27 April 2011


I can't believe it has been over a week since I last blogged!  I feel like time is going pretty quickly the past few days.  In about a week I will reach my two-month mark already.  Unreal.

I titled today's post "freedom" for two reasons: I will be recounting Easter on the ship (arguably the most important day in Christianity) and because today is Sierra Leone's Independence Day, and today they are celebrating FIFTY years of independence!

Before I get into all that, let me share a little bit about last week.  We had the pleasure of doing two days of eye screening at the Good News Assembly of God, a local church in Brookfield (a different Freetown neighborhood).  The pastor, Pastor Moses, has been working with Mercy Ships since their first visit to Sierra Leone in 1993.  He graciously agreed to let the Eye Team take over the church, rearranging pews and benches, for screening.  Here is a shot of the interior of the church during screening (shot from the pulpit area):

Patients entered form the left and proceeded to the area on the right, where they had their visual acuities checked.  They then move to the area in the back right where they were seen by a doctor and then they could get scheduled for a secondary screening or get reading glasses, which were fitted by yours truly.  Here is a photo that (vaguely) shows me working, fitting glasses on a patient:

I would also give out sunglasses to children, which is always fun!  The kids like to pick out their favorite color.

Pastor Moses' son, Josiah, was also on hand to help out with the screening.  He was a huge help and worked with me as a translator.  He was practically my shadow all day.

As much of a ham as he is, he can also be quite shy:

By the time we put in a full day of screening, our crew and day volunteers usually devolve into some sort of silly antics brought on by our sweaty exhaustion.  Here is an unknowing Martha posing for a shot with Doug in the background:

We may be doing more screenings at Pastor Moses' church later in the year, but now on to Easter!

The major Easter festivities on board the Africa Mercy began last Thursday.  To celebrate Maundy Thursday, the chaplaincy set up feet washing on the deck 7 outdoor promenade.  As a Brethren, I am quite used to feet washing, but as I walked outside, I soon realized that the ship would be practicing (GASP) co-ed feet washing!  In church, men and women traditionally go to separate rooms for feet washing and then rejoin for communion.  While I have no theological qualms against co-ed feet washing, it did feel a bit weird having my feet washed by my friend Laura.  Afterwards we headed to the Queen's Lounge for communion.  When the Africa Mercy was a Danish rail ferry, the Queen's Lounge was a cabin/quarters for the Danish Queen when she was on board.  Today, it is a very nice lounge/meeting space, and on last Thursday, it was transformed into the Upper Room.  The walls and ceiling were covered with sheets of fabric, with chairs and cushions tucked in to dim corners with candles and plants.  In the center of the room was a table with the Bread and Cup.  In addition to the Upper Room, the International Lounge (our largest meeting space on ship--can seat all 400 crew!) was transformed into the Garden of Gethsemane.  The chairs were removed and replaced with plants, huge palm fronds, dimmed lighting, and a "garden" soundtrack.  It was a place for quiet meditation and prayer, open all night, until 6am on Good Friday.  

On Friday morning, there was a service commemorating Christ's death at the cross.  As you walked into International Lounge, you were greeted with a spotlit cross, draped in a long red fabric that then trailed on the floor leading to another cross lying on the ground.  The service was held with the chaplains being hidden, so only their voices were heard, leaving the audience to focus on the cross and projected imagery.  "What would you have said to Jesus if you were at the foot of the cross on that day?" they asked.  "Write it down, and nail it to the cross."  One by one, people walked to the cross on the ground, wrote down their thoughts and nailed it to the cross.  Starting with just one person, the sound of hammers on nails echoed through the virtually silent room.  Each strike reverberated in my heart as I thought about Isaiah 53:4-9, which reminds us that it was our sin that nailed Christ to the cross. 

But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
   our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
   that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
   that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
   Through his bruises we get healed.
We're all like sheep who've wandered off and gotten lost.
   We've all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we've done wrong,
   on him, on him.
He was beaten, he was tortured,
   but he didn't say a word.
Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered
   and like a sheep being sheared,
   he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—
   and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,
   beaten bloody for the sins of my people.
They buried him with the wicked,
   threw him in a grave with a rich man,
Even though he'd never hurt a soul
   or said one word that wasn't true.

[From the Message, emphasis added.]

 I love how the Message just puts it out there.  No fancy language.  And the craziest part is that this passage is from the Old Testament...written years before Christ's earthly ministry and death.  That is something to wrap your head around.  I was also reminded of a lyric from the song "Breath of God," that says "It was an unfair deal on the part of Christ/He got my sin, I got eternal life."  Wow.  Just wow.  Needless to say, it was a heavy service that I'm sure left many people reflecting on thoughts like this.  

