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Giving the Gift of Love

Susy Horta is an ICU nurse from Columbia. Growing up in a missionary family, Susy always wanted to go serve where there was the most need — that’s how she ended up volunteering in West Africa with Mercy Ships.

Having just celebrated her fourth year onboard, Susy shares with us some of the gifts she has been able to give patients over the years, as well as some gifts her patients have given her… or tried to! Listen in to hear about one gift that Susy just couldn’t accept.

 

Mercy Ships has brought hope and healing to those who need it most for over 40 years. Using hospital ships, we are able to provide safe, free surgical care to those in need and bring medical training to healthcare workers living the countries we serve.

Looking for a way to join our mission of bringing hope and healing? Partner with us through a gift, volunteering with us, or by joining us in prayer.

 

                       

 

New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Welcome to New Mercies a podcast by Mercy Ships, where we’ll take you behind the scenes and on board our incredible hospital ships that are transforming lives all over the world. We invite you to join us each week as we sit down with our crew, patients, volunteers, and partners to hear their stories of life-changing hope and healing.

Raeanne Newquist:

From giving the gifts of love and care to the gift of a possible husband. Today, Nurse Susy shares with us stories from her time volunteering with Mercy Ships. Well, Susy, I’m so excited that you are joining us on the New Mercies podcast today. And how are you? And actually, where are you?

Susy Horta:

I am very happy because I am with the global on the Global Mercy, the new ship that we are just getting to know and equipped for our future field service in Africa. So, we’re currently in Belgium, the city is Antwerp. And it’s very, very cold. The end of a fall, starting winter, but very excited about having a little, you know, White Christmas, with some snow. The ship is actually decorated now with Christmas stuff. Last Sunday, we had some crew members having some fun doing that. So, many areas, you know, have little fairy lights and ton of little Christmas trees around. So it’s a good atmosphere.

Raeanne:

How exciting! Now, is this going to be your first White Christmas being from Colombia?

Susy:

Yes, it is.

Raeanne:

Do you have proper clothing to stay warm?

Susy:

Yes, I did prepare in advance because it was in Spain first on the Africa Mercy, where it was not wintry and not that cold. So I had to prepare. But yes, I’m good. Layers.

Raeanne:

Oh, my goodness. So you’re a nurse. And like you mentioned currently on the Global Mercy, but what caused you in the first place to leave your country and your home and your family to come serve with Mercy Ships.

Susy:

Um, so I grew up in a missionary family in Colombia. And so, I always knew that there is a great need around the world, especially in this physical healthcare area. So, I wanted to become a nurse to help people. And I always wanted to go abroad. And for me, the farthest place in the world was Africa. Now I know it’s not Africa, there’s more like New Zealand.

But I wanted to go where no one else goes. I wanted to go where the need is greater. And I wanted to use my skills, as a nurse. I’m an ICU nurse. So, it was a bit hard to find a place where I could use my clinical skills as a ministry as a volunteer and I found Mercy Ships. Because we do very complex surgeries, we do need highly skilled nurses. And so yeah, I give it a try. No, I didn’t give it a try. Honestly, I bought a one-way ticket. I knew I was coming back home for a while. So, I started with a four-month commitment. But then it turned into four years this week.

I love it. It’s my dream job. I’m very, very happy of the job I get to do as a nurse, and also of just being part of the community. It’s a great community.

Raeanne:

Yeah, that is so neat. Well, I know I was blessed to get to spend some time with you on the Africa Mercy a couple years ago, and you are a very, very special highly skilled nurse, so many are blessed by you. And you mentioned that it is the Christmas season.

And we’ve been talking about gifts and how our nurses and our doctors with Mercy Ships give beautiful gifts to our patients not necessarily gifts that come with wrapping paper, but gifts of touch and gifts of seeing them and gifts of love in such a special way. And we would love it if you would share with us maybe a story about a patient that you were able to give a gift to as you’ve served on board.

Susy:

There is one patient that I remember that I didn’t know how meaningful it was for him that I got to you know, sort of care for him. So, this was in Cameroon, and he was older in his 50s and he had a maxillofacial surgery.

Raeanne:

What is a maxillofacial surgery?

Susy:

Neck, jaw, nose, just reconstructing their face if they have deformities from like bone tumors or soft tissue tumors or if they have lost part of their face because of infections. So, these are complex surgeries and so these patients spend usually a couple of weeks or months with us. So, we can we have the chance to bond with them and get to know them very well. So, this patient he had a tumor on his mandible, so we had to do a mandible ectopy — take that bone away and then put a replacement. So while he was there, he didn’t talk too much. And because of the swelling, he couldn’t talk too much. But his I just remember his eyes. His eyes were very shiny, and he would smile through his eyes. You know what I mean? He was very sweet, very kind.

