Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ramblings On Living With Purpose

First off, let me apologize for my lack of consistency in blogging. 

I promise I've had good intentions, even several partially written posts, but have clearly lacked the follow through to actually post them. 

As I prepared to leave the Africa Mercy, I wrote the following in my journal, which helps to summarize my time on board.

“There’s such a sense of purpose, passion and love here. I can’t express how much it bubbles up in my heart even writing this. Face after face flashes through my mind, each one bringing with it a surge of joy, grief, compassion, laughter, heartbreak or even regret.

We’ve experienced a whole range of stories – stories of hope and victory, tragedy and loss, commitment and love, hard work and triumph.

We’ve fought for the lives of children with aggressive malignancy that the ship doesn’t have the capability to treat; we’ve grieved together with their families when they’ve passed.

We’ve prayed and prayed for wounds to heal, grafts to take and infections to clear.

We’ve rejoiced when we’ve seen God faithfully answer our prayers, and shed tears when it seems he hasn’t.

We’ve bonded with patients who have been in the ward for months – and felt the tearing of celebration and loss when they’ve finally been well enough for discharge. 

The Africa Mercy is not perfect. Where people are, there is messiness. 400 people from 35 different countries living on one ship makes for a decent amount of mess. But when we remember why we’re here – the girl fighting for her life just a few decks below, the mama bringing her son in for his follow up appointment, the boy sitting in the screening tent who never thought he’d be able to go to school again because of the gaping hole in his face, the man who was lead up the gangway yesterday and today leaves with his sight restored – it puts everything into perspective.

It makes tight living quarters, 2-minute showers, being a 30+ hour trip away from home, having little choice and variety in what you eat, sharing everything – it makes it worth it. Beyond worth it. “

As I look to the future, to life after Mercy Ships, it’s that sense of defined, tangible purpose that seems the biggest loss. Even on the days when I would wake up discouraged or unmotivated, all I had to do was walk 50 feet down the hallway to the hospital, and my spirit was revived with a renewed sense of “yes, this is why I’m here.”

In the west, we view healthcare as a right, not a privilege. Because of how our healthcare system has evolved, as healthcare professionals we often find ourselves more focused on avoiding being sued or fired, rather than being completely focused on fighting for the wholeness of our patients.

The things that we’re putting so much effort and resources into advocating for - building hospitals with only private rooms or buying wifi IV pumps to monitor each button a nurse presses - seem trival compared to the massive yet basic problems facing those in the developing world.

A Congolese friend, as I was asking about the hospitals in Congo, told me “If you don’t have money, even if you are dying, you might as well leave the hospital. No one there will help you.”

The thought of going back to working in an environment where abundance is taken for granted makes me feel empty and tired.

But then I remember the reason why we don’t remove giant tumors from people’s faces and repair decade old burn contractures to restore movement and function in the U.S.  It’s because those tumors are removed when they are tiny, and those burns are treated immediately after they occur, preventing contractures. The preventative medicine we’ve developed in the West keeps us from having to deal with the extreme cases we see in the developing world. 

I believe that healthcare should be a right for every person in the world. What I desire for my patients on the Africa Mercy is what my patients in the states have – but to the point of excess.

So, the ever present and paralyzing question: What can we do? 

We can live lives of purpose where we are. We can remember the poor and suffering by doing what we do well, and by giving sacrificially in our daily lives and seemingly menial decisions. For those of us who know Jesus, we must continually ask ourselves, are we willing to let Him interrupt any and every area of our lives? It doesn’t mean He will, but if he asks, will we hear Him, and will we respond? 

As my plane was circling Pointe-Noire with an unlocked aft cabin door, the pilot's nervous voice once again came over the intercom, “ok folks, we’ve had a bit more difficulty, I’m going to try to make one more circle to burn off fuel and then we’ll make the emergency landing.” I had a little “am-I-ready-to-meet-Jesus” moment. Maybe I was being dramatic, maybe I was over emotional (not maybe, I was), but I honestly sat, praying, contemplating if I was ready.

I would have plenty of regrets if I hadn't made it through that flight. But the one thing I’d never regret would be giving myself and anything I have away. I’m not the most generous, not the most sacrificial person, but more and more I’m convinced that I want to be.

I don’t want to count any area of my life too precious to be sacrificed for the sake of serving God and loving people.  There’s nothing more I desire in life than to bow before Jesus and know that I gave all that I could. 


  1. amen, betsy.
    this is beautiful, and encouraging.
    may this be true for you, and for me, and for all of us who read this.

  2. thank you, bets. know that God is working in and through you and it is beautiful. love. love.

  3. I am encouraged and inspired and excited to see how this experience not only shapes your life but the lives of those who will experience it second hand by how you live out your life going forward.