This week, Mercy Ships will begin fistula repair surgeries on board the Africa Mercy in Madagascar. VVF, or vesico-vaginal fistula and ensuing complications, are the cause of the daily humiliation, rejection, and abandonment experienced by more than two million women in the developing world. Most commonly, VVF follows violent rape or complications from prolonged childbirth. Jackie writes to us this week:
“Some women are too young to birth children or they may have an extremely long, difficult labor which many times ends in stillbirth. They not only lose their baby, but are left with multiple female issues. The largest problem is a continually leaking bladder which makes it impossible to lead a normal life. They have an unpleasant odor and are almost always shunned by family and isolated from their communities.”
Fistula repair surgeries are offered free of charge by Mercy Ships onboard the Africa Mercy. The surgeries are complicated, and some women may require multiple surgeries before they begin the long process of recovery at the Hope Center, a facility about one mile from the ship.
As they enter the ship the day before surgery, the women wear white gowns, “walking into the unknown and hoping for a better life,” says Jackie. When they have recovered they are given beautiful new dresses as part of the Dress Celebration. The Africa Mercy staff help them to dress, put on makeup, and tell their stories as the women sing and dance in a celebration of their new lives.
Please pray for the women of Madagascar who will be receiving fistula treatment on Africa Mercy this week and in the weeks to come. Also pray that Jackie would be matched with just the right woman in a “Befriend a Patient” program on board. She has requested to be paired with a VVF woman and we look forward to hearing more good news from her soon!
To learn more about VVF surgeries, you can read a Mercy Ships fact sheet here, or watch this beautiful video!
Last Thursday I volunteered to help with patient screening that was held at a local hospital. There were about 2,000 people lined up to be screened for possible surgeries on board. It was an extremely hot, humid day and people had been standing in line since 4:00 a.m. Many had traveled some distance to reach Tamatave, but there was no pushing or shoving. People were very patient and kind to one another, offering seats and sharing shade and water. It was very different from other patient screenings I have seen.
I signed up to be on the prayer team that prays with the people we couldn’t help. The experience was very moving, incredibly sad and yet beautiful in many ways.
Please pray for the following young people we encountered in the prayer room who had to be turned away for medical treatment:
We sent away several mothers who had babies with encephalitis. Babies tied to their mothers’ backs with tiny bodies and huge heads are images you never forget. Please pray for these families and their babies who will soon die. Mercy Ships has sent a palliative care team to try and help them through the dying process.
A man led his two blind children to us, each holding on to his arm–a 13 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. They were waiting to be seen in the hopes of restoring their eyesight. They had their vision until age 7 or 8, but had untreated glaucoma. I’m not sure why they had it so young, but our eye team was not able to help them. This family and their situation was particularly sad to me because there are no services or help for the blind. I guess the only bright spot was that they had each other.
A 16 year old girl came with a 9 month old baby that looked like it was about 2 months old. This baby was clearly not going to live. The mother was also pregnant with a second baby. She was unmarried and confided that she was about to have an abortion. God magnificiently intervened and she not only committed to not abort the baby, but also committed her life to Christ. It was amazing!
After eight years calling Portland home, Dieneke and her husband, Brandon, are taking the long way back to the “mitten”–more precisely, Michigan–to start a new life in their hometown of Kalamazoo. By “long way,” I mean that they are stopping by at Lassen, Yosemite, Death Valley, Hoover Dam, Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon before parking in Kalamazoo at the end of this month.
If you have spent any time with Dieneke and Brandon, you know how much they will be missed in our Grace family. But if you have heard any of the details surrounding their move back to Michigan, you will also know how assuredly God has arranged everything for them. Kalamazoo is just the place he has prepared for them in the next chapter of their life together.
I always knew that returning to the Midwest was part of Dieneke and Brandon’s 10-year plan, but God surprisingly turned that into a 2-1/2 month plan! While Dieneke was with her family in Kalamazoo this summer, she received an unexpected call from a former employer offering her a job. The details rapidly fell into place. It was so much more than Dieneke ever imagined would happen, and in many ways was an answer to the increasingly courageous prayers she has been praying this year.
On her last Sunday at Grace, Dieneke described some of the things she has learned in the last few months. God provides for every detail, even the small things we don’t think of on our own. All of these details come together for the bigger work God is doing in and through us. Dieneke has learned not to make such long-term plans–God often changes them! Instead, we must focus on the day-to-day in front of us, pray boldly for miracles only God can do, then wait for him to do his work. He will do it! This was proved to Dieneke in the way God so beautifully wrapped up their time in Portland and made a way for her and Brandon to return to Michigan.
