During my Onboarding field service we painted a few murals of Africa, I remember thinking the little island off the southeast coast must be a mistake but no it wasn’t. It was Madagascar, a country I’d never even thought twice about. And now here I am. That little blob on the side of the map is my home now.
A year ago I was in Benin preparing for the ship’s arrival. A year ago the ship was still in Congo wrapping up and preparing for technical phase. A year ago none of us had an inkling how Ebola would come to our doorstep and affect us, none of us could’ve imagined the challenges we would face or the beautiful fruit we would see come out of those challenges. But here we are a year later and a lot stronger for what we’ve experienced.
I think looking back is key to transitioning well, acknowledging the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly allows us to move forward with purpose. And this last year has plenty to reflect on, thousands of Ebenezer stones… big, small, polished, rough, displayed and hidden. This week I’ll highlight just a few that have been personally meaningful to me.
I’ll never forget the words, “The ship will not come.” I was sitting at our dining room table across from Andrea. It was a hot Benin night and we’d all been tensely waiting for an answer from the ship, would we stay or would we go. We finally had our answer but it was heart breaking, completely understandable but completely devastating. I remember fighting back tears and wondering why. We had poured so much into this country, into this Advance, into these people… why?
- We arrived with no Protocol (an agreement with the government which allows us to be there and grants us special rights and exonerations). We fought to get it signed and after six weeks we did.
- We arrived thinking we would be at a very difficult berth which would drastically impact the number of patients we could treat. But over the months we ended up getting the prime berth in the Port and more space then we could’ve dreamed of.
- There had been no assessment and our only real contact was our Mercy Ships country representative, Daslin. We had to start from scratch building relationships and presenting Mercy Ships. By the time we left we had strong connections that can be resumed at any time.
- We struggled to find a HOPE Center, eye and dental clinic. But we found them and renovated them in a very short time.
- We found a Selection site, we found patients, we found Day Crew… we found a home.
And as long as it takes you to say “Madagascar” the Advance team was on the move again, some to Madagascar, some back to the ship in the Canary Islands, some to Europe and some of us staying in Benin to wrap things up. If we thought the three month Benin Advance was a challenge, we were floored by the six week challenge of the Madagascar Advance. But looking back I’m still overwhelmed when I see God’s incredible provision in all the same ways.
- We arrived with no Protocol but within days it was signed and we could start work immediately.
- We arrived not knowing anything about the Port or where we would be berthed but we ended up getting a perfect berth with more dock space than we’ve ever had.
- We had no assessment going into the country and our only contact was the Prime Minister’s personal assistant. But we made connections right and left and were introduced quickly to the right people and we got everything done in an impossible amount of time.
- We found the HOPE, eye and dental clinics quickly and were able to start renovations before the ship even arrived.
- We found the selection sites, we found patients, we found Day Crew… we found our new home.
Our little team grew each week with new members with new objectives. We were literally scattered across Madagascar, connected by mobile phones and iPads. We were tired but we were driven and we were amazed at how God blew open every door for us on the ground in Madagascar.
Then it was a week before the ship was due to arrive, the Africa Mercy pulled out of her berth in Capetown and set sail for her new home in Tamatave. And shortly after she departed she hit rough seas, not like little white capped waves but big waves and severe lists. I saw people posting on Facebook how terrible it was, hearing about the 3:00am list that upheaved everyone’s cabin and destroyed the Academy. We heard about the Tuesday afternoon one that caught everyone off guard. And we heard about the “flood” on Deck 3. For us on the ground it sounded terrible. And I’d be lying if a part of me wondered if the ship would actually make to Madagascar. Andrea and I had been making jokes all the Madagascar Advance that we wouldn’t believe the ship was actually coming until we saw her with our own eyes.
I didn’t realize how real that fear was for me until the morning the ship was to arrive. It wasn’t until I heard Jan’s voice over the handheld radio that I realized I’d been holding my breath for six weeks. Andrea and I listened to Jan giving commands on the radio to the other officers, tears welled up in my eyes and we both looked at each other, “THE SHIP IS COMING!”
Those four words summed up so much and carry so much weight. That little phrase carries the hard work of two Advance teams, the hopes of a nation and a promise of miracles. The Africa Mercy pulled into Port looking beat up and like she’d been through battle. The Crew on the decks were a sight for sore eyes and there was so much joy at seeing those beautiful faces. I choke up a bit just thinking about seeing Lisa and Amy at the highest points on Deck 7 waving like crazy. After six months of uncertainty and distance we were all finally home.