Conquering Fear: Fanta’s Story

It’s hard to work if you’re a teacher who’s afraid of children, a jockey afraid of horses, or even a nurse afraid of surgery, like 44-year-old Fanta. Despite working in the medical field for over 17 years, Fanta was too frightened to undergo surgery to remove a 10-pound Lipoma tumor under her right arm. For nearly 10 years, she learned to strategically hide the tumor under draped shawls while she worked, refusing to have surgery to remove it.

“How can I expect people to respect me as a nurse and not be scared themselves when I am too afraid to do anything about my own problem?” Fanta said.

Since she was a young girl, Fanta saw nurses at her local hospital in their uniforms taking care of people, and she knew she wanted to be a nurse, too. But, after hard work and a long journey to achieve her dream, her watermelon-sized tumor made it hard for her to wear the uniform she’d longed to wear as a girl. As the tumor grew painfully large, she knew something had to be done. However, working in the local hospital only heightened her fears of having surgery.

“My colleagues told me I would die if I tried to have it removed, and that I had left it too long,” Fanta said. “I see the surgeries, I see the blood, and I hate the thought of not being in control of my own body.”

When she heard about Mercy Ships through her hospital, she was filled with hope instead of worry. During her consultation with Mercy Ships, she felt more at ease than she had ever felt before.

“The nurses at the ship are so compassionate and loving,” Fanta said. “They kept reassuring me that everything was going to be more than okay, and something in me trusted them!”

It only took a three-hour surgery onboard the Africa Mercy for Fanta to realize how much her fear held her back for the past decade. Her lighter arm and brighter smile made her wonder why she’d waited so long.

“I can now lift my arms with ease! I will be able to dress like the other ladies at my hospital,” Fanta said. “My husband has already bought me some new fabric so I can make more dresses that show off my arms!”

For patients like Fanta, Mercy Ships removes more than just tumors. After her free surgery, Fanta’s fear and anxiety were dispelled as quickly as her hope was restored.

Story by Georgia Ainsworth
Edited by Karis Johnson
Photos by Saul Loubassa Bighonda

To avoid scaring her patients, Fanta strategically hid the tumor under draped shawls while she worked, refusing to have surgery to remove it.

44-year-old nurse, Fanta, was afraid to undergo surgery to remove the 10-pound tumor that had been growing under her right arm for a decade.

“The nurses at the ship are so compassionate and loving,” Fanta said. “They kept reassuring me that everything was going to be more than okay—and something in me trusted them!”

“I am so thrilled to be out of surgery I can barely believe it. My arm is so light,” Fanta said. “As soon as I can, I am going to wear strappy tops to show off my new arm!”


Since she was a young girl, Fanta saw nurses at her local hospital in their uniforms taking care of people, and she knew she wanted to be a nurse, too. But, her watermelon-sized tumor meant she couldn’t fit her arm through the sleeve of her uniform. Now, she wears her scrubs with pride.

Her lighter arm and brighter smile made her wonder why she’d waited so long. “I can now lift my arms with ease!” said Fanta.


On Top of the World (at least sub-Saharan central and western Africa)

Last weekend, we had the the opportunity to climb Mt. Cameroon, elevation 13,255 ft (4,040 m).  According to Wikipedia, “It is the highest point in sub-Saharan western and central Africa,[5] the fourth most prominent peak in Africa and the 31st most prominent in the world.”

One of the other fathers (Captain John) and I began planning this adventure several weeks ago.  I initially thought Brandon and I would represent the Barki family on this trip, but Maya asked me if she could join.  How could I say no?  After all, Brandon and I had climbed most of Pikes Peak (14,115 ft, 4,302 m) a couple summer’s ago, and only had to turn back because of inclement weather.  I thought Mt. Cameroon would be relatively easy.

I was wrong, but more on that later.

We managed to amass a large group of 17 people, all from the ship, and what an incredible group it was!

The trip would take 3 days, and we were asked to each pack a small backpack with snacks and sunscreen.  All of our bulkier items that we needed overnight needed to be packed in 4 large backpacks that our guides would carry.  The guides would also carry all the water we needed as well as other food and supplies.  Did I mention we had a group of 17??


Brandon and Maya trying out 2 of our larger packs.  They were glad our guides would be carrying these!

We left the ship at 6AM on Friday, and after a car ride and some paperwork, we were hiking by about 10AM.


Group photo before starting our hike.  We still have our sweet smiles and sweet smells!

We started off in an area that was mainly farmland.  The heat and humidity were stifling, and most of us were drenched in a matter of minutes.  This was despite the fact that we were each only carrying our day packs.  Interesting how our guides weren’t struggling at all.


