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Not sure who and if anyone still follows us here?...

It's been a very LONG time since our last post... We've been home just over a whole year now! WOW, does time fly! It's still so crazy to think that a whole year has passed since we left Africa and Mercy Ships... we still think about both just about every day. Africa forever has its imprint on our hearts. And in an even BIGGER way to come!! :) You can find more about that on our new family blog at alexandersown dot wordpress dot com 

With that, this marks the official end of this here blog. And I'm pleased to share that I finally finished putting it into a "published" book through blurb.com! I love how it turned out and the memories and photos it holds. We can now easily flip through it any time we get homesick for Africa. :)


beautiful things.

This post has nothing to do with Africa or Mercy Ships, but since many of you have been praying for us, I thought I'd give you a quick update...

BIG things have been going on around here in the last couple of weeks! We both have recently become EMPLOYED!!! Praise God! Can I get an "Amen?" :)

Oh, I can't tell you what an enormous weight has been lifted, especially off my husband. And how relieved we are. Its been tough waiting. It sucks actually :) And I must confess that there were times when my flesh wondered what God was doing... when, Lord, when? I don't know if I "passed the test." I wish I had trusted Him even more. But, I CAN say I never doubted Him. Amidst the unknown, His faithfulness I clung.

So, today was my "first day." I sat in class for eight hours; computer training tomorrow and the next. Then to the real fun on Thursday. :) Tim starts on Wednesday!! Because of HIS timing, we were able to celebrate our 7th anniversary yesterday work-free! :)

All this to say, God turns beauty from ashes.

He is in the business of making beautiful things. Breathtakingly beautiful.

In His time. :)

(above photo by Marty Schwebel)


the necklace.

This is the necklace my mom wore while we were
in Africa.

It is now in hanging from the
rearview mirror in my car.

I love this because I see it as a simple
reminder for me to pray...

... to pray for Africa and her people, the ship
and its crew, and the patients.

I see this when I get in and out of the car.
every. single. time.
And I say a short prayer...

Africa, you not only are forever on my heart and mind.
But in my prayers too.


sweetly broken

... And my SOUL SINGS!

Total surrender.

Its a daily choice in every season. But why is it, that its so much harder to surrender during the times you need to the most? The times when we hold on so tight?

As I walk the desert, I have found some solace in a certain song. Three songs in particular.

They echo my heart's cry.

And I pray they encourage you as they have me... (But first, pause the music at the sidebar on the right to enjoy these songs).

If you don't want to listen to all three, listen to the last one, Savior King (my fave) :)

My portion is HIM. And I am MORE THAN blessed!!

I especially love these words from Savior King:

We love you Lord, we worship you
You are our God, you alone are good

I love you Lord, I worship you
Hope which was lost, now stands renewed
I give my life to honor this
The love of Christ, the savior king

Oh Lord, here am I, all of me; take my life, its all for Thee.

I holy surrender.


the desert

Been home just over three months. And its been far from easy. The transition has been more difficult than either of us expected.

Tim's aunt and uncle died when we were in Sierra Leone. So immediately upon our return, Tim spent large amounts of time working through and dealing with what was left behind. Shortly after, our only car needed some work-up. We soon discovered that the new debit card that we had been waiting and waiting for was stolen from our locked mailbox?! Large amounts of money were withdrawn from our bank account and quickly spent all across town. Fortunately, the bank reimbursed us every penny. Thank God. But this caused a lot of paperwork and time for my amazing and hard-working hubby. We also moved back into our house, spending hours washing every piece of item because it had been in storage for almost three years. Oh, and painting (thanks to the help of my twin sis)!

Don't get me wrong, its been incredibly wonderful and sweet to be so close to family again! And to reconnect with friends that we have history with; that know us longer than weeks or months at a time. Yes, these are blessings. Rich blessings. I got to spend a few days with my big sis who came up from California. And my twin sis from Colorado was here for a whole month! TOTAL BLISS. And it was so much fun moving back into our house! I loved unpacking each item again and making our house into a home. Wow! We have way more than we need. And so much SPACE!! We practically live in only half our house. Thus, "the great purge of 2011." :)

Its just been hard. We expected to get jobs fairly quickly. At least I did. With nursing there's always a need, right? Not so much right now. After a couple months, we're both still unemployed. We spend most of our time searching and applying for jobs. And staying close to home so as to save on money and gas. We are together almost 100% of the time. I love my husband. But space is healthy. It has stretched us and our marriage. We are also looking for a new church. I know, another transition. We love our prior church, but it is so far away. We spent more time in the car than at church. :) We want to plug into a church more in our community. Every Sunday we go to a new one. Its exhausting. And lonely. I'm pretty sure Satan is working over-time on us. :) But don't worry, he doesn't stand a chance. :)

I guess I just feel dry. And empty. Right now I'm not where I want to be in so many ways. I'm not working. So I don't feel fulfilled in that way. I feel distant from the Lord. I can't help but wonder a lot of things. Did we hear Him right? Should we have stayed? He feels so far away right now.

