CWN.org -- As the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship is set to arrive in Benin, West Africa next week for it's next field service, it will be particularly poignant for 40 crew members who will be returning to their own continent to serve onboard the Africa Mercy. While docked in Benin until December this year, the floating hospital will provide free medical care and life-saving surgery for thousands of the people.
But this will have an even more personal touch for those serving their own people onboard the Africa Mercy, who come from Ghana, Togo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, South Africa and even Benin itself.
Philip Dumbuye from Sierra Leone serves as Assistant Cook on the Africa Mercy: "It's actually the greatest opportunity for me to serve my people. I was praying for an opportunity to serve with Mercy Ships and God answered my prayers so I'm very happy about that."
"For a long time now I've been wanting to have the opportunity to go into ministry and serve the less privileged."
Cuts, burns and stinging eyes
However Philip's role in the ship's galley isn't without its obstacles: "The challenges are quite high. I regularly get knife cuts and I've got burns from cooking. Also chopping onions is particularly hard when the gas from them burns your eyes, which is quite painful. Working 12 hour shifts is quite tough. Doing this continuously for 9 months now I don't find as challenging but just a normal day for me.
"I knew when I signed up it would be tough. Even though it's painful physically, I've found joy because I know I'm trying to do my best. Also when I get compliments from other crew members that they've enjoyed my cooking, that keeps me going, because I can thank God that I'm doing the right thing."
Serving those who serve
"I'm sure without me the doctors would find it very hard to work, so we're complementing each other. The slogan for our food services team is: serving those who serve. We are not involved in the medical ministries directly but we are helping them to be effective so I feel good about that."
Philip strongly recommends people get involved in the work of Mercy Ships: "It could be a great opportunity to come here. At first when I signed up to come I said God I don't know what you're leading me to but now I've come and I've realised that it's the best decision I've made in my life. I think people should come and experience Africa, experience working with different people from different nationalities and experience the hand of God in Africa and in your life too. Come and serve with Mercy Ships and you will see the heights that God will take you to."
Africa Mercy's first high school graduate
Enoch Yeboah from Ghana serves with the Africa Mercy's Information Services Department. His family joined Mercy Ships when he was just 11 years old and went on to become the first ever high school graduate on the Africa Mercy: "I got involved in Mercy Ships through my dad who was an engineer onboard all the Mercy Ships vessels and it goes back to a whole family timeline where he avoided the path and eventually God took him there.
"So I always remember praying from my porch that God would take us out of the country someday to see around the world and my dad came home one day and told us 'we've been accepted to serve on the Anastasis with Mercy Ships and we're going onboard the ship. What do you guys think of it?' And I just jumped and said: 'Yes, thank you God for answering my prayers. So I was very excited and my family was generally excited."
'Wow I'm going to live on a ship'
"I was 11 years old and we took a bus trip which took about 12 hours and go through immigration and customs to come onboard the Anastasis which was great. I remember seeing the ship for the first time and just going 'wow, I'm going to live on a ship'. It was just far beyond my imagination. Those first few years were really exciting because I was ready for a new change and I think that was the motivation of me to be in a new environment."
Enoch says school life was certainly unique: "It was interesting at first. You'd be writing and it seemed like your paper was going up and down and your whole classroom was moving and you sit in your classroom with so many nationalities. It's something which is bizarre, which takes a little bit of getting used to."
Despite this unusual education Enoch chose to carry on a full-time crew member: "The whole passion behind Mercy Ships and what they do and there's something very genuine from people's hearts. It wasn't something that we do, just so say hey look in front of the camera, but it was something from people's hearts that we're doing it. That was what touched me that made me want to be a part of that."
Graduating to full time service
"I moved over to the communications team after I graduated onboard the ship and I was very excited because I was the first person on the Africa Mercy school to graduate. My role on the communications department was to do graphics and that was something that I really enjoyed doing and that's what I want to pursue later in life to be a professional graphic designer and so with not having much education or background behind it I just went ahead and did what I felt like I could do for the department and through that I've learned a lot in graphic design and I've tried my best to produce beautiful artwork.
"With my new department in Information Services, I'm going to be working the help desk, which will be the mediator between the crew and the IS department and I'll be taking care of the help that people will need in case of software problems or intranet problems or printers. That's the kind of job I'll be doing.
"It's very challenging. Sometime the phones are ringing constantly but it's really exciting to be a hand of God not just to the poor but to the people that serve the poor."
Another crew member from Ghana who grew up with as a young child with their family with Mercy Ships is Esther Biney currently serving as Photo Journalist: "My parents came from Ghana to serve on the Anastasis and actually got married onboard the ship. I was then born on the ship, but we left the ship when I was five years old to start Youth With A Mission in Ghana.
"So from time to time I would come and visit the ship and sail with the ship to a different country. Then I decided almost three years ago that I wanted to come back to you roots and serve again with Mercy Ships.
'The only life I knew'
"As a little girl I remember going to school with people from lots of different countries and I always remember feeling different because I spoke a different language. But I remember enjoying sailing and seeing lots of different countries. As a little kid that was the only life I knew that was my life and my home."
"Being onboard this ship has been amazing. Where else would you go to work with people from over 30 nations living together on a ship and for me working in my continent of Africa has been amazing to see people from different nations have a heart to come to Africa to work with my people. So to be a part of that to see the great need and see the transformations in people's lives. To see people come in distraught, poor and with huge tumors and then after the surgery they leave and they're happy.
Capturing stories through a lense
Esther says it's a real privilege as the ship's Photo Journalist to be a part of the patients' stories: "To be able to capture their stories through the lense and write their story and to have a little part of their joy has been amazing. But I don't want them to see me as far removed from them behind a camera and I always try to get to know them and try to identify with their situation and its amazing the kind of stories they have especially just coming from Liberia in a war torn nation and having these amazing stories of God's protection. It makes me grateful to be part of what Mercy Ships is doing and I realize that I shouldn't complain about the little stuff that I go through because these people have seen God in an amazing way. So every time I see them leaving I feel like I helped a little bit by telling their story."
Singing for Liberia's president
As well as Esther's photography talents she is also a musician and worship leader: "I started singing when I was about six years old in Sunday school and would always try and lead my little group. I would just sing everywhere and so the older I got the more I wanted to sing in front of people and do solos and I have a great passion for music and worship especially. I feel like I'm always having a little concert for God. Just to be able to usher people into the presence of God through music is a blessing."
"The first time I performed for the president of Liberia was when the ship was there in 2007 and it was nerve wracking. I was so nervous but it was a privilege and then the second time in 2008 it was just awesome and to be able to shake her hand I was blessed. I would never have gotten that opportunity if I wasn't working with Mercy Ships to actually sing for a president."
Esther like all of the African crew with Mercy Ships are very excited to be returning to serve their people in Benin next week: "I'm excited not just because Benin is near my home country of Ghana, but also to go to a new country and to be able to see the need and see lives being transformed again seeing people come in looking the way they look and then seeing them look with a difference. Their eyes are brighter, they're happier I just can't wait to see that and to be a part of that."