Everyone in the photo are already in Togo and Ghana preparing for our next season after the close of the Sierra Leone Field Service. Though I remain on the ship this year – part of my duties as Programs Administrator is as the Advance Team Liaison.
Keith R. Brinkman serving with Mercy Ships on the Africa Mercy
Greetings from Africa to my family and friends in locations all around the world. Growing up on the West side of Indianapolis, Indiana, I would not have dreamed that I would be living in Africa today. I am thankful to each one of you for your impact and influence on my life.
Since my last newsletter, I spent time in Liberia, Togo, South Africa, Guinea and now in Sierra Leone. I was invited to return to Liberia as part of the evaluation team in April ’10. We met with our many partners – in the government, the church, the NGOs, former crew members, day workers and friends there. Much time was spent conducting the evaluation on the two medical clinics and the training projects – community health, agriculture, water and sanitation, mental health, HIV and church leaders. There were times at the end of the day that I felt encouraged, and then other times I felt somewhat discouraged due to the lack of change.
Following a short time back on the ship, I went to serve for nine weeks on the Advance Team in South Africa. Then from September to January the ship was in South Africa. Our primary focus was the generator replacement project, and other critical technical projects needed to be able to more fully utilize the ship for the next twenty years (in particular all the operating rooms and hospital wards). At the same time, I assisted with some of our projects; dental clinic and training with the Department of Health, mental health training with several church associations, and the Mercy Vision eye project. I am excited for this year; a new country. I am not going to live with regrets like last year – I am involved with our patients in the hospital, with the kids in the orphanage and with our local day workers. Though there are many patient stories, I have selected one; the transformed life of Tamba Komba. Born with bilateral club feet in a remote village in the district of Kono, Sierra Leone, Tamba Komba has had some major challenges in his life. He is currently 13 years old, and from March to August he was with us onboard the Africa Mercy and at the HOPE Center. He grew up in a village until the time of the death of his grandmother, and then they moved to the capitol of the district – Koidu. His mother is a Muslim and his father is a Christian and he has three brothers and two sisters. His name Tamba signifies that he is the second born son.
Tamba was born with the birth defect of two club feet – completely backwards. He learned to walk ‘small-small’, as they say here, but it was difficult. A time came when Tamba’s parents heard that a white ship was coming and maybe they would be able to assist their son with the problems with his feet. They made the day long journey to the capitol, though were disappointed when the Mercy Ships crew shared that he was too young for surgery. They would have to wait for another ten years before surgery would be possible.
He remembers that when he was about 9 years old, he felt different than the other boys, and some of the children would provoke him and he felt bad and angry. He only knew of one other smaller boy who also had the same problem of club feet.
He attended primary school after they moved to Koidu. His teachers were kind to him. His walk to school was about a kilometer. It was difficult and took a long time to get there. He learned English in school. Currently, he is in class six.
In January of this year, they were excited when they heard the announcements on the radio in their local language and came with high expectation to the government hospital for the possibility of being registered with Mercy Ships. Tamba didn’t really feel anything at this time, though that changed as he came to the ship. At first, he was scared to come, as he was not sure what would happen and was somewhat quiet. Though, after meeting the nurses and other crew members, and watching as others went for surgery and returned to the wards, his thinking changed. The Orthopaedic Team used the Ponseti casting method to assist in the initial corrections of his feet.
He enjoyed the opportunities to go up to Deck 7 and be outside and to play there – to watch movies in the hospital wards like Madagascar 2 and the song ‘I like to move it’. During his early days in the hospital wards, I met Tamba and visited him and the other orthopaedic patients almost every day.
The time came for Tamba to receive surgery to finish the correction of his club feet. He was excited but also a bit nervous. Through a sign up system, the crew can register to view surgeries in the operating rooms. I didn’t know when his surgery would be, but with a desire to be there for his surgery¸ I asked for special permission and it was granted. It was absolutely amazing to be there to pray and watch two highly experienced surgeons and OR staff do the life-changing surgery for Tamba. Each surgeon operated on a leg in order to move it into the right direction for the first time in his life. At times, I would hear noises and thought ‘oh that has to hurt’ but he was well taken care of. In all, the time in the OR was about four hours. Towards the end, it was time to plaster cast both legs. Dr. Frank asked if I would put on gloves and assist with the plastering of his right leg – see photo. He was there to make sure I followed the correct procedures. Once in the recovery room, I stayed with him and spoke to him as he was waking up. Later, he said he remembers seeing me ‘small small’.
Due to the inability in the first surgery to get the correct angle, Tamba underwent a second surgery to finish the adjustments. Tamba continued to receive outpatient care and physical therapy while he was at the HOPE Center – just a ten minute walk from the ship at Water Quay.
Tamba was excited and returned home to Koidu to wonderful celebration of his family and friends, as he is walking by himself correctly. He looks forward to returning to school. He wants to continue his education and to get a good job – maybe even one using computers. After feeling much shame, Tamba will return all OK. His only regret is that Dr. Frank shared “Tamba, you need to wait for 3 years before playing football/soccer.” His physical body is restored, emotional life strengthened, and he has new input into his spiritual life; a life transformed.
This is a story of one of thousands of patients this year, and one of dozens of patients with whom I have established relationship. I will continue to pray for and, as much as possible, stay in contact with them. As I serve as Programs Administrator here onboard now for over five years, sometimes the number of reports, projects, statistics, finances and other responsibilities can be overwhelming, I am so encouraged when I see lives transformed. I feel my time with the patients is such a vital part of my ministry, and that is why I desire to share this story with you all. I pray that as you read this letter, you know that you are also a part of Tamba’s life with your prayers, encouragement and financial support. Thank you.
Currently the Africa Mercy is in Freetown, Sierra Leone till December 8th, then to Tema, Ghana over Christmas and then to Lomé, Togo from January 5 – June 15, 2012. For August 2012 – June 2013 in Conakry, Guinea.Serving Together,
Mailing Address: Keith R Brinkman, Mercy Ships, P.O. Box 2020, Lindale, Texas, 75771 U.S.A.
Patient Visitation on board the Africa Mercy is great – the hospital is just down the hallway from the office and one deck below from my cabin. With the children, we have a great time up on deck 7 getting some fresh air and playing on the ride-on-toys (yes even for those with casts on they want to ride). Those visits are some of my great highlights. I truly miss them when they are preparing to return home.
Ongoing Prayer Requests – Health, our Patients health and their recovery, Safety, Traveling Mercies, Wisdom, Guidance, Divine Opportunities, Understanding of the culture, Learning of the languages, the Opportunities to be His hands and feet extendedPersonal Web Site:
As we did on the Caribbean Mercy, there are many projects and activities off the ship. One I would like to share with you about is the Food for Life – Agriculture Training. The goal of this project is to increase capacity of local organizations to contribute to improved nutrition and farming incomes for farmers by training in holistic agriculture concepts and organic farming methods. Four local organizations participated: Heifer Sierra Leone, Hope of Glory, City of Rest and Sierra Canadian Humanitarian & Development Organization. Sixteen participants from these groups were involved in the training over four months.
Their training started with a Bible study, then lecture and practical application. Jean Claude from Congo Brazzaville was our agriculture facilitator. He has a passion for training others. I have watched him sharing from Genesis in the Bible with the participants to going out and getting his hands dirty in the earth in practical demonstration.
Bambay Sawaneh joined the program with his wife and baby despite a physical disability he suffered during the war. Rebel soldiers chopped off both his hands. A compassionate nun arranged for him to have a surgery that split the stubs of his arms to allow him to grasp things. Without that surgery, farming would have been impossible. His dedication to farming comes from a family history in agriculture. In comparing the Food for Life methods with the traditional ones, he said, “Through this form of training, I came to learn that we have been wasting our time and wasting our energy. It’s like we’re working like an elephant and eat like ant…We destroyed everything out of ignorance.” If you would like to read more of his story, please let me know and I will send you the whole article.
On July 9th, it was graduation day to celebrate with their completion of the course. I had the privilege to be the MC for our gathering as we honor these participants in their achievement. At the same time, reminding them that they have been trained to be trainers (the Training of Trainers – TOT method). The Mercy Ships Food for Life Graduation Ceremony symbolically marked a new beginning, bright with hope for the future. In a country suffering a shortage of food and high import prices, there must be a radical change in food production. The Food for Life Program has the potential to develop the nation agriculturally as the trainees become trainers in their communities. In Victor Tamba’s words: “God gave this to me. I never dreamed of it. Now I’m an agriculturist. I know my future will be very good now. I can never, never forget it!”
Prayer Requests: **Application of the biblical principles and agriculture principles they have learned to be shared with others in this nation. ** For the follow up taking place now with the new trainers.
Mail: Keith R. Brinkman, Mercy Ships, P.O. Box 2020, Lindale, TX 75771 USA
Schedule: Sierra Leone Field Service February 27 – December 8, 2011