Ward Church

March 7, 2010

With shore leave prohibited, I cannot venture to my regular church downtown for Mass. But one path blocked means another opened! Today I joined in the church service held for hospital patients, dubbed the “ward church.”

Fifty people, patients and crew, pack into one ward. Children with double casts on their legs are carried in and propped up on empty beds. Four mothers walk in quietly, carrying blankets that envelop teeny tiny babies. Each infant has a cleft lip, palate, or both. This defect makes nursing incredibly difficult: Without a solid surface to press the tongue against, baby’s mouth cannot create the suction necessary to drink. Many are brought to the ship severely malnourished and must enter a feeding program to chunk them up before surgery.

Clementine, a long-term Togolese crew member with a peaceful yet regal presence, leads the service in English. A Togolese day volunteer stands beside her to translate to the tribal language Mina, and then other translations begin to pepper the room: French on one side, Ewe in the back corner, maybe Adja as well. A small boy with double casts whimpers in his mother’s arms, his legs itching under the plaster. A few tears leak from mom’s eyes onto the boy’s forehead. But soon enough the drums appear and voices are raised and songs are belted out in the half yell/half sing characteristic of African worship. A foot taps, hands clap, and bodies jive back and forth across the narrow aisle. A woman thrusts her torso in praise, tossing to and fro the toddler papoosed to her back, his neck jolting almost violently. I cringe with fear of whiplash or worse, but a few minutes later he is freed from the cloth sling and crawls over to a day volunteer, apparently unaffected. The melodies die down and transform into spontaneous prayer. I close my eyes. Even with no understanding of the languages, I can hear the urgency of petition, the fervor of thanksgiving, and I thank God for something I have never thought to thank Him before: That He listens to every word spoken to Him, and that His understanding far surpasses my own.


2 Responses to “Ward Church”

  1. David Halsmer said

    Hello Alana!
    Great blog and pictures. Take care of yourself and keep up the good work. Many blessings on you and the “Eye Team”!

  2. Whistler said


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