Cameroon

Hello!  We have landed in Cameroon.  As I am writing this, we haven't been able to leave the port yet, so we've been on the ship.  We are all excited to get off ship and explore our new town.  The kids started school on the sail, and we've been busy planning this new field service.  We also have moved!  We have a new cabin.  The biggest difference in the new cabin is that Brian and I have our own bed.  That means we are no longer sleeping on a pull out couch.  It is very exciting!  Although, our super dear friends went back to the states, which is why we now have this new, great cabin.  So, we've moved into our friend's home and I'd rather our friends be here!  There is a lot of transition going on.  New grades, new teachers, new friends, new co-workers, new country, new languages, new patients (soon) new, new new.  New is fun but also a bit exhausting and overwhelming.  The sail was a great time to slow down the transition a bit and get to know new people on the ship.

The ship did maintenance in the Canary Islands, and we met the ship there to sail to Cameroon.  It is so overwhelming to think of what all our crew did over the summer to get this ship ready to sail (with NO air conditioning).  Also, we had a whole team in Cameroon getting things ready for the ship to arrive.  There are so many details they had to go through that makes my head spin as I think of it all.  I'm so thankful for patient, persistent servants.

By the way, Grand Canaries are beautiful.  Brian and I got to go out on a date one night right on the beach, and since we didn't speak Spanish, our waitress took us to the back of the restaurant and pointed to all the yummy options.  We are getting used to looking like idiots when we can't speak a language and making signs and using body language.  Most of the time, the people we are speaking to get a good laugh out of the whole thing!  Nothing like spreading joy through ignorance!

I have started teaching a "student life" course in the academy on "blessing patients."  It is only 6 weeks and we are working on direct and indirect ways to bless our patients and discussing what that even means, why it is important and why it may be scary.  It's an interesting concept to think through.   As much as we all love the people of the countries we serve, there is also a "them" and "us" mentality when people are different than you.  It's a natural thought process and interesting to explore, especially with all the tension in the world on inequality.  I really liked hearing the students perspectives.

 

 

 

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Summer

We had a wonderful time visiting family and friends in the US this summer., we missed seeing many people we wished we could have seen :(.
While we live on the beautiful ocean 10 months out of the year, one thing we really missed was green. We are surrounded by shipping containers, cranes and other metal and concrete things that make up a port. So we soaked up as much green as we could, trees, grass, moss, pistachio ice cream.

We are now sailing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean from Grand Canaria to Cameroon. We will be serving the people of Cameroon for the next 10 months. Please pray for God to make his path known and for us to follow it.

Here are some pictures from our time this summer.

Anything I can do?

Have you ever said or heard the phrase, “is there anything i can do?”  Do you think it’s just a question people are taught to ask when they don’t know what to say, but the answer should always be “I’m ok.”  That’s how I operate most of the time.  For some reason, when I say “Is there anything I can do?” I mean it.  I wish the person would actually tell me something that would help them.  BUT, when someone asks me the question, I assume they don’t mean it.  I assume they are expecting me to say “I’m ok.”  But what if I’m not ok?  What if there is a long list of something you can do, and it would really bless me and make our friendship stronger?  So, now I am beginnig to say…. “Acutally… yes.”   I’m getting quite good at this!  And you know what?  I’m a lot less stressed these days and I have closer friendships than I used to.   Here are some examples:

  1. We have an event called “open cabins” on Easter day.  It is where people open up their cabins with treats and the whole crew (400 people) can come around and see the cabins and have some snacks.  Work was a bit crazy around this time, and I wasn’t sure if I could pull off open cabins.  However, it is something I really enjoy and since most cabins are really small, a family cabin is a great cabin to participate in this event.  Two of my friends asked if I was participating, and I told them that I have been too busy to cook.  Then, I said, “I’ll open my cabin if you will do the cooking.”  They agreed!! All I did was straightened up the cabin and enjoyed Easter with my family.  They did all the cooking (which they actually enjoy doing).  And we all enjoyed open cabins!
  2. One of my other friends baked BJ’s birthday cake, while I had a very busy day at work.  It was delicious and a stress free party!
  3. Sunday was Brian’s birthday, and I was trying to find something to do to let him know how much we love him.  He is so good at showing our family how much he loves us.  My friend asked me the other day “if there was anything she could do to ease the pressure.”  Those were her exact words.  I had a lot of things I needed to do, but I still wanted to bake Brian a chocolate cake.  So, I said, “do you like to bake?”  She baked a yummy chocolate cake!

I used to be allergic to asking for help, but I’m realizing not only is it good for my stress level, but it opens up a new realm of relationships.  I am significantly closer to each of these friends now, it is something about their willingness to use their gifts to bless my family that bumps our relationship up many notches.  Community living…  my friend Tom said “it’s a nice way of saying ‘tight quarters and limited personal space’”  But it definitely has it’s perks as long as I’m willing to lay down my pride and ask for help.  (and obviously help others too).

