A Lasting Impression

Monday morning at 04:00, Meg and I woke up to do a "swimmer watch." As we are one day away from setting sail for the Canary Islands, security has been increased during this past week to prevent any potential stow-aways from coming onboard our ship.

We were stationed at the aft end of the ship and I took the responsibility of operating the torch and radio, naturally. What we had to do was keep an eye out for people climbing up the mooring lines and monitor fishing boats that float close to the ship to catch tiny fish.

Early-morning fishermen

The mooring lines

The watch technically only lasted until 06:30, but we stayed up until 07:00 to see the sun rise. It was an uneventful three hours (fortunately), however, watching the sun appear over the humid ocean was a great, final, lasting memory for my time here in Benin.

The remainder of the day felt odd. It is exciting that we are leaving, but my heart is sore nonetheless. Benin has been a part of my life for nearly an entire year.

As I walked down the dusty road outside the port one last time this evening, I thought back to the first time I wandered out there and how overwhelmed I was. I have experienced and seen tremendous pain, suffering, and sorrow here. But the reverse of those things has also been felt. I have laughed regularly and deeply, I have developed life-long friendships, I have witnessed the might, mercy, and compassion of our Heavenly Father, and I have found love, in His arms, and in brothers and sisters with whom I share a love for Yahshua.

This year has been momentous. I have grown and changed considerably. I have left with far more life-experience and wisdom than I could have ever hoped for. On top of that, I leave with a person who has come into my life unexpectedly and who is going to be around for a long, long time, I'm certain.

Psalm 117

1 O praise YHWH, all you nations; praise Him, all you people.
2 For His mercy and goodness is great toward us, and His truth endures forever and ever. Praise YHWH.




Recently, I traveled to a prison in the city of Cotonou to cover a story there. The Mercy Ships Dental Team was doing their last outreach of the year by offering free tooth extractions and oral-health education to the prisoners.

Entering the prison was strange. Meg and I wandered in nonchalantly with cameras and bags. There were a few security guards that payed little attention to us and who motioned us through several doors as we kept asking, "Mercy Ships?" Eventually we found ourselves standing amongst prisoners inside the compound. I was nervous for a few seconds until I saw my friend Jess and the rest of her team.

The Dental Team hard at work

I soon realised that this prison did not follow the mould that I was familiar with. Here the prisoners were given free reign during the day around the entire compound. The place functioned like a small community with markets, a mosque, a church, a bank, and even a music room. Some of the prisoners receive wages working as peacekeepers and cleaners. It all seemed quite pleasant until I started interviewing a few people. Although the conditions seemed okay on the surface, nobody wanted to be there. At night they get locked into cells - some of them crammed with up to 250 men. The overall health quality is extremely low and, altough they were happy to receive free dental treatment, many rather wished that doctors had come to deal with the more serious health problems.

Interviewing the Prison Director Representative

The music room

After interveiwing the representative in charge, I still needed to get an interview from a prisoner that had received a tooth extraction. I prayed silently to be directed to the right person. Then I saw a man smiling brightly, trying to get my attention. I walked over to him with a translator and introduced myself. His name was Judicael and he wanted me to photograph him. I obliged and proceeded to ask him a few questions about his oral health and the tooth that he had extracted. Curios, I eventually carefully asked him if he would be willing to share why he had come to be in prison. "I will tell you, but can we go somewhere quiet first?" he requested.


We went and stood in a fairly calm corner of the compound near the urinal - the one place where we wouldn't be followed. He proceeded to reveal the confidential and tragic events leading to his current state. He began to cry and I spent the next fifteen minutes trying to minister to him. Fortunately, my translator Alfred had worked in prison ministry for years and knew exactly what I was trying to say to Judicael. I prayed with him and left heavy hearted.

The worst thing about that prison and most African prisons, I guess, is that people tend to be forgotten about and are never given a fair trial. Judicael had been there for five months and had no idea how long his sentence would be. He felt that his crime warranted about five years. He told me that he had accepted Yahshua as his saviour and had asked for forgiveness. I encouraged him to keep praying and developing his relationship with his Heavenly Father, because that is the most important thing he could do.

I'm really proud if this photo I took. I simply looked up and saw this man smiling at me. I think it might be my best photo yet.



Every Friday afternoon, after a long week of interviews, writing, and recording, I head out with the other active crew members of the ship to play Ultimate Frisbee. We usually have around 26 players and play on either the beach or a dusty football field - the latter is usually occupied with football players.

Whenever a round is started, the person launching the frisbee has to shout: "Ultimate!" It's a great way to end a week and start a weekend. I'm really going to miss playing it when I leave.

My friend and colleague PJ made a noble sacrifice a few weeks ago and, instead of playing, offered to take photographs of the rest of us playing. See his work below.

PJ is the best photographer I know. This is why.


Local kids [right] got caught up in the action.

I think I may have fumbled this one.

"I've got it!"

"Catch it!"

C'est moi.



A little over a week ago, Adele died. I met her back in June when I was writing an article about the Palliative Care Program. She was the reason that I decided to begin working a minor-job in this field. Her strong faith and contagious optimism struck a chord within me. I marveled at how she could remain so positive despite the massive growth occupying the side of her face.

For four-months I visited Adele once-a-week in her home. She would lie on her bed listening to portions of the bible read to her by our translator, after which she would proceed to give us a ten-minute sermon confirming the truth that she had just heard. Adele's daughters were always present. Sometimes they would sit beside her and listen; sometimes they would busy themselves with housework in the adjacent room.

Glory, her two-year-old grandson, provided much entertainment for us during these visits. His tiny hands were always on a mission to find objects to fidget with. Whether it was the Bible, my sunglasses, the cans of nutrition supplements, or anything that was new and foreign to him, Glory would find it and test its durability to the limit. Often, Adele would try chastise him by flicking him with a flimsy piece of straw. I truly feel that Glory was a bright light in that house - especially for Adele. He provided a pleasant distraction from her harsh condition.

As the months went by, Adele's health deteriorated rapidly. However, despite her pain, her prayer requests were always for her daughters and their salvation - never for her own healing. To watch her slowly fade away was difficult. Dealing with death is not a familiar emotion for me. I prayed desperately for her healing at first, but as time went on, I relented from my selfish desires, and submitted to the will and control of my Heavenly Father; praying instead for His will to be done. I know that He could have healed her in an instant, if He so chose.

Though we cannot always know the purposes of YHWH's (God's) perfect plans, I trust that He knows what is best for us, even before we have asked for it. I am so thankful that Adele passed away while we were still around to take care of her. With the end of the field-service approaching, the thought of all the other 'terminal' patients is heavy on my mind.

I saw Adele for the last time on October 29th. Her frail hands and body were shaking tremendously. I had a sense that she was near the end and asked for William, our translator, to read Psalm 116 to her. When we left, as she lay on her bed resting her head, I put my hand on her arm and said, "Edabo, Adelle," which means 'goodbye' in Fon.

She died peacefully the following Monday. Apparently Glory cried continuously during her last few nights, but when she passed away, he stopped. We attended the funeral last week Wednesday. I found myself sitting right in front of the closed coffin, directly opposite her weeping family. It was tough. But after seeing a portrait of Adele in healthier times seated at the head of her coffin, peace entered my heart - a peace I know she too now has.

At the end of it all, as I held a subdued Glory on my arm, I was comforted to know that Adele's joy would live on in her grandson, and the mere witness of her life would have a profound impact in the lives of her daughters.

Psalm 116:3-7

3 The sorrows of death surrounded me, and the pains of Sheol came upon me; I found trouble and sorrow.
4 Then I called upon the name of Yahweh; O Yahweh, I beg You, deliver my being.
5 Full of unmerited favour is Yahweh, and He is righteous; yes, our God is full of mercy.
6 Yahweh preserves the simple: I was brought low and He helped me.
7 Return to your rest, O my being, for Yahweh has treated you well.

Adele when I first met her.

Glory and his hungry hands.



Back home in South Africa, I would always detest Winter. Things would become cold, dry, and barren. Here in Benin, there is but one season. As the months have passed, I have noticed little change but a slight alteration in the intensity of humidity and precipitation. Apart from that, it's always just hot.

I thought I would love the constant heat here. But I have since realised that my appreciation for Summer was born out of anticipation during those bleak Winter months. As the buds would softly and suddenly develop upon the barren branches of timber, as the light in the evening sky would become softer, and the sounds of the morning birds would become more lively, my heart would begin to lift, sensing the imminent arrival of freshness, beauty, and warmth.

I have missed that this year. Nevertheless, I have experienced my own seasons, and for the past two-months, I have been enduring my own Winter. My health has been badly affected. From colds, to sprains, to burns, to viruses; I have not felt at full-strength for sometime now. But, I am beginning to see the end. I can the see the light changing on the horizon. My Summer is dawning. I believe my Heavenly Father has a great deal of good in store for me.

Just as Winter is necessary to appreciate Summer, so is suffering necessary to appreciate blessing. If life was the same all the time, where would the contrasts that birth our emotions come from? There's no light without dark, no love without rejection, no healing without pain.

Having seen the great suffering present in the lives of so many patients that come to this hospital ship, and the many that can't be helped, I am reminded and consoled that this life is so brief and temporary. For those of us preparing for the day we see our Messiah, be reminded that all of our struggles and problems will seem so insignificant when that great and glorious reign dawns.

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!
-Abraham Lincoln


Ode to Maddie

Maddie died on Monday. She was a fiery two-year-old girl suffering from Burkitt's Lymphoma. I got to meet Maddie through my minor-job in Palliative Care. Though not terminal, kids suffering from Burkitt's fall into this department. She had responded extremely positively to chemotherapy, which was born as a result of the passionate, extraordinary efforts of Suzanne Zickell, Palliative Care Nurse.

However, due to the chemo, Maddie's immunity was extremely low, and, despite regular tests, she suddenly contracted Bacterial Meningitis. Though everything was tried to save her, her system was too weak and she passed away.

Maddie had the strongest personality I have ever seen in a child. She clearly knew what she wanted and made it well-known when she didn't get it. We often joked about how strong her temprement would be as a teenager. Unfortunately, no one will ever know. Perhaps the world would have been unable to withstand such a fierce and sassy soul? She rests now with her Heavenly Father. Pray for her family, please.

There's a great unknown
Inside my heart
I see a purple cloud
And a hand that falls

Help us to understand
Help us to know Your plans
Let our eyes see through
What seems like an end

She had a needless cry
That brought a smiling joy
I saw a healing cure
That caused our hands to lift

But who are we to think?
And what are we to know?
Let our words be for
Whatever You see fit


Mainly a Map of Me

I was born on the West coast of Africa in a small town called Swakopmund in a sandy country called Namibia. I grew up in South Africa. I have spent the last year working in Benin, West Africa. This continent is my home. Though I have yet to see all of it, I love it, and, unless it's my Heavenly Father's will, I will never permanently leave.

My accent suggests that I'm American and my complexion that I'm European. I have difficulty convincing people that I am, in fact, of this fierce land.

On my left leg I have a birthmark in the shape of Africa, and on my left arm another I like to call Madagascar. I can line them up alongside one another to resemble the area that occupies the center of most world-maps.

"Is that a tattoo?" I am frequently asked. "No," I proudly respond.

"But is it more than a birthmark?" I think to myself.