Category Archives: Travel Stories

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!

Look Before You Leap

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Jumping to conclusions–it is quite a natural thing. All throughout the day, our brain is collecting information and constructing facts. From these “facts” we make thousands of decisions. In a high-paced, information-saturated, over-loaded culture, like the one I grew up in, we construct these facts and make these decisions probably faster than we ought. And there is hardly any margin in our lives to question these things.

I am really struggling to write this piece, because as I write I am questioning my ability to adequately portray something that has become an important topic of internal conversation to me. We have a saying on the ship. “It’s not wrong, just different.” It is a saying partly about life and nursing on the ship, but even more so about living in and embracing another culture. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but I don’t know if I could ever snap enough photos or write enough words to describe a culture. Honestly, I know my knowledge of West African culture is minimal at best. Culture is multifaceted, and I only have two eyes.

If you look in one direction only, your neck will become stiff.
-Cameroonian proverb

What I cannot help seeing, however, are the differences.

My plea to anyone new to a different culture is this: don’t jump.
We are bound to identify different aspects of a culture, yes. However, we do not have to put those things into the “wrong” category. Is it unusual to our culture to use an unplugged electrical extension cord as a rope or clothesline–yup. Is it wrong–well, no. In fact, it works just fine. Don’t jump to conclusions.

Is it unusual to our culture to weave through traffic with total disregard for lanes and no use of turn-signals–yup. Is it unusual to stop in the middle of the street to buy new windshield wipers and get them installed while a line of cars build up behind you–yup. Is it unusual to our culture to see a woman pull her (entire) boob out in public to feed or pacify her crying baby–yup. Is it unusual to our culture to carry trays of delicious beignets on our heads–yup. Is it unusual to our culture for a neighbor to accompany a child to the hospital because no family are alive/available to do so–yup.

Although each of these things are different, not a single on is actually wrong. Some may even be better. If we are willing to enter a culture to learn and not to fix, we are much more likely to actually serve it well. We at Mercy Ships are here to serve the world’s poor, not to command it. Many, many things are different. However, we should ask to gain a heart of understanding.

Pride in our own ways will bring about more than just our own destruction, but those of others as well.

Seeking to hear and understand another person BEFORE we aim to teach them anything will make them more receptive as well. Re-evaluate your presuppositions of right and wrong–then walk and serve humbly.

Thus far, I have not truly written to my “home audience.” Many of my readers are from my home country and culture. So, how is any of the above applicable to you? This is the question I have been pondering:

Have I been too quick to assign right/wrong to the culture of those in our American “hoods”? I’m not saying that crime, unemployment, fatherlessness, and drugs are acceptable and good. These are the “bad” things we immediately associate with a “bad neighborhood.” [Although they, of course, are present to an extent in any/every neighborhood.] Regardless of the original intent of “project” neighborhoods, families are not using them primarily as temporary housing before saving up enough to “get on their feet.” People have become stuck here. Now, people willingly choose to stay. The life within the hood, has become a way of life to many–not a stepping stone TO a “better” life. As a result, these communities now have a culture all their own.

A mocker seeks wisdom and never finds it, but knowledge comes easily to those with understanding. Proverbs 14:6

Although there are fairly obvious “wrong” things we often see in these communities, there must also be some things that are simply different and NOT wrong. If we (Christians) are supposed to go into all the world and make disciples, how do we do it…THERE. These are the places right under our noses. We happily send missionaries to Africa, but where are the missionaries to the American ghettos? Hopefully they’re already there. Hopefully the work has already begun and is slowly starting to take root. Hopefully they are only behind-the-scenes because there aren’t any charity commercials talking about the needs in our own country (unless of course it’s about a scared, hungry dog–don’t even get me started).

As I seek to understand and serve with humility the needs in front of me here, I pray that those “in the field” back home would do the same. Wherever your own two feet are planted today, there is your mission field. I pray that, in faith, your feet would walk into unfamiliar places in your own backyard. I pray for hearts that seek to understand before mouths open to speak. I pray for receptive hearts that will answer your inquisitive questions. I pray for partners who are “locals” from the people group God has led you to serve. I could not do my job in the hospital (very well) without my amazing translators and local chaplains who understand the culture.

Programs and charities already exist that give money, computers, mentorship and other pleasant little gifts to “the inner-city,” but I have an inkling that what they need is something money cannot buy.

I don’t know exactly how this would look at home.
[Bringing hope and healing isn’t so easy, even with a fairly well-known surgical ship. Months and months of negotiations and preparation occurs before our floating hospital can sail into port.]
I have some crazy ideas that may be just that (crazy), but so was quitting my job and flying halfway across the world.

So…the sky’s the limit! Or is it?

I hope this post left you pondering and challenged as I am. Funny enough, I wrote this post yesterday afternoon before a meeting that provided the crew with a medical overview of the needs in this particular country and how we have actually asked the Cameroonians how we can best help them. Pretty cool. Steve Shwind onboard has done a great job of orienting us all to the culture at each Thursday meeting. To bring you a little chuckle, let me share this video with you that was shown at the start of our meeting. Years ago a band released a single to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia: A well-intentioned, but pretty ignorant song about Africa. In response, a band from South Africa released a parody video with changed lyrics that is both ridiculous and hilarious. It really shows you what it might be like to jump to conclusions and give “help” based on your own personal idea of someone else’s need. Check it out: Africa for Norway

Also, if you have heard of any events, churches or charities that are making a real difference in your local projects/inner-city communities, please comment about them below so that I or anyone reading this post can get educated and involved. Thank you so much!


August 20th, 2017

Sometimes, travelling makes me ponder life and purpose. Looking around at all the different types of people going places. Are they going home? On vacation? Humanitarian aide? I overheard one woman (with quite a big rock on her finger) talking about how she was sent to Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. What was her story? I sat next to an elderly African mama dressed in louder dress than I would ever dare. What had her eyes seen?

Yeah and that’s as far as I got so far. I’ve been successfully catnapping for most of my travels—which is awesome! Now, with two and half hours to go I am finally awake enough to form some (hopefully) coherent thoughts.

It’s kind of mind-blowing that this is my third trip over the ocean. Two years ago I had never been out of the country for more than a Niagara Falls drive-by. My relationship with Mercy Ships started as an almost whimsical adventure, and now is an exercise in faith, compassion and constant learning. Gosh, I was so naïve when I started out. I envisioned 7-day work weeks and being the least experienced nurse on board. I felt just a bit like a fraud. What did I know? My experience in each of their surgical specialties was minimal at best. Was I way over my head? Would they shame me for knowing absolutely no French?

Turns out, the work-life balance was, well, a lot more balanced than I imagined. I did have enough nursing experience. Oh, and we work with local day crew who help with translation. Truth be told, Mercy Ships is just as life-transforming as I thought it would be. However, it has changed ME in ways that I didn’t see coming.

If I could summarize what my experience has changed in me, it would be Perspective and Priorities. I have continued my education in the realm of experience, and I am not sure I can express it in a meaningful way. I’ve shied away from attempting this for quite some time, but today I will give it a try.


Perspective gained through experience has changed things I thought I knew. I thought I had a grasp on God’s sovereignty. I thought I had a grasp on politics. I thought I had a grasp on my place in the world.


Observing third-world Christians in action taught me priorities I thought I had a handle on. Observing my brothers and sisters with vastly different life-experiences challenged my knowledge and application of scripture. Falling in love with the team/community/mission of Mercy Ships shaped my goals. Working alongside long-term volunteers who were single, married, families or retired challenged my definition of sacrifice.


Real-talk, I was so in denial about ethnocentrism until I realized how little I knew of any other country’s history, issues, concerns, and elections. I still don’t know as much as I would like, but at least now I know that important things are happening outside of my home’s borders. I had an overall sense that God was omnipresent, but I will never forget the first local church service I attended in Madagascar. [I wrote a blog about it, titled “Closest Thing to Heaven.” I put the link at the bottom of this post.] I mean, it all sounds a bit ridiculous, but even the children’s song “He Holds the Whole World in His Hands”—did I not believe that? Maybe I knew it in my head, but my knowledge could not take the place of seeing and experiencing. Knowledge is something I love. I love to have it, I love to gain it, I love to share it. However, it’s all just a bit incomplete without the experience to verify its truth in the real-world—OUTSIDE of my head.

I’m not going to make any comments about American politics because it’s just not worth it, and…wait for it…it’s just not all that important. Somehow the imminent apocalypse predicted to accompany the last two presidents haven’t been any more than emotional tidal waves of exaggeration. Darn it, I talked about American politics. What I’m trying to get at is this. When African nations have elections, did you know a large point of scrutiny is whether or not a candidate has spent time in France? Did you know that fear of being puppeted and manipulated by long-distance colonists is still an active and legitimate concern? Did you know that Boko Haram is a larger threat in African nations than the “tribal disturbances” we may think of? Many of those “civil wars” are instigated by those in power so that they can manipulate the global view of a country as “unstable” for selfish gain? Africa is a beautiful continent, rich in mismanaged resources—the same can be said of its people.

