All posts by Kirsten

I am currently volunteering as a ward nurse on the Africa Mercy in Madagascar. On this website you will catch bit of my personal insights as well as updates regarding the happenings here in Madagascar. I am serving for seven months in total. So this means missing all the major winter holidays in the United States with my family and friends back home. In my absence, I have listed my home on AirBnB to pay for my mortgage. However, I am also responsible for paying crew fees here on the ship. If you have any interest in staying at my home for a "home away from home" getaway, see: To make a direct donation to my service with Mercy Ships, see: If you would like to do neither, pray! The work is hard, but the patients are worth it. Thank you so much for reading, Kirsten *Although I am currently serving with Mercy Ships, everything communicated here strictly reflects my personal opinions and is neither reviewed nor endorsed by Mercy Ships. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Mercy Ships.*

Watch Your Back and Love Forward: 2020

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”
That’s our enemy’s job. It’s his mission to prevent the “abundant life” that Jesus wants for us. No matter where on the globe we live.
(John 10:10)

When I think about the enemy’s mission in Africa, I see his success in plain sight. Poverty, malnutrition and all the associated diseases. Poor healthcare access and infrastructure means that often women are alienated, households are torn apart, men are unable to provide for their families, and children have hit the lotto if they get to their 5th birthday alive. Bleak picture.

However, our enemy is after us in well-developed countries too. How does he “steal, kill, and destroy” on our turf? We have great healthcare (don’t even argue with me about that). We have and maintain infrastructure. We provide free healthcare to the needy. Average lifespan is pretty dang high. Most Americans are in the top 10 percentile of wealth worldwide. Rosey picture.

So, does that mean our enemy is not attacking us in developed countries? Did we “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps” and win the battle against him? Did he see how good our health and wealth is…and give up?

Short answer: No.
I’m sure some of you would even attest to that personally.
However, I want to explore this idea (and reality) from the standpoint of our community as a whole.

Despite our apparent prosperity we are a people riddled with anxiety, addiction and depression. Crippled by mental illness and infected with the “rat race.” What is truly important takes second place over our addiction to accumulating material possessions.

So yeah, we don’t have Ebola, but I would argue that the enemy has struck a more fatal blow. More fatal because we don’t detect it as influenced at all by him. We ignore his existence and get the wind royally knocked out of us.

What do we do?
Something I learned in my experience overseas is this: Gospel in America must be congruent to the Gospel everywhere else. Otherwise it isn’t true. In other words, the prosperity gospel doesn’t fly. I know that to be true from the faithful believers I met in Madagascar, Benin and Cameroon. What I do know to be true is this:

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you STAY FREE, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Galatians 5:1

We are called to live in freedom. The freedom that following Jesus gives. Freedom from self. Freedom from oppression. Freedom from darkness. Freedom from “keeping up with the Jones’s”. No matter where you live.

“Therefore become imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example], as well-beloved children imitate their father; and walk continually in love [that is, value one another–practice empathy and compassion, unselfishly seeking the best for others], just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us.” Ephesians 5:1-2

I see you enemy, but I’m not stopping.
My God brings freedom, and I’m his “well-beloved child”.

2020 here we come!

How to Save the Planet

Short story: living on the ship has made me more liberal (relative to politics). Also, nationalism nauseates me.
Longer story: Reading the Bible has helped me to see past (umm, ignore) bipartisan lines and make my own decisions about how to live life based on the commands God has given us and the life Jesus has modeled.

Goals for this year:
Be a conscious consumer.
Be an ethical consumer of fashion.
Produce less waste and use less energy.

So how did I get here?
Well, I liken it to this: My boyfriend and I just finished doing a 30 day clean-eating/detox diet. Besides a total 36 pounds lost and generally having more energy, we have also become much more aware of what and how much we are eating. Similarly, I went on an unintentional consumerism detox when I lived in Cameroon. When I returned from my “detox”, I couldn’t pretend that I had not seen what I had seen. I could not simply return home and blindly consume. I want every dollar to count, and I do not want to do harm–either to the “garden” God has entrusted to us or the people within it.

So for the next 7 months, I am going to add one habit per month that will save energy, care for the planet, or care for the people on it. Just to be clear, I know my small efforts won’t “save” the planet. However, that does not affect the conviction in my heart that God has instructed Adam (mankind) to “guard and keep” what He has entrusted to us.*

*”And the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and guard and keep it.” Genesis 2:15 AMPC

Apathy prevails no longer.

Join with me as I pursue more responsible stewardship in these areas and freak out the conservative right. Jesus-followers are COUNTER-cultural.

Just like Jesus was. Just check out the Gospels! (Matthew 22 is a prime example. In this example two opposing groups ask Jesus a trick question.) Numerous times, a group would approach him and try to trap him or get him to take sides. Every single time, Jesus’ answer went something like this, “none of the above options are correct.”
Dare to be different, my friends.

June: Use less plastic and disposable paper products.

During the month of June I tried to be very conscious of this. When grocery shopping, I brought reusable bags. When doing other shopping, I’d decline a bag for a single item purchase. Do I really need a bag for that bottle of nail polish? Um, no. In the purse it goes.

Oh, and water bottles. Poland springs does not taste any better than my brita-filtered or cucumber-infused tap water. I use one reusable container throughout the day and refill. There is absolutely no need to waste my money on disposable plastic in this country.

Also, foodware–I could eat those leftovers on a paper plate, or… I could put them on a real plate and throw it in the dishwasher afterwards. Like, for goodness sake!
Paper towels–traded them for real towels. I’m running a load of laundry anyways. Gosh.

So in the month of June, I realized that a few intentional choices can really help make near-effortless changes. It’s not like it consumed more of my time. So what was the big deal?

Paper products I still refuse to give up? Toilet paper.

Sorry trees.


The Journey of Jordan

I can’t say that this is a great piece of journalism. It’s pretty awful in that respect, actually. Below is a timeline of one particular patient that was dear to me this year. There are lots of patients I’ve loved, but I wanted to pick one and collect little details along the way to create a more cohesive story for you. Obviously, I’m here living it. So I see the “whole story” all the time, but for some of you the pictures and moments I share about patients are simply snapshots. So here is the Journey of Jordan, through my eyes. (**Most sections in quotes are straight from my journal.)

8 November
“Syvano is going to surgery today and I get to watch. His left wrist is severly contracted–knuckles to forearm. He was so playful last night.”

8 November (the accounts of 7 November)
“I was charge nurse on evening shift when he was admitted. I gave him and Mama a big, warm welcome and he took the bait.

He, Maeva and Boris quickly made friends and began playing together. First Hungry Hippo (the loudest, most obnoxious game ever), then Jenga. Well at first just stacking up the blocks until I taught him how to actually play. One of the first things I did (even before all that) was give him a yellow, smiley-face balloon, and he loved it.

Before bed as we were shutting off all the lights, I told him that if it was alright I was going to watch his surgery and “make sure the doctors do a good job.” He smirked. Then I told him “and Jesus will be watching your surgery too. He will protect you.” His face got serious. I asked quietly, “Do you believe in Jesus?” “Oui,” he said with a huge smile. “Well, Jesus loves you and he will protect you. You can rest and sleep soundly tonight. You have nothing to worry about.” We high-fived and I wished him goodnight.”

Nurse Michelle Scalley with Maeva and Boris

8 November
“This morning I went to visit just as the 30 minute call came to prepare him for surgery. He was still smiling and eager! :)”

Gosh, watching his surgery this day was incredible. Plastic surgeons basically do professional “arts and crafts.” A fat flap from here, a thin piece of skin there and Voila! Now his fingers are straight and his wrist is in a neutral position. Surgery fills me with awe. Incredible.

9 November
“Visited Syvano this afternoon and Desré was doing some range of motion with his fingers. I could see he was in pain, but when I approached and waved he gave his big smile again. I held his other hand while Des continued. He was such a champ!”

Also, this is the day I found out he goes by “Jordan”. Des is so good at finding that out instead of just reading the “first” name on their ID card.

(Below is Mufi, Des, Mama, BJ and Jordan)

Physical therapist, Desre Bates, and academy student, Brandon Barki, say goodbye to their patient and friend on the dock as he leaves on his long journey home.

Des is a therapist who specializes in hand therapy. Since Jordan had become accustomed to his wrist being bent completely backwards, he would need quite a lot of rehab to gain strength in a hand that had essentially been out of use. Also, Jordan’s scar tissue from his original injury had all but decimated the flexor tendons on the back of his hand. So he would never achieve full movement again, but our therapists are here to make sure that they gain as much function as possible!

28 November
I took out all 5 of Jordan’s K-wires today during his dressing change. He was, and still is, so brave!

This is not Jordan’s xray. This is just an example of K-wires. We do not put patients under anesthesia to remove these–just some extra pain meds for him and elbow grease for me.

1 December
Jordan has such a personality. He has also developed a friendship with Tressor (the patient below with the pink balloon), in addition to everyone else that loves him. Communications kind of wishes that they had followed him. He might not have had a sparkling personality when we first met him, but now he is so social and well integrated into life on the wards. He has light in his eyes.

Aisha Wainwright with plastic patients including Maeva, Tresor and Jordan.
Aisha Wainwright with plastic patients including Maeva, Tresor and Jordan

6 December
Almost a month after surgery, Jordan was discharged to the HOPE center. The HOPE center is our “hospital outpatient extension”–a place for patients to stay while they still need to come back regularly for follow-up appointments (ie: dressings and rehab).

14 December
I saw Jordan briefly at the HOPE center during the Ponseti (Clubbed-Feet) clinic celebration I attended. His eyes lit up when he saw me! I know I’m not the only one, but it’s nice to be remembered.

2 January
Jordan came into the ship for a dressing change on a busy day when outpatients* needed help. Today, I let him have one of his favorite little trinkets that we used to play with in the ward hallways–a blue popper! Also, I told him that my Dad was coming to the ship for a visit.
*Typically, after discharge from the hospital, patients will have their  rehab and dressing needs met on the dock in our tents instead of coming on board each time. I am part of the in-patient dressings team. So our first priority is the patients on the ship and then we will do some of the outpatients dressings afterwards if needed.

10 January
My Dad arrived to the ship the night before, so I’m giving him a tour. While we were on an upper deck, I peered down and saw Jordan and Tressor on the dock waiting for their rehab/outpatients appointments. I had told Jordan the week before that my Dad was coming. While Dad and I were walking down the gangway, the boys spotted me and started waving. “Tante Kirsten!” Then all of a sudden Jordan looked to Dad coming down after me and his eyes went wide, “Tante…Papa?” I could not believe he had made the connection while we were still at a distance coming down the gangway. “Oui!” I exclaimed. I think my heart about burst in that moment. My two loves were colliding. Not specifically Jordan and my Dad, but rather my love for Mercy Ships and my love for home. It was probably one of the most memorable moments of my time in Cameroon so far.

