Mission Accomplished – The Esther Project

  The Esther Project girls pulled away from the dock in Tamatave, Madagascar this morning through a wall of heavy, warm rain. Because it is Easter Sunday, and our weekend was such a breathtaking success, that seems more than right.  

My friend Stacia stood with her arm over my shoulders, as the last girls boarded the bus, and said:

“Look at this. It’s beautiful.” 

Academy principal Dave saw that comment break me in two. He walked over, took the tail of his shirt and wiped my whole face with it. Which, if you know Dave at all, is exactly something he would do.  

I could prattle on about all this or I could run the highlight reel. 

Ready? 

This is Captain Jan.
 He was an early and vocal supporter of The Esther Project, and this morning was discovered during a routine stowaway check in the van headed back to Tana with the girls. He’s since been returned to the bridge. 

Yesterday, when we toured the Africa Mercy, Captain Jan and Second Officer Eric let the girls take the helm, which they could barely see over, sit in the Captain’s chair and try out the big binoculars. 

One of the girls had this to say about the experience:

“Our Captains are very handsome.”

I’m not sure what’s funnier about that statement, the handsome part or the use of the possessive “our.” Clearly, The Africa Mercy is the girls’ ship now, but her Captain and Officers too? 

 Incidentally, Jan recognizes he is saluting with the wrong hand in this picture.  He would want you to know he was also holding his phone. 

Speaking of amazing guys, here are another two – Ally and Tom. These are the greatest servant hearted fixers of all time, from shower facilities, to communication gaps, these two are all the grease you need. 

  
Oh and here’s something we learned about showers: Teenage girls like them. 

Especially when you give them a bag with shampoo, soap and a fluffy new towel, right when they get off a ten hour bus ride.  That creates certain expectations, such as: Where are the showers you didn’t think to provide.  

I freak out about stuff like that, but Tom just gets his tools and rigs up three new showers, which work great until our new field security officer Pennie notices a small leak. As she goes to fix it, the shut off valve comes off in her hand. If she lets go, we have a fire hose in the bathroom. Here’s a video of the experience I know she’s dying for me to post.   

Oh yes, and speaking of water, we had it everywhere, especially in our makeshift Hilton, aka: the warehouse on the dock. The Queen Mother of all hospitality, kindness and detail, Lisa Svatek, collected and placed every bucket and bedpan she could find so the girls’ mattresses wouldn’t get wet from the leaky roof. A few did, but even rainy season can’t diminish this level of cute.    

 Are you wondering what happened to all those Pom Poms?

   
Maybe by now you’re thinking, just how did we manage a beach trip and pool party with all that rain? Excellent question. 

  

We didn’t.  The rain stopped.    

If you’re me, and planning an outdoor event where rain is certain to spoil your plans, you pray whiny, beggy, cajoling prayers, that basically sound like “Lord pleeeeeeeease. Sun. Ugh.”

The sun never came out at the beach. It was overcast, without a drop of rain.  

But listen, our baby girls live at 5,000 feet and can’t handle sea level sun. Had it been out they would have melted. Plus, the beach would have been packed with people. As it was, we basically had it to ourselves. In addition, had that storm not blown through, the ocean would have been calm enough for swimming, which we didn’t really want for safety reasons. They were happy just to splash in the waves. 

God knew all that before I did.   

How often, after praying for something I don’t get, do I assume the Lord just didn’t answer? Why can’t I trust that He sees what I actually need and is eager to give it to me?

 
Africa Mercy crew will tell you, that you have to get a coconut at the beach. It’s critical. This vendor saw a significant spike in his daily revenue.  

  
And by the way, do these swimsuits look familiar? Remember a year ago, when we took the girls swimming in Tana? An American donor bought them new swimsuits. Isn’t it starting to seem like someone is behind all this?

Can your heart handle one last story and picture?

Madagascar is a tropical island nation and native tropical fish swim all around the dock.  Kneeling there you can see dozens of varieties. It’s a giant magnificent aquarium.  

  

They were doing this when Principal Dave, the one with snot on his shirt, plucked a few urchins from the water and let the girls hold them, which of course prompted squealing.

 
 
This morning before they left, one of the girls got up and spoke to everyone through the translator. She spoke quietly and had to compose herself.  Among a few other things, here is what she said:

“We thank you because now we can see how much you love us.”

That, my friends, is complete victory. Thank you to all of you who worked and prayed and paid and planned and trusted that together we could bring a little more heaven to earth. 

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On Midair and Miracles

The hardest thing about needing a miracle, I think, is the position required to receive one. It looks something like this:

I promised I would write about the signs and wonders I’ve seen during the birth of The Esther Project, but it’s important to note, I never would have seen them had I not skied off the cliff in the first place.

You could say, any plan that requires divine intervention to prevent a spectacular failure, is foolish.  That’s true, unless you believe in a God who sends a murderer into Pharaoh’s court to demand the release of half a million Jewish slaves.

Moses argued with God about that. “Who me?”

I did the same when my partner at Mercy Ships kept suggesting the best way to impact a bunch of abused and abandoned girls in the worlds’ 6th poorest nation, was to bring them to the Africa Mercy. 

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“No way,” I said. “I’ve got no back up. It’s too wild. Too hard. Too much work. And how do I even ask for such a thing?”

Then my friend Joy reminded me of God talking back to Moses.

So the Lord said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes the mute, the deaf, the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? 12 Now therefore, go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall say.”

“All right Lord, I’ll go,” I said. “Just so we’re clear though, I can’t make this happen, you have to.”

Roger that.

Anatomy of a Miracle – Seven Easy Steps.

Step One: Somebody, somewhere mentions the Africa Mercy recently got new mattresses, and the old ones are still stacked up in the warehouse.