We then entered a beautiful rain forest, which was also very hot and humid.  Thankfully our guides gave us frequent breaks, or else I would have been done in a matter of hours.

The rain forest then opened up into a savannah that then transitioned into a volcanic landscape.  Did I mention that Mt. Cameroon is an active volcano?

Now I mentioned earlier that this was a difficult hike.  It was much more difficult than Pikes Peak.  The heat and humidity that we initially encountered weren’t exactly pleasant, but it was something else that would really challenge us the whole weekend.  You see, evidently the trail blazers/makers or whatever you call them, didn’t believe in switchbacks on Mt. Cameroon.  Most of the trail felt like it was literally straight up the mountain.  And to make matters worse, after the savannah, the terrain was made up of loose, sharp, volcanic rock.

Going up was quite the cardio workout.  There wasn’t much talking among the 17 in our group.

Of course the guides were fine.  They would sing and talk and ask us if we needed any help.  Need them to carry a backpack?  No problem.  How about a person?  Evidently that’s no problem either, although thankfully it never came to that.  These guides work incredibly hard, going up and down the mountain 2-3 times per week carrying people’s gear.  Watching them bound up and down the mountain with such ease was both awe-inspiring and frustrating.


One of our guides looking after Maya.

The first day ended with us climbing the most difficult part of the mountain, called “The Monster.”  This area was especially steep.  Our reward for climbing it was arriving at our resting spot for the night, the Phako Mountain Lodge.  It was a welcome sight after hiking for 7 hours, but it was cold!

At this stop, there was a small snack bar and even some cottages.  How did those structures get built?  One of our guides told us that people would hire them to carry up construction materials.  One example, a 110 lb (50kg) bag of cement!

Our group slept in tents, some more sturdy and warmer than others.  We were fed a nice hot meal of spaghetti, and we were all in bed by about 9pm.

We were up the next morning at 6am.  Our guides prepared breakfast for us, and then we were off again.  This time for the summit!


Eating breakfast at the outdoor kitchen.

The terrain on day 2 was not quite as difficult (although still plenty challenging), but the altitude did start to have an effect on some of us.

In such a big group, we naturally divided up into smaller groups.  I stayed with Maya, Deddy, and Emilie.  We referred to ourselves as “The Caboose.”  Once we started getting close to the summit, we had to take frequent breaks.  Emilie would go ahead of us about 20 steps and scope out a place for us to take a “breathing break.”  After several breathing breaks, we would reward our selves with a “sit-down break.”  I will say that the faster people in the group did a great job of waiting for us to catch up and cheering us on each time we arrived.  There wasn’t even a hint of anyone becoming impatient.  As a father, I was so appreciative of that.


An attempted selfie.  I have some practicing to do.

As we approached the summit, it was extremely windy.  Clouds raced by us, and it was difficult to hear anything besides the wind.  In the video below, that “hill” in front of us is actually the summit!

Our guides told us that the youngest person that had made it to the summit was about 13 years-old.  Brandon made it up before us, since he was part of a faster group.  He later told me that as an 11-year-old, he had to savor the few moments of being the youngest person to summit Mr. Cameroon before his 9-year-old sister arrived!

When we finally made it to the top, the rest of our group had already been waiting there for quite a while.  They still welcomed us with cheers and smiles, even though I know they had to have been freezing.  What a feeling to reach the top!  I was so proud of Brandon and Maya.

After savoring a few moments at the summit, it was time to start our descent.  This was a different kind of difficult.  On one hand, it was a relief to finally be using different muscles, but on the other hand, I think my toes were cursing me for organizing this trip.  Those toe nails can only be smashed into the front of your shoes a few hundred times before they start to complain!

On our way down, we did pass the site of the volcanic eruption that occurred in the year 2000.  We also got to pose with a big boulder that was thrown by the eruption.

I kept hearing that going down would be harder than going up.  I can’t say I totally agree. I found that we were able to talk more on the descent, so perhaps it was less strenuous on the cardiopulmonary systems, but the toes were definitely feeling it.  It was also a lot easier to fall on the way down with the loose footing.  Our guides told us that every time our rear ends hit the ground, we had to buy a chicken.  This became a running joke.  If we heard someone even stumble, we would yell, “Chicken!”  By the end of our 3 day journey, we had accumulated 26 “chickens” as a group.

Day 2 ended where it began, back at the Phako Mountain Lodge.  Maya, Deddy, and I were the last to arrive around 5:30pm.  Another long day.  This time, our guides fed us some chicken with peanut sauce over rice.  It was delicious!  I think everyone was in bed that night by about 8pm.

The final day began at 6am again.  We packed up, ate, and headed off.  We hiked back down the Monster, which was the source of many more “chickens.”  We continued down the mountain until we were back in the rain forest.

We finally arrived back to our starting point around 2pm, each of us feeling absolutely drained, but also incredibly blessed.  Here we were, a group of 17 people from all around the world, with varying ages and physical ability.  All of us made it to the top and back down again without any major injuries–only a few chickens.  Thanks be to God!

We had people in the group that have hiked all over the world, including Nepal and Kilimanjaro.  They said this hike was just as difficult, if not more so, than anything they’d done in the past.  I was so proud of our group, and really proud of my kids.  It was a much-needed escape into nature since we are usually surrounded by the concrete and shipping containers of the port.

I hope they will remember this the rest of their lives.


Yes, we’re still smiling, but the sweet smells are long gone!

Of note, there is a race every year up and down Mt. Cameroon, called “The Race of Hope.”  It is the distance of a marathon, but with a mountain thrown in there for good measure.  The race took place the week before we hiked.  The winning time?  4 1/2 hours.  That’s crazy!  It took us 3 days!  And yes, it’s an extreme physical challenge running up the mountain, but how do you run down a steep slope littered with jagged, loose, volcanic rock?  I mean, I could do it, but not without rolling an ankle, or breaking an arm, or face, or neck.  Much respect for those racers!

Racing, ready set go! (Jamie’s random thoughts)

I was recently asked what was  my favorite Disney movie and why.   I love Beauty and the Beast.  I grew up watching it with my friends almost everyday after school.  We could sing every word.  A friend mentioned that Belle had become friends with all the weird things (candlestick, clock, broom, etc).  I immediately realized that’s probably why I love it so much!  All my closest friends are all weird!  I have very few close friends who are like me.  In fact, in high school I became friends with people from the “hippie” and the “mud riding country kids” crowd, even though my own crowd was the “goodie goodie” crowd.  And if you met my best friends for 30+ years, you would understand my love of weird!   I love people who are different than I am. I feel as if there is so much to learn from people with different backgrounds, different experiences, etc.  So, to me, weird is a great compliment and normal is boring.

I vividly remember being in third grade and my two older brothers saying “don’t tell people at school you’re Egyptian, or they’ll make fun of you.”  My stubborn mind immediately thought…”that’s stupid,” and I decided to go overboard in telling people I was Egyptian.  I did every school project I could on Egypt, bringing my mom’s baklava and our little pyramids that sat on a shelf at home.  I decided to own it.  Now, I’m sure I was made fun of, and I remember people singing “Walk like an Egyptian” many times to me.  But, I learned that dance and did it along with them.  It never became an issue for me.  Then I went to college on the East coast.  I couldn’t talk to ANYONE without people immediately asking, “where are you from.”  I was the southern girl, which doesn’t always have the most intelligent reputation among people from the east coast.  However, people embraced me and loved me anyway.  I didn’t even change my accent, and was able to still enjoy being different from the people around me.

It makes me sad to think of some people being a kind of different that they can’t be proud of, because of our society.  I hear so often that we should look past the differences and see how we are all the same.  But I think that’s boring, and I personally would rather celebrate and enjoy each other’s differences.  I know I have never been majorly persecuted or judged, so that may be easier said than done.  But I pray that I personally will embrace the differences in people around me and learn and listen about their journey.  I love hearing the stories of our patients and crew and all the different experiences they have been through, both good and bad.  So, today I’m tyring to walk like a “Southern US/Egyptian girl” and go listen as others walk like themselves.  I pray my kids, who will probably struggle with their mixed up cultures/homes, will learn to enjoy who they are and cling to the thing that never changes, that they are loved by God.

I wrote the above post months ago, because it was on my mind, but never published it because it wasn’t really about Mercy Ships per se.  This morning, I listened to Jenn Hatmaker on the Today Show click here to listen to it.  She talked about raising black kids and how we as parents cannot depend on our leaders to speak truth to our kids.  She says, “We are in charge of the narrative our kids learn.”  I want my kids to learn people are people.  My prayer is that my kids will not only own who they are, but help the people around them celebrate who they are as well.  That they can help their black friends see what a beautiful thing it is to be black, with no inferiority or superiority complex.  Not the same, but equal.

The other day, I read this article on Black Panther.  What a great description of how it’s ok to feel comfortable with people like ourselves, that being able to say “me too” is a real and strong bond.  But it doesn’t stop there, that there is also a “unity made perfect in diversity.”

Yes, we live in Africa, but we are still sheltered here on this ship, and it is still a decision we have to make to take charge of the narrative our kids learn.  Please pray for us.



Holidays and Beyond

Happy New Year from Douala, Cameroon!

Below are a few tidbits about our holidays on the ship.  Please read the whole post for an important update about our future plans.