18 January
Jordan danced with me and Dad at the HOPE center during Mercy Ministries today. Dad got to participate in a dramatic telling of the paralyzed man who was lowered through the roof by his friends and healed by Jesus.

6 February
I was on my way to the HOPE center hoping to visit with Jordan, but he happened to be on the dock waiting for a physical therapy appointment. I was so happy to see him though. I thought he had gone home, and I was so sad that I didn’t get a chance to give a last goodbye. His wounds are 100% healed. Now to get those muscles stronger!

16 February
Jordan finally was able to go home today. There are a lot of goodbyes on this ship. Not just with crew who leave, but also with patients and their caregivers. However limited, I know that our connection was one I treasured.

As I hugged and kissed his Mama goodbye, she held me and said (through translation) “thank you. Thank you for everything you have done.” So many of us on the ship connected with Jordan and his Mama. What was done in His life was testament to the value of a functioning “body of Christ.” When we each play our part, God’s work is done. We are a team.

I am so grateful for each person who played a role in Jordan’s healing and rehabilitation. I am so grateful that I got to join in. I am so grateful to all those who have supported me. I do not like goodbyes, but I am grateful for this one.

Ward nurse, Victoria Martin, and Wound Care nurse, Kirsten Murphy, say goodbye to Jordan and him mom on the dock.

God, I bless Jordan and his family on this journey through life. I pray that your power would be a mighty testimony when they return home. And I ask that we will have a heavenly reunion one day.




The Significance of One

1 February 2018

Each 10-month field service in a country, our surgical schedule on Mercy Ships is determined by:
1) The assessed surgical needs of the country
2) The availability of surgeons for each specialty

Of course, some of the preparation is still a leap of faith, but Mercy Ships tries to plan out what they can.

Dr. Tertius Venter is a plastic surgeon who has been coming to do surgeries since BEFORE the Africa Mercy embarked in 2007. In the years I have served, he has completed two “blocks” of surgeries in each field service. Although he could crank them all out consecutively, many of his surgeries rely on our access to physical and occupational therapy to rehabilitate our patients. They would simply be overrun if he did not have a break in his surgical schedule each field service. He also does surgery in some African country hospitals. There, he says, “I will not do any burn-contracture related surgery. If there are no PTs and OTs to follow up, there is no point.” This fact makes the care we give on the Africa Mercy very special as Tertius performs many burn contracture released on the ship.

I have seen, now, hundreds of patients affected by severe burn contractures. Sometimes, the need seems far too great. When I sat through the scheduling process last fall and watched each patient’s screening form be assigned to a surgical slot, my heart sunk as I saw the forms that remained.

Last night Doctor Tertius taught a medical in-service about flaps and grafts (aka surgical arts and crafts) that he uses in his surgeries. Some of which have been invented by Mercy Ships surgeons (because first-world text books do not deal with such advanced surgical problems). At the end of his talk, he reminded us that our main objective is to see each patient’s value and love them. We must do the very best we can for each one.

Luke 15 “Then Jesus told them this parable:…”
The Parable of the Lost Sheep:
Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?

The Parable of the Lost Coin:
Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[a] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

The Parable of the Lost Son:
A son disrespects his father and lives unrighteously. However, when he returns, the father spares no expense in celebrating. When the faithful son became angry at the extravagance, the father replied:
“‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”

You know what the conclusion of each of these stories is? “______ calls his/her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost _____”

So today, I rejoice over the one. I rejoice over the one who gets to encounter the love on this ship. The one who had no hope. The one who gets to see Jesus at work in our midst. The one who got surgery–even if it meant several others could not.

The more I experience this mission, the more I am convinced that “light” and “dark” emotions can coexist. I could block out the memory of patients we could not help, but that would be dishonest. Now that I have seen, I cannot become blind again. Instead, I choose to rejoice in the one we helped, and I choose to (especially) pray for the one we could not.

What/who is “the one” in your life that you need to take action for?

A song that has inspired me is Albertine by Brooke Fraser
Here is the story behind the song: The Story of Albertine

Feeling pretty good about my social media break at the moment. Day one and I was already motivated to write! (Even though I just posted a blog yesterday.) So that’s cool. Now to finish some of the books I’ve been reading…

I Will Change Their Shame Into Praise

Today, I’m going to share a bit from my journal. I think I may start doing a bit more of that. This particular entry was written after attending church with my patients this past Sunday. The story we learned about was the story of the ten lepers Jesus healed from Luke 17. Here is an excerpt to bring you up to speed:

“Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” 14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

The typical format of a service like this is for the story to be told in depth by one of our chaplains. Then we tell it to each other. Then the chaplain talks over it again bit by bit while asking us open ended questions that allow us to draw meaning from the passage. Usually she also asks if anyone has experienced anything similar to the story–and almost without fail, someone stands and shares.

This day however, three patients whose wounds I have dressed, shared their testimonies at the beginning of the service and gave praise to God for their healing. Another also shared her testimony at the end.

Here is my journal entry from immediately after the service concluded. I couldn’t get to my cabin fast enough. The tears just started coming.

28 January 2018

After Rose (a patient who previously had a neurofibroma tumor on her face) shared her testimony, she sang this (in French):
“He sees you,
He knows,
If you confide/trust in Him,
He will see you through.”

It was off-pitch and soft, but seeing her closed eyes and hearing her shaking voice give glory to her God was far too beautiful to describe.

