On Releasing The Lion – The Esther Project

The Esther Project volunteers

One of the loveliest things to come out of the Esther Project was watching dozens of Africa Mercy crew members show up on their days off and not just pitch in, but cut loose and play.

On both nights of Easter weekend, the dock was lined with crew members like mother hens, each with three or four girls tucked under their arms, chatting, giggling and practicing their Malagasy.   Two of our teenage crew members, Wesley and Bendik, students in the Mercy Ships Academy, created the world’s greatest playlist and DJ’d a dance party on Saturday night.

The girls danced for a while, but I could tell they were exhausted. Most sat on the benches and watched our HR director dance around with his flashing red and white bicycle lights stuck to his glasses. Tanya made that even better by holding her iPhone up to illuminate the disco ball. The girls swarmed Kern, our new programs analyst, and mimicked his super suave moves.

Surely that deserves a video. Don’t you think?   At one point, dancing with my Swiss friend Sandrine, I yelled,

“Are we at a rave right now?”

Nodding, she confirmed we were. I had trouble sorting out how to kind of be at work and at a rave, next to the ship with a bunch of kids running around. No matter, it was all caps AWESOME.


Josh and Ruben should be so proud.

As I’ve said before, when you are one of 140 children living in a foster home, rarely is anybody standing by to take pictures of you doing something cute. That’s why on every one of our four field practices at Akany Avoko we included some photography project. The girls never get enough of this.

Stepping it up from just snapping a selfie and showing it to them, Aussie crew member and brilliant photographer Justine, with her helpers Stace and Ivanna, took each girl to their makeshift photo studio and took proper portraits of them. Then they stayed up all night printing and laminating them.  They came out looking something like this.   Easter morning, after Chaplain Nick prayed powerful and prophetic things over the girls’ lives and futures as Malagasy cabinet ministers, Justine, Stace and Ivanna handed those photos to each girl, one by one.

It’s a little/big thing that says, “You matter.”

Then there’s Becki. She actually works at the base in Texas but has been on loan to the Africa Mercy for a few months.    Becki has a passion for global mission work, but she’s also a supply chain master. She filled the gap when, for two weeks before the girls arrived, I was off the grid working in the capital city. I was super grateful for that, but Becki also had a vision for the staff of Akany Avoko who came with the girls for the weekend – the six women who probably got five minutes of sleep the whole time.

She wanted to tell them they were like pearls of great price, so she hustled six pearls from somewhere and made these beautiful cards to go with them. Super Tom will deliver them in a few weeks when he visits the girls in Tana. After that, Becki cracked on with a down-to-the-penny spreadsheet of the things supplied to us by the Ship’s galley, like this stuff.   You know, it’s like we all have two jobs around here. Our day jobs and what we are really doing.

I said that to the Africa Mercy’s deck and engineering department yesterday. Of course it’s incredible all the work they do to keep the big girl floating, running, cooled, and safe, but that’s just their day job.   Their real job, and that of anyone following Jesus like they mean it, is to release the roaring Lion of Judah everywhere they go: Staff meetings, airports, engine rooms and Walmart.

Romans 8:11 says we have the power that raised Jesus from the dead, alive on the inside of us: Power to do big heroic things, like when Dr. Gary removes a massive tumor from a grown man’s face, or when a crew member speaks truth, apology, and grace into a department riven by strife.

When we release the Lion of Judah, the enemy flees before us and we capture his territory. That my friends, is our real job as followers of Jesus Christ.

My friend Lisa said, she thinks we as crew got more from the Esther Project girls than we gave them. I think that’s just what happens when you are at play in Kingdom of God.

What I know for sure is, I loved that crew before they showed up and backed our crazy little project. I struggle to express how I feel about them now.

By the way, this is what it looks like to fly over the Africa Mercy with tears in your eyes.


The Esther Project Announcement

One thing we worried about in announcing to the girls at Akany Avoko that they were going to the ship for Easter weekend was: “What about the 90 or so other kids who won’t go anywhere?” The last thing orphaned, abandoned and abused kids need is exclusion.

Last week director Lalasoa said to me: “Guess what?! You’re not going to believe this. Another organization has invited the remaining kids on a trip to Antisrabe after Easter. So everybody gets to go somewhere.”

Lalasoa said that invitation came out of nowhere. And that, my friends, is exactly the sort of thing Jesus does. You just have to get yourself into an impossible situation first. 

So all week Lalasoa baited the kids with a “surprise announcement.” My pal Mampionona and her buddies kept trying to wheedle it out of me, but I just pretended not to understand their French – which is not hard for me to do.


This is her wheedling look.


On Friday Lalasoa got all the kids in a room for the big announcement. She started with the little ones and had them all stand up one by one. When they were all standing, she told them they were going away for the weekend.


Then she did the same for the older girls, and here’s how that looked.

My team and I arrived yesterday on the Africa Mercy – the girls arrive Friday afternoon.  On the dock is a vinyl sign with our logo and a note written in Malagasy, welcoming the girls to the ship. It is signed by hundreds of Africa Mercy crew members.

Happy Easter indeed.

Want to Bring Heaven to Earth?


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:




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


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.


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.


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.

EP final graphic

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.