17 December 2009

Yesterday I saw some of the coolest things I have ever seen in my life! It was a day full of wonder after wonder! I went to bed in total awe at how incredible, thoughtful, and detail-oriented our Creator is!
I had the afternoon off yesterday, so I decided to bring my crocheting to the bow, where Chelsea and I hung out for nearly two hours. Soon after we walked out onto the bow, we saw several dolphins nearby. Within fifteen minutes, we were completely surrounded by at least 50 dolphins. A couple at a time would come up and swim directly in front of the ship. At one point, there were five dolphins swimming together, appearing to pull the ship as the glided effortlessly through the water! As I leaned over the edge of the bow, I could hear their high-pitched squeals as the talked to each other! The dolphins further off in the distance were doing twists, turns, and flips, seemingly putting on a show for all of the spectators. Typically, when dolphins are sighted, they only swim with us for about five minutes before falling completely out of sight again. But yesterday, they dolphins stayed with us for nearly an hour! It was absolutely incredible!

Later on in the evening, all of the crew were invited to a showing of the film "The Star of Bethlehem." I had heard that this was an interesting documentary, but I honestly did not expect to be too overwhelmed by the information presented. I assumed it would be another documentary of interesting observances, but nothing to make me drop my jaw over. In this matter, I was completely wrong!
The film was about one man's quest to unlock the mystery of the Bethlehem Star that led the Magi to Jesus. The man was not an astronomer, he was a lawyer. But God had ignited in him an interest in this one particular star. As he researched, he began to uncover dozens of signs placed in the sky throughout history! He used several clues found in the Old Testament to help him figure out what exactly the "Star of Bethlehem" could have been. He not only found out some incredible interesting facts, he also was able to find several prophecies and visions mentioned in the Old and New Testaments fulfilled through the alignment of the stars! On top of it all, he was able to see how the stars portrayed signs to the Jews on the day of Jesus' conception, at the moment of his birth, and at the second of his death! But since all of the stars and planets work like clockwork, everything had to have been aligned from the very second the universe came into being. Therefore, at the instant God began His creation, He knew the exact moment that He would appear to Mary, the second His Son would be born, and the instant He would die, forgiving the sins of the world.
I wish I could attempt to explain what all I saw, but since I am not the most knowledgeable person in the field of astronomy, I know that I would likely get all of my facts mixed up. Also, there was SO much that I learned last night, that I cannot even attempt to put it all into writing, or else this blog would go on for pages!
Thankfully, the man who created the film has his own website that explains all of his findings, so instead of attempting to explain it all here, I would encourage anyone who reads this to visit the site! Prepare to be completely awestruck at the incredible detail and precision of our Creator from the moment He put the universe into motion! The site is www.bethlehemstar.net
After the movie was finished, our small group met for our weekly Wednesday meeting. We spent over an hour just praising God and discussing how incredible He is! The only word we could come up with to possibly describe it all is WOW! Nothing else seems to encompass how speechless, awestruck, overwhelmed, and amazed we all felt!
At midnight, Kaylee and I were invited back to the bridge as some of our good friends were on the 12-4 watch. We were given the opportunity to steer the ship, which was of course so much fun! After we steered for a while, she and I stepped outside onto the catwalk in front of the bridge. Kaylee read my blog written a couple of days ago describing the view I saw from the catwalk on Sunday evening. She wanted to see the view for herself, so I brought her to the same spot. Last night, however, we saw something even more incredible! The water was full of millions of plankton-like creatures that began to glow as soon as something touched them. As the ship moved along, all of the waves seemed were full of glowing spots, matching the stars in the night sky. Suddenly, a dolphin came swimming past the ship in a zig-zagging motion, lighting up all of the plankton as he swam. The result was a swirling line of glowing water creating a tail behind the dolphin as he swam! It was beautiful, like one of the magical scenes portrayed in a Disney movie.

This morning, as I had my quiet time, I could not do anything but praise God for all of the beautiful, wonderful Creation I have seen over the past few days. I still am completely awestruck and at a loss for words to describe how excited and overwhelmed I feel.

14 December 2009

When You Wish Upon A Star...

