Three weeks ago we were just starting to screen Malagasy patients for surgery. The wards weren’t open yet; nurses were still setting up the wards. I still didn’t know what nursing would be like here. All I had were stories.

When Mercy Ships arrives in any given country, we have to find our patients. The weeks prior to the ship’s arrival were for spreading the word to potential patients or anyone that might have contact with people in need of surgery. Then we sail in, and the screening teams enlist the help of volunteers from the ship to screen mass numbers of people to determine eligibility.

Thousands of people showed up. People are still showing up.

Photo Used With Permission

I was a volunteer to help with crowd control. Assist with the lines, keep people orderly and occupy children.

The sun was so hot. We arrived at about 6:30am and it was already sweltering. I was assigned a section of the very long line. I walked up, smiling, facing these people, these strangers with whom I had no connection, wearing an orange vest and having no idea how to connect.

Photo Used With Permission

Let me remind you that playing with children does not come naturally to me. I enjoy children, but there are very few of them in my life at home. I love seeing them laugh and play; their joy brings me joy. However none of the children in this line were laughing and playing. They all looked miserable.

I smiled a lot, trying to convey my love through my smile. I didn’t know more than two words of Malagasy that first day so how else could I express to the child with 6 toes on each foot, or a face stretched and distorted over a growing tumor, that I really didn’t care about what they looked like. I flew from the U.S. for the sole purpose of caring for them and showing them love. I attempted drawing pictures in the sand with the rocks laying on the ground. That worked a little bit. But soon the line would move forward and I would be left with a new group of kids that didn’t trust me or know me yet.

Looking back at my first day at screening I see it completely differently than I saw it in those moments. In those moments I felt useless. I felt inadequate and unequipped. I was withering in the heat. I was wondering why I even had to be there, ignoring the fact that I had actually been looking forward to this day. I couldn’t speak to them. I was running out of ways to entertain the children.

Friends had told me about their heaven-meets-earth experiences with screening, their Holy Spirit moments, and I wasn’t feeling any of that. I felt very worldly, very tied to my human limitations. I was complaining and miserable about standing the heat even though the woman in the red hat had been here for 4 days already and each day had not reached the front of the line to be seen.

I thought I would meet God somehow by coming to help. I expected to come away changed and transformed. Looking back 3 weeks later, I feel sad because God was there and I missed him. I was looking for the wrong things. I was looking for something spectacular, but he was there in the common, dusty minute interactions I was having. He was there in my weakness and my human limitations.

2 comments on “Screening In the Flesh”

  1. Ivanna, I, for one, appreciate you sharing your honest heart whatever it's present condition. For those of us who may be considering volunteering with Mercy Ships, it's good to hear the struggles 'with EVERYTHING' as well as the AMAZING EVERYTHING. I don't believe anyone just marvelously falls into a cultural exchange with no difficulties. Be encouraged my sister, there are those of us out here who are happy to hear it all … joys and struggles. After all, it's the LIFE we all share.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *