Category Archives: Personal Stories

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!

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…

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!

Fake news and Truth-tellers

Advisory: deep thoughts ahead.

It’s one of the first basic principles we teach our children: “Tell me the truth…who really broke the vase.” You would think by adulthood we would all have this down. Telling the truth: good. Lying: bad. Right? Apparently not.

Instead, we become more conniving and refined in the art of deception.

  • We lie about ourselves:

When we walk out into the world every morning, we are putting a certian “foot” forward…maybe our “best” foot, maybe just a slightly enhanced version!
My point is that we control what parts of us the world gets to see from the outside. We dress, talk, and behave in whatever way we need to–to create the person most people see. I’m not proposing that we walk around dressed like a bum or stop using filters on Instagram. I just want us to acknowledge that we probably don’t show our true self to everyone all the time.

In reality, that is wise. Being deeply vulnerable with everyone we meet is neither smart nor productive. However, we DO need to be cognizant that in our small-talk moments, we can put forward a completely uncharacteristic costume to please the crowd–and then never take it off long enough for people to ever REALLY know us. Sometimes we look in the mirror, see our real self, and then immediately forget who we are when we step outside.

Living so long in a costume that insulates from our real self is harmful on a couple levels: We don’t give people a chance to love us. We don’t bless others with the gift of who God created us to be.

Maybe some of you don’t struggle with being vulnerable, but I definitely do. [In fact, this blog post has been only a draft since February. 9 months. It’s as if I had to give birth to it.]
However, the reward of vulnerability is hard to refute. I have been encouraged and corrected in the most loving ways when I choose to come to people with my heart and just start talking, BEFORE I have sorted myself out and tied up my flaws and concerns in a neat little bow.

  • We lie to ourselves:

Our communications director shared several weeks ago a message about growth in community. She used two visuals to help us take hold of it. 1) Flowers grow through dirt. Growing together is messy. 2) Our heart is like a house. We must invite God into each and every one of its rooms. Sometimes we need people to help us “clean house.”

I tell myself far too often that “I’m fine.” Sometimes when I say it aloud to others, it rolls off the tongue so easily because I’ve repeated it often enough to myself. That’s a generic example of course. Realtalk? I let my walls down for the first time in a long time last weekend. And you know what lie came rolling off my tongue? “Invisible,” I said without flinching.
A piece of my identity that I had let take root in my heart almost a decade ago.
As they continued to listen, “unwanted,” I whispered.
I had succeeded (or so I thought) in guarding my heart from the bad boys, but I had let a devastating false truth take root and spread until it occupied almost every room of my heart-house.

Now that those lies have been dug up, the work begins of replacing them with truth. I wonder if there’s more to it than simply repeating positive affirmations. In fact, I know there’s more.

James 1:22-25
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Also, this:
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.” Hebrews 10:25
I cannot express to you how important it has been for me to be in community with people. With people who have boldly gotten to know me. People who have included me. People who have straightened me right out and reminded me who I am in Christ.

  • We lie about the world:

Considering the lengths we go to to hide our true selves from the world, considering the ease with which we lie to ourselves…. is it any wonder that some have taken this to a whole other level with “fake news”? Its no longer enough to manipulate the world’s view of us. Now we have to manipulate the world’s view of others? Sound like middle-school drama to me.

Just as I am thankful for the people in my life who have been truth tellers to me, I pray that courageous truth-tellers will rise up in media.

The truth-tellers in my life don’t go along with a narrative. They challenge my way of thinking about myself and the world. They don’t say what they think I agree with or what they know will please my ears.

These people care more about me than a flattering friend ever could.

A witness saves lives when he tells the truth; when he tells lies, he betrays people. Proverbs 14:25

In ancient times, soldiers wore certain pieces of armor for protection, and some say that the the belt was the most important piece because it held the rest in place. With that knowledge, it’s interesting how the apostle Paul used armor as an analogy of essential qualities a Christ-follower should acquire or possess.
Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness.” Ephesians 6:13-14

As you go into the world today, prepare yourself with the word of God. Don’t merely identify and listen to the truth. Act as if you already wholeheartedly believe it to be true.

Kirsten out.

“I Got the Power!”

Cheesy title, I know. I
I couldn’t help myself. I am my mother’s daughter. Sidebar: Kinda sad that one day my last name won’t be Murphy and I won’t be able to take on the name “Mama Murph”.