This weekend, we were able to witness the Geminid meteor shower. What better place to view a meteor shower than in the middle of the ocean, over a hundred miles away from any sort of building or city lights? On the top deck of the ship, all of the lights are turned off during the sail, so the sky is illuminated by millions of stars.
On Saturday night, my friends and I were all hoping to view the meteor shower, but we were somewhat dissappointed by the cover of clouds that formed a fog over the stars. We decided to sleep outside, on top of the bridge, so that if the clouds went away, we would not miss the meteor shower. It was a windy night, so we had a lot of trouble getting all of our bedding laid out. One thing after another kept blowing away and we would have to go chase it down to avoid having a pillow or blanket fall into the sea. After a couple of warnings from the Captain that our scurrying around must stop in order for us to be allowed to remain on top of the bridge, we got everything settled and lay down to go to sleep. The temperature was perfect, warm with a cool breeze. We decided to use our duvet covers as extra padding underneath ourselves instead of as covers since it was not too cool outside. Around 1:30 am, I awoke to see that all of the clouds had vanished and the sky was polka dotted with stars. I immediately woke up everyone else so that we could together soak up the beauty of the sky around us. We were not able to see the meteor shower, apparently that became more visible around 3 am, but we did see some sort of incredible light that still remains unexplained. It appeared at first to be just a shooting star, but it seemed to go on forever! At first we were informed that it was probably just a satellite, but after more discussion, we discovered that it was much to fast to be a satellite. It started on one end of the sky and shot in a zig-zagging motion all the way across to the other side at lightening speed, eventually becoming invisible. Then, about five minutes later, it shot back the other direction. We are still trying to figure out what this beautiful wonder could have been.
As the night went on, the temperature dropped immensely. By about 2:30 am, we were all closely snuggled together, trying to share one blanket between the five of us, and hoping that our body heat might help us to make it through the rest of the night. Eventually, we began to warm up again and semi-comfortably finished our night outside.
Sunday night, Chelsea, Michelle, and I were invited up to the bridge to see all of the equipment used to steer the ship. The bridge is kept dark so that everyone can see ahead, with no reflections blocking their view of the sea. We were shown where the ship is steered and learned how the person steering must try and reverse the work of the currents and the wind. We also learned about all of the training necessary to work one's way up from deckhand to officer to eventually captain. One of the important steps in this training is logging over 30 hours of ship steering. For this reason, the majority of the sail is spent with the ship being steered manually instead of on auto-pilot.
After learning about all of the equipment used to steer the ship, we were shown a computer program that helps to track the stars. We saw that right at that moment, Mars was about to cross over the horizon. We raced outside to the outer rim of the bridge so that we could see it. From the bridge I saw the most incredible view I had ever beheld. Looking straight ahead, I could see the tip of the bow with the waves crashing against it. Beyond that was just an endless deep blue, the sea the same color as the sky. The only way I could differentiate where the horizen seperated sky and sea was where the shower of stars ended. The scene looked like it came from a planetarium simulation or something, it was so incredible it hardly seemed real! After nearly an hour of standing in pure awe of the scene ahead, we had to head inside and leave the bridge to get back to their work.
We decided to go up to deck 8 again in hopes of seeing the meteor shower. Emma and Bonny Jean chose to spend another night outside, but the rest of us decided to just lay out for a bit of the meteor shower then sleep comfortably in our own beds. Between 10:30 and midnight, we saw nearly a hundred shooting stars blast through the sky! We also borrowed some binoculars for a bit and were able to find the galaxy Andromeda. The whole time I remained in complete awe at this incredible picture God painted in the sky.
While we were laying out, Kaylee began singing the song "Indescribable". One line of the song says "Indescribable, uncontainable, You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name. You are amazing, God." How incredible is it that among all of the millions of stars visible, and the billions more that cannot even be seen by the naked eye, God placed every single one in the sky individually and He knows each of them by name.

13 December 2009

A Birthday to Remember

19 is the boring birthday between five exciting birthdays. At 16, you can finally drive. At 17, you can go to R-rated movies (ok, so not all that exciting, but at least something changes). At 18, you are considered a legal adult, and 20 you have made it through your teen years! And everyone knows why Americans love their 21st birthday. But there is nothing exciting about 19. You still have all the freedoms you got when you were 18, and no one really looks at you as more mature than an 18-year-old. In fact, there's pretty much no difference between 18 and 19. So for that reason, 19 is a boring birthday.

