Sunday, May 25, 2008

MERCY SHIPS--Hope and healing in Jesus' name

As I write this blog, I’m aboard the H/V Africa Mercy which is docked at Freeport, Liberia, just outside the capital city of Monrovia. in Africa. The International Operations Center for Mercy Ships is located in Garden Valley, Texas, just outside of Tyler, and it has been my joy over the past few years to get to know Don and Deyon Stephens. Don is the founder and president of Mercy Ships.
I’m part of a group of about 20 folks from Green Acres who are volunteering aboard the Africa Mercy for a couple of weeks. Our folks are doing everything from practicing medicine to peeling potatoes in the kitchen (the non-medical folks). But for all of us, it’s a tremendous experience.

The Africa Mercy is the largest hospital ship in the world. It sails to impoverished countries to offer free medical care to the suffering people. The ship was previously a ferry which could carry entire trains, so it’s enormous. It has been completely retro-fitted to accommodate the crew and workers (about 400 people). It has an entire deck devoted to surgical suites, labs, and hospital wards. All the medical personnel on board are volunteers who pay their own way to enjoy the privilege of delivering health care in the name of Jesus.

The Africa Mercy has been in port here in Liberia for the past 18 months and will stay here until December. Liberia is one of the poorest countries in the world. I’ve traveled to many parts of the world in my lifetime, but I’ve never seen the level of poverty seen here. The unemployment rate is about 75%. The country was torn apart by 14 years of civil war until 2003. The country is slowly but surely improving and stabilizing, but it still has a long way to go. Mercy Ships is here to offer hope and healing in Jesus’ name.

In case you don’t know the history of Liberia, the nation was established in the mid 1800’s as place for former American slaves who had been freed. The first boat of freed slaves arrived here in 1821 under the auspices of the American Colonization Society. The first settlers named their city Christopolos (city of Christ), but it was changed in 1824 to Monrovia after James Monroe who was then the U.S. President. There are American-sounding cities and counties in the country like Buchannan, Virginia, Maryland, and Paynestown. Although these American-Africans were the minority, they controlled the government until a coup in 1979 in which the tribal forces overran the country and caused widespread death and damage. The country is just now rising out of the devastation caused by the bloody civil war.

In spite of the bloody wars and the poverty, there is a spirit of hope and positive expectation in the eyes of the people. The nation is led by the first elected female president in Africa, Ellen Johnson-Serleaf. I had the privilege of meeting her along with other Mercy Ships leaders a few days ago, and she demonstrates a wonderful spirit of wisdom and patience as her country rises from the ashes of civil war. She is a committed Christian and I was able to pray for her. I encourage all believers to pause as you read this and pray for President Johnson-Sirleaf. She is a friend of America and is a key player in establishing stability on a continent where Islam is making aggressive inroads.

This week I was able to observe a couple of the life saving surgeries that doctors performed in one of the 6 operating rooms on the Africa Mercy. The first was a bilateral club foot release. That surgery isn’t performed much in the U.S. because when a baby is born with clubbed feet, they are immediately put in casts to correct the angle of the feet. But this little 8-month-old boy needed surgery to straighten out his feet. Because of this surgery, he’ll be ready to walk normally in a few months.

The second surgery was a cleft palate/lip/nose repair on a beautiful little girl who was only three months old. She was as tiny as a newborn because her cleft palate prevented her from receiving good nourishment. Dr. Gary, the chief of surgery (who has given 22 years of his life to this work), told me that he had performed somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 cleft palate repairs. Because he was able to close up the opening in the roof of her mouth, she will begin to grow as she takes nourishment. Toward the end of the surgery, there was a problem as the patient gagged and her tracheotomy came out. The heart monitor alarm went off as her heart rate decreased dramatically. A couple of us began to pray as the surgeon, anesthesiologist, and nurses started scrambling. After a few tense minutes, the monitor because to record a regular heartbeat again. I must admit when she came out from the anesthesia and started crying, it was one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. Dr. Gary commented that even the sound of her cry was more normal than the pitiful sound she had made before the surgery.

These wonderful people are MAKING A DIFFERENCE one person at a time, and they are sharing Jesus Christ with these patients. I consider it a blessing to be a small part of what Mercy Ships is doing in Liberia.

For more information about Mercy Ships click on:

COMMENTS? Write me at