BRINGING IN THE NEW YEAR IN BENIN
Grace and Peace from Benin, West Africa friends and loved ones. When I last wrote to you, I was enjoying the Christmas season here in Benin. After a unique and meaningful celebration, I had the chance to go on a holiday in the north of Benin for a week. A small group of us took the bus up to Natitingou and stayed at some guest houses there. It was a lovely chance to get away from the city (and the ship) and spend some time surrounded by God’s beautiful creation. We enjoyed an adventure filled safari in Pendjari National Park and swam in two beautiful waterfalls! It was just the break I needed to prepare for the second half of the field service, and I came back feeling relaxed and ready to work! And work I did- after an 11 hour bus ride, we returned to the ship just in time for me to eat and shower before reporting for night shift. Over the holiday, we condensed down to one ward with only a handful of patients left while we took a short break from surgeries. My story for this month picks up on New Year’s Eve.
As I said, we only had four patients and three caregivers by this point, so I was the only nurse on duty with a few of our local day crew. Not long after starting my shift at 10 pm, a co-worker was kind enough to come watch over the patients so I could take a quick break to visit the ship party happening upstairs. I had a few snacks and shared some laughs with my friends before stealing a plate of cupcakes for those in the hospital and returning downstairs. When I returned, I found the patients sitting together talking about all the good things God had done in the year 2016. They were giving Him glory for what He had accomplished in their lives, and especially for the healing they had received. This talk continued for a while, but as the clock crept closer to midnight I felt called to help my patients celebrate and rejoice in the style they do best- with song & dance & drum! So I snuck into our chaplaincy team’s storage and brought back the standing drums and gourd shakers with the help of some day crew. It didn’t take long for someone to take over the drums and another to pick a song and we were on our way to a true party to ring in the New Year! We were few, but our praise was mighty and loud, so it wasn’t much after midnight before people started coming and joining in with us. A few off-duty nurses brought down handfuls of confetti from the ship celebration and the ward was coated in color! We continued to dance and sing together for over an hour. We sang one of my favorites over and over again- Baba Oluwa Oshe, which simply translates to Thank You, Father. What a gift, to be able to ring in the New Year by saying thank you to God. I have celebrated a lot of holidays while working in a hospital over the past five years, but I don’t think I can recall one quite so special. And that is the epitome of my work here- it is such an honor to work with and for these people. To learn from them. To worship and celebrate with them. To live out my God given calling by being His hands and feet in the world. I think that night, I had even more fun because I was working!
With the start of 2017 well underway, we have seen the re-filling of the hospital. I am once again working on the plastic and reconstructive surgery ward with a variety of patients coming to us for different surgeries. We have already completed three weeks of plastic surgery and have five more to go. General and maxillary-facial surgeries continue as well. One very exciting addition with the start of 2017 is our eye program. This small team works with thousands of patients with cataracts in Benin to restore site to those that are blind. These individuals have cataracts so severe (often in both eyes) that they have been blind for years, and they also work with children born with congenital cataracts. With a very simple surgery their site can be restored, so this team can perform up to 40 surgeries a day! The technology used is very simple, so they spend two days a week performing the procedures at the local hospital and training local doctors so that this work can continue on without Mercy Ships. Talk about Kingdom Work- “the blind receive sight” (Matt 11:5).
With the start of 2017, my life outside of the hospital also saw a lot of changes. Some of my best friends and roommates completed their service on board at Christmas. I now sleep in a different bunk (inside the same six-berth cabin), but I have an extra 16 or so square feet. Is sleeping on a top bunk worth 16 square feet- the answer is yes when you live on a ship! Though I will miss those dear friends a lot, I can’t help but be grateful for the chance to have gotten to know so many wonderful girls from all over the world! About 100 people arrived on board in the two weeks following New Years and I am still working to get to know them. I am also enjoying deepening my friendships with some of the long term crew who I met over the last few months. It’s a good thing that I love spending time with people! Although community living can have its many challenges, it also brings back all the best aspects of college- like always having someone around to talk to and a never ending supply of movie and game nights when you are living on a budget and get bored!
This last week marked the half way point of my service here in Benin. It’s a little hard to process exactly how I feel about that. In some ways, the time has flown and it seems nearly impossible that I will soon need to start thinking about my next steps. I think I can finally say I have become truly at home here on board the AFM and here in Benin (as proven by the fact that I went to the grocery store alone & finally had a completely successful baking experience in the crew galley with my banana bread recipe from home!). In the same respect, I do miss my friends and family at home and four months seems like a long time to wait to see you all again. There is still a lot of work to be done here in Benin and I still have a lot of personal growth to accomplish on board the Africa Mercy. Your prayers are greatly appreciate as I ponder what God has in store for me next. Until next time, Au Revoir!