Except in my case...
How many people can say they spent their 19th birthday sailing through the Atlantic? How many people can say that on their birthday they went whale watching and laid out under a huge expanse of stars. I must say that while the age of 19 is not all that exciting, my 19th birthday was far more thrilling than my 18th, and I doubt my 20th will be able to top it either.
On the evening of the 10th, my roomate Chelsea told me I had to stay up until midnight so that she could be the first to wish me happy birthday. For the past couple of years, Aly, one of my good friends at home, has been the first person to wish me happy birthday by sending me a text message around 6 o'clock in the morning. Chelsea, however, was determined that this year she could beat Aly due to the fact that I don't have a cell phone, therefore I cannot recieve text messages. Around 11:30 I was exhausted and really wanted to go to bed, but Chelsea maintained that I had to stay up. I decided to get on Facebook to widdle away the last half hour before I was allowed to go to sleep. At 11:55, guess who signed onto Facebook chat? None other than Aly! I told her that she had competition this year in wishing me happy birthday, and reminded her that by my time, my birthday was only 5 minutes away. Now the race was on. Unfortunately for Chelsea, she ran out of the room for a second, sure that she would make it back before midnight. But at 12 o'clock on the dot, Aly sent me several birthday wished over Facebook. Chelsea, of course, was devastated, and Aly quite proud of her accomplishment, all the while I just enjoyed that two of my friends who don't even know each other were fighting over the titlement of "First Birthday Wisher of the Year".
The morning of the 11th, I was able to sleep in since I did not have to go to work. I woke up to find the table in our front area of the cabin completely covered in candies spelling "Happy 19th!" with a note from my 4416 family. It was so cute that I decided to take a picture. I went back into my bunk area to search for my camera, and when I returned, the exclamation point was gone! Apparently one of my roomates got a bit hungry and couldnt wait for me to take a picture before she dug in.
After I got dressed, I headed up to Town Square to get myself some coffee and to see Chelsea and Kaylee. Once I got up there, I was immediately surrounded by people showering me with hugs and "Happy Birthdays". The thing about living on a ship in a small community is that when it is somebodies birthday, EVERYBODY knows. Which of course, I don't mind at all.
On the ship, we have a tradition that when it is somebody's birthday, his friends ring the giant bell hanging on the wall and announce the birthday, then everyone sings and bangs loudly on the table. So at lunch, Bonny Jean and Emma waltzed proudly to the bell and rung it loudly, announcing that it was my birthday. I did not realize how incredibly awkward it is to have the entire dining hall all of a sudden stare at you and start singing while you are in the middle of eating! Apparently, my face turned bright red and my blushing could be seen from all the way on the opposite side of the dining room.
I decided to spend my afternoon in my home away from home here on the ship -- the crew galley. We got pecans on the ship for the first time, so I had been dying to make a pecan pie and finally I had time! Since Emma is allergic to nuts, she also requested that I make some sort of dessert without pecans. I decided to try my hand at a blackberry cobbler, even though I've never made on before. I just sort of guessed and estimated at what might work for the filling, and it ended up tasting quite good! Later in the evening, my cabinmates, Kaylee, and Emma's brother Chris all sat down with me to dine on pie and cobbler in celebration of my 19th year of living. Afterwards, we all went to the bow where we watched the ship glide through the waves and rock back and forth as the sun set beautifully over the horizon.
I came back to my cabin to see that I had several messages from my friends and family all wishing me a happy birthday. While I really enjoyed spending my birthday with all of my Mercy Ships friends, it was so nice to know that even back home all of my friends were thinking of me as well.

10 December 2009

day two on the sea

Today was day two of our sail; thankfully it turned out to be quite smooth as well. This morning work went on as usual, although I had quite a bit of difficulty making coffee while swaying back and forth. There were a couple of times when no customers were around and so I tried to sit on the stool we have behind the counter. More than once I ended up simply tipping straight over! After the third or fourth time I fell, I decided it would be best just to remain standing instead.

This evening as everyone sat at dinner, it was announced that some sort of funnel of water had been spotted near the boat. After the entire crew rushed to the windows, we saw that it was a water spout! We were so close to it that we could see the water coming up out of the ocean and forming the funnel. Some people said they think it was as close as a mere mile away.

About an hour later, the announcement came that dolphins had been spotted alongside the boat. Because I was nowhere near a window, I decided not to rush out to look. Apparently the dolphins were all gone before most people were even in a spot where they could potentially be visible. After another half hour, it was announced that killer whales had been seen! At this I decided it was well worth it to leave my work and rush to the window. I never got to see the whales come above the water, but I was able to see the water shoot from the surface as they came near the surface to breathe.

