I get boys. I understand how they tick. I like how they are loud, energetic and messy. In fact, my husband and I have three of our own.
But I don’t get little girls, not at all. In two years volunteering on the Africa Mercy, getting to know lots of kid patients, I’d never connected with a female.
So how did I first get to know five-year- old Gifty? She sat on me, literally. One Sunday service in the wards my husband Mick and I were sitting side by side, minding our own business. Gifty must have decided that we needed to be sitting differently, because she came over, and not only sat on us, but proceeded to rearrange us as she saw fit.
She climbed all over us – putting our arms on each others’ shoulders and my head against Mick. I felt like a piece of plasticine. And all of this was done without talking – as Gifty was born with a very large cleft in the middle of her face. … Note: Gifty and her mum, Joyce, are from Liberia, West Africa.
Gifty is Joyce’s sweetheart, her only child. Since birth, Joyce’s been devoted to her daughter, looking high and low for a place Gifty can get surgery. With the help of Samaritan’s purse, after five years of searching, the mom and daughter were finally able to come to the Africa Mercy. … Soon, Gifty underwent her very complex surgery.
She had her cleft lip and palette repaired, a nose created and also some cranial manipulation around her eyes. It was a massive operation for a little five-year-old. And afterward, she wanted to get out of the hospital as soon as she could! But Gifty wasn’t going to get her wish – not soon anyway. She needed to rest, and that meant staying in bed! Even though Gifty wasn’t too happy about it, this gave Joyce and I a chance to get to know each other. In the evenings, we’d sit together, playing game after game of UNO.
At first Gifty would just lie there disinterested – she was in too much post-surgery pain to care. But within a few days, I could tell she wanted to join in the fun. Slithers of her big personality began to resurface, albeit for short periods of time. But not long after, Gifty finally was allowed to leave the hospital – headed for the more-fun HOPE Centre (the Mercy Ships outpatient facility). Her recovery would be a long one – not only did her wounds need to heal, she also needed to learn how to talk for the first time eve.
So that is how Gifty, Joyce and I really got to know each other. We tried bubbles, we tried straws, and pretty soon, we were teaching Gifty how to read and write – helping her sound out every letter, number and syllable. And wow did Gifty improve. She started off writing squiggles, but was soon forming careful and straight letters. She started off whispering “A, b, c” in my ear, but soon started talking more and more loudly. And she started off shy, but soon was running to greet me when I’d arrive, giving me a big hug, taking my hand, yanking me to the picnic table to start our next lesson. One day, towards the end of Gifty’s time here, Joyce asked for my photo. She said she wanted to show Gifty’s ‘ship mum’ to her family back home – it took me a moment to realise that she meant me.
In that instant, I realized I changed. I’ll never again just be a ‘Mum of boys’ – A little girl has stolen my heart. … NOTE: Gifty and mom Joyce have made it safely back home to Liberia. Because of her severe cleft, Joyce never sent Gifty to school – she’d be ridiculed too much. Instead, she taught Gifty at home. But now, after surgery, Joyce is ready for her daughter to enroll. Thanks to mum and “ship-mum’s” partnership, Gifty will start school able to read, write and speak.
Written by: Tammy Dunne, adapted by Anna Psiaki
Emelia Akyerefi, a native of Ghana, first heard about the Africa Mercy in 2008. “My brother was serving onboard, and he spoke highly of it,” she says.
Years later, he was still telling stories, still encouraging her to go. “But it wasn’t until late 2015 that I was sure the Lord was really telling me to come here,” she recalls. “It was quite challenging to leave my father, my brothers, and my job, but it was time to move forward into my calling.”
So in 2016, Emelia packed up everything and went to Madagascar to meet up with the ship. Now, after more than a year onboard, and after sailing back to West Africa, Emelia says it was all worth it. “I know that working on the ship is the greatest opportunity I’ve ever had,” she says.
“For me to be among so many gifted and talented people – from cooks to chaplains, surgeons to supply officers – for us to follow the 2000-year model of Jesus together – I am every day amazed.” Before, in Ghana, Emelia worked as a preschool teacher but here she’s a cook in the galley – the onboard kitchen where she and the rest of the team prepare roughly 1,200 meals a day for both crew and patients.