I have learned that my place on the socioeconomic totem pole was not earned (despite Americanized views of success), but rather given. I have been granted an enormous, unmerited gift—and I’m talking about more than salvation. Salvation grants me eternal life after my body dies, but in this life…I was born, a woman, in 1990, in the U.S of A. (I am not speaking ill of any other country, only just stating the fact of where I was born. Many of the things I am about to say could also be said of other “first-world” countries.)
I was born into a culture and a family that valued my life, thoughts, and existence. I gained a 4-year degree in nursing, immediate job experience, and eventually supported myself financially without a spouse. None of these things were gained through any true hardship, only a bit of perseverance. To many of you that sounds normal, but to a whole world of people, it is absolutely not. These facts haven’t made me better than anyone else, but they sure have given me power and responsibility. The question truly is, “what will I do with this gift?” When I give account to God for how I used my life, did I, to quote Jon Foreman, “live it well?”
Link to the song: Live It Well


Climate control. In the realm of sociology, certain cultures are categorized as “warm culture” and “cold culture.” This is not actually a statement of a country’s geographical climate, but rather the climate of its culture. I was born into a “cold culture.” Being efficient and timely is important–not only important, supreme. I have now lived several times in a “warm culture.” Relationships in every area of life are important–not only important, supreme. And being late is not something that would strain a relationship here. In the states, yes. Schedules run tight and there’s rarely any margin to, for example, stop and chat with you uncle’s cousin on the side of the road. In summary, storing up wealth is not nearly as important here as storing up friends. I’ve taken bits of that home with me, but my “cold climate culture” has a way of seeping in even still. I’m frankly not interested in the “rat race” anymore, but I still feel forced to participate when I’m home. In Africa, it’s relationships over everything; and I can’t help thinking they’re onto something. What riches last into eternity? Certainly not wealth.

“Not wrong, just different.” It’s hard to continue in a mindset of black/white and right/wrong when you begin learning about the 40+ different cultures on board. Although I believe in universal truths, I have learned that those truths can be expressed or acted on differently based on the reality of the culture. At work for example, nurses from other countries have different ways of doing things. And oftentimes, its not wrong–just different. It’s a frequent refrain heard around the ship as we each encounter differences in one another.

Seeing my life from a different perspective and making my priorities based  on a different system has made me question almost everything about my daily routine  and my longterm goals. As Judah Smith puts it, “God thinks your career is cute.” But will I spend my life working in the direction of the ultimate resolution of this world’s suffering—Christ’s soon return? Is my life worth anything unless it’s spent doing THAT work? Even on a mission this good, my hope is in the direction of Jesus’ homecoming– when he will come and make everything right and new. No injustice will remain. Suffering will be over. Hope will be fully realized. Healing will be complete.

I’m back onboard this big, beautiful hospital ship again. Yet even here, I know this home is temporary. Here I will do His work as we await His soon return.

Closest Thing to Heaven

Shifting timezones: What time is it? Game time.

Click here for the basis for my title 🙂


Now let’s get serious:

Sometime’s I can get so wrapped up in the details of planning that I have to consciously stop and live the day I’m in. Other days I’m so scared to approach the future that all I want to do is focus on what is right in front of me.

Today I am faced with both. I have a genuine need for deeper relationships and more established ministry here, but God has called me to leave “home” …again.
Today, I am faced with the sacrifice that it is to pursue God’s next step for me. This time, there is very little “unknown.” This time, I know what I’m getting into (with joy!), but I also know what exactly I’m sacrificing.


Today, I would appreciate all of YOUR prayers. At the end of this summer, I will pack up and ship out to volunteer with Mercy Ships! When I return, I will have missed a couple weddings and milestones of my friends’ children, but I will see my sisters play their last year of high school tennis TOGETHER, I’ll watch one sister graduate, I’ll attend a couple weddings and before I know it a whole year will have gone by.

God has promised me that he will supply ALL my needs–not only the physical/financial needs, but also the needs of my soul. This is a truth I know in my head that is still en route to my heart.


Today, I would love for you to pause with me, look to God, and in faith look ahead…to the fulfillment of all that God has promised.
Please stand next to me,
Hold up my shaking arms,
And watch God’s work unfold!


I will be departing one home for another home this August, I’ll be returning to the States in April, and I will continue to follow God’s gentle leading through life “all the way Home, Kirsten, all the way Home.


P.s. For anyone who also feels compelled to assist financially, I will share that link online as soon as it is setup. I need all the help I can get. Thank you!

