Saturday, September 20, 2014

What We Need.

On Wednesday this week we left the noise and the traffic and lovely new friends in the capital city, Antananarivo, and headed towards the port city of Tamatave (French name), otherwise known as Toamasina (Malagasy name, pronounced tome-ah-seen) (side note - most words leave off the last vowel/y as a sound. Toliara = toe-lee-are, Antananarivo = tan-an-ah-reeve)

It has been non-stop meetings and writing up of reports from meetings and travel and more meetings, and we are all tired. Super fruitful and productive, and it seems God is just opening door after door in a very fast manner, which is quite exciting... but exhausting!

By the time we arrived at our hotel about halfway between the capital and the port, after leaving early in the morning and assessing a hospital along the way, I was very much looking forward to a nap and solitude.  My introvert nature, while not nearly as dominant as it once was, was feeling frazzled and this was the first opportunity in awhile. 
While we were eating lunch at our hotel, which was located in the national park, a guide came to our table and described some options for hikes in the forest to see the lemurs - little primates that only exist in Madagascar. (King Julian, anyone?)  My colleagues were excited, as they are only here another week and this might be the only opportunity to see them. I was thinking meh, I am here another almost year and will have plenty of time. And what I need is a nap and solitude.

But undeniably I felt the still small voice whispering "say yes"... as it has now several times in the last several months, and I have never been disappointed...  so I said yes and got in the car against my "better judgment" that said I should be having a nap and solitude.

It was incredible.  We hiked through the jungle and the fresh air and birds and the healing balm of beauty in nature brought my heart rate up and my stress level down.  Our guide spotted some lemurs and we went off the trail and into the forest where we stood with our mouths hanging open and our cameras clicking like crazy as a set of lemurs danced and played just feet from where we were standing.

We were only there about an hour, but it was more refreshing and restoring to me than an entire day in bed would have been.  A beautiful example of the fact that God always knows what we need - I thought what I needed was a nap and solitude, and what I really needed was nature, beauty, creation, exercise, and laughter with friends.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rice Paddies and Lemurs.


I’ve been staring at this empty Word document that will eventually become a long-overdue blog post for several minutes without so much as one letter appearing on the digital white paper.

Where do I start?  Wherever these words lead me, I guess.  I will try to paint the picture of the last few weeks as accurately as I can, but it’s moved so quickly and changed so frequently it’s as blurry as the Malagasy countryside that was speeding past my window today on my way to the Port city where the Africa Mercy will dock, completely unexpectedly and yet at exactly the right moment in time.

Wait, huh?

Let me back up.  We were supposed to go to Guinea, and then because of Ebola, we decided to go to Benin, a place that will forever hold a piece of my heart. Then, the first week of August, after the Advance team on the ground in Cotonou, Benin had been working hard for three months to set everything up, suddenly came the news that brought all our plans to a screeching halt and our crew to their knees – Ebola in Nigeria. 

It was decided we couldn’t go to Benin – not when the very nature of what we do brings thousands of sick, desperate people into one place.  The idea that we could actually do more harm to a country than good, by creating a ripe environment for the malicious evil that is the virus, is unacceptable to us, an organization that seeks to heal and bring hope, not the opposite.

So we waited, and watched, as ebola continued (and still continues) to destroy our hopes and dreams for West Africa. I couldn’t blog, I couldn’t stop crying much of the time.  My heart breaks for those people that I love and that place that I love.

We looked at a return to Republic of Congo, a country far enough from West Africa but after a few days of focused planning for that country another strain of Ebola showed its ugly face in the Congo’s larger neighbor, the DRC.  Another set of plans out the window.

Imagine a hospital ship full of people called to help and heal Africa stuck in a shipyard in Spain.  Awesome? Not so much.  But this community continues to amaze me and the faith of my friends and ship family as we came together to pray for our future and those we love in Africa.

Then, a flicker of hope – connections and favor seemed to be opening the door to a country I never considered and never planned on visiting.  A country with a huge population and a huge surface area and an equally huge need for specialized surgical services – and a people and culture entirely different than the Africa I’ve become accustomed to calling my home.

Madagascar.

And just like that, with three days warning, I found myself tiptoeing out of my cabin in the wee hours of the morning to board a plane and cross over to the other end of the earth and touch down in a country that I have fallen in love with.  A land entirely different yet much the same as those I know, a land of rice paddies and lemurs and beauty and despair and hope.

This place is gorgeous. These people are stunning. And the welcome we have received is overwhelmingly enthusiastic, open, and encouraging.  I’m so honored to be a part of the Assessment and Advance team, on the ground preparing the way for the ship to arrive in the port of Toamasina in just a few weeks.  It’s exciting, it’s exhausting, and it’s so much fun!   We’ve already experienced tremendous favor, with connections being sent from the first few minutes on the ground, to perfectly timed street conversations, to extremely fruitful meetings and travel.  There’s still so much to do, and I won’t be able to blog much, but I hope to at least get some pictures up from time to time.  I’ve already posted several to Facebook, check it out if you haven’t already. And please, please, please, keep the people of West Africa as well as the people of Madagascar in your thoughts and prayers.

There will be much more to come… stay tuned.
 
My favorite snap so far - rice paddies in Antananarivo, Madagascar. Shot with an ipad from the window of a moving car!