So I have another culture lesson for us today. This may be my last one on this topic, but the learning never stops!

A few weeks ago, a missionary family came to share some insights with the crew. They were such a voice of wisdom.

Towards the end of their talk, they shared about an important difference in how this [African] culture is motivated–and how to apply that to our conversations about God.

My culture is motivated by justice. So a truth about God that is likely to be very meaningful is that Christ lovingly sacrificed himself for me–while I was clearly in the wrong and deserving of punishment. Of all God’s attributes, God’s LOVE is what we talk about almost constantly.

This culture’s primary motivator is power/fear. This does not mean that the love of God is not appreciated. However, it means that speaking about God’s power over the world and all its trouble is far MORE moving. Do I still appreciate God’s power? Sure, but I haven’t really been motivated to exclusively study it out until now.

Another Thursday, we were graced by a talk from a local member of the leadership in Campus Crusade for Christ, Cameroon. His talk confirmed the statements of the two missionaries who had visited us. While the gospel story is beautiful to every culture, the “crux” of the gospel here is different. The gospel truth has not changed, but the accent is moved to a different truth within it. The majority of Cameroonians readily accept and acknowledge the presence of the spiritual realm–they believe in the existence of evil spirits and darkness. For this reason, they live in fear of displeasing them. So they make sacrifices for everything–they make a sacrifice when something good happens and when something bad happens. All this is an attempt to appease a real, but vague presence of evil.

So according to Mr. Kennedy (the Cru leader), the gospel here hinges on this: People are captivated when they learn about Jesus’ resurrection and how he has power over death and darkness. He states, “People want to identify with the guy who has the POWER over the darkness that they FEAR.” Like, preach!!! That’s my God!

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. Hebrews 2

He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed[d]the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. Colossians 2

You know what I love? I love that God has made a way for you and for me. I love that He has exhausted every effort to reach us WHERE WE ARE. He has done what he has to do to get our attention in every culture. There is not a single culture that hears the truth of the gospel and doesn’t find an indispensable treasure in the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus–my Savior, your Savior, your neighbors’ Savior.

You need love? He’s got it. You need mercy? He’s got it. You need power over darkness? He’s got it. You need freedom from shame? He’s got it. This is the God I serve. He loved me before I loved Him. He covered my sin with royal garments before I even had a chance to “clean up my act.” Let us never forget that God revealed His love for us BEFORE we decided to follow Him. Let us never forget that “living a good life” will never make us earn more of His love. Jesus’ sacrifice–leaving his glorified body, coming to earth as an eating/sleeping/pooping human, and allowing himself to be shamed and punished for all the ways I have dishonored HIM…is unfathomable. And IT IS FINISHED. He paid it all–so I could come back home. I’m getting emotional just writing that. How DARE I insult the sacrifice of the cross by trying to earn a shred of His love. He FULLY PAID my debts! I am wasting my time if I live a single second of my life attempting to “do good” in order to make up for my “badness.” God, forgive me for insulting your Goodness with my own goodness. Forgive me for ever trying to be my own Savior.

Join with me today as I recommit to pursuing God for God himself. In Christ is more Goodness than the political conservatives and more Freedom than the political liberals. The only true Goodness and Freedom are found in Jesus. He is the only person who can put the world right again.

We must be willing to follow a God who came into the world and upset our order of things. The Jesus that the “religious right” despised and even plotted to kill. The One who looked at our  “5 easy steps to succeed in life” formulas and rolled His eyes.

“The truth is there are a million steps, and we don’t even know what the steps are, and worse, at any given moment we may not be willing or even able to take them; and still worse, they are different for you and for me and they are always changing.
I have come to believe the sooner we find this truth beautiful, the sooner we will fall in love with the God who keeps shaking things up, keeps changing the path, keeps rocking the boat to test our faith in Him, teaching us to not rely on easy answers, bullet points, magic mantras, or genies in lamps, but rather in His guidance, His existence, His mercy, and His love.”
-Donald Miller, Searching for God Knows What

One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love.” Psalm 62:11
One thing I ask from the Lord, this ONLY do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

Let us live our lives in pursuit of Christ alone.

It was always you,
It was always you,
You found me//
I’ve made up my mind,
I’m never going back,
I’m never going back//
There’s nothing that I have need of,
Cuz there’s nothing you haven’t done
You make my soul alive” -United Pursuit

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 🙂

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 🙂