Happy Birthday Dear Facebook

For Facebook’s 10th birthday this week it featured 10 stories about how the site has connected people around the world. One of them was about us.

It just so happens that Facebook has played a unique role in fundraising for Mercy Ships. In November some friends from FB came to Congo and filmed a piece about Mercy Ships and our partner Sevenly, a clothing company that donates $7 from every sale to charity. 



So are you ready for a really sweet story? Click here to see how Sevenly, Facebook, and Mercy Ships came together and changed a little boy’s life in Congo.

Thanks for watching! 

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy



The Vernel Effect

Vernel is too cute to be angry with and now he knows it.

Vernel is a wily 6-year-old patient who is probably up to something that he’ll get away with. Why will he get away with it? Because it’s too hard to stay mad at him. When he looks up at you, with his lovable, mischievous, grin, he mesmerizes you with his sweetness and your only conscious thought is about how darling he is. Were you about to reprimand him? You can’t remember.

I call this The Vernel Effect.


Vernel’s story began in a fishing village eight hours from Congo’s port city of Pointe Noire. The cleft on the right side of his upper lip revealed his pink gums and front teeth as it stretched up to his nose. Vernel has been bullied for looking different, his dad says. The other children in their village teased him to the point he would come home crying. This baffles me…who could possibly have the heart to make Vernel cry?

I met Vernel when his father brought him to the Africa Mercy for surgery. In an environment where cleft lips are embraced, I watched Vernel quickly come into his own. He never had to worry about being teased here; the staff doted on Vernel from the moment he stepped into the Admissions Tent. We made him balloons, we let him play with the Djembe drums, and we discovered that he is a total clown in front of the camera. On this ship in Africa, Vernel finally found his audience: 350 people who see beyond his deformity. By the time surgeons repaired Vernel’s cleft lip, he’d forgotten he had it.


But there is one thing you can’t let yourself forget about Vernel: he is a ninja when it comes to tickling.

That mischievous smile on Vernel’s face is there for a reason. First, he will curl up in your arms or give you a hug or a drooly kiss. Then, in accordance with The Vernel Effect, you will let your guard down. And that’s when he’ll strike. Think you’re not ticklish? Think again. Vernel has no mercy – especially if you have recently tickled him. This is a 6-year-old with an appetite for vengeance.


This is my friend Hope. She didn’t stand a chance.


Sadly, Vernel couldn’t stay here forever. I was part of a team that drove him home. Today, Vernel is doing great and, might I add, looking quite handsome. 


When it was time for Vernel to be discharged, he called his grandmother to tell her he was coming home. “I’m a handsome boy now,” he said. 


I loved watching this little boy realize his charm. I know Vernel won’t be the last patient to undergo a transformation here.


don’t fall for it.



The End.

Brazzaville Screening

Earlier this week I flew with a team to Brazzaville, the capital of Congo, to see potential patients. I captured the day in photos while our medical team screened and scheduled nearly 300 people to come to the ship for further testing and surgery.

Here’s a glimpse of our Brazzaville assessment day:


Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy; The screening site  in Brazzaville.CGA121106_BRAZZAVILLE_SCREENING_CM0254_MID






It was a good day. 

Photo Cred: Josh Callow, Mercy Ships

^ Photo Cred: Josh Callow, Mercy Ships

Casting Call

Let’s say Home Alone 3: Christmas in the Jungle was a real thing.

And let’s say that I was in charge of talent scouting.

And let’s say I held a casting call in a hospital in Congo.




Is it even a question?

Whenever Vernel (6) gets in front of my camera he turns into a total goofball. Since his cleft lip has been fixed he is even sillier. More of his story coming soon. 

54 days until Christmas, by the way. Just sayin.


Hi. This is really cute.

Are you prepared to handle the fantastic cuteness that is a little girl with a pink balloon?

I thought so.

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy;

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy;

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy;

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy

but what goes up…

Photo Credit: Catherine Clarke Murphy

…must come down.