We have been here since August, and it has been a very busy, yet fruitful field service.  We’ve performed hundreds of transformative surgeries and trained several local doctors and nurses in the ORs.  Just when we think we’ve seen it all, we will stumble across a patient with a new condition, or with a condition more severe than we’ve ever seen.  On the bright side, the health system in Cameroon has a solid foundation with eager and intelligent doctors and nurses.

All of that is great.  It’s why we’re here, but it’s also nice to take a break every once in a while.  Ship life is fun, unique, and truly special, but it can also be exhausting since we never really leave work.

That’s why we welcomed a week off from scheduled surgeries over the holidays.  While we had a few patients that had to return to the OR during this time, it was still a much-needed time to catch up on rest and spend some time together as a family.

Those of you that have kept up with us know about the special events on the ship around Christmas.  We absolutely love taking part in these.

What was different this Christmas was that my parents were able to visit the ship for the very first time!  It was SO good to spend some time with them.  It was really special for them to finally see the ship for themselves and get a taste of what we have been a part of for the past 2.5 years.

There are some pretty incredible stories of how God worked to make this trip possible, and also how He used my parents’ gifts and talents to bless others while they were here.  Thank you to all of you who prayed for my father’s heart condition.  His heart behaved enough for him to travel to the ship, and he never had a single problem during his 2 weeks here.

Now for the update on our future plans.  We have decided to extend our time with Mercy Ships for another year.  This will take us to June 2019.

The original 2 years that we committed to serve have come and gone.  We extended our time once, and now we’ve done it again.  When making the decision, it came down to the fact that we love where God has us right now, and we feel this is where He still wants us to be.  We are passionate about the work we are doing, and we love the transformations we get to see in patients, local doctors and nurses, fellow crew members, and ourselves.  Brandon, Maya, and Hannah continue to enjoy the Academy and are getting a great education in and out of the classroom.  The hardest part continues to be missing our family and friends back home, but overall, we are thriving!

Thank you to all of you who have supported us over the years.  Your friendship, prayers, financial support, care packages, Christmas cards, emails, and messages continue to sustain and encourage us.  We know life is busy, which makes it even more meaningful that you would continue to remember us and partner with us.

May you all have a wonderful 2018!



How to visit Patients

Maya, our 9 year old daughter, wrote this.  She has given me permission to share it on our blog.

How to Visit the Patients

Are you scared to visit the patients? The patients like it when you are down in the wards. They are very cheerful and happy. So here is how to visit the patients and make a friend.

Here is some stuff you will need to know. You can learn the basics of French. For example, “hello,” is “bonjour.” Also knowing where to go would be helpful; deck three is where the wards are. If the patient speaks another language a translator would be good. You have to ask them nicely to come with you.

What should you do when you are down there? Find a patient to play with. Asking questions like, “what is your name?” is always polite. See what they like to do like playing games. Lastly tell them about you.

Leaving is a little bit difficult. If you will come again you should tell them that you will. “Au revoir” is bye in French. Tell them what you enjoyed.

Now you know how to visit a patient. Take a friend if you want to. The more you go, the more comfortable you will feel. So keep going down to the wards!


Maya Barki and Yeri on D ward.


Straight legs and a new start in life mean the world to 12 year old Ulrich who has now received free surgery on the Africa Mercy to correct his backward facing legs: “Before people would just stare at me in the street and label me a handicap. Now they will look again!”

We went to the Hope Center with some of our friends, including Orthopedic surgeon, Frank Hayden.  The Hope Center is a place in town where patients stay after they don’t need to be in the hospital anymore but still need to be close by for follow-up appointments and rehab.

During our visit, Ulrich gave his walking sticks to Dr. Frank, saying “I don’t need these anymore!”  Such a powerful moment.

The surgeons, like Dr. Frank, work very hard, and these surgeries couldn’t happen without them.  However, the patients work extremely hard as well.  As you can see in the picture, with one of our physical therapists, Robin, surgery is just one step in the healing process.  Those bones have been chopped and have to heal and learn to work again.  Walking at first can be very painful, and the patients and their caregivers have to persist through pain and struggle.  If they give up, the surgery won’t help.  Thank God these patients are brave and tough.  Please pray for our patients as they continue to heal.


Prayers Please

My dad is an amazing man.  Patient, loving, thoughtful, generous, selfless, humble.  He’s my hero.

He is also having surgery on his heart today.  I would really appreciate your prayers for safe surgery, a good result, and quick healing.  Above all, I would ask that you pray for God’s supernatural peace and comfort to fill him and my mom.

As I’ve mentioned before, the hardest part of being overseas is being away from loved ones, especially during times like this.  Thank you for lifting him up!