Sunday, April 26, 2009

For real?

The other day I came home and wrote out this fantastic post. I mean it was poetic and thought-provoking, would have had you on the edge of your seat. I hit save about 30 times while writing, (as my usual paranoid self does) left to eat dinner, came back, and it was gone.

Ok, I admit, at times my sarcasm is a bit over the top, as evidenced by the above, but the part about losing my post while I dined upstairs is totally true. Instead of wallowing in self pity and wearily try to re-write everything, I decided to leave the blogging world behind for a few days, thus the reason for my extended absence here.
Seriously. I take FORever to get to a point, don't I?

For the last few months I have been on a 'quest' for realness. I want it, I crave it, I need it. During training before coming here I started being real with myself and more importantly, real with God. Subsequently I desired this same realness from the people around me.
I decided a while ago that I wasn't going to sugar coat things for the people who read this or the people I personally talk with about my experiences here. I don't want to just tell stories without sharing the thoughts that go through my head while those stories are developing.

Last week we were out visiting a patient at her vegetable stand on the side of the road. Its a fairly typical impoverished scene you would expect to see in a 3rd world country, and the beauty in it since being here has been the ability and opportunity to see through that to the people.
My patient has a baby granddaughter who is usually at the stand with her, I would guess she is around 6 months old. At least I think its her granddaughter. One can never be sure exactly how everyone is related here, but that's beside the point (of course it is, I'm good at that). Last week we watched as the sweet baby created something that any nurse in her right mind would be compelled to collect and send for a culture. Her mom casually scraped some dirt over it, grabbed the baby by her arm, quickly washed the naked bum, and sat her back down in the rust colored dirt.

This particular visit the baby was again sitting on the ground as we took our seat on the stools a few feet away. In the middle of our visit she started wailing. I'm not talking a whimper or sniffle, I'm talking a bottom lip-quivering-shrill-I-am-NOT-happy-scream.
and no one seemed to notice. My automatic instinct was to scoop her up and comfort her, then I hesitated.

She has no diaper, if she goes while I'm holding her I won't be able to change my clothes for a while. I'm not sure I feel like dealing with it right now.

And then God gave me his opinion

But Suzanne, what do you think Jesus would do?

I motioned to my patient to hand the baby to me. She looked at me funny and I nodded, reassuring her I wanted her to pass me the baby. The man standing beside us took her by her arm and swung her over to my lap just as my patient slipped a piece of colorful fabric in between me and the child wearing nothing but a little necklace and a string of beads around her waist. I held the sandy baby, cooing back and forth with her, still hoping for a clean, dry encounter, but embracing her all the same.

I am not always proud of the thoughts that flash through my mind. I hesitate, I fail to react as I should, I stumble.
That's the real me.

The redeeming reality in all of this is I worship a God who is gentle and kind, quick to forgive, and just as fast to encourage and challenge me. His brilliance shines through my (numerous)imperfections, and He loves me enough to be patient as I run to catch up with each lesson He teaches me. I have been praying for a heart like Jesus, I'm not sure why I am so amazed God gave me an opportunity to see what that actually looks like.

Monday, April 20, 2009

No peeing in the pool...

but the patio next to the pool is totally fair game...

hah. So I've been living in Africa for 6 weeks now. The other night a new friend asked, while we were walking down the dock, if this was all becoming "normal".

I answered "yes".
That answer in itself is kinda weird for me. I have gone through all of my adjustment stages and I am finally feeling like this is home.

What that means is...

When I see a guy with a freezer loosely tied to the back of his motor bike I get out my camera to capture the picture purely for the purpose of sharing it with you. I see it quite often and therefore only shake my head and smile when he starts passing people on the washboard-like bumpy dirt roads. Also, please notice the electrical wires.

About once a week I marvel at how resourceful people here are. The picture below is of the boats "under arrest" by the port for one reason or another (probably lack of payment). So its funny enough that they are all tied up together, but the true ingenuity shines when another boat arrives to take hundreds of men, women, and children of various ages over to another port. In order to board they all walk across the 4 or 5 boats, using them as a bridge/gangplank. It works, and I hardly cringe anymore thinking about the tiny babies fastened to their momma's backs while she jumps from one boat to another.

Lets see...what else?