And I remember one time I was just sitting by his bed. He started asking questions in his local language, and so my translator started asking me. He wanted to know where I came from. And so, I told him, I come from Colombia, South America. And he was like, “Oh, I don’t know where that is.” And I said, “Oh, just across the Atlantic.” So he was like, “Oh, really?” Then he asked how many days that I have to travel to come to Cameroon. And it’s interesting, because our patients have to travel sometimes many days to come to the ship. So, it was interesting that he asked that.

And I told him, it was a total of two days of travel, which actually started today, four years ago. Isnt that amazing? Four, years ago today, I left Colombia. And so I told him two days traveling, and he asked how many planes I had to, you know, get on to get to Cameroon, and I told him, it was three flights, three planes. And he’s like, “Oh, how long were those flights?” I’m like, Oh, okay. It’s a lot of details. So I said, “Okay, okay, let me think nine hours, and then one hour, and then like, six hours or seven hours.”

And he was just like, moving his head nodding, and then trying to process how long that trip was. And then he looked at me, and he asked, “How much money did you have to spend a lot of money?” And I was like, “Oh, yes…” I’m not gonna tell him and it was a little weird. But I was like, actually, yes, it was, it was some money. And he asked, “How did you pay for it? How did you have so much money?”

And so I pointed up to the ceiling, and I said, “God provides.” And because most of our patients are Muslim, they have a strong idea of God. And so, I pointed and up to the ceiling, I said, “God, provided. He wanted me to come.” And he kept shaking his head, and was just like, wow. And then he asked me, “Why did you come this far? Why did you come here?” And I said, because “Jesus wants me to help you. And I wanted to help you, and all these other patients. And that’s why because you’re worth it.”

And he grabbed my hand, and he said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” many times, and sort of blessed me. It may sound very simple, but just going there to meet them is a huge gift, showing that we care, that we look into their eyes when they’re used to be rejected, especially people with deformities, right? Yeah, they’re very obvious. They are very rejected and ostracize. So, it’s looking to their eyes, smiling, making jokes, but in this case, him understanding how far I’d come… for him, it was, it was a gift. I honestly can’t think about anything else that I’ve given my patients. But this story, really, I really remember him because of his gratefulness. It was also a gift for me.

Raeanne:

That’s one thing that’s pretty impressive about Mercy Ships is the international community. That people have come from all over the world, have taken extraordinary journeys, to get to the ship just to share the love of Jesus. And to help those in need. It’s a beautiful thing. And I can only imagine for some of these patients who have been, like you said, outcasts or you know, have been rejected to know that someone that they didn’t even know came such great distance to come and love them and care for them… What an incredible gift to give them. And the sacrifice. But really, as you said, you gain more than you give, you know?

Susy:

Yes, totally. I had no idea how much I was going to receive while serving on the ship. I have to tell you, the story is just very funny. There’s many patients that are so grateful, and they hug you. Because this was before COVID, right? They hug you and they just bless you, and they want you to come visit their village. And they want to just give whatever they can give you right? To show how much they love you because they love us. I don’t deserve their love, it’s just amazing.

I just think about this mom, one of my 5-year-old patients, his mom was very attached to me, we were very good friends. And they spent like a total of three months from the beginning of their process through screening until they were finally discharged. One day, she was asking if I was married, and I said “No, I’m single.” So, of course everybody in that side of the ward had to be involved in the conversation. Because for Africans it’s very weird that single women that are from the west are just comfortable saying that they’re single. They’d say like, “Why aren’t you married yet? You don’t want to?”

And I’d go “Yes, I do. I just haven’t met the right person or it just hasn’t happened yet.” It’s okay. But for them, that’s very concerning. And she says, “Well, I love you so much. And you’re so amazing. I’m going to give you my brother so you can marry him.” I am blushing and everyone in the ward is laughing hard AND very happy for me, I have found a husband. And culturally this is appropriate, like this happens. And I am like, “Oh, wow.”

Then I decided to make a little joke. So I was like, “Okay, show me a picture, and then I’ll decide, and I was hoping you’ll be, you know, big bellies, something that I would say, ‘Oh, no.’ And then he was not bad! He was not bad! I’m like, “Oh, dear, I’m really sorry, it’s not going to happen. I have to keep going to other countries, but thank you.” So the husband didn’t happen, but it was very meaningful, you know, like: I want you to be part of my family, that’s how much I love you.