We never know what is happening behind-the-scenes when we call on God to intervene in our lives. There is usually more than one person involved in the puzzles we seek God’s help in. Dieneke was a wonderful answer to my prayers for a friend in the last few years. Saying goodbye last week was very sad for me, and I know many in our church will be missing Dieneke’s warmth, wisdom and friendship. But I’m certain that Dieneke and Brandon’s move back to Michigan is a wonderful answer to their families’ prayers. Who knows–maybe there is someone in Kalamazoo who has been praying for a friend, and they are about to be blessed incredibly by a beautiful friend named Dieneke!
Isn’t God so kind in the ways he generously meets each one of us in all our needs? We are grateful to him for the good work he has done in and through Dieneke in her five years at Grace, and we are praising him with her for his leading back to Michigan.
Dieneke and Brandon, we love you and look forward to hearing good things from your new life in Kalamazoo!
Jackie Bailey was in her 50s before she started volunteering on a regular basis. Her office requires employees to put some hours into the community, so Jackie started serving with Shepherd’s Door, Portland Rescue Mission’s transitional care facility for women. When Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, Jackie felt compelled to go. She went to New Orleans with Forward Edge, and it was there that Jackie’s desire was sparked to keep going and giving what she can in the world.
Since 2005, Jackie has been on numerous short-term mission trips as well as one six-month trip with Mercy Ships in Sierra Leone. On Saturday, Jackie is heading out for another eight months with Mercy Ships, this time to Madagascar!
Jackie glows when she talks about Mercy Ships. She had many highlights to share of her time in Sierra Leone and she expects the same in Madagascar.
The Mercy Ship is a 16,500-ton, fully-equipped hospital ship. Over 400 people from 40 different countries volunteer their time and expertise to provide free treatment to thousands of patients while in port. Their emphasis is maxillofacial, reconstructive, plastics, orthopedic, ophthalmic and dental surgeries for those who have little or no access to this specialized healthcare.
“The challenge is enormous, but don’t let the statistics numb you.Every number has a name, a face and a story. And they will break your heart,” writes Mercy Ships of the problem. Their solution? For over 30 years, they have “followed the model of Jesus to bring hope and healing to the world’s poor one life, one community and one nation at a time.” Since 1978, Mercy Ships has visited over 70 countries, treating more than 2.5 million people!
Jackie will fly to Capetown, South Africa this coming weekend to meet The Mercy Ship. On this tour, Jackie will assist the Crew Physician and the Screening Team, which means she will be screening potential and incoming patients. Jackie says this is exciting for her because she will have more interaction with the patients as well as the locals who come on board during the day as interpreters, drivers, or other various workers.
There is something to do on-board The Mercy Ship every night of the week. There are Bible studies and worship services as well as ongoing professional training in specialized topics. There is even an accredited K-12 school for volunteer families! Volunteers are encouraged to worship with local churches on land. In Sierra Leone, Mercy Ships partnered with local churches to show the Jesus Film. Other opportunities include observing surgeries, and visiting or praying with recovering patients.
One of my favorite stories Jackie told of Sierra Leone was the weekly Celebration of Sight when people blinded by cataracts danced on The Mercy Ship deck, their sight completely restored by a simple surgery they could never have accessed in their country. I also loved hearing about the Living Blood Bank. Whenever a patient with your blood type is in the operating room, you can be on-call to donate. Later, you can actually meet the man or woman who now shares your blood!
As we talked about the great needs in the world, Jackie reflected on the huge number of retiring Baby Boomers with health and resources to share. But what are they going to do with these gifts? “There is always enough to go around,” Jackie said. It is the principle of loaves and fishes—God always multiplies the little that we give. What if more Baby Boomers gave their time and resources to help other people? What if all of us did that? There are many opportunities to serve in other countries, but there are also many opportunities to serve in our own neighborhoods.
The great needs of those around us belong to people with names and stories. What if each of us committed to following Jesus in giving what we have to bring hope and restoration to the people he places in our lives? One by one, the people around us would be transformed, and this would spread throughout our community, our nation and our world.
Thank you, Jackie, for sharing your story with us and for inspiring us to each do our part in loving others, changing the world one person at a time! We love you and can’t wait to hear the ways God multiplies what you are about to give in Madagascar!