Sunday, July 16, 2017


Two Thousand One Hundred and Ninety Three

Six years ago yesterday I walked up the gangway on a journey that would change me for the rest of my life. After three days of delay I was standing in one of the top ten diamond producing countries. Unfortunately my reason for being there existed because the country sits in the lowest five percent of countries according to the Human Development Index. There docked in the seven mile wide Sierra Leone River Estuary was the Africa Mercy, the worlds largest non-government hospital ship.

My arrival was in the middle of the night and by the time I woke up the next day everything was rushing by. People going from here to there and the community of 400 people was in full swing. I checked in with my supervisor, the crew bank, getting a tour and all the "newbie" things that new crew members go through. The second day when I woke up the ship was a ghost town. I couldn't figure out where everybody had went. There were some people in the common areas and groups of people at meal times but not the masses of people I had seen the previous day. Come to find out I had arrived onboard the day before a ship holiday. Since the ship doesn't observe government holidays, every six weeks only a minimum amount of people work so that the rest of the crew can get away for a long weekend and recharge. The weekend for me ended up being a time to explore the ship and get used to my surroundings. Unbeknownst to me I would spend over four and a half years of my life walking those halls and climbing those stairs.

Sunday afternoon people started getting back onboard and within no time it was evident what made Mercy Ships so amazing. People. Amazing People. Over my time with Mercy Ships I was able to meet countless numbers of people that had incredible stories and do unbelievable things for others. They would come on the premise of doing their specific job weather this be nursing, engineering, custodial or captaining the ship. In their off times they would be working with locals, volunteering at local ministries and pouring their lives into those around them.

There is no better image of Christ than seeing my fellow cremates serving those around them so selflessly. I look to many of them as role models of who one day I hope to be; working through a weekend to have a project done when the government changes a deadline, making walkers out of pipes to help the orthopedic patients learn to walk again, or scrubbing the depths of the ship to keep the engines running. Those are just a few of the stories that happened on a daily basis.

So, what do i take away from all of this? The biggest is probably that this life isn't about me, it's about serving others. How do they... how do we get enough energy to do all that? It has to come through Christ. When we take the focus off of us and focus on what He would do or what He would have us to do then the energy won't be a question. God will supply the energy moment by moment, day by day. But as soon as you take the focus off of Him and His desires your work will come to a screeching halt.

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”- Frederick Buechner

Friday, September 9, 2016

Short Questionnaire

Stepping into missions can be scary. What happened to get you over that fear?

About six months ahead of me learning about Mercy Ships I asked God to make me conscious of something that He wanted me to focus on. I wasn’t sure where that would be, homeless, food pantry, children’s home etc. When I did hear about Mercy Ships and the surgeries that were being performed I believe that God had prepared me to receive that. The next hurdle that I jumped over was the fact that I was looking for a paying job, not volunteering position. Upon first hearing that it was all-volunteer I kinda shut it out of thought but I couldn’t get over it. The next day I went back online to see if it had magically changed and it still said the same thing “Mercy Ships is an all-volunteer organization. Then I felt like God was teaching me that if I was faithful to him and obedient to what He asked then He would make sure that all of the finances would happen.

How do you serve Jesus by serving others through Mercy Ships?

Working with Food Services it’s already in a “Service” Industry. I’ve always had jobs where I provided a service for people. Here on the ship I can use the gifts, talents and abilities that God has supplied me with to further the work of this community. I have a supervisor that I report to, but when it comes down to it the mental and physical work that I put in go to glorify God through the mission of the community. Healing and equipping the ship, local, and national community that we are set in.

How was your faith impacted during your time with Mercy Ships?

Faith is impacted like any muscle in your body. The more you use it the stronger it gets. The less you use it the more it hurts when you do. For myself the impact and fruit of faith is often not seen till some time later. God builds this root system inside of you that nobody sees and it’s often when he moves you to the next season of life that you can see where God has changed your life.

Why would Mercy Ships be a good organization for someone taking their first mission trip?

Mercy Ships isn’t for everybody, but if you like meeting with people from all over the world, want to make an impact with the work you’re doing then it can be a great fit. There are almost as many different jobs onboard that you can think of and there are all different commitment lengths available.

Leaving everything behind for a little bit can be expensive. How did God supply your needs?

I have a network of supporters that have made it possible for me to serve with Mercy Ships for over four years. If I were to add up all the money I would probably cry to know that people have supported me with that amount of money. Moving into a job that requires international travel, repatriation insurance and no income at the same time is a lot to think about. The people in my support network give at different levels and different intervals but God makes sure that the bills are payed when the need to be.
Sometimes I hear other crew say that they didn’t do any support raising because they didn’t want to have to ask other people for money but when that happens they (potential donors) often miss out on the opportunity to be part of everything that Mercy Ships does. They might not have the time or energy to support Mercy Ships but they are happy to make it possible for people to serve.