Finally, Sunday arrived.  I got up at 6am, dressed, brushed my teeth, and headed up to Deck 8 (the top deck) for the Easter Sunrise Service.  Despite the cloudy weather and lack of an apparent sunrise (we will just go with Son rise), the service was an awesome way to start the day.  A few crew members played guitar and djembe (the African drum) and led us in singing some Easter-themed worship songs.

After the service, I showered, put on nicer clothes, and then joined the other early risers for the hot cross buns served in the Midships Lounge.  The main Easter Service began at 8:30am.  While I love the contemporary services on board, it was nice to have a traditional service with a bulletin, an order of service, a responsive call to worship, etc.  Following the service was a no-less-than glorious (!) brunch in the dining room.  Here is a spread of fruit and breads, topped with gingerbread lambs:

A banner hung in the dining room:

After giving the kitchen staff a standing ovation, we piled into line.  The menu included vegetarian and bacon quiche, baked beans (those silly Brits!), clove-spiced ham, hash browns, turkey, deviled eggs, fruit, and a variety of breads.  Everything was delicious, even the ham, which was so heavily coated with cloves that it had an anesthetic effect on your tongue.  After the meal, some friends and I watched the movie "High Crimes," featuring Ashley Judd, Morgan Freeman, and Jim Caviezel.  (Coincidentally, Jim Caviezel played Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ," so it seemed like appropriate movie choice for Easter.)  The legal thriller was really great and I would definitely recommend it!  Afterwards, I headed to the Midships Lounge to hide Easter eggs with my friend Claire, who I had met during my 24-hour layover in Brussels.  We had about an hour to hide 250 (paper) eggs, which we managed to pull off with some additional help.  Once the kids arrived, two of the high school girls told the Easter story with the Resurrection Eggs, which are plastic eggs with different elements of the Easter story within.

The kids then went wild, running around the 5th and 6th decks, searching for eggs.  Unfortunately I do not have too many photos of this I was running around myself, getting the prizes together and helping kids who couldn't find eggs.  All in all, the hunt went really well--the kids had a lot of fun and the parents were super appreciative.  One mom personally told me that it was so nice to have an event that the parents themselves didn't have to plan, and that it was fun to just hang out with their kids.

Monday was a ship's holiday, so that meant I slept in.  Tuesday was back to work.

Since I arrived in Freetown, I had been hearing about April 27th.  50 years ago, today, Sierra Leone became independent from Great Britain.  As you can imagine, this is a HUGE HUGE HUGE deal for Sierra Leoneans.  Despite still recovering from the crippling civil war, the excitement and pride for the event exudes from each citizen.  Earlier this week, ribbons and decorations of green, white, and blue (the colors of the flag) began appearing in the hospital, and today, just about everybody was donning the same colors in their outfits. Many day volunteers even painted their faces or had patriotic colors in their hair.  At lunch, a group of us honored our patients and day volunteers by singing the Sierra Leone National Anthem in the wards and in the dining room during lunch.
High we exalt thee; realm of the free;
Great is the love we have for thee;
Firmly united ever we stand,
Singing thy praise, O native land.
We raise up our hearts and our voices on high,
The hills and the valleys re-echo our cry;
Blessing and peace be ever thine own,
Land that we love, our Sierra Leone!

Everyone was super excited and joined in the song, included the excitable children on the ward.  Covered in stickers, a few of them even enthusiastically followed us down the hallway in the wheelchairs and crutches!  The galley even baked several cakes for the occasion, iced in green, white and blue.  

Tomorrow we are going to the local World Vision office, the headquarters for their Sierra Leone mission, to do eye exams for the staff.  Surgeries will start back up on Monday, which I am really excited for because that means I will resume my role as Peri-Operative Team Coordinator.  

Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the start of the spring season.  Take care!

ALSO, if you have any ideas or suggestions for what you'd like me to blog about, or any questions you'd like answered,  feel free to send them my way!  You can either leave a comment on the blog, or email me at seth.mcelroy@gmail.com   As always, thanks for doing what you do by supporting me!


  1. i love seeing your pictures! great reading!

  2. What a wonderful adventure in serving the Risen Lord! So thrilled for all you experienced this weekend. He is Risen Indeed! Keep strong to the end!

  3. Seth this is sweeet. I don't read every post, But I look at every photo =] They're GREAT! Praying for you!

  4. I am so happy to see how you were able to experience what our Lord went through for us by taking our sins upon Himself. I thank God for you, Seth, and when I see how grounded you are in your faith, I am so happy. I pray that things will continue to go well for you and all the Mercy Ship crew.