I know how well we are doing on time if we are within and hour and a half of when we said we would be somewhere. If its within an hour, well, we are just fantastic, and probably not relying on a local to get us somewhere.

And most recently...

We were all swimming last weekend at a hotel that lets us come to use their pool. A big family walks in and sits at the tables in the shade on the little patio.

Oh, side note. I'm also used to the Africans laughing at us when we intentionally sit in the sun. They do everything they can to get out of it and the (silly)yovo's are basking in it every chance we get.

Ok, back to the big family at the pool. There is a dad and about 5 kids, the youngest looked about 4 years old.

As I am talking to my friend I am facing the family and see the little boy unzip his pants. I make sure my friend turns in time to see the kid pee all over the place and all we could do was laugh. The dad is completely unaware of what has happened, and honestly it was too late anyways. Apparently the pool staff was also watching and didn't appreciate the humor in the situation. The staff explained to the dad what they had just seen. He calls the son over and asks "Did you just go wee-wee?" The boy shook his head no, although his unbuckled belt surely gave him up.

As far as everyday things...
I think it is completely normal to have huge fresh mango's and slices of ripe watermelon after dinner every night.
Then there's the Milch. It does a body good (?)

Everyday I drive by women selling dresses which they display by hanging them in the trees. I have to say this is one of my favorites.

This is the most colorful place I have ever been, in every sense of the word. The people are boisterous and friendly. They throw their head into your shoulder when they laugh, and smile big when you pass by. There is sorrow here, I won't deny that. But oh, the joy is so much bigger.

I am so excited to be a part of this world. I'm proud to call it home.

Isaiah 61:3
"Bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair."

Sunday, April 12, 2009

He made this wretch His treasure

So here I am.
2 years ago this weekend I became a Christian. Its almost impossible to recount to you what I have been through since then, or worse, where I was before.
I've never written my testimony here, I won't go into great detail, but I would love to have the opportunity to express what Easter means to me.

2 years ago during the week leading up to Easter I felt an urge to return to church. I grew up in church, but essentially "checked out" around 14 or 15, went through the motions and then left entirely at 18. I have used the quote about sin taking you places you never wanted to go, costing you more than you want to pay, and keeping you there longer than you wanted to stay. It couldn't be more true of my situation. By the time I was considering going back to church I was an empty shell, living for the weekends and party's with friends. My identity came from trying to please everyone around me, all the while hating myself.
I was a wretch.
I went to church on Good Friday, and then again on Easter. The service that day was labeled "Jesus: Undeniable"
My sister giving her testimony was the message.
God astounds me everyday. He never lets a single detail slip. He is brilliant, He is glorious. He knew the one person to use in speaking to my heart, to make my heart open wide like it hadn't in years.
During worship after her testimony I prayed for God to flood my heart. To consume me. He did, and still does to this day.
I'm not going to sit here and tell you my life has been a cake walk since then. Far from it, actually. The week following this was the worst of my life, literally. I prayed one day over my current situation and within hours I was been crushed by some information.
God promised me this in Psalm 71:20
"Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up"
I felt at peace, I knew I would be ok, and that day ended up being one of the most pivotal in my life, I thank God for it.

The opportunity with Mercy Ships came on the scene within weeks, pretty good timing, eh? Seemingly impossible events all coming together landed me on a short term trip here to Benin last year around this time. I don't think there is enough room or time for me to even attempt to go through the past year and all that's happened. That trip last April introduced me to Africa, set the course for this year,and left me with a desire in my heart that was unmistakable. If you read this blog then you know I am back in Benin, this time for a little longer.
On Good Friday I cried through the Passion of the Christ, and on Sunday I cried through singing Amazing Grace.
I have never once made it through that song without tears. The words never grow old or familiar to me, I pray they never will. I was saved two years ago on Easter. Saved from myself, a life without joy, a pit of insecurity, saved from this world.

Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost
But now I'm found
was blind but now I see

Sunrise service Easter morning on the ship.