*Edit*: There are two funds you may give to. One is for my personal expenses on board and the other covers the fees I have to pay to the organization for the privilege of volunteering 🙂

Beautiful Ruins, More Beautiful Eternity

This post has been quite a long time coming. My heart has been busting at the seams  and empty at the same time. Home is such a relative term, and I still feel less at home here in the states than I do halfway across the world. However, it is against my nature to stop learning, and I have definitely continued in my quest to be a healthier and more Spirit led person. This has been a trying time for me, and sometimes I take that to mean that my gift of teaching has to be put on pause. Well, pause over. Blogging is one outlet for my desire to share knowledge (and hopefully some wisdom too). I cannot wait to start speaking to a more “visible” audience soon, but for now…enjoy this post.

So as some of you know, I was able to explore Italy in November for a week with some girlfriends. We hit Rome,  Sorrento, Capri, Pompeii, and Venice! It was a physically exhausting week for sure, but just so incredible. Rome was at the beginning of our trip, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Rome is self-named “the eternal city”, and for good reason! There are visual reminders of history there that occurred while the early church was booming and as they were persecuted for their faith. Since, I’m from a fairly new developed country, history going that far back is mind-blowing to me. As a looked, learned about, and photographed the remaining ruins of the ancient Roman world I started to put together this revelation:

If we marvel and call “beautiful” the ruins of world that clearly isn’t eternal, how much more beautiful and amazing will the new Jerusalem be?! How awe-struck will we be when we see a city designed by God that really WILL last forever?! I imagine a crowd of us with our lower jaws hanging as we stare, mesmerized by the one true “eternal city.”

“And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. 11 It shone with the glory of God, and its brilliance was like that of a very precious jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.” Revelation 21:10-11

 “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[a] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:3-5

Before all that happens though, consider this:
When we accept Christ into our hearts and become a child of God, our eternal life starts right away…but we don’t have to wait to start participating in the eternal. As children of God, we become royalty by adoption. As a result, we are privileged and charged to take part in the everlasting kingdom of God HERE and NOW on earth!

They tell of the glory of your kingdom
    and speak of your might,
12 so that all people may know of your mighty acts
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures through all generations.
Psalm 145:11-13

As you start this new year filled with new resolve, don’t stare too closely at what is right in front of you. Whether its a deadline, a temptation, the mirror, financial goals, the scal, or anything else. Look beyond.

 “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

That said, here are some photos of Rome. As you take in the beauty of what is passing away, be filled with wonder as you think about the beauty we are able to encounter and the beauty we have yet to witness. Oh, and thank God that he wired us to even appreciate beauty! This world is full of it!

View my album here:



The Light of Life

December 13th, 2016
Probably my last post from the Africa Mercy in Benin.

There are so many moments here on board that have the potential for greatness if we attempt to tune our ear to God’s voice. I am grateful that this round in Africa has been filled with growth for me. I’m past the sweeping perspective shift of my first field service in Madagascar. Now, I’m into the nitty-gritty of my faith, heart, and service. The ship is both literally and figuratively a petri-dish. Whatever you bring will quickly grow, for better or worse.

I’m so grateful for the pioneering vision of Don Stephens.
I’m so grateful for my privilege and corresponding responsibility.
(I’m one lucky girl! Globally, it’s a pretty small percentage of women who even get the opportunity to do what I’m doing.)
I’m grateful for this pressure-cooking, community.
I’m grateful for good leadership.
I’m grateful for heartbreak.
I’m grateful for our patients and translators.
I’m grateful for “ambassadors” of Mercy Ships in all areas.
I’m grateful for tough cases.
But most of all…
I’m so grateful for the word of God.

Without it, I couldn’t possibly make sense of the good, bad, and ugly.
Without it, I wouldn’t have grown through some of the toughest and best months of my life.
Without it, my words would lack power and friendly advice would be empty.

I am grateful for the Holy Spirit.
Coupled with the Holy Spirit, God’s word is like “fire in my bones.”

With them, I am uncharacteristically bold and confident.
With them, I speak life, not just positive vibes.
With them, I am inspired and creative.
With them, I am measured and convicted.
With them, I am different (all meanings apply).
With them, I know who and whose I am.
With them, I fear no thing.

Relationship with the Holy Spirit when the rubber meets the road is way better than the rush of any worship night or youth conference. Maybe it’s because “high” emotions aren’t my favorite thing, but really. I am more stirred thinking about the involvement of the Holy Spirit in my life than I am recalling any invigorating praise experiences. You can have the praise-breaks, shouts and goosebumps, give me the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit in my everyday life!

This goes out to all the believers who are new to life with the Holy Spirit:
Practice, practice, practice.
And by that I don’t mean you’re warming the bench or tuning your instrument before the performance.
What I mean is, put it into practice. Your new life starts NOW! The game is already full-swing. The concert is already started. You have been granted the privilege to harbor the Spirit of God inside you. Live like it! If you fumble or go sharp, it’s ok… that’s why you aren’t a solo-athlete or musician. The team/orchestra of believers around you are there to support you and get you up to speed. Look to your coach/conductor–He won’t steer you wrong. Trust me when I say that waiting until you feel ready or worthy is a losing battle.