(and speaking of balloons: If you haven’t seen it, there is a short French film called Le Ballon Rouge that will enrich your life immensely. It came to mind as I was editing these photos and I really think the world will be a better place if you put it on your Netflix queue. Just sayin.)

Let me tell you about Jaka

There is a universal principle of childhood physics that we all remember well: the joy of spinning in circles. Perhaps it was spinning while locking hands with a playmate, in a teacup at Disney World, dancing in pirouettes, or simply turning in place – it was a thrill to send our surroundings into a kaleidoscopic blur. This was followed by a dizzy fit of giggles – at least until our internal compasses caught up, and the world came back into focus. Do you remember?

Four years ago, Jaka was spinning around in circles with some other children while her mother was at the market. Around and around, arms out, chin up, her face full of smiles. But Jaka lost her balance, and she fell into her aunt’s cooking fire. Jaka landed in the burning coals on her left side with her arm up. A pot of boiling water her aunt had prepared for rice spilled over the little girl’s shoulders, arms and back.

Fanta, Jaka’s mother, ran home from the market and took her to the hospital in Conakry. In order to be seen by doctors, the hospital required a payment of 1.5 million Guinea Francs at the gate – just over $200 – Fanta couldn’t afford admission.  Fanta returned home with Jaka, unable to ease her daughter’s agony. For the next eight months, Jaka laid on her little stomach, tethered to the ground by unimaginable pain. Each day, her mother fanned her, trying to offer Jaka whatever relief she could.

Credit photo: Bright EffoweAs Jaka’s burns healed without medical care or rehabilitation, her left shoulder and arm contracted. Jaka’s skin began to grow back in such a way that her arm became stuck to her side from her armpit to elbow.  Fanta feared that Jaka would lose the ability to move her arm. Still unable to afford any medical treatment, Fanta tried to treat the problem herself.

Fanta forced Jaka’s arm away from her side three times, trying to prevent the contracture. Fanta described each attempt, saying that she and Jaka both cried themselves to exhaustion. On the fourth try, Jaka begged her mother to stop because the pain was so unbearable. “If you try to pull it open again, I will die. The pain will kill me,” Jaka said to her mother. So Fanta allowed Jaka’s arm to heal on its own, stuck to her side.

Today, 9-year-old Jaka is a patient on the Africa Mercy hospital ship, recovering from a free plastic surgery that released her arm and grafted skin. Deep burn marks cover her entire upper body – her head, neck, shoulders, back and arms – but no one notices because they are entranced by this little girl’s adorable gap-toothed smile.

Jaka and her mother, Fanta.

Jaka and her mother, Fanta.

Credit Photo: Michelle Murrey;


Sweeping, washing and fighting – these are the activities Jaka says she will get to do with her restored arm. Laundry might not be appealing to many, but participating in household chores is a normalcy Jaka has never known. “I am so happy,” Jaka says. “When I go home, I will work all the time because I can.” (Fanta admits she is glad for this enthusiasm.) Free of her deformity, Jaka will also now be able to go to school for the first time.

As for fighting, Jaka is one of ten children, and she happens to be very ticklish. With her new arm, she will be able to hold her own the next time she is picked on by one of her older brothers or sisters. She was ashamed to go among her siblings and friends when her arm was stuck to her side because they would tease her. “Now they will see me and say, ‘Jaka has become well!’” she says. Then they will invite her to sit with them and watch the cars go by their house.

From her hospital bed, Jaka is all giggles – she can hardly contain her excitement for her future of playing, going to school and watching cars. But Jaka’s favorite part about her restorative surgery and rehabilitation is even simpler than that: “Clapping!” With her arm free, Jaka can clap with both hands.

Now there’s a happy ending worthy of applause.

Credit Photo: Michelle Murrey;


Pre-op photo courtesy Bright Effowe; other photos courtesy Michelle Murrey. Copyright Mercy Ships 2013.

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