Myself and some of the "gateway girls" after church. (Don't worry mom, I wore a dress to church that night. I haven't forgotten everything you taught me)

Thursday, April 9, 2009

A hit and a miss

Opening stats of the 2009 Season
Red Sox 1-0
Yankees 0-1

Now that thats out of the way, I'll get on with this post.
I've been in Africa just over a month and I am in awe of how I am still surprised by things on a daily basis. Or maybe I'm not surprised, confused maybe? Flabbergasted? I like flabbergasted, it has a nice ring to it.
Last week without fail we would show up to a patients house and they wouldn't be there. Where did they go? We asked the neighbors.
"Up country" was the reply.
When we would get in touch with the patient or family they told us how they were looking into "traditional" healing, which in all honesty could cover a WHOLE lot of different things around here.
The cost is 250,000 CEFA, which is $500 US dollars. More than a years salary for a lot of people here. The worst is that the kids aren't in school because there isn't enough money to send them ($50 bucks a piece). This culture is unavoidably death oriented. You read it in books and hear it from people before coming here, most will spend more money on a funeral here than in that persons lifetime. A Christian here, when facing death, may still take off to the country for a witchdoctor to tell him there are curses on him from his "many" (??) enemies and that is why he is sick. For a small fee of 500 bucks they'll take the curse off. I wonder if they have a money back guarentee...
Its hard to understand here. So many beliefs and mindsets are deeply rooted. How can you blame someone for wanting to live and trying something he earnestly believes could help him? What if his pastor or someone in the church is the one reinforcing this because they have voo doo rooted in their beliefs too?
How does one stop going around in circles with this?
We support them, we love them, and we pray for them.

So here's the flip side. Good news last, remember?
We got to another patients house, rather, her vegetable stand on the side of the road, and started chatting. She said she had gone to her village the day before and they told her that her disease was "unnatural" and it was the result of curses from her enemies. This guy was selling healing at the bargain price of $400. Business must be good. We all looked at eachother with that 'not again' look. Its honestly discouraging to see people being decieved into having false hope. We sit week after week and explain that no, we are not holding out on a pill that can cure them, no we don't think the corrupt doctor at the only hospital should do surgery when it would only make matters worse, no we don't think there is anymore that can be done to save their life. Some people are desperate, how can you blame them?
As my patient was explaining her trip all of these things are rushing through my head, leaving know the word...flabbergasted.
But then something unexpected...
She made a clicking noise with her tongue as she shook her head back and forth.
"I don't belive him, no no. I will not do that."
I smile now thinking about it. The only word to describe this patient is 'sassy'. She is full of life, has a total attitude, and I love her. Basically she's not taking crap from anyone, regardless of what they promise.
We prayed with her as we do every week. We prayed against any real curses on her life but also for her belief to remain that God is stronger and more powerful than any curse (which she clearly already knows)

My last hit and miss this week, then I'm off to start my long weekend. This seems silly but it made me smile today.
Back in 'the day' I listened to the band Phish. Ok, thats a gross understatement, I won't go into detail for the interest of time, but sufice to say I was a BIG fan. The last time I saw them play was in their final tour 8 years ago. Now they are back, great news. They are playing in MA while I am gone, good news, kinda bummed, whatever though. They are playing at Fenway Park, what the heck!? It seems ridiculous, but I was really wishing I could be there. Its small, its trivial, but I'm being honest. I'm usually not so nostalgic, but this news really did it to me.
Today I was sitting in my patients house (the one with the grandson Glory). He was laying in her lap and I was running my finger tips up and down his arm. As I felt his velvety skin underneath my touch my heart swelled.

I wouldn't trade this for anything in the world.

When asked to sacrifice things, big or small, whether it be a (sweet) concert or a years worth of time spent together with family, God quietly says;

Look here, look what I have for you, you won't believe how good it is!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

No surprises here

I finally finished my monthly newsletter and figured I would post it here as well. If you follow me here you won't find too many new and exciting stories, however I have included a prayer request.

April 5, 2009
Ahoy Maty’s!
I contemplated all of the different ways to greet you using ship “lingo”. Clearly, my best effort is painfully cheesy. How about the common greeting of the kids here when we leave the ship?

Bonjour Yovo’s! (Hello white ones) Yup, I like that one more!
I’ll back up slightly to the last two months and what I’ve been up to, but not so much that I bore you. I went through an intense five week training down at Mercy Ships International Operations Center in East Texas. I was stretched beyond what I thought possible but managed to have some fun fighting fires and jumping into a pool with a ‘gumby’ suit on in the meantime. I quickly realized why Mercy Ships requires this extensive training for people going to the ship long term. What I experienced was invaluable. Not to mention, if for any reason I have to “abandon ship” (although we are technically docked for 90% of the trip), I know how to safely jump out of the ship and haul myself into a lifeboat where all the tasty, rationed food and water I can dream of await me, mmm.