Later on in the evening we had a Christmas storytelling night. Different groups put together skits and were stationed in separate areas of the ship. The rest of the crew traveled from station to station to watch each skit. We all met back together in the International Lounge where the Academy children put on a music performance followed by Christmas carols sung by the whole crew. It was a fun evening to ring in the sail and to celebrate Christmas together. All in all I would say that Day 2 of the sail was quite a success! Great memories and zero seasickness! Now let’s pray the rest of the sail continues this smoothly!

08 December 2009

water water everywhere...but we have plenty to drink

As I write this blog, I am sitting on the top deck of a ship as it slices through the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The sky around me is bathed in a pinkish hue as the sun sets to my left. To my right I see only endless blue water and the purple haze of sky slowly dim to a dark blue. The slow hum of the laptop’s music completes the relaxing atmosphere as Kaylee and I soak in the magnitude of the scene.

This morning at 11 o’clock, the M/V Africa Mercy left her port in Cotonou, Benin and started the week and a half long trek north to the Canary Islands. While I have been consistently amazed at how vividly I have seen God work over the past four months, I have never been in such awe as in the past twelve hours. Just four days ago, there were doubts as to whether or not the ship would actually be able to sail. Several unexplained issues arose, providing complicating puzzles for the engineers to solve. Just twenty-four hours ago, there were parts that still had not arrived on the ship. A man working for Mercy Ships in Norway flew in on the 8 o’clock flight last night in order to deliver a necessary part. Engineers spent all night replacing the piece and this morning, the ship left her harbor just as scheduled. While God could have shown His power through allowing a problem-free sail preparation, He didn’t. Instead He gave us all yet again the opportunity to trust in Him, and then gave us all the more reason to stand in awe at what He could accomplish.

Watching the ship prepare to leave this morning was quite a production. While the engineers worked all through the night last night doing final checks, the work that I personally witnessed began around 8 o’clock this morning. The fire alarm rang loudly as we practiced an at-sea fire drill. Once we were all mustered and every crew member was accounted for, we were able to pull up the gangway in order to sail. I was put on coffee for the morning, so I had the joy of watching everyone’s anticipation as the morning dragged on. Around 10:30, it was announced that we were ready to depart, so we closed down the cafĂ© and snack bar and headed up to decks 7 and 8 with the rest of the crew. Leaning over the edge of the railing, we watched the tug boats attach to the front of the ship. Finally, the pilot’s boat came up alongside the ship and the pilot jumped on board to guide us out.

As we began to move with the tugs, all of the crew cheered loudly. We waved goodbye to the day workers and a few crew members staying behind as the stood on the dock. Slowly, the dock grew smaller and smaller, as we looked on to the vast expanse of blue ahead of us.

After every bit of land was completely out of sight, my friends and I headed down to the dining hall to eat lunch. At this point, I really began to feel the rocking of the ship. As I stood in line holding my plate, I swayed from side to side, hardly able to stay standing! Although most people are slightly embarrassed by the fact that they can’t stand straight, I find the teetering somewhat hilarious, and I actually enjoy it (but we’ll see what I’m saying about it ten days from now…)

After a normal afternoon of work in the Ship Shop, I realized how exhausted my body was from the rocking of the ship. I went down to my cabin to take a quick nap and ended up sleeping for over two hours! I awoke to find all five of my roommates just as tired, so I felt a bit better about sleeping through the whole afternoon of my first day of sailing.

After dinner, the bow was opened up so that we could all stand to watch the sun set. It was without a doubt the most incredible sun set I have ever seen. The sun was so huge in the sky, it seemed to envelope everything. It was so radiant, yet somehow dim enough that I could look straight at it without hurting my eyes. We all leaned over the edge and let the breeze overtake us, giving the incredible sensation of flying! Then, as we leaned carelessly over the edge, we saw flying fish begin to jump in and out of the water. With wonder and amazement, my friends and I began to discuss how incredible heaven must be. In just seven days, God created all of this amazing world. Not only that, but this is creation having been tinged by sin. Can you imagine what heaven must look like, not only being completely void of sin, but also being prepared for us for thousands of YEARS? And if heaven and earth are only the creation, how much more magnificent must the thoughtful Creator be? As I think about it, I can only laugh because it is so beyond my imagination. I absolutely cannot wait!

Now that the sun has set, I am surrounded by the pitch black night sky. The captain has chosen to keep the lights off on the top deck of the ship in order that we don’t interrupt the beauty of the night sky. My friends and I will soon lie down in order to look at the stars. I have never before seen so many stars, especially being this big and bright. Again, I can only laugh at the magnificence of the creation I am currently witnessing.

This was taken as we left the dock. Sorry it's really choppy!