I am now at a point where I can finally see pictures of Sierra Leone again. Before, I avoided it because it was too painful. So much of me wants to go back. At least there I was doing something. My heart was so full. Here, many things are so familiar. And yet others feel so foreign. My heart wonders if I am made for this. For a life that will soon consist of work, eat, and sleep again. I know there is more to this. I lived it over in Africa. How do I live it here?

I feel like the Israelites; wandering the desert, in need of direction. Waiting, and longing, for the Promised Land. Wondering if it will ever be.

For us, its a dry season right now. Just keeping it real, folks. :)

But, let me end on a positive note... God IS faithful! He has made that one very clear to us in this season we are walking. He continues to provide for us daily. From the almost-free-to-us 2nd vehicle, to the unexpected money coming our way; from the extra time with family and friends, to the temporary job the Lord just provided my husband.

God IS still GOOD in the desert. All the time.


touches of Africa

Its hard to believe we have been home three months now... Seriously?!! Close to 100 days. Wowza! :) The transition and adjustment has been slow; difficult in some ways. I'm not ready to write about it yet. Still processing... 2 1/2 years worth. That is A LOT. I will put some of it into words when I think I can do it without tears rolling down my face because of the overwhelming flood of sweet, sweet memories...

But one of the things that has helped ease it, is bringing a little bit of that dear continent into our home since moving back into our house and settling in. The memories... mental images... everything... I still think about EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. I hope I always will. And I think having these added "touches" in our home will be simple reminders to the eye on a daily basis.

These are not just "souvenirs" from a memorable trip/vacation once taken that's now in the past. Nope, to us, these are our favorites from a place we once lived, breathed, and experienced for a short 2 1/2 years that will forever remain in our hearts...

Brought from Africa (Benin, Togo, South Africa, & Sierra Leone) to our home:

Ebony wooden elephant from S.L on our living room mantel.

I love Sierra Leone from Sierra Leone :),
Hand-painted card of the country of Benin from Benin :)
(From our window sill above the kitchen sink)

Photo I took from an outdoor restaurant in South Africa.
(Kitchen counter)

Safari pics I took in South Africa.
(Dining Room)

My fave!! The African woman/momma... from Benin.
(Hallway Wall)

Photos of coconut I took in Sierra Leone... love, love, LOVE :)
(Another wall in same hallway)

Table runner from scrap fabric leftover from a skirt I had made in Togo.
(it needs to be ironed) :)

Fabric from Benin to hopefully be made to cover these leopard throw pillows.
(Basement Family Room)

Photo I took from Togo's arrival ceremony. Words are from a friend :)
(Office desk)

Love design not from Africa, but I fell in-love with it when I saw it...
printed it and then framed it.
(Mudroom towards basement)

My "overnight bag," water bottle carrier, and coin/cellphone purse :)

... Thanking God for these treasures.


faces of hope

We recently made a photo video of all the "faces" of those who impacted our lives during our service with Mercy Ships: Benin, Togo, and Sierra Leone.

I've tried unsuccessfully to upload it to blogger...
Please go here and click on "Faces of Hope" to view the video.


All Glory be to God...


Goodbye Africa.

The time is here.

This part of the journey has come to an end.

Today we may be leaving Africa, but not without leaving a piece of our hearts behind.

We will be spending a few weeks traveling on the way home, so we'll be silent for a little while. We will be home come the end of May.

Thank you for walking this journey with us!! We are forever grateful.


nursing on the AFM

Before I leave, I thought I'd finally write down (0r rather list) some of the quirky things that make nursing on the Africa Mercy unique, interesting, challenging, and incredibly rewarding. I came up with thirty, but I'm sure there are more. :)

You know you're a nurse on the AFM when...

1. Your coworkers are also your roommates.
2. You can roll out of bed 20 minutes before your shift starts, walk up to breakfast, eat, and still make it on time.
3. The commute to work is a less than five minute walk down the hall or down a flight of stairs.
4. It doesn't phase you that men, women, and children all share one big hospital room.
5. You ask your patient a question and the patient in the next bed answers it.
6. You find yourself using the strangest gestures to communicate with your patient.
7. Your patient's mother sleeps under the bed and it's perfectly normal.
8. You give ensure for the NG feed. And if it the tube is obstructed, you just pour down some coca-cola to remove the obstruction.
9. You give Lactulose like there's no tomorrow to keep "the bowels open."
10. Your coworker tells you she's "going for tea" (her lunch break, of course).
11. You have to share two to three vital sign machines between 20 patients cuz there just aren't enough to go around.
12. You work with nurses from all over the world.
13. The stethoscope feels heavy around the neck because you haven't used it in ages.
14. You check your patient's bags before discharge and they don't think anything of it.
15. Sometimes you use three-way translation to communicate with your patient. Like the patient two wards down who can speak to the patient's mother in the next bed who then can speak to the translator who speaks to the patient. Still following? :)
16. You instruct your patient how to make clean water for their wound care at home.
17. You give injectable Fentanyl by mouth as a premed. And Tylenol sounds funny because you've been calling it "Paracetamol" for so long.
18. You have to remind your patients multiple times not to sit on each other's bed.
19. You have to show your patient how to use the toilet and shower.
20. Singing and dancing are a daily occurrence.
21. You muster your patients every week for a fire drill.
22. You work days, evenings, and nights. And sometimes all three in the same week.
23. Sometimes you eat the patient food if there is leftovers because you like the African food.
24. Supplies change depending on what's donated.
25. You hand write everything because there is no such thing as computer-charting.
26. What's a pyxis?
27. Your patient has never been on a ship before, let alone seen the ocean.
28. Your oriented patient sleeps through the night.
30. You use betadine for everything, and a curtain with magnets for privacy.

