Bubbles breaking walls!

As we near the end of this outreach I have been doing a lot of reflection. God has been showing me so many things about who He is and also teaching me how to be a better follower of Him. He has blessed me with so many amazing friends and opportunities especially over these past six months.
For now I want to focus on the Burkitt’s program and the amazing blessing that it has been to both Suzanne and me. Looking back I am amazed at God’s hand in and through this program. Right from the beginning, He knew He needed two crazy Boston pedi nurses, side by side, to make this program get off the ground.
This past February after arriving in Togo, Suzanne and I started the slow and frustrating process of partnering with a Togo Hospital for the Burkitt’s program. So off we went in search of a hospital that had not only an oncology program but, specifically a pediatric oncology program. Our doubt-o-meter was at 100%. Well our prayers were answered because the very first hospital we went to, Tokoin, had not only a pedi oncology program but specialized in Burkitts. Wow!
Within the first few weeks of us being in Togo we received three Burkitt’s patients. Most of February and March Suzanne and I were running around trying to put things in place, meet with doctors, prune protocols, and put as much love into these little boys as possible. The first few weeks were especially hard and Suzanne and I were putting in looooonnnggg days not just with time but also emotionally and spiritually. But we persevered and continued to push forward. There were days that Suey and I would show up to Tokoin and feel like we had left our boys to get their death certificate due to lack of care and medical treatment. Yet there were other days that we showed up and were overfilled with joy from the progress that each little boy had made. Even though technically Mercy Ships had only three patients, we quickly adopted the whole Pediatric Oncology unit. (*Unlike in the US, whole families stay with their sick family members so with a unit that had 7 beds we would sometimes have 21 people at one time). We did our best with the resources we had to help with their needs without showing favoritism or forming dependency.
After working through a few kinks these relationships blossomed. Soon these timid little boys were screeching our names as we walked towards the ward and their Mamas would run out to us with open arms. Man o man, God is so good! I have a corny smile on my face as I write this thinking about the HUGE barriers that we jumped in getting these families not only to trust us but to truly love us and us them.

The other day as we left the Togo Hospital, Dodji (our translator), Suzanne and I were praying for all the boys and their families. As we prayed each one of their names and faces flashed through my head: Gerald, Michael, Koffi, Joseph, Naphew, Mark, Alex, Gregwar, Floran, and Kossi. Some of these boys have gone back home and hopefully will stay in remission and some of these boys have passed on to meet their heavenly father and to be fully healed, and these are their stories:
Michael, whose mother took him out of the hospital because she was scared that her boyfriend would leave her if she stayed for the full treatment (up to 6 months). Her disfigured little boy would most likely die then she would be left with nothing and nobody. After getting only one dose of chemo she fled with him and the ending of his story remains unknown.
Naphew, whose Muslim parents knowing our Christian stand point, brought him on a 14 hour bus ride knowing he only had a few weeks to live, hoping that we had a quick fix to bring him back to life. After only a week of being at the hospital we connected him with our palliative care team who were able to provide him with resources to make his last week of life as comfortable as possible. His father would not stop thanking us for our love and concern for his dying son. He died one week later surrounded by loved ones.
Kossi, whose mother, when she initially met us questioned our motives and drilled us why her boy wasn’t as important as the ship boys. She said things like “How can you bring food and medicine to your new boy while on the bed next to his my son is wasting away?” After a few weeks of us coming and showing love to all, she saw our motives were pure and put aside her original assumptions. Sadly, Kossi died in April in his mother’s arms.
Alex, oh little Alex with his mischievous smile and his BIG brown puppy dog eyes that would whine and whine until he got his sweet little treat. Alex passed away 2 weeks ago and even though we knew he would it breaks my heart to watch these little ones pass away from such a preventable disease. He will hold a special place in my heart forever.
Even though these four boys are no longer with us I pray that through their lives and death that God planted seeds in their families hearts and the hearts of those that were touched by them.
This Burkitt’s program has been such a learning experience for me in so many ways. It has shown me that even though something is hard and may even seem impossible that if you persevere and put it before God he can do anything. God also has shown me the importance of relationships not only with the patients and families but also with doctors/nurses and most importantly with your team.
Suey you have been nothing but a blessing to me from the first day I met you until now and for many years to come. I pray that God will continue to use you in mighty ways for His kingdom. Dodji, you have shown me what a pure servant’s heart looks like. I’m happy to know that I will have an African lawyer on my side just in case I ever need one…hehe.
Burkitt’s. It is a stupid disease brought on by easily prevented illnesses but that kill thousands every year. Yet God used Burkitt’s to show me the incredible need that there is in this world and how if we are willing to put love into action we can quench those needs.
Bringing love and prayer, bringing bread and clothes, and bringing stickers and bubbles; God even uses bubbles to break down brick walls! How cool is that?
As we finish up these last few weeks with our boys at the hospital I pray that God will continue to plant seeds through this terrible illness and will guide them and their families to know the love, hope, grace, and peace that Jesus offers to each and everyone of us.


"I am a somebody"

I am a pediatric nurse.
Ever since I was a kid I have always lovvvveeedd children and knew that whatever job I ended up with it would involve working with kids. So when I came to Mercy Ships last year, for the first time in my nursing career I had to take care of adult patients. Most nurses come to the ship nervous to take care of children or babies where as I was nervous about taking care of adults... shh.. Don’t laugh!

When I first started working on the wards last year, almost every single surgery that was performed, I had never heard of. Yet, due to my experience at MGH I felt comfortable with most of them, except... VVF.

While in Benin I had prayed and asked God that if and when, I had to take care of these ladies, that he would be my wisdom and skills for this unknown territory. But there were so many pediatric patients, that I worked only with children and never with the VVF women. (phew)

Now, in Togo, due to a series of events, we have been able to do almost twice as many VVF surgeries. I had been praying a lot about taking care of these women and asked God to soften my heart and calm my nerves. So last week, for the first time in my life, I worked in 'urine land'.
Yeah it was hard work.
Yeah I was running around from catheter to catheter.
Yeah I asked about 10 questions an hour to whoever would listen.
But it was amazing. My heart was and is overflowing with love and care for these women. Praise God!!

Here is an example of stories from some of the VVF women :

Hallelujah! Amen!
I just want to start off my saying thank you to God. I also pray a blessing to all the doctors, nurses, and day workers for the care and love they have given me. God knows and he will reward you.
I am up her overflowing with joy and love. I praise God for the testimony he has given me.
Hallelujah! Amen!
When I was a teenager I got pregnant with my first child. I gave birth on my own [no doctor/hospital]; the baby died a few months later. Later I got pregnant with my second child and this baby was born dead. I then got pregnant with my third child and went to the doctor to have a surgery (cesarean) and this baby was also born dead and this is also when I got the disease (vesico vaginal fistula).
I have been leaking urine for over 20 years now. My husband died over 10 years ago now, I have no children, and my family has all left me because of this disease. The children in the village mock me and tease me by saying things like ‘smelly’ and run by holding their noses making faces. Before I got this disease I use to sell a fruit drink but after I got this no one would buy from me.
I no longer had money.
I no longer had food.
I no longer had friends.
I was no longer a lady.
I was no longer a person.
I was a nobody.
A few months ago I heard that people were coming who might be able to help. But they were coming on a boat and I have never even seen the ocean because my village is very far from the sea (roughly 400km). But God provided for me!

Hallelujah! Amen!
I came on this ship 4 days ago and after leaking urine and being smelly for 20 years I am healed.
I am dry.
I am a woman again.

I am a somebody.

Thank you Jesus! Thank you Mercy Ships!
Hallelujah! Amen!