There are people in need now,
obedient choices to make,
dark spots to purge from your life,
and hearts that need hope.

We are literally hiding your “light” under a basket by withholding due to insecurity. We are doing ourselves and others a disservice by delaying to live according to the Spirit.

Just to prove that I’m not just babbling, guess what I’m about to quote? Yup, the word of God. For your reading (and application) pleasure 🙂

Ephesians 5
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children
2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.
4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.
5 For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a person is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.
7 Therefore do not be partners with them.
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light
9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)
10 and find out what pleases the Lord.
11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.
13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.
14 This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise,
16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,
20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 14
Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me. 
25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

John 16
But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you.

Acts 1
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Acts 4
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Start here.
Start putting these things into practice with me, and see if God doesn’t follow through on His word. Try it and see 🙂

If God wills it…

October 11-25th, 2016:

Ending a work day in prayer after a frustrating day and busy weekend…
Wounds are not healing. We are at the end of ourselves.
Bible study, James 4*…
Story from Joshua*, being duped by neighboring country because he didn’t consult God first…

My life… what do I do next?
Have I consulted God?

James 5*. Am I storing up wealth for myself (as “evidence against me”)…to prove that I am an adult…or am I putting God’s will above my own insecurity?
Should I sell my house and just live this life as long as possible?
What if I only live 3 more years anyway? Is it pointless to hang onto?
Not assuming anything. Waiting to hear His voice.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15

This bread of ours was warm when we packed it at home on the day we left to come to you. But now see how dry and moldy it is. 13 And these wineskins that we filled were new, but see how cracked they are. And our clothes and sandals are worn out by the very long journey.” 14 The Israelites sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.15 Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath. 16 Three days after they made the treaty with the Gibeonites, the Israelites heard that they were neighbors, living near them. Joshua 9

Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. James 5:3-5

And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife[e] or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. Matthew 19:29 (or Mark 10:29-30, or Luke 18:29-30)

November 20th-December 7th, 2016:

Preparing to be “home” again.
Wanting to at least.
I’m not sure I can be prepared, but only to have a willing heart.
A heart of surrender and willingness…
No, not just to live MY life in surrender…
“There is all the difference in the world between your surrendered life in my hands, and I living My life in your body.”*
(Yes, I’ve been reading Intercessor: Rees Howells)
I feel this sense of leaving…
Leaving behind everything I’ve ever known.*
Making my goal:

Giving up my expectations of life.
Looking forward only to that which the Father has called me.
Praying only what he calls me to pray.
Allowing him to speak into every minute or major detail.
Answering always, “Yes, Lord. I’m listening. Send me.”

I have this deep understanding that my life isn’t that radical, really.
The world praises me for being slightly different, but is that what God called me to? Slightly different?
No. In fact, He’s used the words “set apart” quite a few times.*

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1

The sons of Amram: Aaron and Moses. Aaron was set apart, he and his descendants forever, to consecrate the most holy things, to offer sacrifices before the Lord, to minister before him and to pronounce blessings in his name forever. 1 Chronicles 23:13

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests,[g] a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
   now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
now you have received God’s mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him. Psalm 4:3

“But the Lord has been proving to us day by day, that living faith is above circumstances; no delays can discourage it, no loss of friends nor depression in trade can touch it.” ~Rees Howells


“So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.”
~Eugene H. Peterson, a paraphrase of Romans 8:31-39

December 8th, 2016:

To summarize, I’m not worried. I just know “something’s coming, something’s coming.” Namely, change. Of course that’s not a bad thing, but just to give you a visual–I hate change like Indiana Jones hates snakes.

Returning to the States soon.

Riches are Meaningless

I know I’ve touched on this topic briefly before, but last night I was struck be a stark contrast between two of my patients here in the states. This will be a little trickier as I cannot give names or specific details, but stick with me.

Let me start from the beginning and give an update first. I found and started work about 2 months after returning from Madagascar. I happen to be working in the surgery and trauma population. I was surprised how fast I got back into the swing (or mad rush I should say) of American nursing. Call lights and alarms echo in my head when I return home to my quiet house, where I live alone. It’s just me, birds chirping outside, and bells ringing inside.

I’m not going to lie, it’s been nice to share a language with my patients. What still continues to frustrate me however, is lack of health literacy. I’m not an advocate of using the internet to diagnose yourself, but for God’s-sake if you HAVE a diagnosis, research it! Find reputable sources, read articles, join support groups, read a book! I should not have to tell a long-diagnosed diabetic that sugars/carbs are not good for you or will spike your glucose level. Ugh. We have the world at our fingertips on our little cellular devices, but we’d rather use it snapping our friends and watching endless videos on Facebook. Entertainment, entertainment, entertainment.