Story today: 10 lepers healed in Luke
Exit song: “I Know Who I Am”

Overcome w/ emotion today. When I read through Jesus’ miracles, I don’t really identify with being sick or lame or outcast. But when I listen to a story of Jesus healing people while in the presence of my patients I cannot help but be overwhelmed.

I hear their grateful testimonies (4 today) and am simultaneously overcome with sadness and joy. Grief over their suffering & joy that God is still healing the sick & restoring the outcasts into their communities today.

What I didn’t write about in my entry was the fourth and final testimony. A mama stood after the story was told and shared about her experience of being outcast. When her baby was born, her in-laws said “we don’t know what kind of baby this is but it is not of our family. Get it out of here. Take care of it (unclear what that meant exactly).” Now, after surgery, she is confident that her child will be accepted and she will not have to hide.

If anyone ever asked me, “Kirsten, do you have any experiences similar to being a leper?” It would be a quick “no.” For this reason, I think I  do not easily grasp the depth of Christ’s ministry. He wasn’t just healing physical infirmities.
He was restoring.
He was giving people their lives back.

This is the work he is still doing through us.
This is this work we must do.

And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.
Zephaniah 3:19

Maeva before surgery to help with burn contractures on her left leg and hand.

Maeva, plastics patient, at the HOPE Center in a pretty pink dress and shoes that she couldn’t wear before.

Better Together

The Lifeboat Theory integrated into my personal observations and experience:


These words are only a few that one might associate with the person of Kirsten. The world we live in tends toward chaos. In the midst of that chaos I believe we try to compartmentalize and rank people, explain everything and form an opinion as fast as possible. “I don’t know” is an unacceptable answer to life’s questions and problems. Even worse, not choosing a “side.” After all, life is a mere fight for survival, right?

My amateur observations of people groups (and some influential reading material by Ravi Zacharias and Susan Caine) has brought me to this: As a culture we are ok with “light” and, even, “dark” emotions. But we despise uneasiness and confusion. We love loud, assertive leaders REGARDLESS of where they lead. But we almost despise fact checking, measured response and slow reaction.

Sometimes I feel that we’ve decided to treat life like a game of Fantasy Football. Choose your players and then let’s watch and see which of us picked the “right” ones. Oh, and don’t forget that we must argue along the way about how well OUR choices are doing. All in an effort to prove our worth in the “lifeboat.” I’ll explain the lifeboat analogy later.

I am going to say this once.
And then I’m going to say it again and again and again in different ways.

There are not two sides.

As we loudly proclaim our opinions about guns, the womb, finances, health… many of the more reasonable among us will concede mid-argument, “well, I guess that are two sides to every coin.”

Stop it.
It’s a stupid analogy.

And this is why: it perpetuates the idea that for every possible topic, there are only two options. One is heads and one is tails. One is right and one is wrong. One has value and the other does not.


So let’s start again. Those words at the top to describe me? They don’t describe me. You DON’T know me based on the boxes I tick. And you DON’T get to determine my value based on them either. I bet you have some preconceived notions about my political opinions based on the word “conservative.” Ha! You don’t know me. I grew up in a conservative family in a liberal state…who has met conservatives I disagree with and liberals I agree with. And even those words vary in their definition relative to topic, but somehow we have condensed them into two immovable platforms or “sides of the coin.”

Let me challenge you for a second with this quote from another favorite of mine, Donald Miller in Searching For God Knows What:

“I do not believe a person can take two issues from Scripture, those being abortion and gay marriage, and adhere to them as sins, then neglect much of the rest and call himself a fundamentalist or even a conservative. The person who believes the sum of his morality involves gay marriage and abortion alone, and neglects health care and world trade and the environment and loving his neighbor and feeding the poor is, by definition, a theological liberal, because he takes what he wants from Scripture and ignores the rest.”

I think we should be self-aware of the labels placed on us (by ourselves or others). I also think we should be willing to challenge the things we accept because of them. I’ll use a personal and pretty embarrassing example. I tend to vote Republican. However, I’m not thrilled with our current choice of President. In a dreamy conversation about other people (maybe even a woman!) who might make a good president, my friend Kate mentioned Michelle Obama. And my reaction was, “Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really trust her.” Like it came out of my mouth so fast. Her response, “why?” Guys, I couldn’t answer. I was appalled at myself. I had just blurted out an unfounded opinion of a person. That is definitely the wrong kind of judgmental. Eventually I remembered that soon after Barrack was elected, my “conservative” acquantainces on Facebook were digging up and slinging as much mud as they could find. I now vaguely remember some opinion piece about Michelle being a Muslim, Black elitist with ulterior motives. Gosh, the conservative base really demonized them. The world was going to end. The Obamas were the anti-christs and our nation was going to enforce Muslim law. Although I remember rolling my eyes at the drama and telling people to calm down, I silently accepted the loud opinions of my “conservative” label. Be willing to challenge your own opinions. Is it YOUR opinion? Or have you only regurgitated someone else’s? I admit, that is the easier route. It is always easier to agree with someone who affirms your value than it is to disagree with them and risk rejection.

Donald Miller poses a question to one of his friends:

“Let’s say I was an alien and I had to go back to my home planet and explain to some head-of-the-aliens guy about what people on this planet were like.” I told Grant I would say to the head alien, “The thing that defines human personalities is that they are constantly comparing themselves to one another.” […] “Humans, as a species, are constantly, and in every way, comparing themselves to one another, which, given the brief nature of their existence, seems an oddity and, for that matter, a waste. Nevertheless, this is the driving influence behind every human’s social development, their emotional health and sense of joy, and, sadly, their greatest tragedies. it is as though something that helped them function and live well has gone missing, and they are pining for that missing thing in all sorts of odd methods, none of which are working. The greater tragedy is that very few people understand they have the disease. This seems strange as well because it is obvious. To be sure, it is killing them, and yet sustaining their social and economic systems. They are an entirely beautiful people with a terrible problem.”