And that warehouse, someone else adds, will be unused the weekend you might bring the girls down, because that happens to be Easter weekend – a fact you overlooked.

Step Two: The next day you discover, the bus you normally take to the port doesn’t run on Good Friday, so you have to come two days early, giving you enough time to say, dress up a warehouse with 50 mattresses on the floor.

Step Three: That same day, someone else mentions, in passing, the Chaplaincy department at Mercy Ships has chosen to focus this Easter season on the Old Testament Book of Esther.

And you remember, 18 months before, when you nicknamed your work with these girls,  “The Esther Project,” and the hair stands up on your neck. 

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Step Four: Soon after, you take a deep breath and hit send on a proposal to the management team of the Africa Mercy, explaining how you plan to, from the United States, organize a beach trip and two-night slumber party on the dock, next to the ship, for 50 Malagasy teenagers, who live ten hours away, don’t speak English and have never seen the ocean.

And you apologize for how crazy that sounds.

But before you hear back, the Captain lets it fly that he’d like to invite the girls up to the Bridge. You laugh because in your three years with Mercy Ships, you’ve never been invited to visit the Bridge.

Step Five: The management team mulls it over. There is yes. There is no. You cry in the parking lot. There is yes again. A small no. Then a green light. Your friends on board pull weight for you, and you cry about that too.

Step Six: You build a Go Fund Me page to beg $2500 for transport, pizza, ice cream and other teenage girl essentials. Typically, you’d rather take a beating then ask people for money, but you do it because the Lord is setting bushes on fire everywhere, and you dare not ignore a burning bush. Right Moses?

The first donation arrives 30 minutes later from a woman you don’t know named Ruth. It is for $500. You cry again.

Less than 22 hours later, the campaign is overfunded by 10% and you’re still scheduled to take an offering at Mercy Ships. So, two days later, you do and now you’re overfunded by 90% because your colleagues want to bring heaven to earth too.

Step Seven: With some of that extra money, Tom, your partner on the Africa Mercy, suggests you buy fresh coconuts with the tops lopped off and a straw stuck in them, so the girls can sip fresh coconut water with their toes in the sand.

And you remember the first donation you received when the Esther Project weekend was still a dream – a crisp twenty, sneakily left on your bathroom counter, with a note attached that read:

“Everyone needs the beach.”

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Friends listen….Jesus said follow me but he rarely led his followers to safe and manageable places. He led them into storms, fights, mobs, trials and demonic neighborhoods. He did it to make them at once fearless and hopelessly dependent on him.

I understand something now that I didn’t before about people who are humble after doing cool and selfless things to benefit other people.

It’s not them doing it.

It’s Jesus at work in them, making impossible things happen so nobody could reasonably claim credit. And Jesus does this most often when we are off the cliff and fully midair.

The Esther Project happens March 25th – March 27th, but we leave for midair Wednesday morning.
over your skiis

Want to Bring Heaven to Earth?

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Meet Mampionona. She’s 15, the president of her class, and working on her third language – English – because she wants to be a journalist. Every time she sees me, she clutches me just like this and chases the other girls away.

I get that, because Mampionona lives at a home in Antananarivo, Madagascar for abused, neglected and orphaned girls. The rest of her story would crush you if I told it, but I won’t because Mampionona isn’t a girl who needs pity.

She needs a champion.

Eighteen months ago, my colleagues and I began taking teams of Mercy Shippers to work with Akany Avoko Childrens Home in Madagascar. Because we knew we’d return to see these same girls four times, we asked ourselves:

How do we bring heaven to earth in the world’s 6th poorest nation? 

What can we do that has eternal consequences for these girls and us?

How do we show them they are royal, beloved daughters of the Most High King?

What we planned became known as The Esther Project and here’s how it looked:

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In two weeks, I’ll fly 10,500 miles back to Madagascar to see Mampionona and her crew of besties again. Here they are.

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But we all know the deal. In May, the Africa Mercy will leave Madagascar, and sail back to West Africa to continue her work in Benin. It’s far. Here’s a map.

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About year ago, one of my partners walked into my office and said:

“What if we brought them to the ship?”

“Did you fall and hit your head?” I replied. “The ship is a ten-hour bus ride away and where would we put them? How would we feed them? That’s impossible.”

“I know. Let me make some calls.”

What happened next is the subject of a whole different post that I promise to write because it’s breathtaking. Remember when I said I had a big decision to make? That was it. As far as I know, bringing 50 teenage girls to the Africa Mercy for a weekend, has never been done.

And now we’re doing it.

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These girls have lived their whole lives on an island and few have ever seen the ocean, much less a ship, much less a hospital in a ship, full of their own people receiving free healthcare.

Africa Mercy management said yes. The hospital director said yes and invited them to visit the wards. The Captain said yes and invited them to visit the Bridge.

What sort of vision will that plant for the girls?  Imagine it!

Of course, guess who has to pay for it? The lunatics who dreamed it all up. Namely me, Stefan and Tom. We need about $2000, for transport, food and a lift to a good, safe beach so the girls can feel sand between their toes and splash in the Indian Ocean.

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But I am not worried, because our God is mighty and his hand is all over this. I promise I will tell you how I know.

Do you want to help us?

This Thursday, we will take an offering at Mercy Ships headquarters in Texas, because a few people above us, caught the vision and said yes. The same thing happened aboard the Africa Mercy – A call for volunteers goes out Monday morning.

If you don’t happen to work for the Ships, here’s a link to the Go Fund Me account we set up. Come help us bring heaven to earth.

I’ll keep you posted in this space, because the Lord will do amazing things among us. I know Him.

**As ever friends, these views are my own. The official Mercy Ships is here.