Anyways, I digress. That example was not specific to a particular patient, but it happens. What touched me about the two patients I mentioned had nothing to do with their health status.

The first was a veteran and a working man. He got sick far from home, but still had the warmest demeanor. He wasn’t anything special to look at, but I was always happy to go chat with him. I found out that his family was traveling (a pretty long distance) to come see him and just be with him. He slept for most of my shift.

The second was a business man that had amassed quite a bit of wealth for himself. But he was…a grouch…and a lost soul. He was divorced from his wife, estranged from his daughter (literally hasn’t seen her in decades), and only has one remaining son that stays in contact. He didn’t sleep a wink. His plea to the doctor during early morning rounds? “Don’t forget me, doc.” If that isn’t a statement that stems from a deep inner wound, I don’t know what is.

Ecclesiastes 5:10-13

Whoever loves money never has enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
    This too is meaningless.

11 As goods increase,
    so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
    except to feast their eyes on them?

12 The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
    whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
    permits them no sleep.

13 I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,

If I’ve learned one thing from being in Africa it is this. Family first. Family always. Wealth and/or pride in your ability to amass it, will never fill the space that is left behind when families are torn apart. In the second man I saw pride, but no peace. Accomplishment, but no relationships. A bank full of savings, but a heart full of regrets.

I’m not sure that neither patient was a Christian, but one had an abundance of life that glimmered in his eye and lit up his face. I wanted to be around him.
Please, please, please…examine your priorities in life. Impoverished Africans are not happy because they’re just “so grateful.” They’re happy because they are already rich.

What is the Mission?

Although I haven’t blogged in over a month, rest assured… I am still thinking my pensive thoughts and composing my mini-messages. In fact, since I set foot back in the states on March 31st, I have been composing a full-blown message that I recently delivered at my childhood home church, Faith Living Church, on April 14th. Below is the written version. Keep in mind, this is not a transcript so it is more of an outline and not what I spoke word for word.

The video version of my presentation will soon be available at

In the meantime…

Mercy Ships- Madagascar video
1) Obedience

Proverbs 3:27-28 Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,
when it is in your power to act.
28 Do not say to your neighbor,
“Come back tomorrow and I’ll give it to you”—
when you already have it with you.

-If you hear your name, please stand:
Mike and Nancy Kane
Don and Marissa Salvesen
Cherie & Martin Niatopsky
Uncle Craig
My grandparents: Mommom, Bear, and Papa Bean
Lenny Salgado
Grace Macri
Tom and Rosemary Brz
Charly and Patty Vaichus
Rich and Lisa Landy
Mary and Adam Synott
United Technologies AND Frank Pereli
Steve and Cathy Hoder
Uncle Dave and Aunt Kathleen
Mike and Jill Turner
Geri Genua
Sue and Justin Bradley
Judah and Carrie Thomas
Alex and Juliane Hoder
Ben and Danielle Vaichus
Karen and Darren Hale
Luke Sisson
Joe Niatopsky
My mom and dad
Dee Niatopsky
John and Donna Salinardi
5 Anonymous donors
Those who dropped money in the bucket when PR gave the opportunity to support me.
Also, everyone who sent me stickers, cards, notes and letters of encouragement, please stand.
-God, thank you for their generosity and obedience. We ask that you would continue to call each of these faithful servants to higher and more glorious levels of trust and obedience. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

My experience with obedience: leaving home, Leaving the land of familiar was more difficult than pursuing this kingdom dream.
But I was not the only one who pursued it:
There are 400+ crewmembers living on the ship of all ages and close to 40 nationalities-some come from impoverished nations as well and we all have to raise our own support to be on the ship.

Above are photos to illustrate the diversity in age. Contrary to popular belief, we aren’t a white, 20-something, all female crew of nurses. There are families, newlyweds, newlyweds with a baby, nearly retired with grandchildren, miss suzie—she turned 72 on Tuesday, crew with celiac disease, highschool grads, and even “dog mom’s”.
-Please don’t make me a hero because I am using “this time in my life.” There is no time of life that God doesn’t ask for obedience.
-Please don’t say “I could never do that.” Obedience has been difficult for some of the crew and it would dishonor them to assume that their choice was easy, convenient or well-timed.
-As you listen to the remainder of my message this evening. Don’t listen out for the things I have done. Instead, tune your ears to what God is doing for the hopeless and for your church family on the other side of the globe.

2) The Mission
Matthew 25:33-40 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Acts 4:32-35 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.

