We just arrived back in the US to enjoy some much-needed rest before our next field service in Cotonou, Benin.
It has been a month of difficult goodbyes to our patients, day crew, fellow crew members, and Madagascar. Our friend, Jenny Banakos, the Senior Lab Technician on board, wrote an excellent blog about this.
As the field service has come to an end, it’s been an excellent time to reflect on all that’s happened over the past 10 months. During our last dinner in Madagascar, one of our friends Mike asked me,”What’s the biggest transformation you’ve seen this year?”.
Now, I’ve seen some pretty radical changes this year. Giant tumors from all over the body removed. Women with obstetric fistulas that have been incontinent for years are now dry. People with horrific burn contractures who have regained function of a limb. Cleft lips and palates that are now closed. Crooked legs and feet have been straightened. There have literally been thousands of lives transformed, thousands of families impacted, and thousands of villages touched.
I’m sure Mike was expecting me to refer to one of these patients. While all of these were indeed radical transformations, to me one of the biggest changes occurred in my own family.
Before leaving for Mercy Ships, Jamie and I had envisioned our children serving the forgotten poor alongside us. Perhaps we would visit local orphanages, churches, and villages. We wanted to instill in them a desire to share God’s love with everyone, no matter what they look like or where they come from. We thought about starting small. Why not just begin with visiting our own patients?
The first several times we suggested this to our kids, we encountered much protest. Most of a Mercy Ships kid’s life is lived on decks 5-8. That’s where the dining room, the academy, the cabins, and pretty much everything else is located. Going down to the hospital (deck 3), was venturing outside their comfort zone.
When we finally made it down to the wards, things didn’t go exactly how we envisioned it. All three kids wouldn’t leave our side. Actually, Hannah wouldn’t let us even put her down. Evidently, something about seeing a ward full of patients that look different from you (not just skin color, but disfiguring tumors), smell different from you (some of these tumors can have unpleasant odors), have drains and tubes coming out of various parts of their bodies, and oh yeah, also speak a different language, something about that was uncomfortable for our kids. I’m not sure why I thought this shouldn’t be a big deal to them. Anyone want to vote us parents of the year?
After taking them to the wards several times, things got marginally better. They started talking to the patients through the translators. They even started playing with the pediatric patients some, but the Barki kids never really embraced it. It was more like, “Mom and Dad are making us go to the wards again.” Hannah still didn’t like being out of our arms.
Then in February things began to change. One of our patients, whose identity I would like to protect, had a condition that we could not fix. He was an adolescent boy who came to the ship with his mother and little sister. He underwent surgery in January, and we thought the operation had gone really well. However, things changed, and the bottom line is that the only way this boy could be healed was by the power of God.
I was devastated. It felt like a victory was completely stolen from us. I went back to my cabin later that day and shared the situation with my family. I looked at Brandon in the eyes, and said, “This boy needs a friend now. I think you could be the perfect friend for him.”
Brandon, after thinking about it for a few moments, said, “But if I become friends with him, and things don’t turn out well, I’m just going to be really sad.”
I said, “True, but if you were in his situation, would you want to have a good friend or be alone?”
“I’d want a friend.”
From that point on, we visited that boy and his family nearly daily. Brandon loved playing with the boy. The girls loved playing with the little sister. In fact, Hannah would not only get out of our arms, she would disappear down the hall laughing and playing with her. Then of course there was my beautiful Jamie, who befriended the mama. The kids loved playing in the wards so much, we would often have to say, “Come on guys. We have to go. It’s time for bed.”
Over the past several months, we were able to play soccer with this boy, go get ice cream with him, and finally, give him a ride to his aunt’s house after he was discharged from the hospital.
The last update we received was that he continues to do well. We don’t know if God will heal him in the way that we want, but we continue to pray for him each day. And Jamie and I are thankful. Thankful for this boy and his family that allowed us to become friends with them. Thankful for the ward nurses that let us get in the way of their work so that we could play. Thankful for all of our supporters that allow us to be here. Thankful to the Lord for radical transformations, inside and out.
As Dr. Gary Parker, our maxillofacial surgeon who has served on the ship with his family continuously for the past 30 years, said to me, “If this is the only change that happens to your family after moving them across the world, it was worth it.” I agree.
Below, a few examples of transformation from this past year. The four pictures of the baby are all the same baby (before the infant feeding program, after the infant feeding program, and after surgery).