Sunday, September 22, 2013

Selection Day

Almost a month ago now we had Selection Day.  Whenever we come into port, we kick off our surgical activities with one massive call for patients.  We spend some weeks getting the word out with posters, billboards, radio announcements, etc. telling everyone that if they or someone they know has one of the conditions that we are able to treat (benign tumors, cleft lips, burn contractures, orthopedic stuff, etc.) then they need to come to Selection Day and we will see if we can indeed help them.  This year more than 7,000 people came and stood in line for hours.  Some of them had to be carried the whole way.  Of course all the medical crew were busy all day saying 'yes' to some and 'no' to others (heartbreaking work), but the rest of us got to fill such supporting roles as escorting patients from station to station, helping fill out paperwork, taking pictures of patients so that their surgeons can prepare properly, passing out peanut butter sandwiches and water bottles to all and sundry, providing security, and entertaining children.  I got to help with that last bit.  Above you will find a picture of me giving a little boy a sticker.  He took it very solemnly.  I spoke just enough French to be able to tell him he could pick his favorite color.  I think he chose blue.  It seems like such a little thing in the face of all the work that was done that day and still needs to be done.  So many people came.  At times it felt like trying to catch a waterfall in a teacup.

Did you know that Pointe Noire was at one time a major collection point for African slaves before they were shipped off to America and the West Indies?  Just last night, a Congolese friend was telling me about a museum near here that commemorates that nasty chapter of international history.  When you put a price on someone, you assign them a value relative to your own, contingent upon their potential ability to serve your needs.  You say to them 'You are only as important as you are useful to me,' and so you take away their person-hood and burden them with the lie that they must earn the right to matter.  It seems kind of poetic that a few centuries later a ship full of (mostly) Westerners should come and put themselves at the service of the Congolese people.  With every conversation that took place on Selection Day, we had a chance to show the people of Congo-Brazzaville that they are intrinsically valuable, that they are worth listening to, worth serving and celebrating and learning from.  I don't know how to make the world just.  With all the ways we hurt each other and have hurt each other, I don't know how to make everything right.  I don't even know how we're going to manage feeding everybody.  But I can show kindness to the handful of people I see from day to day.  I can try to see them the way God sees them and love them as Jesus is still teaching me to love.  I can speak truth in face of all the lies that have stacked up around us.  And that, I think, is the most powerful thing any of us can do for each other.  It's what I need people to do for me.  It is what we all ought to be doing for each other,
don't you think?

Monday, September 16, 2013

Academy Open House

A few weeks ago, we had our Academy Open House.  Now, since you can't come to the ship and see how we do things here, I thought I'd share a couple pictures and tidbits of information.  It'll be just like you were here, too!
First off, these crazy folks are my colleagues.  Yep, these ladies and this lone gentleman (God bless him!) are responsible for educating about 50 students, from pre-school up through 12th grade.  Average class sizes run from 2 students to a whopping 8 students per class.  That may not seem like much, but squish them all into a room the size of a nice walk-in closet and there is plenty of energy to go round.  Since many of our upper-level classes combine grades, we high school teachers cover material on a two-year rotation.  Last year, I taught World Geography (in addition to Bible and a couple English classes).  This year, we are plunging into History, from Ancient History all the way up through the Enlightenment.  I must say, I am enjoying it thoroughly.  I've had to read quite a bit to stay ahead of the students, but the material is fascinating indeed (and not entirely new--I do remember some things from college).
  For Open House, teachers were asked to provide fun activities for our visitors to do that showed the kinds of things we spend our precious time learning during the school day.  These happy adults are thinking of things to add to a "Mercy Ships Timeline" we were creating, showing all the significant events that crew members who visited my classroom wanted to add.  The timeline ran from 1940 to the present and included such varied events as birthdays, marriages, first baseball games, coming to the ship, the birth/adoption of children and so on.  One cheeky man documented the year in which his wife was born.  He was smart enough not to write her name, though.  Below you will find a picture of the final product.  Not bad eh?
Every so often I have to stop and marvel at the remarkable community I live in.  Granted, we have our disagreements.  You don't get 300+ people all living together without at least a few ruffled feathers.  But the generosity I see around me as people get down to the business of pouring themselves out for each other is just breath-taking.  It's like a preview of heaven.