Question: What group of people is Jesus referring to in these passages? Christian! The family of God.
Conclusion: God has charged us to take care of our own…And we have “family” all over the world that we are called to care for!

James 1:27- widows and orphan
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Psalm 82:3 – the oppressed
Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.

Question: What groups of people is Jesus referring to in these passages? Widows, orphans, and oppressed whether in God’s family or not.
Conclusion: Our charge is twofold. Let us not forget our own. It may sound a little like the mafia, but we are truly supposed to take care of our own! Think of how much more effective our brothers and sisters would be if they were cared for!

Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Question: Go into all the world and…evangelize? Nope. MAKE DISCIPLES.

Note: I think it is an important distinction to make—I was not directly fulfilling this scripture in my time away. What I was doing was setting up my Malagasy brothers, sisters, mother, fathers, and grandparents to more effectively disciple those in their community. I have left the country—I cannot honestly say that I was making disciples. If anything, I was putting good compost in the ground and planting some seeds. My Malagasy family of Christ will be doing more planting, watering and harvesting now because Mercy Ships has brought hope and healing. Do we share the gospel, yes of course. But I don’t want to take credit for discipleship when it is my Malagasy family and some long-term missionaries in Madagascar that will be putting in the harder work.
Mercy Ships Mission statement: To bring hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor following the 2000 year model of Jesus.
Video: Sambany, 5 minutes
Doctor Gary’s famous quote: In order for hope to be credible in the future, it must be tangible in the present.

3) Storytime!
During my time on Mercy Ships, I was assigned to care for two particular surgical specialties: While Dr. Tertius was on board: Plastics- which released severe contractures caused by burns and also dealt with some cosmetic appearances that might prevent a child from being accepted or ever marrying such as extra or enlarged fingers/toes etc. Between his two blocks of surgery in the fall and spring, I took care of orthopedic patients while Dr. Frank and his wife were on board. My particular role with the plastics patients was on the dressings team…

However, I am going to show you just a few recent patients. If you want to see more, there will be laptops set up after service with more photos and videos to view.

Meet Sassy Sasilene: “I like to moush it”; ridiculous manly giggle
Snuggly Sasimeny: Only girl in her family. Her brother was her caregiver in the hospital.

Effervescent Elina: Tough story to hear. Many of our Plastics patients have traumatic PREoperative stories. Hers was no exception. She was burned exactly one year ago in April…*story* her burn was too fresh to do surgery in the Fall of last year, so she came into our outpatients clinic for dressing changes on her open wounds until the spring when she was cautiously approved for surgery. She has had 4 surgeries to date. Most of our patients only need one surgery—but her burns are so deep that multiple skin grafts failed in certain places. The last report that I received was that our Maxilloffacial surgeon gave it one last attempt- a “hail mary” of sorts…and it looks great. The graft is taking, about 70% of the wound is now closed… she is healing!

The three of them were like the three musketeers when I left. Once as I was making my way down the hospital hallway from the dressings room to the stairwell up to the cafeteria…before I did, I stopped at the ward to say hi…and when I left they followed me skipping and holding my hands all the way down the hallway singing/yelling the song “I like to move it, move it.”

Another patient that touched my heart in a very real way was Angeline. She had a neurofibroma that grew out from her scalp and hung over her right eye. She had one perfectly good eye, but she would never raise her head or make eye contact. Her physical transformation was drastic, but removing the source of her rejection could not remove the lies in her heart.

One morning before work I was having my quiet time…I asked God to let me feel the depth of his emotion.
That day, Angeline was on our list in the dressings room…she had caught my attention when I assisted Dr. Tertius with the first postop dressing, so I volunteered to do her dressing that day…as we usually do with our patients, I tried to break the ice and talk to her (through a translator of course)…she wouldn’t say a thing…I kept trying, but the translator said “she doesn’t speak.” But she was not mute…
As I was cleaning her wounds I almost burst into tears…I suddenly saw it…she didn’t believe she was valuable or worthy of love… I couldn’t let her believe that. The thing that gets under my skin faster and easier than anything else is when people believe a lie. That dressing was the beginning of the “three things”….
I spoke them. No reaction. Momma smiled and nodded, but nothing from Angeline. So back the ward they went—head still hanging, eyes still downcast.