You know what? I agree with the alien. We are a beautiful people with a terrible problem. Comparison and ranking. Always striving to attain more worth for ourselves.

[…] it caused me to wonder if this thing that makes us compare ourselves is what happened at the Fall. It occurred to me that what the alien was saying made sense because now that God was gone, now that He wasn’t around [like in the Garden] to help us feel that we were loved and important and good, we were looking for it in each other, in a jury of peers.”

For every word describing me, there is an obvious opposite. And the more opposite qualities a person has to you, the more of an opponent or enemy they are…right? Although I think we tend to assume this, admitting and recognizing value in someone different does not somehow diminish our own.

As you can see, I read a fair bit. It is by reading material from across the spectrum and interacting with people across that spectrum that I have come to the conclusion that the “two sides” thing is a misnomer. We’re all complex humans, not coins!

Let me introduce a new idea:
The Lifeboat Theory as told by (you guessed it) Donald Miller

“When I was a kid in elementary school my teacher, Mrs. Wunch, asked our class a question that […] went: “If there were a lifeboat adrift at sea, and in the lifeboat were a male lawyer, a female doctor, a crippled child, a stay-at-home mom, and a garbageman, and one person had to be thrown overboard to save the others, which person would we choose?” I don’t remember which person we threw out of the boat. […] I do remember, however, that the class did not hesitate in deciding who had value and who didn’t. The idea that all people are equal never came up. As I was saying before, we knew this sort of thing intrinsically. Or at least we thought we did.”

What disturbs me most about this tendency in professed Christ-followers is that we have been specifically warned that it is unwise to compare.  2 Corinthians 10:12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. Despite, God’s acceptance of us and provision for us… we continue to fight to keep our place and our status. Indeed, what status could matter except our title of sons and daughters of God?

[…] “The thing is, if people are in a lifeboat, the reason they feel passionately about being a good person and all is because if they aren’t, they are going to be thrown overboard; they are going to be killed. I realize that sounds grim, but I kept comparing, in my mind, the conversation that might take place in a  lifeboat with the conversations I heard at Palio or at Horse Brass [people talking about their status, who they liked or didn’t like]. Because when you really think about it, these wants we have, like wanting to be right, wanting to be good, wanting to be perceived as humble, wanting to be important to people and wanting to be loved, feel perilous, as though by not getting them something terrible is going to happen. People wouldn’t get upset about being disrespected if there weren’t some kind of penalty in play.”

[…] “That is pretty crazy because somebody cutting in front of you [on the road or in line] is only going to cost you a second, but it feels like something more; it feels like there is a penalty for not being respected by other people, it feels like you are going to die unless you get some kind of respect and appreciation.”

“If Jesus was coming from a place where all emotional needs were met by God, His social economy would be shocking and different as the social economy in the Garden […] His values would be different.

[…] He (Jesus) had hunger and thirst and He slept and rested, but He had no regard for the lifeboat politics you and I live within every day. He believed a great deal of absurd ideas, such as we should turn the other cheek if somebody hits us, we should give somebody our coat even if they just ask for our shirt, we should be willing to give up all our money and follow HIm, we should try our hardest to make peace, we should treat poor people the same as we treat the rich, we should lay down our lives for our friends, and so on and so on. It seemed He believed we should take every opportunity to fail in the lifeboat game, not for the sake of failing, but because there wasn’t anything to win in the first place. It was as if He didn’t believe the economy we live within had validity. No part of Him was deceived by its power.”

The two main points you need to understand from the above mishmash of quotes is:
Our fallen system is bent on defining our worth in the Lifeboat from a jury of our peers, but the Lifeboat doesn’t exist! God has parted the sea (despite our sin) and provided us safe passage on dry ground. Truly, God is the only one who gets to tell us who we are and how valued we are. Spoiler alert: what God loves he values. “For God so loved the world…” John 3:16

How dare we diminish the value of another (even unconsciously) when God himself has already defined it by His sacrificial love.

*This is probably the logical end of this blog, but I didn’t want to end on an accusing note. If this topic is intriguing you, please take a moment to consider your labels and the people in your life who are different than you. Then feel free to keep reading as I flesh out why we are “better together.”*

Better Together:

Gosh, if traveling the world has taught me ANYTHING, it’s this:

  1. I love my opposites. And I need them too.
  2. I identify more with the edge of a coin that the side of one
    (if we must keep the coin analogy, might as well change it)

In this next section I am going to talk about myself and my opposites. While this is by no means exhaustive, I hope it lends a glimpse into our need for less division and more unity. This world would be drab and dimensionless if it was made up of only people like me.

So I’m white. In my case, I’m also from a “cold climate” culture where efficiency is king, time is money and achievement is the point. My enemy is NOT the dark-skinned “warm climate” culture where relationship is king, there is always time and family is the point. I need them in this world to remind me that the kingdom of God is eternal and parts of my culture will only achieve for me worthless riches. They need me to remind them that we work for God and not for man, so we should be excellent in all we do.

