Lent is For Friends

I wrote this post for the series Return to Our Senses in Lent, as a reflection on a wonderful few days I have just spent celebrating my friend Cheryl’s 60th birthday.

Celebrating with Friends

Celebrating with Friends

To be honest when I first arrived at the celebration I felt a little for taking off time like this in the middle of Lent. Then it struck me – Lent is a season to renew, refocus and restore ourselves. This celebration accomplished all three. I hardly opened my Bible, but have rarely spent a more spiritual time together with a community of friends.

Four of our party share memories that date back to the early days on board the first Mercy Ship M/V Anastasis which we all helped pioneer. Some of you may have seen the recent 60 minute program on the Africa Mercy which highlighted this ministry and the amazing fruit that has flown from our challenging efforts and sometimes heartbreaking time together. 

One of Cheryl’s friends who had not been through those pioneering commented “I have never seen a group of friends with such a special bond.” And its true, those days of struggle when we sometimes did not even know where the money for our next day’s food would come from formed a depth for friendship we could never have created in any other way.

We reminisced about the trip Ruth and I took in the mid 80s’ on which we recruited Dr Gary Parker who was featured on the program and has now lived on board for 26 years. I shared stories of my adventures in the hospital chipping, scraping and painting wondering why God had called a doctor to do such work. (You can read more about this in my book Tales of a Seasick Doctor). We talked too about the challenging times when some of lived in tents on the Hawaiian island of Oahu while the ship had a sprinkler system fitted – no sacrifice you might think until you realized this lasted for twelve months. The rest of us lived on the ship surrounded by welding smoke and with the not so gentle sounds of unloading cement and cars.  Not an easy time to be in charge of the ship’s medical ministry and without these friends I am sure that I would never have had the faith or the sticking power to see it become a fully functional hospital on which I oversaw the first years of Mercy Ships medical ministry. Most important of all we talked about the faithfulness of God in midst, the regular rhythms of prayer, fellowship and fun which molded us together into this very special friendship.

Friendship is so important to our lives and our faith. I would not be the person I am today without these very special friends who cried with me, prayed with me and shared my joys. They helped me confront the demons in my past and brought me healing. What better way to spend a part of Lent than with such friends.

It reminded me of a friend Tom and I share who always contacts us during Lent. His Lenten discipline is to contact friends he has not been together with in the last twelve months. He too recognized the importance of such relationships in molding us into the people God intends us to be.

So think about it. Are there friends you have been out of touch with for a while that you could contact during this Lenten season? Are there ones that were once friends that you are now estranged from? Or are there friends that you fear to contact because they are in challenging circumstances you can’t cope with hearing about? Or sit for a while and think about relationships that have renewed, restored and transformed you. Give your friends a call just to say thank you for their input into your life.

A Prayer for Mercy Ships.

M/V Anastasis Greece 1980

M/V Anastasis Greece 1980

Many of you know that I spent 12 years of my life on the Mercy M/V Anastasis setting up and then directing the medical ministry. I love the work that Mercy Ships continues to do, though the Anastasis has now been replaced by the Africa Mercy. You can imagine my delight a few weeks ago when I was asked by Susan Parker to write a prayer for the ship’s crew. Here is the prayer that I wrote.

Africa Mercy 2013

Africa Mercy 2013

An Africa Mercy Community Prayer

Merciful Father,

You have called us from many tribes and nations,

Drawn us from many cultures and creeds,

As rich and poor, young and old,

You have embraced us together with all the hurting people of this world,

You have welcomed us as part of your eternal family.

Compassionate Christ,

You have shown us so much of the world’s injustice and pain,

And in its midst you are always there. 

Let us see you in those with deformed faces and broken lives.

Let us hear you in the grieving and the oppressed,

Let us know you in the hungry and the vulnerable,

Transforming Spirit,

You whose indwelling presence brings renewal and restoration,

Flow through our hands and pour out healing,

Flow from our hearts, extend hope to the hopeless,

Flow through our lives with saving grace,

Flow through all we do and make others whole.

Eternal God, Creator, Redeemer, Comforter,

One in essence, Three in person,

Touch and transfigure us,

Let your love grow strong and deep within us.

Let your compassion bloom and overflow through us,

Let your righteousness bear fruit of mercy love and justice,

Until your world is changed,

And all creation is restored and made new.

Have You Ever Been Homeless?

I have never been homeless, but still remember vividly a period in my life when I experienced some of the disorientation and destabilization that many homeless people know constantly.  Someone accidentally opened the sprinkler system in my cabin on the Mercy Ship M/V Anastasis and its entire contents were flooded in black sludge.  Most of my clothes were ruined and the stench made the cabin uninhabitable.  

I felt helpless in the face of this disaster.  For six months I moved from cabin to cabin while the carpenters slowly renovated it.  At the same time Mercy Ships’ home office moved from California to Texas and I never knew where I would be staying during my frequent visits.  At one stage I even slept on my office floor for a few nights because there was no other place available.  Having a moving object in the middle of the sea as my only stability point was hard enough at the best of times but now I felt like a homeless refugee.  My stress levels rose and I became increasingly irritable and depressed.  Fortunately I was able to purchase a home near the office in Texas.  Immediately I felt I knew where I belonged and I started to relax.  

Homelessness is not easy to cope with even for those of us who have the resources to rapidly rebuild our lives.  Imagine what is like for those who lack the financial and emotional resources to change their situation.  Irritability, anger and selfishness are not uncommon amongst people who have been displaced and lost everything.  In their attempt to regain some control over their lives refugees and displaced people often lash out at the very people who are trying to help them.  Unfortunately this can create a vicious cycle of misunderstanding, resentment and withdrawal.    

As I contemplate the plight of the millions worldwide who are homeless I am reminded that Christ too knew the uncertainty of homelessness.  As a child he fled as a refugee into Egypt with his family and as an adult he “had no place to lay his head.”  No wonder he was so sympathetic towards those who were displaced within his society.  Perhaps when he looked at the beggar sitting by the city gate he was reminded of his own uncertain childhood.  Perhaps as he reached out to embrace lepers and outcasts he was reminded of the times that he too was rejected by society.

As I read the story of the Good Samaritan I am reminded that Jesus often comes to us through the despised and rejected people of our world.  The victim lying by the roadside was despised and rejected by the religious and economic leaders who walked by on the other side, yet he was embraced compassionately by the equally despised Samaritan. 

 If we see Jesus in the unlovely faces and broken lives of those who are despised and rejected by our society, then through God’s grace we too can reach out and be enfolded in his love.  When we love those who are unlovely we experience the wonder of Christ’s compassionate embrace that willingly took upon himself the burden of every outcast who lies by the wayside despised by society yet welcomed and nursed to wholeness by the despised and rejected God of salvation.    

Coping with Transitions

Yesterday we said goodbye to Peter and Anneke Geel who have lived in the basement apartment at the Mustard Seed House for the last 15 months. We have loved having them as part of our community. We had a great celebration and commissioning time the night before that I am sure all of us will look back with fond memories, but it was still hard to see them leave. Saying goodbye is never easy though it does often create good memories that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.  In fact I told Catie that Peter and Anneke are not leaving our community they are just extending it to Washington DC.  There will always be a place for them in our house and I am sure that there will always be a place for us in theirs.

Yesterday I also uploaded photos onto facebook from my early days on board the Mercy Ship Anastasis, another community that has played a very important place in my life and which has provided me with family literally all over the world. It was rather a nostalgic moment for me as I looked back over what had a been a very fulfilling period of my life. The Anastasis was scrapped earlier this year and many of us that lived through those early days have been sharing our photos as we looked back remembering both the good times and the struggling times.

Transitions are never easy especially when they mark the end of fulfilling and enjoyable times in our lives but whether they are good or bad they cannot be ignored. When I was on the Anastasis we would mark our move from one port to another with what we called our “Moving of the Ark” ceremony. The night before we sailed we would have a community meeting at which people would share their delight at all the good things that had happened in the port we were leaving. We would have a time of prayer and thanksgiving then take communion together. We would end the evening with a time of orientation for the port that we were about to sail to.

I always appreciated this ceremony. It affirmed and celebrated our achievements and focused us on the good things that God had accomplished through us while at the same time preparing us for change and the new experiences of our next port of call.

How do you mark the transitions in your life?