And then eventually, when her son was discharged, she brought two or three pieces of fabric. And this is also very special in African culture. They care a lot about what they wear, and the wear bright colors, right? Patterns that are just amazing. This is not my style, but it was very special to receive African fabric from her. And I honestly haven’t made anything out of it yet. Can’t decide. But I still have it, I can’t just give it away. I have to keep it because it’s a very special gift from this mom.

And yeah, and also there’s this other child that I just can’t get out of my head and my heart. Around the same season, we had another girl, 5-year-old too. And usually, children are very shy when they are coming to the hospital to be admitted, which is fine. It’s a new place. It’s new people. So, I usually just focus on the caregiver. So, the child will, you know, take their own time to get to know the ward get to know us and feel comfortable. And eventually they are very friendly. And they’re just the little bosses of the ward. And it’s super cute. But this girl, the moment she sees me, she just starts smiling and smiling. And I’m just you know, she steals my heart right away. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, you’re so cute.” But I’m just focused on the on the on the caregiver. And she’s then this little girl decides to sit by my side. And she holds, she grabs my hand. And she holds my hand and I’m just melting. And so, I hug her. And she snuggles and then she just jumps into my lap, and snuggles.

And I’m just so happy that this girl just decided to love me. Without even knowing me. This girl just was so, so sweet. And it was amazing that right on that time, there was one of the photographers walking around the ward, and she started taking pictures of us. And she was able to capture this girl smile and her eyes. And you can see her deformity in her face because she needed surgery. But her face is still so beautiful. Her eyes are just so bright. And she’s just snuggling with me. And we got that picture. And I have one I have a copy of that. And then when she’s about to be discharged one of her last appointments, we have a picture on the same posts. And you can see her new face. She had surgery and she looks different, but it’s still her. And I’m not looking to the camera just looking at her. Which is really what I remember the most I was just captured by this precious girl that was just so happy.

Raeanne:

Wow, we’ll have to put those pictures up on our website with your episode so everybody can see them there. Yeah, you know, you go to give the gift of Jesus love to these patients. But in turn, they give love to you. You know, here you are so far away from home, so far away from your family, that you receive the gift of love from these sweet patients.

Susy:

Yeah, it’s interesting that my friends, family understands a little bit more, but my friends back home sometimes wonder, “How can you do this for free? You don’t get paid? Like, we understand that it’s nice that it’s a good thing to do. But how can you just do this long-term?” And I tell them first: God provides. Like, there’s so many people that support us around the globe, that it makes it possible. But also, hey, this is just way better than getting a paycheck, for me. It’s these little moments that are just mind-blowing. I’m seeing their lives change. And it’s not about them thanking me. Not that it’s just seeing their lives, taking a turn and them knowing they are seen, they are loved, they are worth our best. That is just way better than other things that I used to have when I had a normal life. We would not be able to do it if it wasn’t for the supporters that we have.

And I have to say that I am so grateful for the people that invest in Mercy Ships because they’re still out there working hard investing in this ministry and this work that we do and it’s totally worth it.

Raeanne:

That’s pretty amazing. You’re changing lives with what you do, which is pretty special. It also changes your life in a lot of ways. And tell us a little bit about how your life has changed. Maybe your perspective or just your character, how have you changed personally from your time of volunteering onboard?

Susy:

I’ve learned a lot from my patients, and it’s their endurance, their patience. I remember a couple of moms that had babies with cleft lips and cleft palates. And these babies, for sure are underweight, very, very small babies that can’t go to surgery right away, right. So, they need to be part of the infant feeding program. So, we can, you know, help them get a better nutrition so they can grow, gain weight, and then be ready for their surgery. And this takes time, this is week after week after week, measuring their little arms, and then on the scale. And then eventually, they have one of the surgeries. But we have to wait for the palate one because it’s more complicated. And so, it’s more time waiting and waiting and trying our best. And these moms just never complain. They’re just hopeful. They don’t give up.

And it’s interesting. It was very challenging for me and how easy for me it is to just start complaining when things are not going my way or not at the pace that I want them. They are so patient. And eventually, baby gets the second surgery. And you know, as in any hospital in the world, sometimes complications happen. And sometimes we have a little infection here or a more serious infection there. It happens because it’s still healthcare. And they are still strong. It is discouraging, right to have to see them, you know, getting an IV when they didn’t need one before or, you know, taking more medications or, but they are still enduring.

They’re still believing their baby will recover. And it happens. They go home with a chubby, smiley, adorable baby. And so that’s one of the first things that comes to my mind. Through these for almost four years. It’s just endurance and patience and hope. I thought I was bringing hope to them, but I’m learning from theirs. And I really tried to just embrace that in my own life and complaining less, trusting more, believing more. And waiting, just waiting, being patient too.

