The thoughts of a woman trying to live simply yet abundantly, contentedly yet expectantly, wisely yet adventurously... all for His glory.


hope reborn

Today two women had their VVF surgeries, the first two surgeries of a two week season. I had the pleasure of caring for both of them and was reminded of just how much I love these women!

VVF stands for vesico-vaginal fistula, which is something that typically occurs during childbirth, and typically only occurs in developing countries with little access to health care. (In the developed world, the problem is fixed immediately in the hospital.)

Sometimes in Africa women with complicated labors will labor for many days to a week. Part of the problem is that many of the women, especially in the most isolated and rural areas, are physically very small. Although they may have had enough food growing up (or maybe not), all the energy and calories go towards the heavy work of hauling water and fuel for cooking, instead of going towards growth. Another part of the problem is that sometimes the nearest road is many hours' walk away and the hospital further still. So a woman may labor for days or weeks(!) with only her family and the villagers for help.

After a while, the constant pressure of the baby inside the birth canal can cause tissue to die, and a hole forms between the bladder (or sometimes the bowel) and the birth canal. The end result is that for the rest of her life, the woman constantly leaks urine, stool, or both. Tragically, the baby almost always dies in the process of the difficult labor.

A woman who leaks urine is shunned by her family, outcast by her community, and usually abandoned by her husband. Her worth as a woman is intrinsically tied to her ability to bear children and raise a family. She often thinks of killing herself with poison.

Somehow she hears about a ship that has come to Benin to help her; somehow she endures hours of walking and bus rides; somehow she survives the ridicule of strangers; somehow she finds her way in an unfamiliar city to the Africa Mercy and is screened for surgery.

She arrives in the ward with her lappa wrapped tightly around her, eyes downcast, trying to make herself unnoticeable.

I welcome her with a smile, help her get washed and give her a bed with clean sheets and pads to help her stay dry. I explain the surgery: what it will be like and what she should expect. And we pray together before she goes into the operating room--that she would know Jesus' love, that God would guide the hands of the surgeon, that she will have a successful outcome.

She comes back from the surgery, sleepy and worn out... but she smiles at me as I help her get back into bed. She is dry--so far so good--but only time will tell if the surgery really worked.

Today, her name is Justine, and her name is Rosalen. Tomorrow, there will be three new names: three women having surgery, three women hoping for a new chance at life. If the surgery works, she is given a new dress to symbolize her new beginning, and we celebrate with dancing and singing praises to the Lord. Then she returns home, hopefully back to the now-open arms of her family and husband.

(Women dancing for a dress ceremony after successful VVF surgery)

The surgery isn't always successful, so we walk a fine line between dancing and mourning on the wards during our VVF surgery season.

Our VVF program on Mercy Ships is called Hope Reborn, completely apropos for a surgery that can give a woman new hope and new life in her community. We also talk with each woman about God's love for her, so sometimes she is also born into the family of God while she is here! Many women are already Christians when they come to the ship, but have not been truly loved or seen for years--sometimes decades--due to their condition.

Watching these women bloom as they discover they are loved and they are not alone is one of the most beautiful things I think I've ever been part of.

Today, at the end of my shift, the other beautiful thing was the pad underneath Justine: it was dry.

(For more information about VVF, watch the movie A Walk to Beautiful, or read the book The Hospital by the River. Both cover the work of Dr. Catherine Hamlin, a missionary in Ethiopia who first brought VVF to the public eye.)

(Linked to "Tuesdays Unwrapped" at a lovely blog called Chatting at the Sky.)


deb said...

Oh you beautiful beautiful woman.
I have heard of this before, and I am aware that there are special residences for them in some places , especially if they don't heal.
Your personal story is as heartbreaking as it is hopeful.
Thank you so very much for sharing it today. I will carry this around with me for a while...

Tea said...

It is so neat for me to hear the stories of mercy ships told by someone who is there, right now, doing the work!

I can hardly imagine how much pain these women have gone through. I'm so glad there is hope for them to have a new life, and yet it's so sad to know the surgery doesn't always work. Praying that tomorrow brings 3 successful surgeries!! Thank you for the work you are doing!

lindsay said...

Deb: thank you for the lovely comment. I appreciate your words!

Tea: glad I can put a face and some stories to the Mercy Ships name. :) I too can hardly imagine how these women have hope despite all the trauma they have been through... yet they do. And the good news is, that although not all the surgeries work, it is possible to try a second and a third time even... some of the women that are here now were unsuccessful surgeries here at Mercy Ships previously. We are all praying for successful surgeries, knowing that ultimately we can rest knowing that God is the Great Physician.

Carol said...

Thank you for painting such a beautiful picture of the Lord's work on the Africa Mercy. He shall surely bless you that have devoted so much to help these women. My heart is so moved by these stories, because had I not had the option to have c-sections I too would have had impacted birth for my children. But, God was merciful and I have 2 wonderful blessings. One you know personally, and God has allowed her to work with you there on the Africa Mercy. God Bless you all!

Kimberly said...

What a blessing to have come across your blog! I am familiar with Mercy Ships as well as VVF, but you put names to the faces and made the miracle a reality. God bless your work and your story.

Tea said...

Oh, that's great that they can try the surgery multiple times! Thanks for sharing. :)

Boy Crazy said...

This was very moving.

Lisa Wood said...

This story has moved me at a level I cannot even tell you. My doctor recently thought this was a problem I am currently having and it turns out it is not...thank you for sharing this beautiful story of life and hope and how much God loves us!!! What an AMAZING GOD we ALL serve!!! Thanks for sharing your story Lindsay!!!

lindsay said...

Carol: it is a strange thought to realize just how fine a line separates us from others at times! I sometimes have to ask God, "why me? Why was I born into a family with resources, and not into one of the millions of poor families?" I may never know the answer to that "why," but I do know that I am glad to help tell the stories of the women that I meet. And I am blessed to be able to be a part of what God is doing in their lives. (Who is your daughter, by the way?)

Lisa: thanks once again for your kind words! I agree: we do serve an amazing God. And it's amazing that He allows us to partner with him in his work!

Anonymous said...

Today Lindsay, I was overwhelmed with emotions in reading your posting. I have been following your blog since you've been in Africa and you've shared about the VVF women before. But today I can't imagine the joy (and sometimes grief) these women experience. What a blessing to be able to offer these women hope and a future with this surgery! I miss you and can't wait to catch up with you sometime in the near future friend!

Michelle said...

Wow...I'm just in tears...literally, reading this. Good thing my kids are at church or I'd be listening to the "Awww Mom! Are you crying...again?" They think I cry all the time over stories like these.

Bless you for helping them. I *think* I've heard of Mercy Ships. I'll have to look the up again.

lindsay said...

Amanda: hi friend; thanks for the lovely comment! It's so fun to know you are still keeping up with what I am up to via my blog. And I have to agree with you--I've never experienced joy like I have in working with the VVF ladies and sharing in their lives, however briefly. Anyway, would love to catch up with you sometime--I saw you left me a note on fb as well!

lindsay said...

Michelle, thanks again for a lovely comment. I am glad that you are able to walk for a few minutes in the shoes of one of the VVF ladies and imagine their joys and sorrows. They are such a picture of dignity and strength to me!

I will try to add some information about Mercy Ships to my blog at some point, but in the meanwhile if you are interested you can visit their website at You can even take a virtual tour of the ship!

Melissa said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and your comments! That movie sounds like just the thing for a future Girls Night Giving Circle...and we will of course donate to Mercy Ships.

PS...I'm an RN too!