Light in darkness.

Ouch….Poverty hits me in the heart once again
My tear ducts literally can’t dish out any more tears. My heart is so heavy with the reality of poverty being thrown in my face that I run, once again, into the strong and compassionate arms of Jesus. I knew coming to Africa I was going to see some shocking things but I didn’t realize how hard it would actually be.
Last year in Benin we had a Mama bring her baby that had a cleft lip and palate to the ship. Like most cleft lip babies, they are malnourished due to the fact that they can’t suck properly and hence are unable to take in adequate amounts of nutrition. This is when we first met Anicette. She stayed with us at the Hospitality Center in Benin for 4 months as we ‘fattened her up’. During this time we saw some of the most beautiful relationships built. We saw so many crew and day workers fall in love with this family. Almost anybody that worked with Mercy Ships during this time knew Anicette and her mom. Mama is a bit of a spitfire so kept us all laughing and Anicette was adorable and everyday we saw her getting fatter and fatter. The last week of surgery in Benin, Anicette was finally fat and strong to get her lip repaired. The other relationship that we saw mended was the one between Mama and Anicette. To see this Mom hold her mended child in her arms was one of the most heart melting moments. As we sailed away from Benin, we had amazing hopes and dreams for this family.

Shortly after leaving Benin, Anicette started losing the weight she had gained and at 14 months was down to the weight of a one month old. Over this past week the doctors, nurses, and nutritionist did everything they could to try and bring this little girl back to life. On March 29th, almost 4 months since we left Benin, we are now mourning the loss of our sweet little Anicette and crying out to God to comfort her Mama.

This is just another example of the sinful world that we live in, that a child could die from not having food. Death is never easy especially when it is someone you love. But death because someone didn’t have food is ridiculous. No, it’s evil.
There are many things I could branch off and talk about in regards to why Anicette’s particular situation was so complicated. Mom being one of five wives, Anicette requiring special feeds due to a underlying metabolic disorder, lack of supporting community, lack of services in her country, lack of education; the list could go on and on. But instead I reflect back to this little girl. While working on Sunday, little Ani laid her head on my shoulder to let her little frail body rest. Her little heart pumped trying to get blood throughout her 4.5kg body. Her deprived stomach trying to digest food but instead quickly came out due to the damage already done. Her weak cry, now more like a whisper, revealing how weak her body actually was.

After hearing that Ani had died, I was comforted knowing that she was now safe and fat in the arms of our father in heaven. Yet my heart broke not only for her Mama but for the 100’s of other children that starve to death everyday. I wish it was as simple as “a dollar a day can save a child’s life” but the magnitude and depth of poverty is so complex and overwhelming. As I cried out to God he gave me this passage:
Isaiah 60:1-5 "Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. "Lift up your eyes and look about you: All assemble and come to you; your sons come from afar, and your daughters are carried on the arm. Then you will look and be radiant, your heart will throb and swell with joy; the wealth on the seas will be brought to you, to you the riches of the nations will come
Now read this again but think about what God is telling us… We live in a dark world, you can deny it all you want but it is true. But there is a light that shines brighter than any darkness, the darker the place the brighter the light. For all of these heart aches one day our hearts will swell with joy… Now more than ever the fire in my heart is burning with a deeper passion and desire to Go and help!


Gerald and Michael

Cancer sucks. There is no way around it. Burkitts Lymphoma is in a league of its own. Over the past few days my heart hasn’t stopped aching and my eyes haven’t stopped welling up as I think about this terrible disease. This cancer is found mainly (90%) in subsaharn Africa and is spawned from the terrible effects of poverty. This disease affects malnourished children whose bodies are immunocompromised from either multiple cases of malaria and/or because of HIV. Burkitt’s is a VERY aggressive type of non hodgkins lymphoma. The cancer cells multiply very quickly and within 6 months the child can die. The sad reality is that the treatment for this is a two-dollar vial of chemotherapy given once a month for 6-10 treatments. If started immediately upon diagnosis the patients’ chance of survival is great.
Some of you may remember that earlier this year Suzanne and I had been working on making this Burkitt’s program an ‘on ship program’. God placed this idea in Suzanne’s heart after seeing this disease time and time again while working with palliative care last year in Benin. She ran into many difficulties while working with local hospitals. Because of these frustrations we decided to try and make this an On ship program for better control and outcomes. But God had bigger plans and the “on ship program” was denied.
So instead we created an Off Ship Burkitt’s program where we will partner with local hospitals. This program will be more sustainable and effective than an On Ship program. By educating the hospital staff and working with them we will not only help the few patients that Mercy Ships sees but we help the 100’s that come after we have gone. God’s thoughts and ways are SOOO much higher than our own.

So why the short lesson on Burkitts? Two reasons:
Gerald Male 4 years old lives in Northern Togo, brought to Mercy Ships after dental team spotted him while giving fillings to his uncle. Mass on right side of maxilla confirmed to be Burkitt’s Lymphoma.

Michael Male 2 years old lives in Northern Togo brought in during one of the screenings by his Mother. Protruding left eye/orbit confirmed to be Burkitt’s Lymphoma.

Both of these boys within two weeks went from looking completely normal to having these huge rapidly growing tumors pushing through their face.
As Suzanne and I prayed for each of these boys we were filled with nervousness, excitement and anticipation at the start of this program.
Now this is the point of the story where I could go into all the nitty gritty of Friday’s events but instead I will just say that throughout the day Suzanne and I ran into many walls and frustrations. Getting the patients admitted, wanting to do more unneeded tests, wanting to redo tests we already did, not willing to give the chemotherapy until Monday, not understanding the urgency of needing to start treatment, not being taken seriously because we were two white nurses… the list could go on and on.
As we walked through the pediatric unit at Tokoin my heart continued to break as I saw all the other patients dying before my eyes. Skin and bones, flies all around, the smell of urine, ughhh… As we helped settle in Gerald and Michael another mother turned to us and said what about my boy? Why cant you help my boy? My heart ripped out of my chest. God help me. What do I do? What would you do? How much is it for food, clothes, and medicine? How many lives could I save? How much is a life worth? Where do you push forward and where do you step back?

I felt so helpless, weak, struck down. I was exactly where God wanted me. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” God be my strength, my hope, my love.
As I looked around at all these little kids and their desperate families I thought God please shine your light and love in this place. In Matthew 6:26 Jesus says “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not more valuable then they.” As my heart lay on the ground and my eye sockets ran out of tears to cry I thought if this is how I feel, imagine how God feels. I just met these kids, but God created them and they are his children. He weeps with us, he hears our prayers and knows our hearts.
Even in these dark places, God is shining his light. Even through these trials God is preparing us for something more. After these past three days I have a deeper desire and passion to serve God and his children. God has taught me through these past few days the importance of education, compassion, but also he has prepared me for the many walls I will hit as I go out to serve him and to love his children. Gerald and Michael are two examples of why we need to go out and serve and care for one another in love.
The devil is tricky and would love to push us down but God will use these trials and persecutions for His good.
1 Peter 1:7~ These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.