It’s over! The year has finished and if you’re reading this, you made it on to the next one. This next year is one more example of God’s grace in our lives. Even with our mess-ups and regrets, we get another chance to live the life we dream of, the abundant life God promises us.

New Year’s is a great reason to celebrate. I love doing that with tight hugs, kisses and whoops for joy.

The world hasn’t ended yet, the breath in our lungs is still being exchanged, and the sun comes up every morning. That’s so exciting!

That’s reason to celebrate. That’s reason to look back at the glorious gift we got in the Year Two Thousand Fifteen.

Ruben’s perspective here on This Dust Never Settles is a rare treat, (everyone loved this story from the operating room) but today you’ll hear from both of us. Many of the moments of 2015 were experienced together. Between the both of us, here are moments that stuck out in our minds.

Learning to REALLY drive a manual car:

I (Ruben) knew how to drive manual before, but I just never did it. Getting my license to drive Mercy Ships vehicles internationally has been my ticket to adventure. From the busy, crowded streets of the capital, to the cow-dodging and swerving bicycles, to responding to a crew emergency 4 hours away, it’s been quite an experience. Not everyone can drive the Mercy Ships vehicles, so I’m proud to be able to help in emergencies or at the weekly dental screenings off-ship. I never expected to become a seasoned driver in Land Rovers in Madagascar.
A visit to an off-the-paved-road antique shop with friends


Donating Blood to Sambany:

There’s so many ways that God has used me (Ruben) while being here, and some that I’m not aware of, but Sambany was a great example of something I got to see before my eyes. I saw, through Sambany, how God was able to truly bring life to another person. I was even able to be with him when my own blood was being pumped into his veins. Seeing his successful surgery was the most amazing part of seeing his life resurrected into something new. Read his amazing life story here.
Sambany waited while the team weighed risks to positive outcomes.

OnBoarding June 2015:

Ruben: I got to learn more about Mercy Ships as an organization and meet staff and volunteers that I had interacted with over the phone. It was a time of getting away from the ship to re-focus, not only on the mission of Mercy Ships, but the mission of my life. It was an integral part to becoming a long-term crew because I was equipped. I drew from their strengths and lessons learned by spending time with those who have invested so much into this mission . To see people who actually live out the core values of Mercy Ships inspired me to do the same.

Ivanna: This time was significant because of what God was doing behind-the-scenes, in my mind and heart. Yes, the training and teaching were extremely valuable, but the emotional lessons we learned were priceless. In addition to the freedom I finally took hold of regarding my identity in Christ, I felt my heart break for Africa for the first time. This is not metaphorical; I literally lost control in the middle of a lecture on colonialism and historical attempts to change Africa. There was a tangible sorrow in my heart to learn about all the ways Westerners have contributed to the problem. I didn’t even know I felt that way about this patchwork continent of countries.

Debriefing at the end of two months. Photo: Bronnie McDonald

My first time meeting the REAL Africa:

When we got on the plane to meet the Africa Mercy in August 2014, we thought we’d be sailing to Benin. Plans changed and we arrived in Madagascar 3 months later. We kept hearing that although Madagascar had need, it was very different from West Africa.

My (Ivanna) visit to rural South Africa in July gave me some insight. I wish I could describe it, but it was a vibe, a drastically different vibe.

This photo was snapped after an all-day trek to visit HIV-positive patients in the remote hills underneath the Drakensberg mountains. We got to talk to these families, experience their relentless hospitality, and were invited to pray with them. It started pouring at the end, and I don’t own a rain jacket. Garbage bags work great!

Kayla and I almost done with the home visits. Photo: Brian Barki


Tana Screening:

We do screenings to find appropriate patients all the time, but this one was different than ever before. I was part of a very small team of people going into the country before the ship arrived. Never before have screenings been conducted with the ship’s presence. It was a busy time, but a blessing. I had the opportunity to put more focus on the patients themselves. It was also  the first major screening I had managed security for. It was my first time being in the country as a “traditional” missionary, living and spending deeper time in the community. It was very challenging, but it marked a big growth period for me.

Patients and families lined up and waiting. Photo: Ruben Figueroa


Sailing with the ship:

I (Ruben) just enjoy it because I love sailing. I can really see God’s presence in the wind and the waves so I’ve always enjoyed time close to the sea. If the ship wasn’t delayed I wouldn’t have made the sail because I was already in Madagascar. It was a challenge to leave Madagascar where I’d been with patients for 3 weeks and re-immerse myself into the community. It was worth it.
The bow: the closest you can get to the ocean without jumping in. Photo: Katie Keegan

Approaching Mada for the 2nd time:

I (Ivanna) don’t know how to describe the feeling of seeing the familiar Madagascar coast for a 2nd time because it was so much more than happiness. I was elated! We could help more people. We could reunite with our Malagasy day crew and friends. We could experience the beauty of Madagascar one more time.

Photo: Katie Keegan

My Hair Wrapping Journey:

This is something that started in June and continued with more frequency since then. I wrote about my reasons here because I was getting questions every day. The reasons stated in that post are still true, although I think about them less explicitly now that covering my hair is natural and normal to me. The bottom-line reason I cover is because I like it and feel more put together. It’s never something I would have embraced prior to summer 2015, so it represents a huge victory for me over seeking the approval of others and embracing who I am and what I love.

Lunch date with Ruben before evening shift.

Free Fall Poem:

If only I had a video of the performance. During summer 2015 I was reminded of the storyteller within me, and I knew I wanted to cultivate and share that part of me. I heard a moving piece of spoken word poetry as a part of a marriage bible study curriculum last April. It stuck with me and I decided to try to memorize it. I approached it half-heartedly, but in August I organized a talent night while we sailed to Madagascar. I dedicated myself to memorizing the poem. It was all I thought about and I recited over and over throughout the day. Performing that poem was the most euphoric experience I had in a long time. The feeling of accomplishment, the feeling of the poem taking hold of me while I performed it and practically telling itself, and the feeling of doing something I really enjoy but NEVER do was amazing. You can check out the original video on YouTube.

Christmas on the Ship, On Boarding Christmas Party:

This was the same group we spent the summer with, but once we arrived to the ship many of us split ways with different jobs, schedules and peers. However, the summer we spent together was full of valuable lessons for all of us and I think almost all of us grew stronger while there. We celebrated those lessons which 2015 allowed us to have and reflected on what we wanted from 2016.

Reflecting Photo: Bronnie McDonald
P.S. I post about ship life, patient stories that touch me, and how I handle being a Mercy Shipper in Madagascar. Follow by email or Bloglovin’ from the sidebar and you’ll never miss a post!

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