As I posted before, we have had two sets of friends visit us on the ship. Seeing the number of miles away from Oklahoma we are, this is pretty good!
Our friends, the Hickey’s, have been our friends since Brian started medical school. Kirk and Brian were in the same class and now they are both anesthesiologists in Oklahoma. Brian in Tulsa, and Kirk in Oklahoma City, about 2 hours apart. Then Brian did his residency in Birmingham, AL. Kirk did his in Atlanta, GA, again, about 2 hours apart. I’m still looking for a place two hours from Benin so they can move and follow our pattern (or two minutes).
Kirk and Brian are in many ways the same person. They have the same clothes, shoes, and other things. Jennifer and I like to laugh at them at how inseparable they are. Kirk has a quiet, smooth, hilarious demeanor and has been a rock for Brian in good times and bad. He is an amazing father and the Hickey’s know how to make life fun and really build and nurture their kids strengths. Their kids and our kids are amazing together and I’m pretty sure they think they are blood related.
Jennifer and I attended a Bible study together with other medical student wives and a sweet lady and friend that took us under her wings. This group was a place of refuge for me. I saw Jennifer surrender her life to Jesus, we had our babies together and walked through the world of being married to a medical student together. Then we journeyed through the land of being married to a resident together. We cried, laughed and laughed some more. She introduced us to Chinese foot massage. Jennifer has supported me through parenting fails. She literally came to my house and packed practically my entire house as we prepared to move to the other side of the world, just when I had no more energy or brain space to do another thing. I couldn’t make decisions about what to keep, what to toss, what to sell and she just stepped in and did it just like she knew I needed. She made me laugh as we opened boxes many months after being on the ship, and found notes and prayers written in our boxes. “You’ve got to floss just to make it today” was one of them. The Hickey’s traveled to Texas after our 6 week training to come to Mercy Ships and once again helped us back our 10 giant duffle bags.
THEN they flew on a very expensive, million hour flight with three kids, one a very active toddler, to see us, serve and play with us and support us. How’s that for a run on sentence. But that’s the Hickey’s, a run on sentence! Their support and amazingness doesn’t end. They brought us gallons of Head and Shoulders (the water gives us dandruff here), our favorite game and pretty earrings.
I’m beyond grateful for the Hickeys.
So, I asked Jennifer to write about her experience on the ship to share with our supporters what life is like here. She was surprised by many things, and I was surprised that she was surprised, because I thought I had explained things so very well! But, apparently I had not explained what life is like here. Things become normal here, and I forget what may be interesting to know and what’s just normal life. Jennifer didn’t follow instructions very well, because she just wrote more about how much she loves me than she did about life on the ship. I’m a little embarrassed to post this, because she makes me look better than I am, but it also may give you a bit of an idea if what life is like here. And, I asked her to write, so I have to post it now….so remember Jennifer is my friend and likes me no matter what.
By Jennifer Hickey:
Our family mission is Go! Give! Glorify God! So when we were given the opportunity to go visit and serve on Mercy Ships in November of 2016 the joy that filled our family was off the charts. This journey would be our family’s first time to put feet on the continent of Africa, we would be seeing people that are precious to us—The Barki’s, and my husband Kirk would get to donate his time and services as an anesthesiologist for patients of Mercy Ships. The two weeks we were afforded on Mercy Ships opened my eyes. My eyes were opened not only to the mission of Mercy Ships and all the good they are doing for the people of Africa but also to what the day to day call is like for my dear friends and others that serve. I’ve had numerous conversations with Jamie about all the ‘stressings and blessings’ but something about walking through her day to day, seeing her strive for excellence not only in her role as assistant ward administrator, but as a wife, a mother, and a friend and then getting to see Brian serve and treat his patients really gave me a sense of the entire mission that lay before the Barki family.
Naturally as a woman and mother I thought of Jamie a lot as I prepared for this journey. I started to get a sense of what she carried literally as I hauled my overstuffed carry on bag through numerous airports and mentally as I traveled across the world with my three kids except my trip was two weeks not an impending two years. There were more realizations in the days after our arrival on the ship. For starters, when the beast that is Jet-Lag told my 3 year old son that he shouldn’t be tired, sleep nor be quiet for that matter at 3 am I got an idea of the stress that Brian and Jamie faced in getting accustomed to walls that offer no audible privacy. None. You can hear anything above a whisper. Malaria pills. You have to persuade kids to take those every day. If your kids can’t swallow a pill then you crush them into even more vile tasting mush and then Good luck. Basically, I just prayed that my kids would be fine. The Barki kids swallow their malaria pills without blinking an eye but I imagine it was an adjustment. In order to prevent chaos on the upper deck there are schedules on the ship. Meals are at designated times. One must request a time slot for laundry. If you would like to use a car you must first check to see if one is available and you also must be a designated driver for Mercy Ships. Even bathing is different. There are things called two minute showers. Regular fire-drills. I could go on and on but I as a self proclaimed free spirit was struck by the order so much so one day after I stepped out of my 120 second shower the proverbial lightbulb turned on and I proclaimed, “SO THIS IS WHY THEY CALL IT A TIGHT SHIP!”