Would you briefly share what you do as a Food Services Manager that another Food Service Manager would be interested in.

Most anybody that has been in the Food Service Industry is already aware of the cost and rewards of the work that they do. But with any job with Mercy Ships our effort is multiplied and magnified as we work together and do things that no individual would ever be able to do on their own. I’ll never be able to do surgery on a patient with a large tumor or rebuild a dental clinic that will serve thousands of patients but I can plan, supply, cook, serve and clean up after a meal that give others the ability to do that job. 
The level of food that we serve is much higher than you can imagine. Many people come expecting the most simple basic foods but we try to blow them away as much as possible because we know an army marches on its stomach and the level of food served can make a large difference on the moral of the crew.

If you could share one thing with someone thinking about joining Mercy Ships, what would it be?

Do it. You won’t regret it. Just remember that your life won’t be the same afterwards. Your eyes will be opened to things you never imagined, your heart will be opened to people and nations you’ve never met and your mind will be filled with countless memories that will last forever.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

It's worth it to get stung by jellyfish every once in a while

"Travel isn't always pretty. It isn't always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that's okay. The journey changes you - it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart and on your body. You take something with you... hopefully... you leave something good behind"  -Anthony Bourdain

I want to share a few different things that I hope have a strong connection when compiled together. Yesterday was my birthday and on Facebook and through different medias I received an incredible amount of greetings from people across the globe. There have been years in the past where when it came to the middle of June I would take my birthday off of Facebook so that most people wouldn't remember when it occurred. There were always the ones that did remember but not the 100+ that is often found on the annual date. As I would get online and check things yesterday it was a great reassurance that I am loved. It's not the grandest gesture, but those three words "Happy Birthday Josh" reminded me that I am good at relationships.

Last week I visited a mall here in Durban. I was on mission to find, tennis shoes, laundry detergent, some food, and possibly a book to read. When I walked into a bookstore store it was simply because I saw that they were selling books. It wasn't till after I took a wide sweep of the store and saw all kinds of religious things advertised that I realized that it was a Christian store. As I looked around I quickly remembered that there were two books coming for me in the mail and it probably wasn't in the budget to be buying more books but I decided to look for a small devotional book because I'll be sharing every week with the Food Services team and it's always nice to have a consistent theme when sharing with a crowd. As I was looking around I came across the book Scary Close by Donald Miller.

Earlier this week I was on Facebook seeing how different people are. Going from one profile to the next the secretly looking into the life of people I haven't kept in contact with. It's probably pretty safe to say I'm not the only one that does it. There's one guy it's like a scavenger hunt to see what's going on. You know, that friend from the past that unfriended you after something didn't go down the best way possible. The best friend you had and now you're living separate lives and you still hope that they're doing great. Something big in life happens and you wish they were there but they don't want to be part of your life. Well, he proposed to his girlfriend and is engaged to get married. It was exciting to see and unfortunate knowing that there's so much about him that I don't know anymore.

Now I had already determined that I didn't need to buy a book for myself, but there it was. A book I had read before, started reading again, and unfortunately left in the seat pocket of a plane more than a year ago. In fact I shared a portion of it on the blog before. So there I was, holding this book. A book that I had already read but wanted to read again. Over the last year I looked for it onboard to see if anybody had their own copy but the only versions were on e-readers. I flipped it over to check the price and fortunately it was only 160 Rand, like ten dollars. Of course I had to buy it after wanting to re-read it for so long.
In summary; bought it, read it, started reading again, lost it, looked for it, couldn't find it, bought it a second time, and currently rereading it. If you're wondering, yes I would recommend it.

This past field service in Madagascar I think I had the same conversation about twenty times. Probably with only about 5 different people, but one that has an ability to chip away at those walls like they're a master craftsman. Boundaries, why do I keep the walls of my life up so high? Sure I seem to know a lot of people, but how many people actually know me? I'll listen to a friend when they need, but how often do I let a friend listen to what's going on in my life? It seems that I'm the master of short nondescript answers. Yup, ok, yeah, no, kinda, nice, mmhm. That's the extend to what I let out most of the time. People are knocking on my door wanting to know how I'm doing or what I'm up to and they get probably the shortest answer possible.

Thursday morning I was reading Scary Close. If you read the other blog I posted about lessons learned by jumping into a pond you read that:
"To be intimate I'd have to jump" "Then it occurred to me what it was. I wasn't afraid to jump in or swim or to feel the sudden coolness of the water. I was afraid of change.
This time it was the third lesson that hit home:
For the most part, people aren't out to get you.

At some point, I just stopped trusting people. Distrust brings out the worst in people. Am I willing to be hurt occasionally and turn the other cheek on order to have long-term, healthy relationships?
Don was asked about his preferred swimming location; pool, lake or ocean. His response was lake, because in  the ocean you have to deal with jellyfish, seaweed, sharks and whatever else. But his friend responded that the ocean was their preferred place. Saying that "It's worth it to get stung by jellyfish every once in a while. For the occasional sting, you get to go to sleep feeling the waves and you get to giggle with your cousins." At that moment he realized that trying not to get stung by jellyfish is part of the adventure.
To risk yourself in love. It means diving into the unknown, where there are very real dangers, but mostly rewards.

The stories began to collide when I started to actualize that my friend and I taking different paths eight years ago continues to effect me. People aren't out to get me. Distrust brings out the worst in any future relationships. Am I willing to be hurt occasionally and turn the other cheek on order to have long-term, healthy relationships? I have to be willing to get stung by jellyfish to get enjoy the adventure. 

Found from a random Facebook post

We were inseparable. No one would’ve expected it to go this way, but that’s okay. You helped me through awkward, tough, and uncomfortable times. You were my rock, when I needed stability and my laugh when I was crying. Thank you for being you. You are genuine, kind, and selfless.
But, I’m sorry. I’m sorry we grew apart. We used to mesh so well, but we lost our synchronization so randomly. One day we were laughing at our constant inside jokes and the next we weren’t prioritizing our friendship. But, I don’t have any hostile feelings.
You were the best part of my past. I will look back on our friendship and hope my kids have a friend like I had in you.
Our memories used to sting, but now I enjoy going through the countless pictures. You are so cool and I wish you the best. We both have gone down separate paths, but we’re positively thriving. Keep doing your thing!
I can’t even refer to you as an ex-best friend because that’s far from the truth. We are simply best friends who drifted. I’ll consider you a friend forever though. So no matter the time that passes, if you ever need anything just know I’ll always be here.
I may not understand your facial expressions anymore and I may not be the person you tell everything to anymore, but that’s okay. I had my time in that position and now someone else will be blessed with you.
You had such a positive impact on me when I needed it most. I’m so thankful you were part of that chapter of my life. Without you, I wouldn’t have made it through some of the most horrendous school days.
Thank you for the memories. Thank you for the ridiculous pictures. Thank you for the endless photoshoots. Thank you for providing me with a second family. Thank you for your support. Thank you always for being my best friend.

One last thing to share with my friends that have embarked on the journey known as "life- post the Africa Mercy" Don't forget what you've experienced. It's part of who you are.
What you’re experiencing are the dreaded, and very real post-travel blues. During your adventures you’ve seen too much, experienced too much, been opened up to new cultures and new ways of living. And there’s no going back from that. Your mind has been opened. Your vision has been refreshed, your passion for the world and it’s inhabitants re-ignited, or even discovered. You are an entirely new person. And that is the biggest, and coolest gift travel can give you.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Hey God,

Friday I was in a meeting and before we went into the info being shared it began with a reminder of a few things. When coming to a decision making time we often believe that there are only two options. Option 1 - Speak up and turn a powerful person into a sworn enemy or Option 2 - Suffer in silence and make a bad decision with bad consequences. Then we were told that those weren’t the only two options. We could be 100% honest and at the same time 100% respectful. Some very edifying statements were made and before we even started discussing I felt like I was attending a formal event because formal events are often full of words and sayings that sound nice but maybe we don’t live out in life actually believing in. The thing is these statements were true and it was a great reminder to start the meeting with.

The next day I started reading Just Courage. The first chapter starts out with this: Christians seem to have the amazing ability to say the most wonderful things without actually believing them.          ….disturbing was the list of things that Christians, like me, actually say-like, blessed are the poor and humble; it’s better to give than receive; judge not, lest you be judged; love your neighbor as yourself, etc.-and examining, one by one, how differently I would live my life if I actually believed such things. As (he) concluded, “The sayings of Christ co-exist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening to words so amiable and bland.” Do you ever have a conversation with somebody and hear one of those sayings? Do you ever sit in a church service or at a family meal and listen to a prayer and the words that are being said. The prayers can sometimes be lengthily and full of sayings that we’ve heard a million times. I think that’s something that we can all relate to. I can really relate to it.

I was home for just three short weeks in January and February to attend a friends wedding, see family and some of my close friends. The time was short and I didn’t get to see as many people as I would have liked but there’s one moment that I’d like to share with you. One of my closest friends, Ryan; it was his wedding day and before the ceremony started his groomsmen I gathered around him put our hands on him and supported him in prayer, prayed for the ceremony, the day and the many many years that the marriage will glorify the Lord. It was one of the more memorable parts of my trip. There were ten or more people all huddled around him, each knowing Ryan in a different form; Grandfather, father, cousin, long time friend, soon to be father-n-law & brother-n-law. That’s one reason I love weddings so much; Each person present represents a shaping factor in the marriage. We become the people we surround ourselves with. Anyway back to the story. There we were, the guys, praying for Ryan’s marriage and our prayers reflected the many ways that we know him. When I started praying I said “Hey God, thanks for this day to serve...” It’s how I start the prayers I lead in the Food Service devotions, “Hey God, thanks for another day to serve you here on the Africa Mercy.” Right in that moment I realized that I had gone to my default prayer start. This was a wedding, a once in a lifetime event. I had traveled across the world to be there’d support him and there I was using a default prayer. Then I quickly adapted and said, “ to serve you on this day that Ryan and Mickel are getting married…” 

