I would not describe myself as an avid reader but I often have at least one book on the go. Recently I have been reading one called ‘Crash the Chatterbox’ by Steven Furtick and a few days ago I read this,
“If you call your schedule busy, hectic, and overwhelming, that’s how it will feel. Your words will give weight to the very dread and discontent that the enemy intends to use to discourage you. But if you call your schedule full and challenging yet fruitful, it will begin to take on those dimensions, first internally and then externally.
I have noticed that certain seasons of my life that had the potential to be the most stressful turned out to be the most joyful and productive because I disciplined myself to think about them in terms of opportunity, not obligation.
I have also experienced the opposite far too many times.”
Last month I wrote about ‘Learning the unforced rhythms of grace’, and so it seems the theme has continued. “full and challenging yet fruitful”.... What a wonderful phrase and perfect to sum up the last 7 months and fill my heart with thankfulness as I finish my last 5 weeks here in Madagascar.
Seven months ago, in September 2014, after multiple changes of plan due to the Ebola crisis in west Africa, we announced we would be sailing to Madagascar. Mercy Ships hadn’t been here for 18 years, we had no assessment reports like we normally do with which to plan our programs, and even if we had those reports there was little time to plan - we would be there in 6-7 weeks. And if that wasn’t enough pressure /obligation (or as Steven Furtick would say, ‘opportunity’), there were sudden and unexpected changes in the leadership structure of the hospital. Within a matter of weeks, there was a new Hospital Director (responsible for nearly 200 staff), a new Ward Supervisor (responsible for about 100 nurses and rehab staff), and a new Patient Selection Supervisor (responsible for finding and screening literally 1000's of patients). I had been promoted to Deputy Chief Medical Officer and so together, as a brand new team, we faced, what could be described as "busy hectic and overwhelming" or “full and challenging" times. And we prayed it would be fruitful.
The new Hospital Director, Kirstie was a good friend of mine so that helps in situations like this. I can vividly remember sitting on the beach in Tenerife just before we set sail for Madagascar. Kirstie and I, plus two other friends who we had asked to pray for us for wisdom and courage for us to face the season ahead. They then left us, and we sat, gazing towards the ocean, and prayed , asking the God of heaven to give us vision for the forthcoming field service to Madagascar. We wrote down several spiritual and medical goals that we felt God gave us. One goal was that we would not move ahead on any major decision without unity. So immediately we returned to the ship we shared these with Dr Gary the Chief Medical Officer, and veteran of 27 years with Mercy Ships. The 3 of us comprised the Hospital Executive Team. Unity would define us, and from there would spring other goals and the vision we felt God had put on our hearts.
Maybe another time I can share these goals with you, but for now I want to share the ‘fruitful’ part. The hospital opened early November, so in almost 5 months (which would normally simply be the Advanced preparation and set-up phase) here are the statistics - the fruit of "full and challenging" times:
4,245 dental patients treated
1007 surgeries performed (671 adults; 238 children under 14 years)
44 participants in healthcare education mentoring projects
269 participants in 8 different healthcare education courses
WHO Safe Surgical Checklist
Lifebox / pulse oximeter
Primary Trauma Care
Basic Surgical Skills
SAFE Obstetric Anesthesia
Introduction to Ponseti
Helping Babies Breathe
Now at short notice, that is ‘full and challenging yet fruitful’. Very fruitful. And that is a reason to be thankful.
At this stage in the field service with less than 2 months of surgeries left, people start to get tired, but I have found stopping to draw breathe and reflect on all that we have achieved brings joy and thankfulness, and that strengthens me. Especially this year, as I look back. No wonder I am tired, but wow – what an incredible field service. This week, Kirstie asked the 10 key hospital leaders to review their goals for this field service – a standard management task as time draws to a close on projects. But this was not to just to see where/what we had achieved or failed – but to stop and reflect and be thankful. To actually make, and take, time to be thankful because it is in that posture that I believe new vision is birthed, even bigger dreams are conceived, and more fruit is ultimately produced. Thankfulness is the key to finishing this field service well - with hearts full to bursting instead of exhausted, dry and burnt-out .
And it is not over yet.
This week we are running yet another healthcare education course, this time in Paediatric anaesthesia, in the capital city Antananarive, and the following week a shorter version back on the ship in Tamatave. I am excited to be welcoming friends from Canada, US, England and Kenya to help me as one of my dreams is to make sure every child has access to safe surgical care and in particular safe anaesthesia. Our other healthcare education mentoring projects continue for several more weeks and surgeries on the ship run until May 22nd. Plenty of time for more lives to be touched and transformed.
I am thankful for a ‘full and challenging yet fruitful’ time this year. I am birthing bigger dreams and visions for next year - an expanded surgical program, and country-wide plans for a number of healthcare education courses……but - more about that another time - till then....