As time went on, I began to see what really makes Africa Mercy a “tight” ship. Sure there are protocols on the upper decks and down below in the hospital portion of the ship that make the mission of Mercy Ships run smoothly and allow people from various backgrounds and cultures to work together as best as possible however beyond that, there is a sense of community that is beautiful. I personally witnessed a Moms Bible study, a family willing to share floats so my son could go swim, the Barki’s hosting single crew members for lunch in their warm inviting cabin, game nights, birthday parties, going away parties, crew members helping one another out in the crew galley/kitchen, getting to watch Jamie pray for a friend who in passing was having a hard day, having several people help me out when I needed a coffee and my ID card was out of money, a celebration of testimonies, dancing and worship on the dock with the entire crew, a fund raiser for the teachers on-board, a crew member teaching me to use the laundry then going on to fold my new African fabrics for me and then there are the talented crew members teaching dance, karate lessons or hosting a book club for the students on-board outside of their normal working times. There was never a shortage of people serving one another, helping one another, celebrating one another or encouraging in the two weeks we were on-board Africa Mercy.
One day as Jamie and I were sitting sipping coffee in the Ships coffee shop she laughingly said, “Well, was all of this what you expected?” to which I frankly answered Yes and No. Not that Jamie didn’t explain it well. I just believe that she humbly doesn’t see or feel the need to mention everything she and Brian do on a day to day basis. I think I had a pretty good understanding of the medical work of Mercy Ships but not what life was like for them. Their family’s days are full to the brim. The Barki’s live, breathe, eat, sleep, raise their kids, fight, make-up, make-out and work all under one roof with a whole lot of other people. The mission of their marriage, raising kids and bringing hope of Christ to the marginalized through life changing surgeries has little room for separation in the day to day. It often times is all at once and I can see where it has its challenges. Moving half way across the world for the Barki’s came with some perks like dirt cheap Starbucks drinks, shorter commute time for Brian or never needing to cook unless you want to cook your own foods in the galley kitchen or call making a toasty sandwich in the griller machine “cooking”. The thing is laundry still piles up, there is homework to check, dishes to wash, after school activities to attend and all the other things that fill up our calendars, minds and hearts. The Barki’s work hard to carve out time for family which sometimes can be a challenge when you work, school and live under the same roof. Dinners in the main dining hall are filled with co-workers, friends, classmates and teachers. Imagine all the conversations that could take place in one room. Arranging to go to the fabric market with friends, kids setting up a meet up at the computer lab, checking on a patient you had earlier in the day, talking to Hannah’s teacher about something adorable she said, engaging day crew in friendly conversation and hearing from another mom that its time for DANCE CLASS! These are all possible things that could be happening in the middle of family dinner and so the Barki’s strive to carve out time for each other with Family Dinner in the Cabin which I think while we were there they missed out on.
While we were there visiting Jamie took a few days of vacation to help us adjust to life on the ship. Jamie mentioned she had the task of making sure that each patient left with a photo of themselves with their care team. These photos mean the world to the patients. I know this because while we were at the Hope Center or walking out on the dock the patients she would see would greet her with big hugs, a handshake and then they would exchange greetings in one of the languages of Benin called Fon. Most times the patient would then kindly inquire about their photos. Excited to take home what might be their only photo of themselves. One day it was brought to Jamie’s attention that some patients would be leaving sans photo. In a flash, she was gone, running to grab a camera and get the photos to the patients before they left the ship. I later stumbled upon her having a tear-filled moment in the hallway because she had missed the patients. They were gone and it literally broke her heart. In the days to follow, she made such effort to get these photos into the hands of the patients. I get teary thinking about my friend because I admire Jamie’s commitment and love for the people she lives with and serves and I know it is because of her that Brian is able to serve his patients so well. One Monday night, we went down to the wards so Kirk and Brian could round on patients. I loved being there getting to see how them as a family, The Barki’s connect with the nurses, the patients and the families on-board. Brian does an exceptional job as physician treating patients and literally working his magic to break cultural barriers leaving people feeling comfortable and laughing. I am sure laughter is God’s greatest medicine.
Before we arrived in Benin we were in awe of how the Lord was using the lives of our friends Jamie and Brian. I mean…they sold their van, their house, pretty much all their stuff except for Dental flossers, they left family and friends for a Kingdom call to use their gifts, times and talents to serve and bring hope and healing to the people of Madagascar and Benin, Africa all in the name of Jesus Christ and then to top it off they are living in close ship like quarters with their three kids. When we talk about the Barki’s with others there are some general responses that fall between the range of tears, claims of their awesomeness and finally amazement that they do what they do for free because really….Who does that? After having two weeks with the Barki’s aboard Mercy Ships we came home proud to say our friends are the kind of people who do that crazy stuff and they are serving out of that sweet spot in life where you get to give away your gifting. We also stand in continued awe of the Lord in how he is working not only in the lives of our friends but also the crew of Mercy Ships, the patients of Mercy Ships and beyond. The Lord is changing lives all over the world and it is a truly a beautiful thing to witness.