My Mom put in a special request for a blog update about what work is like as a writer for Mercy Ships. OK, Mom…your wish is my command 🙂 Just remember, I’m still pretty new. But I’ll let you know what I know.
The Team: Our Communications Team is made up of two writers, three (give or take) photographers, one videographer, one creative coordinator, two media liaisons and a director. We’re responsible for capturing and sharing from the front lines (the ship while it’s in country) through photos, videos and stories, the amazing stuff that Mercy Ships does. We produce raw materials for our 16 offices in nations around the globe. This means whatever’s going on with our programs, patients, crew and current events, we need to provide updates to keep everyone in the know. These resources are important to raise awareness about how Mercy Ships touches lives in poor nations so we can continue to raise support – by way of donors, prayer partners and volunteers. (The media liaisons interact with the media, host special guests for ship tours and deal with lots of other important matters for important people like partnering with National Geographic as they film on the ship.)
As for me, I’m still learning how to do my job…but here’s what I’ve gathered so far:
I write weekly updates. Each week, our team collaborates to put together a bundle of pics and captions that describes the past week. Anna (the other writer) and I share the work with the photographers. It can be used in whatever way our national offices want – such as in a Facebook post (each office has their own page):
I write patient stories. The writers get to write about patients and tell their stories (with their permission). There are different types (light versus in-depth) and they require different things (short/long stories, pics, video, etc). In order to write about a patient, I need to spend time with them – through all aspects of their experience whenever possible. Imagine sitting and talking with an African momma who’s waiting to find out the date of when her little one is going to receive a life-changing surgery. As she tells you about how other kids have been making fun of her child, you know you’ll be there to witness when the bandages come off…it’s really special to be a part of describing her journey to others. This means I need to be on top of everything that goes on with every patient I’m following, tracking dates and times of each stage of the process so I don’t miss something important! I also get to interview crew members who care for the patients I’m following. Hearing their perspective adds tremendous color and depth to the stories.
As an aside…I like my boss. A lot. She’s a very special woman – and has a background in teaching and writing, so when I asked her for some help in refining my writing skills, she delivered. She prays for all of us and has made it clear that our team is one of her main priorities. It shows in how she conducts herself. I respect her a lot.
I write “Mercy Minutes.” Each month, Anna and I get to write 8 (each) very brief stories of merciful moments. For example, one is about my friend Liz Harter, who was a nurse to the first patient on the ship. He happened to need blood during surgery, and ended up getting it from the first donor…Liz! So cool. And I got to write a little “somethin’ somethin'” about it. These get sent off for editing and may one day be read by Don Stephens (Founder of Mercy Ships) on the radio.
I work closely with a translator. His name is Enoc and he’s wonderful. He’s from Benin and speaks French and Fon (one of the local dialects). Since every patient that I’ve met – except for one – speaks another language, I can’t really go anywhere or do anything without Enoc. He is really good at conveying my questions and answers in the way I intend. He’s also good and not translating anything I say that might be culturally unacceptable. LOL. Sometimes he and the patient will be talking for what feels like forever in another language – and I’ll say, “C’mon!! What are you guys talking about?? I wanna know! Don’t leave me out!!” I’ve learned, with some help from Enoc and others, how to say hello and goodbye in Fon: Mikwabo (hello) and Edabo (good bye). Patients really love it when you make an effort.
I hang out with patients. Being with patients is part of my job. (It’s not always just about getting a story.) Sometimes I will go down to the rehab tent and spend time with the little kids who are getting casts (Ponseti) in preparation for surgery for conditions like a neglected club foot. When one of them is scared of the machine that’s about to buzz through their cast (because it looks and sounds like a saw), I can try to help calm them down. I can offer my arm to the Physical Therapist so she can put the vibrating tool against my skin and prove that it doesn’t actually hurt. (I almost screamed the first time – that would have been bad…) Sometimes I even get to sprinkle glitter onto the cast and draw pictures. Or, I can blow bubbles or bop a balloon around to help pass the time or keep these sweethearts from crying. I can also visit our patients in the hospital ward on the ship – before and after surgery. I can pray with them or make silly jokes to make them laugh. (I don’t think Enoc translates the really stupid things I say that aren’t funny. I need him to maybe filter all my words…?) I try to practice my French and Fon, and the patients appreciate it 🙂 It’s so cool to tell them how great they’re looking – especially after they’ve had a major tumor removed from their face. I also get to hold little babies. I like that a lot.
I put together crew bios. Anna and I do these monthly. We each get to interview crew members and then share their stories, too. It’s wonderful to listen, learn and then tell of how someone got to be here on the ship. Sometimes these are told through video, other times it’s a written story with photos. It’s important for us to get a nice slice of the crew to celebrate all the different nationalities, positions, backgrounds and personalities. It’s especially cool to witness the selflessness in every person we meet. Each person is SO incredible.
