I recently returned from Liberia, where I served with Mercy Ships for 7 months as Assistant Dental Coordinator. A lot has happened in that time, but through it all God has shown His goodness and mercy, enabling me to serve Him there and teaching me many things through the circumstances He brought me through.
Mercy Ships is an international non-political, non-governmental, Christian humanitarian aid organisation, using ocean-going ships as hospitals and delivering medical relief and development services. They aim to serve one million people per year.
The Africa Mercy is the world’s largest non-governmental hospital ship (16,000 tonnes). Converted from a Danish train ferry, the purchase of the ship and cost of her conversion was over £32 million, which was raised from voluntary contributions from around the world. She is still docked in Monrovia, Liberia, where she will stay till mid-December. Next year the outreach will be in Benin, God willing.
Around Monrovia there are many signs of the 14-year civil war that is still fresh on the minds of Liberians, though it ended 5 years ago. There are burnt-out buildings, and bullet holes in lampposts. Liberia has 80% unemployment and 57% literacy, many having lost their chance for education because of the war. Poverty is evident almost anywhere you go. Yet many Liberians have a strong faith in the Lord and stand firm in the hope that He will rebuild their nation.
July 21st to 23rd I joined with thousands of believers across Liberia for prayer and fasting just before their 161st Independence Day (26th July), seeking the Lord according to 2 Chronicles 7:14. Our God is a God who answers prayer and He is moving in mighty ways. Many pastors and churches from all over Liberia and from all denominations were united in prayer for their country at this time. The closing meeting on Wednesday 23rd was a time of Thanksgiving for all that the LORD is and will be doing in Liberia. The President, Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was there. It was a really encouraging time. There is always hope in Jesus’ Name.
As we saw these people who have almost lost hope, struggling to find what to live on from day to day, our aim as a dental team, and Mercy Ships in general, was to represent God to them by showing God’s mercy and compassion through the relief of pain and by sharing the good news of Jesus Christ and the love of God through actions and words. No matter how difficult a patient was or how long a day seemed, we tried to remember that God loves each one of these people and wants them all to know Him and His love for them and His will for their lives. God is love and God loves without favouritism or distinction, whether young or old, rich or poor, black or white; and He calls us to do the same, to be channels of His love to all we meet.
As Assistant Dental Coordinator, I helped the Dental Coordinator, Vicki Thompson, to manage the daily operations of the off-ship dental clinic and its on-going needs and maintenance. I ordered the supplies the team would need, and put them away out at the clinic; did administrative work on board once a week; baked cakes for birthdays and farewells on the team… I also gave a hand at sterilising the instruments or at reception whenever needed.
The dental team was constantly changing, with dentists and dental assistants and other team members coming and going every few weeks- saying good bye so often was one of the hardest things about living on the ship. For the first few months of the outreach we only had one dentist at a time, but from July onwards we had a long-term dentist, Dag Tvedt, as well as two or three others at a time. God always provided the right dentist at the right time!
There were a few days that we had no dentists at all. On these occasions we went as a team out into the communities to schools where we taught Oral Hygiene, showing the children how to take care of their teeth. The kids all received a toothbrush and I think enjoyed the diversion from their lessons for the half hour that they spent with us!
There were several ministry opportunities for the crew members to get involved with in their free time. I went out with the Jesus Film team every Friday evening (they go Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays), it was a good occasion to pray for and minister to the people of Liberia.Pastor Jomah (pictured left), the Liberian pastor that the JF team works with, has been concentrating on going into Muslim communities. He coordinates with pastors of churches in or near the areas we go to for follow-up and discipleship of those who answer the altar call. Please pray that the Lord would prepare the way and that these communities would be responsive to the Gospel. Pray for protection for Pastor Jomah and his family as he does this work for the Lord.
One thing God has shown me over and over again during these past few months is that He is in control-When everything is going well; when we run out of supplies and patience; when we have to say no to someone else we cannot help; when we can see all He has done for us; when we can’t see Him at all; when we mess up yet again; when things don’t turn out the way we hoped or expected… God is always in control of our lives. He is bigger than our questions, stronger than our weakness, firmer than our faith, unchanging, unchangeable; He is God.
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” has been apparent to me throughout these past few months, in my life and in the lives of those around me. I pray that you too would know God’s peace and assurance, joy and guidance as you continue to serve Him wherever He has placed you at this time and that you would grow in Him day by day.