I got to the ship one month ago and quickly started adjusting to my new home. For those of you who don’t know, I’ve actually been to this same country in Africa before for a short term trip. So the initial culture shock really was more of a slight bump, however; living here is proving to be a bit of an adjustment mentally, which I suppose, is entirely normal.
Africa is an incredible place. I don’t know how I would begin to create a picture that would do it justice. Everyday I walk off the ship into thick, hot, dusty air. Recently it’s been in the low 90’s, BUT the “feels like” temp is around 108, which is quite cozy really. As I near the end of the dock I’m introduced to a scene similar to what you would see on some commercial asking you to help the poor and unfortunate in some far off land. If I’m being honest here, I’ll tell you that the scene in your head isn’t entirely accurate. I will not paint you a picture of poverty or sickness without first trying to explain the smiles that light up the faces of the people who live at the end of the dock and all over this country. It is too bad you don’t get a chance to see the joy in Africans eyes when you turn on your TV. If you did, you would understand why I love the people here, and why I have so much more to learn from them than I do to teach. The people here need our partnership, our compassion, our service, but not our pity. Please believe that. God has called me here to love and embrace the people of Benin and I am working everyday to fulfill that calling, to be the hands and feet of God, to be love in action.

This month I have faced a lot of difficulties in facing the harsh reality that people’s geography can be the difference between life and death. My heart cries out for my patients and countless others every day. Please pray against any discouraging thoughts or feelings of hopelessness as I continue to adjust to my new home. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart, the joy and hope I have here every day is certainly sustained by your continued support and prayers. They mean more to me than I can express here in words.
I have vowed to keep these newsletters to a page every month. So her it is, short and sweet. Be blessed, Sincerely, Suzanne.

Micah 6:8 “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God”

Thursday, April 2, 2009

An old story with a new meaning

Maybe its something in the water (well, theres plenty of stuff in the water here, but thats not what I'm talking about)
Maybe its the heat, or the constant sway of the ship.
Or maybe God has been trying to make a point to me for a while now and my stubborness has yet again made Him repeat Himself 3 times, this being the latest attempt.
I tend to believe it is the latter, why I read this story as if it were for the first time, that is.
Since being on the ship I have had some normal ups and downs. I'm not going to pretend that moving away from home onto a big ship in the middle of a third world country felt entirely normal and perfect. It was surprisingly easy and natural, but what I didn't expect was a "boatload" (couldn't help the pun) of doubts to surface over the last week or so.
So there I was last week, struggling, praying, struggling, praying. You get the point.
In devotions someone alluded to having no fear or doubts about the future. I heard it, but in one ear and out the other as they say...
In community meeting I heard about Paul, being content in all things, to have plenty or be in need. This time I even mentally registered the thought "Why would I doubt God has great plans for my life and future?" But again, by the time I prayed again I had dismissed round 2 of my potential lesson, practically asking God for something to hang onto, some hope or answers about so many things on my mind, all of the doubts.
Then I'm sitting last Saturday doing my bible study. There I was (happily) drinking my coffee, looking up the scriptures for the day, not expecting what came next. Read on:

Matthew 14:25-31
During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. "It's a ghost," they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid."
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said,

"why did you doubt?"

Like I said, maybe its the simple fact that I am on a boat, but this story holds so much more significance right now and I am drawing a lot of parallels here, still.
I'm all like " Yes God, I will follow you, I have trust and faith. Send me, I'll go"
Then within weeks of getting here I'm doubting some really big (and some really nominal) things in my life.
How quickly we forget, eh?

There is more about this story I never recognized either. When Peter starts sinking and crys out, Jesus immediately reached out His hand and caught Him. He didn't watch Him sink. He didn't let Him drown. He loved Him, He grabbed hold of him and saved him.

I have been writing down verses that impact me since I've been here. This one made it to the wall right next to my pillow (where I lay my hard head every night).

I'll try my best not to forget this one.