God called, and I answered. For twelve weeks (October to January), I recently served as a volunteer pharmacist onboard the Africa Mercy at port in Dakar, Senegal. Mercy Ships is an international faith-based charity whose foundation rests on an integrated biblical worldview of service to others and a personal relationship with Jesus. It uses hospital ships to transform lives and serve nations by offering free medical care, bringing hope and healing to the forgotten poor. Most all crew members serve as volunteers, pay for their own travel immunizations and airfare, and in addition pay a crew fee to cover room and board. Strangely enough, it was competitive to secure my position as one of three pharmacists onboard with more pharmacists waiting in line to serve.
There are approximately 350 crew members onboard at any given time, representing thirty countries. The best part about serving on the Africa Mercy is The Community, and the worst part is The Community! While serving, I met dozens of new friends from all around the world, but life onboard the ship necessitates close living conditions. Privacy and access to laundry are at a premium. My duties as pharmacist involved forty-five exhausting hours each week. The reward was the satisfaction of knowing that I had helped provide free, professional medical care to the poor of Senegal. During the nine-month Field Service in Dakar, an estimated 2,500 surgeries will have been performed; surgeries include maxillofacial, orthopedic, and ocular, in addition to limited general surgery. The ship houses five operation arenas in addition to an eighty-bed hospital, wards often with 12 beds. The accompanying family member sleeps on a mat underneath the patient’s bed.
While there I attended church services in the city of Dakar at the International Baptist Church. Services were in both French and English; the Africans have melodic singing voices and worship with enthusiasm. I also had the opportunity to ride a ferry out to the island of Goree, located about 1.5 miles off the coast. Goree Island is Senegal’s most popular tourist destination; for three hundred years (1550-1850) the island was the primary shipping site for slave trade with approximately twenty million slaves exported to Brazil, Cuba, the American Colonies, and other destinations. I had expected the trip to be totally somber, especially since I was traveling with a new friend from Cameroon along with six other crew members. Indeed, it was truly sobering at the Slave House with its dark history and infamous “door of no return,” but the day also proved to be fun and refreshing with the island’s colorful tourism, tropical blossoms, and beach. With new-found camaraderie among the eight of us, we enjoyed fellowship and a lengthy meal at a restaurant high on the island, framed with the standard joke that the restaurant staff must have first had to catch the fish that we were served!
You too can serve. The Africa Mercy and the soon-to-be-launched Global Mercy offer many opportunities including medical, business, engineering, chaplaincy, food services, reception, navigation, and teachers. Yes, there is the Academy on ship with 30 students, all children of crew members. The Mercy Foundations website lists its needed positions. If God is calling you, I urge you to check it out!