Looking back on my ten years with Mercy Ships I see a kaleidoscope of recollections. Places and faces come in and out of focus. In writing my story I have no wish to look back through rose-coloured glasses, nor do I want to over emphasise the things that were difficult for me. I remember my first sight of people coming on, then later filing off the ship healed. In time I would get to know some of them and then they would be gone again. Memory has its limits and from this distance of time I do remember much but the order of events and the specific details are sometimes hazy. At the heart of this story though I clearly remember how a little bit of mercy can transform lives.
As I write this I can hear the sound of the surf and the wind through the trees. I am at Rainbow Beach in South East Queensland. I have Mercy Ship pictures on my lap top and the glow of colour from them lights my face in the fading light after sunset. When I framed those pictures all those years ago I did not realize how valuable they would become. When you photograph a scene you are choosing what’s worth remembering. Today I value every opportunity to capture the essence of the moment as tomorrow it will become part of a story worth remembering.
I framed some pictures yesterday at Poona Lake, a beautiful freshwater lake in the middle of a rainforest that somehow manages to grow on sand. The foot prints that I left behind will wash away but the memory of floating in the cool water watching little yabbies (tiny lobsters) dart around will stay with me for a long time. I switch off the lap top and in the darkness am amazed at the massive contrast between my life in Australia and my previous life on the Anastasis.
The Anastasis is now gone, broken up and gone. The memories associated with it have not gone; they live on in so many people. Yesterday I stood beside the propeller of a ship that for a while was well know in this part of the world. The propeller is one small part of the Cherry Venture, a ship which ran aground here and became a tourist attraction. As the sea rusted the wreck into memory, people would souvenir parts of it until it was no longer deemed to be a safe place to go. It was removed and now it’s just a story. But stories do matter; they are how we understand the world. If you have been on the Anastasis you would have collected something that was precious and evocative to you. Your memory may not be perfect but your stories are worth collection. As I look back and remember my time with Mercy Ships I realize that right now there are people still over there looking out on difficult circumstances. Can there ever be a time when there is no need for healing in this world? For a while I was part of a team that brought mercy to people who desperately needed it. Gorome was one of those people.
Gorome was in her teens, but there was no giggling with friends at school about boys for her. In fact, she did not go to school. She tried when she was younger, but the cruel comments were too much. Gorome was born with one of the most common birth defects – a cleft lip. Her upper lip had a split in it that extended up to her nostril and inside to include the roof of her mouth. The surgery that could have been performed while she was still a baby was not affordable or even available. So she hid away from the world, looking after her younger siblings and helping with the housework. She dreamed of an ordinary life where she can go out during daylight and not have to cover her face to avoid the ever-present stares of all who see her deformity. But the skilled medical team on the Anastasis transformed her face and her life with a relatively simple two hour surgery. This girl’s transformation reminds me of what is possible. I know so many times healing is not so obviously visible. That’s why we tell stories of hope. That’s why I will draw together ten years of experience into this series on my life with Mercy Ships. Hope heals.