I go to meetings. Like any job, there are meetings to keep us all informed and working together to achieve the same goals. One of our weekly team meetings starts with a round of “Happy,” “Crappy” and “Sappy.” We all share various highlights from the week prior and usually laugh, cry, pray or all three – together. It’s helped us get to know each other and learn how each one of us ticks. Other meetings talk about our priorities and goals, the direction of our materials, story angles, what our patient story status is, how social media posts are tracking, etc. Outside of that, there are operational meetings and community meetings each week. (We also have safety drills, certain required educational/ship stuff…I also go to two small groups and ship church…no wonder it feels like a lot…?)
I log and track stuff in systems. We have systems to track info and they need to stay current so everyone can action off of due dates. We also use email, Whatsapp, Box, Google Docs, shared drives, intranet, spreadsheets, forms and more…I’m still learning how to stay on top of it all because it can be a bit overwhelming at times. But I’m getting there 🙂 And I think I get why it’s all used. Fortunately, the writer before me is still on the ship but in another position – and she has been AMAZING in answering questions and pointing me in the right direction whenever I need help. (Thank you Tanya.)
I follow (or at least attempt to follow) a lot of processes. There’s a system or procedure for most everything, which is good and necessary. Some are more intuitive than others. Sometimes you need to do things as prescribed, other times you need to step back and say, “Why not try it this way…?” Because this is an organization made up of volunteers who stay for different lengths and bring different skills and talents, and who are rarely able to be trained by a predecessor, things can be organized in many different ways. I’m trying to find a balance where I am flexible and go with the flow, while at the same time, implement enhancements wherever I can – without interfering or throwing a wrench into anything. With regard to patient processes, they can be a bit more complex because their needs are very highly protected and respected by everyone, and there are a lot of people to get to know and protocols to follow. I don’t want to get in the way! But I also have to be purposeful and intentional and practice good follow-up skills. All in all, it’s a lot to remember at first, just like any new job. I have to remind myself that I’ve only been doing this for a month and a half…so it’s gonna take some time to learn the ropes…
Miscellaneous things. Sometimes I help with things that pop up or need to get done or whatever comes my way. For example, I’m an admin for one of our Facebook pages. It’s very low profile, but I’m getting to learn new info and post weekly updates. I add some content to our intranet, which took me some time to learn at first due to technical issues (sometimes I forget I’m in Africa LOL). A couple of weeks ago, we had guests from the US Embassy visit and tour the ship – I (along with several others) was asked to mingle 🙂 I don’t always love small talk, but apparently I do it well LOL 🙂 I’ve helped with some talking points for leadership, which was a good learning experience. I’m working on some fun projects right now which I’ll share after it’s all said and done!!
I go to classes. This is a bit extra-curricular, but also somewhat required if I want to do my job well. And it takes time! It’s hard to connect with people if you don’t speak their language – and while I can speak a little French, I need to practice more. So stay tuned! Chief Medical Officer Dr. Gary Parker (one of my most favoristist people on the planet – even though he doesn’t really know who I am LOL…yet) and other surgeons on the ship give lectures on our surgical procedures for medical professionals to get educational hours. Since my writing of stories involves a lot of medical stuff, it’s important I understand what the heck we’re doing on the ship – medically speaking. I never thought I could sit through a lecture about a face being peeled wide open and a muscle being moved from a temple to a cheek…but I can! And I kinda like it…it’s really incredible how it all works.
I watch and learn. National Geographic is filming a series about Mercy Ships and will be here for several months. How cool is that? I’ve enjoyed watching them work, seeing what types of things peak their interest. Our team has had to coordinate having a second story teller in the mix, one that needs a lot of time and space with patients and crew – and we’re having to respect each other’s needs and support each others’ projects in a small space with very tight timelines. But I’m reminded often that the stories they air will have an extraordinary impact – which is wonderful.
I would say that I’m definitely enjoying my job so far, but it isn’t always easy. This ship functions because everyone works really hard…for God:
23 Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing [with all certainty] that it is from the Lord [not from men] that you will receive the inheritance which is your [greatest] reward. It is the Lord Christ whom you [actually] serve. (Colossians 3:23-24) AMP
Learning and growing and stretching in an unfamiliar environment is hard in the beginning (or always?). Not knowing how to do something sucks and being far away from my “normal” can be hard. But I’m figuring it all out just like everyone else is. (We’re all in the same boat.) And so many people on the ship are so kind and patient and supportive of each other – both in our strengths and in our weaknesses – that it’s not a bad way to try something new and get feet wet. Or soaked.
Other photos I couldn’t resist posting: