Pastor Happy Aziadekey’s presentation, who is a senior pastor at M.E.S.A. in Lomé. He spoke about God and the four areas of development according to Luke 2:52 (wisdom, physical, spiritual and social). When his session was over, to our delight, one of the imams, who was eagerly taking notes in the first row, encouraged Pastor Happy firmly to continue speaking. Although the Head Imam didn’t come but he sent many imams to attend the conference.

At the end of the first day we registered exactly 350 participants.

Happy and I working hard behind the scenes :)
The second day started with Dr. Ampadu explaining the different world views that African Christians, Muslims and Animist have, how that influences people’s everyday life and how that can often be the obstacle of development. His words left a huge impact on people’s hearts, far greater than any Western speaker could have had. Pastor Happy took over after the break and he talked about the lies we hold true in our cultures and how to transform them into godly truth in order to break the cycle and start a change. His accurate examples from everyday life brought smiles to everybody’s faces as he challenged participants to identify the false beliefs in their own lives.

On the second day we registered 376 participants. The number is increasing due to the fact that the word was getting out that Mercy Ships is organizing a Leadership Conference. Over the day people became more active, eagerly participating in the teaching sessions, thus turning the conference into an interactive platform of exchanging ideas. Both days Dr. Ampadu spoke for 3 hours, while Pastor Happy was teaching for 1,5 hours, each session was followed by a Question-Answer segment.

Room temp: 30. A/C set for 16 Celsius. You think it was HOT???
People eating lunch on the floor
On the last day Chris was planting seeds as “love in action”, He was teaching on “everybody can do something small to demonstrate God’s love to their families, neighbors and city”. He was explaining the holistic approach – how to apply godly principles in every areas of life. The most important question in everybody’s heart (Chris included) was: what do we do now with this knowledge and how to put it into practice. “We shouldn’t wait for the West or for our own government to make a change. It can start with you. Today! With something very small, like a seed. We all can do something small for a short period of time with local resources, so that God would be praised at the end.” He was sharing several real life stories of people who did something big with the little they had.

Full House - full of colours
 Pastor Happy took over as he was bringing practical examples to the audience again. The listeners wanted to know more on topics like how to spend time with your wife/wives if you live in polygamy or don’t have money to take out your wife for dinner. Many delightful conversations followed with the participants often shouting advice to each other across the hall.
from left: Imam, head of Muslim Ladies Association, Chris, another Imam, Happy and me
Réka Borsiczky, who was helping Franck organizing the conference reported on a good conversation with a local lady, who was the leader of the Muslim Ladies’ Association in Kara and was very excited about learning more on unity. Réka explained that on Africa Mercy there are around 350 people from 30+ different countries and cultural backgrounds and crew members have to practice each day how to live in unity. “It is not easy, but that’s the only way to make it work.” The lady was thrilled to hear Mercy Ships people “practice what they preach”.
While the parents learn new things inside...
Leadership Conference - Happening NOW
After the break Eliphaz Essah, Agriculture Facilitator went on stage to introduce shortly the Biblical concept of agriculture. His presentation was often interrupted by clapping from the audience. The conference was slowly coming to the end and participants seemed reluctant to let Dr Ampadu off the stage. He announced the forming of a committee with 13 local leaders who will carry the vision forward, organize follow up meetings and share the success stories that are sure to follow.

As an official end to this 3 days conference all 367 participants joyfully received their certificates."


This was published on our website. What didn't make it to the report is the fact, that we left Sunday morning with the intention of coming back to the ship on Thursday evening. Friday was supposed to be a last minute preparation for me before the WEDDING on the next day.

My dear husband-to-be-back-then kindly told Franck a day before we left that unless he brings me back safe and sound and in time, he should not bother to come back at all, actually Darren's words were: "leave the planet" :) You can imagine, the dear Bossman didn't let me have any fun. Every time I wanted to try something he got scared and told me NO :(

I spent about 8 hours (with stops) in the car with 4 West African men who entertained me all day long. At a particular road Franck was telling me that long time ago there were monkey and elephants roaming the forests. How about now? - I asked. No more. Why? What happened? "DEMOCRACY HAPPENED!" - was Atavi's answer and we were laughing for 10 minutes. :)

In a future post I will show you some of the pictures I took from the car. The landscape was truly amazing as we were heading up north towards the Burkina Faso border.

This post is getting too long, but here is the punch line: While we were there I managed to pick up a new pet. Yup - you heard it well. I have now a new pet in my... well... stomach. :( A cute little parasite that made sure I was throwing up everything and a bit more...

I was pretty ok on the way home, but by Thursday night I developed quite severe pain as well. By Friday morning I could hardly walk, I was week beyond measure. Darren took me down to the crew doctor who ran some tests. He said that IV would be the last resort, but since we are kind of pressured by time, let's do that.

20 min later I was down in the ICU with an IV hooked up onto my right hand and I was about to take a good handful of painkillers, antibiotics and anti-nausea pills. On an empty stomach...

20 hours before the wedding:
Me: hooked up to IV, fully drugged and cheerful
Husband-to-be: on the verge of sanity trying to look strong for me
 Poor Darren was running around trying to sort out the wedding while trying to stay sane and not worry too much for me. Let me tell you, he did an AWESOME JOB!!! :)

Me on the other hand really didn't look too good. Friends started to come down to pray for me and offer help. Some even suggested that we should postpone the wedding. The wife of the Managing Director was visiting me, holding my hand and praying for healing, but as soon as she mentioned the word "throwing up" I had to run to the bathroom again. :(((((

Will I get married tomorrow??? 
To Be Continued

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Here is a slide show of the Wedding Photos by Debra Bell.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Community celebration and St. David's Day

We never do things by half - if we celebrate, we REALLY celebrate. It just so happened that this Thursday we had 2 parties so we had a good share of partying! :)

First we had a BBQ style dinner with our day workers on the dock. You cannot tell from the pictures, but we had around 600 people down. Hot dogs and salads to eat, African drums to play, unity to celebrate. :) It was a fun evening.

Some of our crew joined the dancing after dinner and even though the sun was down already, the temperature was still around 30˚ Celsius (85˚F) so soon sweaty and happy people were floating around. Our MD gave a short message and we listened to some testimonies from our Togolese workers. It's always a blessing to celebrate God's goodness with them! :)

We always have ice-cream after our Thursday night meetings, but this Thursday was also the day of Saint David! Why does it concern me? Because my husband is from Wales. Saint David's Day (Welsh: Dydd Gŵyl Dewi) is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, who died in 589.

The Welsh people on board (plus anybody with a Welsh connection) gathered for some Welsh cake, music and laughter. Again, a fun night! :)