Every two days, I did her dressing… one day her wound swab came back positive for infection…so we started to do her dressing every day instead of every two days…and as long as I was working, I always did Angeline’s dressing…tied a bow around her head…and repeated the three things…
I wondered if God gave her that infection so that I could interact with her every day in the dressings room…
Over time…she began to answer questions I asked…she was less timid…she would look me in the eye when I looked at her…and then…she began to smile…
*After photos*

But those small moments I had with her could not have happened if I was a solo mission…I could be love to Angeline through nursing…because others gave of themselves too…

4) Leaving
Leaving the “land of familiar” in August was hard…but it was way harder to leave Madagascar. In September, I am going back to the ship…but we won’t be in Madagascar. We’ll be in Benin, West Africa (photo)…I will see some volunteers again…but the day crew that translated for us? I’ll never see them again. The patients I spent hours with? I’ll never know in this life what their outcomes were.
The night before I left, I went to the wards to visit the plastics patients that were still left…I prayed for them, hugged, cried, told them I loved them. One adult patient walked with me down the hallway with her arm around me as I left… My only reassurance that I repeated to my patients was, “If you keep Jesus in your heart, I’ll see you again in heaven.”

5) The Challenge is this:
God has written eternity in your heart…not just to realize that you need salvation, but to realize an eternity-minded dream. Whether it is in the forefront of your mind or buried deep, God has given you a dream that involves meeting the needs of others somehow.
God has the power to snap his fingers and fix every injustice, illness and broken situation. But that’s not how He does things. God’s method of salvation…was a man on a cross. God’s method of fixing what is broken…is through men, women, people! That’s just how He does business.
You can live for anything you want. You’re in America—literally, the world is open before you. But my challenge is this: Get before God and unearth that dream inside you that will have an impact in eternity.

A Harsh Lesson

So far, the only thing I’ve been able to equate to shiplife is college–which is funny because I never went away to college. The girl who never left North America experiences community living for the first time 8,600 miles away from home on a ship docked in Madagascar.

It really doesn’t make human sense. Why would a young woman with an established profession, no debt, and a newly purchased home just put a pause on all that, when she has a jumpstart on establishing her “American dream”, comfortable, convenient life? Even as you read those words, you probably get where I’m headed. What REALLY is the purpose of life? Are we intended only to “get ahead” of the rest of our peers? Are we only meant to create a life for OURSELF? Maybe its because I’m too pensive, but I simply cannot ignore the shallowness of work, effort and even prudence if it does not somehow serve a higher purpose than to secure the financial future of the next generation–or shallower still, my own happiness.

So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me.  And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.”

-King Solomon

If I’m dead honest, I identify with those words. I will most certainly hate my life if I return to my usual routines and motivations when I get home. I am not sure if it’s accurate to say that I have changed yet…but my eyes have definitely been opened. There is a different kind of “work” to be done in the world, and in my heart I know I must be a part of that work.

Now, most of you reading probably know that I follow Christ, or at least aim to. I do not believe God wants us to be miserable slave workers. In fact, I know he does not. However, I do believe God knows that deep down we desire greatness. Unfortunately for many of us, we pursue to make ourselves great or to be recognized as great (or great at something). Fortunately, God does not leave us to flounder in our vain efforts. He knows that the recognition of man will never quench that longing; and so, he allows us to take part in the greatest endeavor known (or unknown) to mankind. For he knows, that when we put our efforts into a matter of the truest substance, we will find the truest satisfaction.

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there.  I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

-Apostle Paul

It is a great relief to me that God’s Word is in written form. In order to process big decisions (or small daily tasks), I have to write it down. Fortunately for me, the most sound principles are already written down for me…all I have to do is read. God doesn’t leave me to figure these things out on my own. There is an easier way.

In order to build a life that matters in eternity, all I have to do is follow through on what God has already graciously laid out. It is harsh to hear that your work could be meaningless (as King Solomon puts it), but wouldn’t you rather know now? Wouldn’t you rather change now, and save yourself from a grave disappointment later in life?:

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. […] For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building (it’s all about people!) 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.”
1 Corinthians 3:5-13

Please do not mistake me. I believe that one can do “fireproof” work in the typical marketplace, but we must keep our main initiative in focus. God has given us work to carry out and a message to bring with us. How easy it is to get distracted by the acquisition of money and pleasure. Neither are bad/evil by themselves, but if they obstruct your mission they do become so.

“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves (it’s a matter of motivation. Where’s your heart at?)  but for him who died for them and was raised again. 16 So from now on we regard no one (not even your boss) from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here!18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin  for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5

I’m sorry (eh, not really) about the large amounts of scriptural text. I just want everyone reading to understand that these realizations I’ve made of my own life and work in general are not merely high-browed opinion, but rather based on biblical truths that the Holy Spirit has illustrated for me in practical ways here in Madagascar. This has personally been a difficult thing to wrap my head around, and I have chosen to trust God in the midst of my enlightened panic
–that I could lead a meaningless life. For now, I will leave you with one last scripture:

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” 
Matthew 6

Feeling challenged,