Later on I was a bit aggravated that I had gone to that default and it reminded me that need to be a bit more authentic in my prayers and not use the cookie-cutter sayings that become a habit. But more than that it made me reflect on what I had made a habit of saying, “thanks for another day to serve you”. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at all. What else are we here on Earth to do? The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 1 says "Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” John Piper, reformed Baptist pastor, suggested that this would be more correct as “ to glorify God by enjoying him forever. When I made it back to the ship, on a Tuesday morning a couple weeks after the wedding when I was doing the Food Services devotions, I started my prayer “Hey God, thanks for another day to serve you here on the Africa Mercy.” Why? Why did I go back to the default prayer? Because it’s true. I pray that to God and I pray over our team that we would use our gifts and talents to glorify God, strengthen each others weaknesses and serve God as we’re chopping vegetables, making drinks, cooking soups and greeting people coming through the food lines. That as we’re doing each of our tasks that people wouldn’t see the task but see us as serving God.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I'm really bad at social media

Sure, I can get on FB 10 times a day and see what’s going on in your life, the pictures you post and see the places you’ve been. But when it comes to sharing what’s going on in my life it’s pretty bad. I had been posting on a blog for some time, taking pictures quite often and putting random things on FB regularly but it slowly stopped.

I’ve been home for a week now and one of the most common questions that I get is how’s life without a cell phone? Great! It’s real great when I get to enjoy where I am rather than being distracted by the dinging of a notification or the call of a friend.

Keeping contact with people is hard, really hard when you live on a different continent and the time difference is different for the last 5 people you talked to. It happens though, I keep contact with people. Across the globe, living in places 9-12 hours away (that’s time zones). My mind thinks in time zones. That’s really hard to comprehend I imagine. This friend lives in Seattle, that friend lives in Brisbane. I wish I could talk to him, but he’s in St. Louis and it’s 3 AM there. What’s going on on the ship? I’ll find out in the morning because my friends will responds while I sleep. (I’m not saying any of that to brag, I’m saying it because it’s real. Period.)

What’s going on in your life? That’s the second question I normally get. It’s busy. Really busy some times and some times lots of free time. The thing is I never have time to be bored. During this time at home, I’m visiting friends, driving here, flying there and I have to say it’s busy, but pretty much stress free. My job on the ship is Senior Chef and that means many things. The kitchen workers start at 5 AM and finish at 7 PM. And even when we don’t have people working the food even gets served at midnight for the night shift workers. The job is never over, as soon as one meal is served the other gets started and with my job the prep starts sometimes three months in advance. I was asked on December 23 in the midst of prepping for the Christmas Brunch, “What do you want to cook for Easter? They needed to know in 4 hours." b/c that’s when the order was due in the Netherlands so that it could be purchased, put on a container and shipped to Madagascar. So, if you’re wondering what we’re having for Easter Brunch it’s lamb and ham. 

I’m a big picture person. I like to see the overarching thing that’s going on and see where things are coming from and where they’re going. There’s details in that big picture that are many times hard for me to explain. Many details. Maybe that’s why I’m so bad at social media. Everything I see posted online is small minute details of people’s daily life and I’m often wondering about how their life is, how they’re doing and what their struggles are, because we all have struggles. We’re stronger when we share them.

So, if you see me ask questions. If you see this, send a message. I promise I’ll respond. I think the important thing is to be direct and specific because if you’re not most likely you’ll get “Good, fine, busy, Happy to be home, Glad to see you” And if you get a message from me, it’s because I care about you and how your life is. Maybe not what you had for breakfast or what you’re doing this weekend. But I want to hear about that thing you were worrying about while driving to work. If we’re in the same room, that means you’re pretty important to me. And if we’re not in the same room, yes, you are still important to me the circumstances have it that I can’t be in 10 places at the same time.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Each tear

I saw you standing there with tears rolling down your cheek,

because the love of a friendship that started on ship.

A ship that gathers people from around the globe,

God brings us together to make the world a better place.

It seems like there's more change in us than the change we cause,

our energies and talents are amplified when we work together.

But then you drove out of sight;

it was so hard after seeing you everyday and now not knowing when the next would be.

Now I'm thankful for the pictures and the memories,

laughing, singing, relaxing and serving together.

Then I was gently reminded,

each tear is actually love.