Mission on Mercy Ships

By Dave Jensen

In 2014, I considered that all too familiar question: “What will you do when you retire?”

I had already been volunteering with various ministries in the Grand Valley, so I wasn’t worried that the next chapter of my life would be boring. But one mission kick-started my life as a volunteer: Mercy Ships.

In the late 1980s, I heard a guest speaker at First Presbyterian Church seeking financial and prayer support for a unique ministry. Don Stephens, founder of Mercy Ships, kept us spellbound. Stephens started life as a farm kid in land-locked Olathe, and dreamed of serving the poorest of the poor via a hospital ship.

He was inspired by his Youth With a Mission experience, and by learning about the history of the S.S. Hope, a U.S. Navy hospital ship donated by President Dwight Eisenhower to international health care organization Project HOPE.

The S.S. Hope was active from the late ’60s to the late ’70s, and administered aid in Asia, South America and Africa. Project HOPE later became a land-based program, leaving no non-governmental sailing hospital until Mercy Ships came along.

Mercy Ships is now nearing its 40th anniversary.

I have had the honor of serving twice on the Africa Mercy. This 500-foot ship weighs 16,572 tons and has a crew of 474. It has provided 28,000 surgeries to date, at no cost to the patients.

Volunteers take on the jobs needed for a fully functioning hospital, join maintenance and sailing crews, or teach in a small K-12 school for families living on board. The medical equipment is top-notch, and all medicines and supplies are funded via donations. Volunteers commit anywhere from two weeks to two years of their time.

For two months a year, the ships are taken out of service for routine maintenance and special projects. My background is in construction, so I initially applied in 2014 for a three-week projects assistant job in the Canary Islands. I worked on painting and insulating large overhead water supply lines.

The crew is almost entirely made up of volunteers, who are responsible for their own travel, room and board.

Sometimes when you step out in faith to serve, God provides in mysterious ways. I was prepared to fund the $3,000 trip, but to my surprise, it was covered by generous donors—my last employer, Mays Concrete, and my older brother and his wife. I am forever grateful.

My fondest memories are of worship times onboard and of serving alongside committed people who live out their faith in tangible ways.

In 2017, I was again invited to serve on the projects team. Opportunities abound for intergenerational mentoring—older workers pass on knowledge to the younger ones, while all working together toward common goals. This mentoring has proved to be my favorite memory from this year’s trip.

A plaque in the reception area on the Africa Mercy says it all: “Mercy Ships follows the 2,000-year-old model of Jesus, bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.”

Serving and worshiping in one accord with crew members who represented more than 20 nations made Mercy Ships a taste of heaven for me.

The positive attitude, helpfulness and kindness shown by each crew member makes each mission a special experience. I welcome the invitation to serve again.

Read more about how you can support Mercy Ships at www.mercyships.org.

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