Most importantly, Jesus is the center. He is the focus of what we do and why we are here. We share a common thread and we are here because we WANT to be. And prayer is ESSENTIAL. We begin and end each shift in prayer together. We pray with our patients and for each other. Because that's just what we do. And because we are wise enough to know we can't do what we do on our own strength.

Some of us nurses at my goodbye party

Sandra and Namina

I first met Sandra while on Advance here in Sierra Leone. We instantly connected and she has become a dear friend of mine over the last six months. Her friendship has been a blessing and her heart for missions and 'Salone' is an inspiration. I will miss her.


Chapter One: Dr. Sandra Lako helps a child in need

Born in The Netherlands, Sandra Lako’s childhood years took an adventurous voyage across the African seas. Her family took a leap of faith and committed to long-term mission work onboard the Mercy Ships hospital ship, the Anastasis.

They served mainly in the impoverished countries of West Africa. So, from the tender age of two, Sandra was immersed in a lifestyle of serving the needs of the most deprived communities in the poorest nations. This was the life she understood and embraced. She recalls life on the ship as being contented and sheltered in some ways. Attending the ship’s academy enabled her to develop confidence and to find fulfilment in educational achievement.

Sandra’s unique upbringing offered opportunities that ignited her passion for medical work. At fifteen, she helped with some medical teams onshore. There had been a measles outbreak which left a trail of devastation in the health of the local population. Her duties were to help feed the malnourished sick children. On her first day, she witnessed children dying. That moment forever changed her life. She says, “There was so little to do to help. I felt helpless. It triggered thoughts that, medically, to have skills would actively help.”

That thought led eighteen-year-old Sandra to leave the ship, return to The Netherlands, and complete her education to qualify as a doctor. First, she achieved the International Baccalaureate qualifications needed for medical school before attending Nijmegen Medical School. During her studies, she visited The Gambia for her internship (elective), and then she went to Tanzania in her final year at medical school. Both experiences confirmed her passion to use her medical skills to help the poor. Finally, she completed a diploma program at the Liverpool School of Tropical Diseases. Now, she was primed and ready to practice as a doctor in Africa.

Shortly afterwards, in March 2005, she was presented with an incredible opportunity. Mercy Ships was planning to open a land-based facility in Freetown, Sierra Leone. They required a doctor to set up a clinic, but the scope of the services to be offered was undecided. Dr. Sandra valiantly took on the responsibility and immediately set about researching the priority health services needed.

To identify the optimal use for the new facility, she explored the local health system by shadowing doctors in local hospitals. Despite urgent medical needs for all the local population, Dr. Sandra discovered some alarming statistics regarding the high mortality rate of children – 1 in 5 children do not reach the age of five years old. She convinced the local community leaders that there was an over-riding need to provide a clinic for children. In May 2005, the clinic opened.

Early in 2009 a very sick child arrived at her clinic suffering from a condition commonly known as noma. This malicious and aggressive bacteria destroys the flesh. For most sufferers, it results in death. In fact, there is a 90% mortality rate.

This case was unusual. The little five-year-old girl, Namina Yillah had survived the condition for two months. Although her fighting spirit had avoided death, the severity of her symptoms was evident. Her face tragically displayed a gaping hole lined with decomposing tissue. To make matters even worse, her significant malnutrition was an imposing threat to her recovery.

Although the case looked impossible to treat, Dr. Sandra repeatedly asked herself, “How can we help?” This positive approach demonstrates the optimistic outlook and the resilience in the face of adversity that is so intrinsically in the heart of Dr. Sandra. She carefully evaluated every option for success.

There were no immediate solutions. Fundamentally, Namina had survived against all odds. Dr. Sandra decided to treat the wound and change the dressing every day. This intensive treatment was accompanied with improving Namina’s general health by providing multi-vitamins and cartons of milk.

After six months of daily treatment, the infection cleared and the wound stabilized. Namina was finally ready to receive surgery to rebuild her face. However, the local medical teams had little expertise and no facilities to perform this type of surgery. Only Mercy Ships could provide the treatment Namina so desperately needed. So the daily treatment continued for the next 18 months while waiting for the Africa Mercy to come to Sierra Leone.

During that time, Namina’s health remained in a delicate state. She was vulnerable to contagious bacteria and suffered from several illnesses, including malaria and chest infections. Dr. Sandra recalls, “She was a very sad little girl. We had to wait until the end of the day to do her dressing changes due to the pain. She was so brave.”

Finally, they received the news they had anxiously awaited! The Africa Mercy had docked in Freetown. The hospital ship . . . and hope . . . had arrived!

To be continued . . .

Story by Claire Ross
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by Debra Bell