Raeanne:

Wow, what a special life transformation to receive. Well, we did mention that it’s the Christmas season onboard. And there are some Christmas trees that have gone up and different lights and fun things. And one thing that is so special is that in this multi-cultural community, on board amongst the crew, everybody brings their own holiday traditions from their own countries. So, you kind of get to experience Christmas around the world when you’re on the ship. And it’s not just December 24 or 25. There are Christmas celebrations almost every day in the month of December, which is pretty special. Tell us a little bit about how you’ve been able to share your traditions with the crew at Christmas time.

Susy:

Well, there’s a big difference between Christmas in Latin America, at least in Colombia and the U.S. and I know Europe, because for us in Colombia, Christmas Day is the 24. So that’s the day I’m missing my family. That’s the day I want to dress up and have a nice, very nice meal. And I want to open the presents and just be with my family. So honestly, the first Christmas I spent on the ship I had just arrived. It was my first month on the ship. It was hard. But because the whole month was so filled with activities and people just joining those activities and I wasn’t the only one missing my family. I had a whole crew that was going through the same thing. It really helped me to just come closer.

Instead of isolating it brought me closer to new friends that I was making on the ship. My first Christmas I was getting to know people making new friends actually bonding with my new best friend, that is still my best friend. So that was amazing. And then the other Christmas I spent on the ship. I did learn how different countries have different, you know, traditions and Sinterklaas is a big one because we have a strong European Northern European population on the ship. So, Sinterklaas and his little elves and the presents for everybody. That doesn’t happen on the 24 or 25. It’s like the beginning of the month. Isn’t that amazing? You just get presents from first week of December you’re already getting candy.

Raeanne:

Now, this is a Dutch tradition?

Susy:

This is from the Netherlands. So there’s this big, very tall, white-beard man that comes with little elves and his own music and then he just says hi in everyone’s super happy about it and then magically, if you put your shoe outside of your door then next day you have candy.

Raeanne:

You put your shoes outside your door?

Susy:

Yes. It’s very interesting.

Raeanne:

And Sinterklaas comes in puts candy in your shoes.

Susy:

Yes. So ideally for the sake of his safety and wellbeing, it should be a clean shoe. But yeah, so Sinterklaas is nice. Also, I learned about, I just remember that in Australia, they do carols by the candlelight. So, we also have this night where we gather with our patients, our translators, and crew members… usually would do this on the dock because it’s there’s most more space. And we all get a candle. And then there’s different songs that we sing from Australia. And so, I got to celebrate Christmas on the 24 last time. So, in 2019 There were some Latinos with me from Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil. So, we decided to make a Christmas dinner on the 24. So, it was sort of everyone brought something.

Raeanne:

Tell us some of the dishes that you were able to make.

Susy:

I was able to find some cornflour. So, I made buñuelo which are little balls that are, the flour is corn, but also has like cheese in it. They’re fried. So it was very yummy. And I met arepas or those are like corn flat cakes. Very yummy. And then our friend from Venezuela made ayacas they’re like tamales, but different, different things in there. And then our friend from Mexico made like a dessert. Yeah, it was very good. And it was on Christmas Eve. So, the 24 for us. So, the whole celebration was on that day. And then we had another great meal on the 25. So, I get to celebrate Christmas twice. So that’s, that’s cool.

Raeanne:

That’s so special. I love that you can be so far from home, but yet you meet people who are home to you. And you were able to gather that Latin community, have some of your home traditions and celebrate your culture at Christmas time together on the ship when you’re in the middle of West Africa.

Susy:

Yes. And we do have crew mail right. So, my family has been able to send Christmas presents either after or before Christmas, it doesn’t matter. But I get like little cards, you know, with my nephew’s handprints and their notes from my mom and pajamas or socks, which is the very parent, apparently, present. So that’s also nice that we get to receive also presents from our family.

Raeanne:

Oh, that is so special. Well, Susy, thank you so much for sharing with us just the beautiful stories of helping patients and having their lives changed but also your life being changed by the gifts that they’ve given you through their love. And we wish you a very, very Merry Christmas.

Thank you for listening to the New Mercies podcast. We hope you’ve been uplifted and encouraged as you’ve listened to these episodes, and perhaps you’ve been inspired to come join us on board. You can find all of our volunteer opportunities at MercyShips.org/volunteer.

Well 2021 is almost over and this marks our last episode of the year, but we’ll be back January 10 with a whole new set of episodes. So, enjoy the holidays catching up on any episodes you’ve missed, and we’ll see you in the new year. And from all of us at Mercy Ships we wish you a very Merry Christmas.