So I’m a woman. That puts me at a disadvantage, but of course my whiteness partly makes up for that in this world. Statistically, 1 out of 4 of my sisters will be sexually assaulted. The majority of politicians and CEO’s in America are male. My enemy is not men. I need them to see the inherent, not intrinsic value of a woman and keep those around them accountable to that. I need them to lift up and draw upon the wisdom of the women around them. They need me to see the world through different eyes. They need me to remind them of their role “to guard and to keep.” They need me to present solutions that have never crossed their minds. They need me to speak. I need them to sit in the front row and nod their encouragement.

So I’m a Christian. The church around the world is suffering bodily harm (still) for their faith at the hands of those in other religions. The church in the U.S. is frequently attacked for not condoning homosexuality. My enemy is not Muslim. My enemy is not gay. Their existence does not offend me. Instead, it inspires my compassion as I draw closer to Jesus. He denied his deity and became human. He sacrificed his dignity and his life for the CHANCE, that any who look to Him would be able to be a part of something more transcendent than themselves. And he did it all knowing that some would look…and not follow. That reminds me that I must love regardless of response.

“I began to wonder if what we were doing it evangelical circles had more to do with redeeming ourselves to culture than it did with showing Jesus to a hurting world, a world literally filled with outcasts.” Donald Miller, Searching For God Knows What

So I’m introverted. I can spend an entire day alone and not mind. I study without music. Small talk runs me down faster than an intense workout. After I spend time with people, I crave time alone to recharge. I feel like I often express myself better in writing than in anything else. I think long and hard before I make decisions. I collect data. I examine the pros and cons. Multi-tasking is overstimulating for me. However, my enemy is not extroverts. They, also, make up the majority of CEO’s. They take up the most air-time in conversations, are charismatic, full of energy and make quick decisions. Although we perceive these types to be better leaders, it is often only because of our image infatuated culture and the “extrovert ideal”. Making a quick, clear decision is favored over making a better, slow decision. (See how it all comes full-circle? Our “extrovert ideal” practically explains why we chronically jump to snap decisions and solutions. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking about it. Just make an assertive left turn and own it.”)

So I’m ________ political party affiliated. I take personal responsibility for my life and actions. I manage my finances well. So, I basically think that others (and the government) should do the same. I think government is necessary, but that they pretty much stink at running things effectively (haha I wrote this before the government shut down in January). I think the private sector should be in charge of lots of things because business competition leads to innovation and better ways of doing things. Instead, government stagnates. These opinions place me in the conservative category. My grandpas would be proud. However, I also don’t immediately agree with several other stances on the conservative platform. Abortions. I don’t want to ban them. I mean I do for moral reasons, but I think there is a much better conversation to be had about regulating and limiting them to a greater extent. For example, I want the government to stop funding an organization that is wrought with unethical practices (I’m not even speaking in terms of morality). I think if abortions are going to happen, they should be in the light. In regular hospitals. Not clinics in the hood. I also think that organizations such as CareNet should be promoted and more highly utilized. Because crisis pregnancy counseling is a humane act that gives dignity to both mother and child, and organizations like this do an excellent job of actually showing a mother what her REAL options are. Another topic: welfare. Generally conservatives hate it and think it should basically not exist anymore. I agree and disagree. I think welfare is a crutch and that it is 100% the government’s fault for not having a plan to phase out or scale back after The  Great Depression resolved. Now that we are in this predicament, I think there should be finance counseling for those in government housing and assistance in transitioning people into better situations that are not dependent on the government (and my tax dollars). I know people who have been put in a financially difficult situation because they started to earn more money….just enough that their government housing became more expensive without warning. So much for saving up and moving out! Guns. I think they are a necessary part of our culture, but I am repulsed at the apathy that nothing is to be done about the numbers of recent violations and abuses of the right to bear arms. I think something must be done, but that it will take an open-minded person/s to find what that thing is.

In many ways, I and basically any other human are conditioned to believe that we should fit neatly into descriptive boxes and “forsake all others.” Let’s just suppose that there is an evil in the world that seeks to overtake good. Sounds like he/it has a pretty well-implemented “divide and conquer” strategy already in play. Are we going to let that type of division rule our assumptions and interactions with others?

I am a woman who needs men, a Christian who needs the unchurched and an introvert who needs extroverts. I believe the inverse is true as well in almost every category by which we define ourselves.

I suppose much of this is simply opinion, so I’d like to share a couple more things that influenced my mind to believe that my life is better when it is lived in harmony with others and not enmity to my opposites.

The first is the story of two well-known individuals. Their differences worked symbiotically to make history!

“Montgomery, Alabama. December 1, 1955. Early evening. A public bus pulls to a stop and a sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on. She carries herself erectly, despite having spent the day bent over an ironing board in a dingy basement tailor shop at the Montgomery Fair department store. Her feet are swollen, her shoulders ache. She sits in the first row of the Colored section and watches quietly as the bus fills with riders. Until the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger.

The woman utters a single word that ignites one of the of the most important civil rights protests of the twentieth century, one word that helps America find its better self.

The word is “No.”
The driver threatens to have her arrested.
“You may do that,” says Rosa Parks.
A police officer arrives. He asks Parks why she won’t move.
“Why do you all push us around?” she answers simply.
“I don’t know,” he says. “But the law is the law, and you’re under arrest.”

On the afternoon of her trial and conviction for disorderly conduct, the Montgomery Improvement Association holds a rally for Parks at the Holt Street Baptist Church, in the poorest section of town. Five thousand gather to support Parks’s lonely act of courage. They squeeze inside the church until its pews can hold no more. The rest wait patiently outside, listening through loudspeakers. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd. “There comes a time that people get tired of being trampled over by the iron feet of oppression,” he tells them. “There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amidst the piercing chill of an Alpine November.”

He praises Parks’s bravery and hugs her. She stands silently, her mere presence enough to galvanize the crowd. The association launches a citywide bus boycott that lasts  381 days. The people trudge miles to work. They carpool with strangers. They change the course of American history.
As with other complimentary pairings–masculinity and femininity, East and West, liberal and conservative–humanity would be unrecognizable, and vastly diminished, without both personality types [introvert and extrovert].

Take the partnership of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr.: a formidable orator refusing to give up his seat on a segregated bus wouldn’t have had the same effect as a modest woman who’d clearly prefer to keep silent but for the exigencies of the situation. And Parks didn’t have the stuff to thrill a crowd if she’d tried to stand up and announce that she had a dream. But with King’s help, she didn’t have to.”

The second is a speech that inspired me. I’ve heard some people pick apart the words like they’re grading a paper, but I sure would not like that done to me. So, for my sake, take a listen. And note the acknowledgement that unity is what it takes to create change in this world.

Speech Speech Speech!

We are better together.

So let’s stop obsessing about being redeemed by a jury of our peers. We are all equally loved and valued by God. And nobody needs to be voted out of the lifeboat. We are on dry ground.

Speaking of boats, here are some photos of my ship Home!

How to Have a Better Year

3 January 2018

I am fortunate that I have rarely ever defined an entire year of my life a “good” or “bad” year. It just was. I’m a cynic like that sometimes.

I am also an analytic. I love to track progress and check off lists and be productive! However, as I have matured through my relationship with God, I have come to realize that those checklists (while useful) do not necessarily have eternal worth. So, the only way I really care to summarize my year is this: I obeyed. I loved. I moved forward.

I think God probably looks at everything else in between and goes,
“Oh how cute! ANOTHER stick figure drawing of me and…is that a T-rex?”
“It’s a lamb.”
“Right, right of course! A drawing of me and a lamb. Got it. Very nice hunny.”
He is a loving Father. He loves our pure efforts to love and please Him, but I think we all need to take it down a notch on how great our stick-figure accomplishments are.

I obeyed. I loved. I moved forward.
Is there anything else really worth saying?

As a child of God, every year isn’t “my year.”
It’s His year. And His will.
As a child of God, I happen to inherit whatever that means. All of the glory and all of the suffering.

“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” Philippians 3

So let’s not stew too long on our past “good” or “bad” year.

Let’s keep our focus on the Kingdom of God.
Let’s move forward in obedience and love.
And maybe let’s upgrade our crayons.

Bonne année du Cameroun,

May Love Make You Whole

Greetings from Cameroon!

It’s been a few years since I last wrote the family Christmas letter, and today I feel inspired to write one for myself. I am not really sure why. With the advent of social media, everyone gets to brag about their kids (and themselves) all the time. If you follow me at all, you’ve seen my “Transformation Tuesday” posts and my blogs about patients in Madagascar, Benin and Cameroon. Writing this will likely reach the exact same audience. So I suppose, I’m simply writing for myself.

Two years ago, I embarked on my first overseas flight with a racing heart. I was stepping into the future I had planned for so long, but I was so nervous. I knew it was exactly what I was supposed to be doing, but I felt so unprepared. As I got my first glimpses of financial poverty through experience with Mercy Ships, I also found richness of relationships. I was heartbroken by stories of hardship and tragedy, but also caught off-guard by beauty. Over the last two years I have seen miracles, incredible faith and courage, countercultural commitment, and a wealth that I envy. I have witnessed love make people whole again.

Let me put it in these terms. Your financial situation is not what makes you whole. Your health situation is not what makes you whole. Love is what makes you whole.

I attended a dress ceremony a bit ago here on the ship. This is when the women with longstanding obstetric fistulas (google VVF) and crew gather and celebrate their healing. The women are prepared for the celebration with a beautiful new dress and all the accessories. After they dance their way into the room of awaiting attendees, they each get the opportunity to share their testimony/give thanks. Most of them are similar. I suffered for X amount of years. I found out about Mercy Ships. Thank you to the doctors, nurses and God for my healing. AND I’ve never experienced love like this before. One woman testified, “When I came onto this ark, I met angels. Angels that took care of me and loved me day and night. I feel like falling sick again so I can come back.” Effective surgery healed these women’s bodies, but love—love made them whole again.

Do not pity the people of Africa. I pity us. We are people driven by lust (of everything) and exhausted by pursuit. We are relationally malnourished. There is no special plant or NGO to combat this famine. The sickness is in our hearts and minds. In a culture—like Africa—  that acknowledges the very real presence of a spirit world, I see the supernatural take place. However, in a nation that avoids the mystical, I see more subversive tactics of the enemy. He whispers into our minds and plants seeds of deception that we nourish. It is no mystery to me why we struggle more with mental illness than most “poor” Africans I have met. We fail to admit that our enemy is real and unrelenting in his mission to destroy. And even worse, we fail to admit our need for an even stronger Messiah.

Very soon we will celebrate the birth of Jesus, but did you know that December 25th is not actually the day of His birth? It is the day that the Three Kings/Wise Men discovered him. Consider this. Our Savior is alive. Has been! But that is not quite enough. We need to find him for ourselves. This Christmas as you give gifts to others just as the wise men gave gifts to Jesus, remember that believing a Savior is at the other end of a bright star in the sky isn’t the point. Don’t just believe. Go find Him this Christmas; and give him the gifts of your heart, soul, mind and strength. He is the only thing that can save us from ourselves.

24 ‘May the Lord bless you
and protect you.
25 May the Lord smile on you
and be gracious to you.
26 May the Lord show you his favor
and give you his peace.’ Numbers 6

And may LOVE make you whole as you seek Him above ALL else.

I wish you a very merry Christmas,

Kirsten Murphy

Hospital chaplain Clementine Tengue dressing one of the OBF patient for the ceremony
Hospital chaplain Clementine Tengue dressing one of the OBF patient for the ceremony
Hospital chaplain Clementine Tengue dressing one of the OBF patient for the ceremony
Dress ceremony in E ward
Dress ceremony in E ward
Dress ceremony in E ward
Dress ceremony in E ward
Dress ceremony in E ward

P.s. Just in case you actually wanted a summary of my year:

Did my first solo travel exploring Belgium and acquiring a taste for quality beer and waffles. Experienced Christmas culture shock when I came home from Benin. Went on a few dates. Put so much effort into connecting with a community. (It’s so much easier on the ship.) Got more involved at church painting, coffeeing, small-group leading, decorating, greeting, singing, praying etc. Spent a lot of time re-developing relationships with my sisters. Snow skied a LOT. Starting dating someone 🙂 Discovered that I really love a good telling of a true story. Attended my first music festival. Got really attached to a neighbor’s cat, Lionel. Wholly enjoyed small home improvement projects. Explored Acadia for the first time with my family. Came back  to Mercy Ships and jumped into all the things that go on here in the hospital and in the community. I LOVE serving. Currently really missing peanut butter (it’s coming soon), fresh milk, hard cheese and…snow. It has been a great year!

She is fierce. Meet Marie Therese

19 October 2017
Douala, Cameroon

During the last week of orthopedic surgeries this year, I met an 11-year-old patient whose spirit inspired me. Her name is Marie Therese. From the moment her plaster cast was reinforced with fiberglass and she was allowed out of bed, she has shown her grit and determination. Even in bed, she does her leg exercises without being told and rarely complains.

Watching her hoist her two long-leg, heavy casts out of bed–gosh, you should have seen it. Just picture a seesaw made out of concrete, but with the fulcrum at one end of the plank instead of the middle. Now picture those concrete seesaw planks are your legs.
So, when I say she hoisted her legs out of bed, I really mean it. Out of bed…into the bathroom… up and down the hallway…back into bed…over and over again.

Her upper body strength was a big contributor of course–her defined triceps were something to be admired–but I just felt that there was something more to it. There was something unbreakable in her spirit.

I asked her as she took yet another walk that day, “What is the first thing you’re going to do when you get these casts off?” She replied, “Walk straight into school!”
“That’s pretty cool,” I thought, “maybe she has never been to school.” After some questioning by a few of the day crew (our translators), they found out that she had already completed grade six and would soon be able to take her exam to progress from primary school to “pre-secondary” school. A significant accomplishment judging from the expressions on their faces.

They were impressed.
I was astounded.

Many children drop out when the bullying starts regarding their bent legs. Marie Therese had persisted in her studies–not knowing if her physical situation would ever change. What a lesson in faith for all of us!

And now that her circumstance has changed, she isn’t sitting back on her haunches. She is pursuing her goals and dreams full force–this time, on straight legs. Indeed, nothing can hold her back.

She is my hero.

She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks. Proverbs 31:17

Ward nurse Kirsten Murphy with one of her patients

Meet Ulrich

16 September 2017
Douala, Cameroon

Entry from my journal:

“Finally worked a bit more this past week! It was so great to interact with patients more. (Cleaning gets old pretty fast.) I was Ulrich’s nurse yesterday. I sat next to his bed on a stool as I charted, and he saw his preop medical photos. He asked if he could take them when he goes home… this boy, twelve years old hasn’t even taken his first steps on straight legs yet and he is already envisioning a future where he will need photos to remind him of his crooked-legged past.
What faith.
And what a blessing to be able to walk through this process with him. I told him that I was happy to see the work God was doing in his legs, and I told him that I hoped that w/ this new healing he would serve God with his new legs. His face got serious and he gave a small nod. God I pray that you bring healing and flexion/function that we didn’t think was possible. Amen.”

Do you remember Ulrich?! I posted about him on my Instagram story a couple times asking for prayers. His case was severe and his outcome was hard to predict because we simply do not see untreated orthopedic abnormalities like this back home.
His knees had been dislocated since birth. This would have been a simple fix in infancy, but now his body had grown to the size of a young man. It never had to come to this.
Despite all that, I am thrilled to report that through multiple surgeries and LOTS of rehab, he can walk on his own two feet. He can stand tall.

The first time he stood on his newly straight legs, physical therapist Robyn Porep said, “he reached his hands up to see if he could touch the ceiling.” And the first time he walked, it was straight into his mother’s embrace. The first time he had been able to hug her standing tall.

Ulrich even gave his old wooden walking sticks to Dr. Frank Haydon (pictured) as a gift. He wouldn’t need them anymore.

Do you want to be a part of this adventure? Sponsor an orthopedic surgery here: The Lame Walk

“Jesus told them, “Go back to John and tell him what you have heard and seen— the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” Matthew 11:4-6

This is the mission of Jesus: reconciliation.
Turning around the consequences of a broken world. On earth as it is in heaven.

Dr. James Lau and Frank Haydon, Orthopedic Surgeons, performing and operation.

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. 19 For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. 20 So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” 2 Corinthians 5:18-20