“I love the work,” she says. “I’m always chopping, chopping, chopping…” Her work may seem simple to the outside observer, but that doesn’t bother Emelia. “I have learned that there is no task beneath me, and no work that cannot bring God honor and bring me fulfillment when I learn to appreciate it and the way it serves others,” she says, nodding as if to confirm this. “I especially love washing dishes,” she adds, beaming.
Thanks for sharing Emelia!
Could volunteering be for you?
A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves
– Frederick William Faber
This Easter we celebrate resurrection, renewal and rebirth. As the lives of our patients are changed, one by one, love continues to be awakened in the hearts of many and spread around like wildfire. Fear turns into courage, despair turns into hope and this new love, for oneself, for others, is the most special of new beginnings.
For many patients, this new beginning starts at the HOPE centre, before surgery and after surgery as they recover. Rose is one of many staying at the HOPE centre in Benin.
8-year-old Rose has a burn contracture on her right arm that has caused her fingers to be restricted in motion. She fell into a fire when she was very little – she was trying to walk. Rose’s father Dele was at work. There were fire embers where the fire had been, and unbenownst to Rose, were still very hot. She put her hands into the embers.
Her family took her to the local hospital and they point an ointment on the burns. A few days later, there was pus coming from the wound. The family had no money left for other treatment so they applied traditional medicine. It didn’t work. Over time, the scarring froze Rose’s hand into a badly contorted position, making it difficult to do what most girls her age find easy. Her father prays that free surgery will help his Rose get back what she has lost.
Free surgery meanss Rose will be able to fetch water, wash clothes and pound yams – skills she needs as a young woman in her village. Rose is currently in the Benin HOPE Centre, where she will receive rehabilitation, ministry, and love from our team of volunteers.
Hearts continue to be rebuilt by hope, and dreams resurrected through the new beginning surgery provides. Happy Easter, we hope for love in your hearts and pray for the new beginnings needed not just for patients, but for our crew and supporters.
Baby Ichaou was born with a rare and dangerous condition. During pregnancy, his skull didn’t form all the way, causing brain matter to develop in a sac between his eyes. If left untreated, the condition could become life-threatening. However, Ichaou’s mom is making sure her son gets help…help in the form of free surgery.
Ichaou came to screening wrapped up on the back of his mother, Molayo. Ichaou is Molayo’s first child, her family heard about Mercy Ships from Molayo’s husband’s other brother who’s an English teacher. Ichaou’s mother’s name, Molayo, means “I find joy” – and she certainly has because of her son and his surgical healing through Mercy Ships.
For Ichaou’s future? Molayo says, “He’ll go to school – he’ll choose for himself what he decides to do.”
Support babies like Ichaou who are recovering from surgery at the HOPE centre
The HOPE Center is a facility that supports the hospital on-board the Africa Mercy (AFM). Its aim is to provide bed space, thus freeing up beds on-board the AFM, enabling more life changing surgeries to take place. Our patients and caregivers usually come from the distant provinces and stay with us after their surgery until no further medical intervention is required.
Ambulance drivers will transport them to and from the ship for their outpatient appointments to change bandages, see the doctor, or for physiotherapy sessions. The HOPE Center is not a medical facility and is not covered by medical staff. The purpose of the HOPE Center is to provide a safe, clean and loving environment for our patients and their caregivers.
Depending on the size of the facility (in Cameroon it will have 220 beds) the HOPE Center is staffed by crew facilitators (5) who supervise the day crew (54) that are responsible for cooking breakfast, cleaning the buildings, serving the food, translation and patient transport.
We hire a local caterer that cooks lunch and dinner under the direction of the ship dietitian to provide the most nutritious meals for our patient’s recovery.
Some patients stay for a few days while others may stay for several months. The HOPE Centre has the feel of a small community. New patients coming for the first time can see and speak with others that have already had surgery, this helps calm their fears and makes them feel welcome.
At the HOPE Centre we are a family.