Hiding in the back corner of his small tin hut, Abdullai has water and food brought to him each day by his little brother. 24-years-old and living in the shadows of a village in the Republic of Congo, Abdullai only comes out at night. His neighbors think he is cursed. What appeared 12 years ago as little more than a pimple on his lower jaw has now grown into a tumor the size of a football. With little money and no access to healthcare, this otherwise healthy young man will eventually die of suffocation as the tumor slowly presses further and further in on his windpipe.
When she was just 19 years old, Sandrine’s husband abandoned her after she miscarried their second child. With no maternity clinic or midwife available, Sandrine’s small body simply could not handle the prolonged labor. As a result, a small tear (known as an obstetric fistula) formed, leaving her incontinent. Unable to control her own urination, Sandrine now lives alone in shame. She survives by digging through the trash in her riverside village on the island nation of Madagascar. Her only hope for her future is that she can find some scraps of food to eat and some bits of metal to try and sell at the local market.
Does Jesus know about Abdullai? Is He aware of Sandrine’s situation? In Luke 19:10, Jesus said that He has “come to seek and to save the lost”. But wait – was that just a one-time event, or does He still come today? Does Jesus still seek those who need His saving touch? Did the Incarnation end with Jesus’ Ascension, or is His Spirit still incarnate today?
An all-volunteer staff of doctors, nurses, and aid workers from around the world arrives at the port of Pointe-Noire, Congo. Their vessel is the m/v Africa Mercy, a ship with five operating rooms and a 70-bed hospital onboard. Their mission is to follow the incarnational model of Jesus, to come to the world’s forgotten poor, in-person, and share the miracles of hope and healing with them in Jesus’ Name by providing free medical care.
A small field team of nurses reaches Abdullai’s village on the third month of their tour in Congo. He is brought back the ship where he receives a life-saving surgery. After 6 weeks of recovery and physical therapy, Abdullai’s tumor is gone. But his smile has returned, as has his opportunity at a fuller life.
Six months later, Sandrine’s aunt hears on the radio that a hospital ship is coming to Madagascar. Sandrine sells the last of her few possessions to afford the three-day journey by canoe down to the port city of Toamasina. When she arrives, Sandrine is welcomed by Amy and Natalie, two Mercy Ships nurses who are working at the local patient evaluation center. Three days later, Sandrine boards the Africa Mercy, where she receives a dignity-restoring surgery. After four weeks in recovery, Sandrine is given a brand-new dress as a symbol of her healing, and she is released from the hospital along with 11 other women. As they walk off the ship, they are singing and dancing in celebration that they are dry for the first time in years!
This is the incarnational ministry of Mercy Ships. Each year, the lives of about 2000 people like Abdullai and Sandrine are forever changed by a free surgery they receive aboard our hospital ship. While the surgeries transform them physically, it is the love of Christ flowing through the lives of the ship’s Crew that transforms our patients spiritually. There is no charge, no fee, no strings attached of any kind. Just love, genuine friendship, and world-class medical care – all freely given, which can only be freely received.
Mercy Ships is but one branch of God’s world-covering incarnational tree. The love of God is demonstrated by the incarnation of God’s people deployed all over the world! Following Jesus’ example, we come in-person, and we seek out the hurting and the desperate, to freely offer a saving touch in His Name. You are part of that Incarnation. Wherever you are is a place where the Spirit of Christ can be incarnate through you! The promise of God in Acts 2:38-39 is that when we place our faith in Him, He places His Spirit in us! And in Romans 8:11, God declares that the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is alive and at work within us!
Nick Cash is a regular contributor to Soul Care Collective.