Dancing

My friend, Dianna, and a group of amazing people put together both a “Daddy Daughter Dance” and “Mommy Son Movie” last weekend.  They decorated, served a yummy meal, had a salon and a dance floor.  BJ and I watched “Princess Bride” with the other moms and sons complete with being served ice cream and tons of toppings.  I didn’t even have to scoop the ice cream!  Dianna also had the daddy’s choose a word for their daughters.  A word that would be engraved on a silver bracelet that they would get at the dance.  Brian chose two special words and presented the bracelets to the girls to remind them they are enough and to always believe in themselves and God.  It was a special night and I’m reminded at how amazing and giving the people are in this place.  We are blessed.

Friends, take two

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:

Tight Ship:

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a small world after all

We have had TWO sets of friends visit us in Benin!  This is so crazy to me and does my heart so much good.  Our friends, the Hickey’s, have been central to our lives since the beginning of med school and Kirk came to serve as an anestheiologist on board and his wife, Jennifer and 3 amazing kids came too!  I have lots  of words written about them, but Jennifer is also writing about her experience on board and I’m going to post those together.  (no pressure Jenn…:)

We now have some friends serving on the ship, Todd and Joli Beasley.  It’s so cool to see two worlds collide.

Have you ever met someone and after getting to know them, you realize they have woven through your life way more than you can ever have imagined?  This is happening to me.

When Brian did residency in Birmingham, AL we didn’t know anyone.  We attended a Bible Study and I met two incredible girls, Katie and Kali.  They were both from Oklahoma.  Throughout the year I began to be drawn to them and God used so many things they said to specifically speak to my heart at specific times.  Kali would often start with “my sister says…” or “my sister does…”  The first time I knew I really liked them was while eating at their house, we finished eating and we ALL did the dishes together immediately!  It was so fun, and having us over wasn’t a performance, it was truly about us just enjoying each other.  And, she didn’t have to stay up way after we left washing dishes all alone.  Katie and Kali are the types of people you feel right at home with and like you’ve known your entire life.

Kali was an ophthalmology resident at the time… therefore crazy busy.  Our first year in Birmingham was their last year.  I remember my brother telling me a million years ago, “if you want a mentor, don’t ask them to coffee or to carve out time for you, ask them how you can help them.”  I knew I didn’t have much more time with Kali, and I knew I needed some more Kali wisdom in my life… so I showed up at her house to help her pack when they were getting ready to move.  I remember my jaw hitting the floor as she described her family and their faith journey.  I also remember as we went through her stuff, she would say things like “my sister would say I don’t need all these cheap picture frames.”

Fast forward a bit, and Kali’s mom was very, very sick.  She was in the hospital for a very long time and the outcome didn’t look good.  I prayed and prayed for that family, and would check Kali’s sister’s blog each day to know how she was doing.  Her words would go straight to my heart.  There she was, suffering a great deal, and her writing was ministering to me!  Her mom made a miraculous, amazing recovery thanks to God, and I still hold on to those words written during that time.

Fast forward 4 years and I found myself sitting in a mexican restaurant in Tulsa, OK with Kali’s sister and her husband!  The famous “Kali’s sister!”  Kali’s sister’s husband, Todd, was the head of the anesthesia department at a hospital in Tulsa.  Kali had mentioned Brian to Todd, and we found ourselves sitting there interviewing for a job at a hospital in Tulsa.  Brian started working in Tulsa shortly after and Todd became not only an anesthesia mentor to Brian, but a mentor in being a husband, father and follower of Jesus.

Fast forward a few years and my sister-in-law’s very close friend is struggling with aggressive cancer.  When I inquired about her doctor, it was no other than Kali’s husband!  He walked with that family through the most horrible experience I can imagine.

Fast forward 7 years, and I was sitting on a ship this week with…. Kali’s sister, Joli!  She was sitting next to me as she shared and poured honest, valuable mothering advice to me and my international friends.  All the “my sister” statements came back to me and I couldn’t help but be so overwhelmed with gratitude for this family.  Did you follow all that?!?

Todd and Joli have supported us the past year and a half in so many ways, genuinely interested in our lives here and the mission.  Now, they are actually physically here serving for two weeks.  I’m so very grateful.  Joli has no idea of the impact she has had on me and the ways God has used her in my life even before we met.  Now, I’m thinking of all the other people who have tremendously impacted me, and they probably have no idea.  Remember, you are impacting people for good or bad.

Thank YOU again for allowing us to be here and impacting us for good!

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Capacity Building

 

 

“When I was twelve, I saw a woman on TV…her husband had burned her with acid – her face had become fused to her neck, so she could never look a person in the eye. There was not one plastic surgeon to help her in Benin. That’s when I chose my profession…”

Oudray  (BEN), Benin’s first and only plastic surgeon, explains what initially inspired her career path. She’s pictured here with volunteer surgeon Dr. Tertius Venter (ZAF) onboard the Africa Mercy, using the ship’s time in Benin to hone her skills so she can better serve her country.

Our Medical Capacity Team works to help make sure we are leaving a lasting impact in the countries we serve.  They are constantly evaluating and expanding the ways they do this.  One way this team does this is through a train the trainer program, designed to teach professionals how to teach simple methods that can vastly decrease mortality rates of mothers and babies in the OR. “Doctors and nurses here know the most complex concepts, but its the simple things that aren’t being taught – the simple things that can determine whether someone dies or lives,” says neonatal volunteer AFM nurse, Lindsay McCurley.

Would you pray that God would empower the country of Benin to take care of their people?  Thank you for letting us be here!

 

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