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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Our Friend, Denis

Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
This is our friend, Denis, from Lithuania. He is holding up the flag from his country in the International Lounge of the Anastasis. He works with Rob in Engineering and has recently gone back to spend time with his wife and eight year old son, Dmitry. Denis will come back and serve with us near the end of July for another 3 months. We hope he is enjoying time with his family during their summer break!

A painting of the Africa Mercy by Dmitry

Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
This painting was done by Denis' eight year old son, Dimitry. They live in Klaipeda, Lithuania. Dimitry is quite talented in art! We were all amazed by it's accruacy and the detail that Dmitry included in this beautiful painting! This painting hangs in the cafe area of the Africa Mercy on display so that all can see.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf welcomed the Africa Mercy!

We have had an incredible week since coming to Liberia! Every morning we have had devotions and then information meetings about what to expect for the day! Today's meeting was about protocol and how we planned to host the President of Liberia and the officials with her.

The President of Liberia came to the Africa Mercy to welcome us on Monday, May 28, 2007. She personally shared with all of the crew in a welcome ceremony and then met with the International Board Members and Management Team of the Africa Mercy! How incredible is that! Our hearts are so full of how gracious the Liberian people are and we are so looking forward to sharing with you all that the Lord has for us here.....

Here is an article that tells the story well.
Liberian President welcomes Mercy Ships latest addition – the Africa Mercy – to it’s first field service in West Africa nation

By Michael Ireland ** Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

MONROVIA, LIBERIA, WEST AFRICA (ANS) -- Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf paid Mercy Ships a profound compliment this past year by taking time out of her hectic inaugural schedule to visit the Anastasis the day before being sworn into office.

On May 28, President Sirleaf once again honored Mercy Ships by presiding over ceremonies marking yet another inaugural: the commencement of field service for the charity’s newest floating hospital, the Africa Mercy, which docked in the port of Monrovia last week.

President Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected, female head-of-state, was met at the foot of the Africa Mercy gangway by Mercy Ships founder and President Don Stephens, co-founder Deyon Stephens, the vessel’s Executive Director, Solfrid Quist, and the ship’s Master, Captain Jurryan Schutte.

The President’s visit included a tour of the vessel’s medical facilities, including six state-of-the-art operating theaters, 78-bed recovery ward, and medical imaging suite with x-ray, CAT scan, and remote diagnostics to serve hundreds of Liberians with free care over the next several months.

President Sirleaf also visited what the crew have already dubbed the ship’s "town square" -- a common area for the vessel’s all-volunteer crew of 450 -- containing a general store, coffee shop, and internet cafĂ©. Her Excellency then moved to the vessel’s aptly named International Lounge where crewmembers from more than 30 nations gathered to hear her speak.

In his comments welcoming the Liberian President aboard the ship, Don Stephens said: "We are some thirty to forty different nationalities living on board the Africa Mercy when she’s in full service. And I couldn’t help but reflect on a phone call that I had from Ambassador Jacques Paul Kline early in 2004 when he was the Commander of UNMIL forces here in Monrovia. He was known as a very frank, plain-spoken commander, and he said with some expletives I won’t repeat, 'Where is your ship? Liberia needs her. Now!' "

Stephens said he explained at the time that Mercy Ships had commitments to other nations, and would do their best, realizing that would not suffice as an answer for the Ambassador, who pled with Stephens to come.

"So in March of 2005 we brought the Anastasis to begin her service. And when this ship, the Africa Mercy, sails on Dec 1 of 2007 we will have spent 587 days in the port of your city and that is longer than any other West African nation. So we responded as quickly as we could."

Stephens recalled that Ambassador Kline said, "You have no idea of the hopelessness of the people of Liberia. And when your white hospital ship sails into the port it will do something psychologically to bring hope back to the land."

Stephens told the Liberian President that Mercy Ships, "have seen something far greater than a ship coming into the port. We were here, Madame President, for your inauguration, and we saw the people of Liberia waving and dancing in the streets that a woman of courage, a woman of integrity, a woman who’s a visionary leading for the future. I will never forget your inauguration as heads of state came to pay homage and give honor."

Commenting that he and his wife Deyon came back to Monrovia just a few days ago -- the second time since the inauguration, "We already see the visible fruits of your efforts. We see the beginnings of a turnaround, of the transformation. We saw electric lights on. And we in Mercy Ships have also benefited from a partnership as you’ve turned on the water for the people of Monrovia. Now our small part in that was rather self-serving because this ship alone consumes about 100 tons a day when the hospital is fully operational but we’re delighted to have partnered with you."
038 Stephens recalled that when he and Deyon flew in for the inauguration, they were privileged to meet one of President sons, James, who is a medical doctor in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and a grandchild, and her daughter-in-law, "So we have followed closely and felt well-connected with what you are doing."

Stephens continued: "People often ask me, 'What was it like? How did you, why did you found Mercy Ships?' And there are 4 things that come to mind. They all begin with an “S” which helps me remember. A storm. A ship. A son. And a saint.

"The storm was in 1964. Deyon and I were teenagers. I was 19, she was 18, and we were in the Bahamas. And one of those 100-year storms, once-a-century storms, came into the Bahamas, and we were gathered in small groups in safe places for our safety. In several of those places the small groups were praying -- for our safety, for the Bahamians, for our parents at home. I wasn’t in the prayer group. I didn’t pray the prayer, I only heard about it. A teenaged girl prayed a prayer that went something like, 'Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a ship with doctors and nurses, carpenters, electricians, professional people who would come in after a disaster, show mercy and the love of God.' And that was the genesis in my thinking, although I didn’t participate in that meeting.

"Secondly, the ship. Some will know of the old hospital ship, Hope. Project Hope is an excellent organization that still exists today, but they’ve not had a hospital ship for thirty years. Deyon and I read of Dr. Bill Walsh and his efforts and the Hope also came to West Africa before she was decommissioned.

"And the third and fourth 'S', a son and a saint, I would like to link together. Deyon and I have four children. The third child in chronological order was born a special needs son. We still call him little John Paul, or affectionately JP. John Paul was born severely brain-damaged and autistic, and in learning to care for him, to love him -- the practical aspects of caring for him -- grew a great desire a see a hospital ship that had only been a thought before become a reality to serve parents like us, who had similar situations only far worse, with less hope, sometimes with almost no infrastructure."

Stephens reflected that in 1977 he spent ten days in Calcutta, India, and referred to Saint Mother Theresa -- the fourth S. "I spent ten days there, and one of the highlights was spending time with Mother Theresa. Of course everyone would have wanted to have met her.

"I wanted to ask her questions that you would expect: 'How did you begin? What motivated you? What was all of this behind it?' And she deflected that quickly. I had always read that she was a person who could focus on the person right in front of her and turn out all the background noise and I experienced that personally," he said.

Stephens continued: "As she discovered our special needs son, John Paul, and a dream for a hospital ship, she arranged for me to tour their home for the handicapped. And when I left, the words that I remember, the impact that are in my mind and also in my spirit, was Mother Theresa saying, 'Although your little boy, John Paul, cannot speak, he will have a voice that is heard by thousands around the world. God is in this. Pursue your dream of a hospital ship.' Now those are not the exact words, but they are very close and that’s the essence of what I took with me."

John Paul will be thirty-one this September, said Stephens and, although he doesn't speak, I think you would agree with me that although John Paul, close to thirty-one years of age, still doesn’t speak, he has a voice that’s heard around the world. And it’s an honor to be here in your country as we see you lead the reconstruction of Liberia. I do hope that as the G8 meets next week that they will be attentive to the work, the effort, the progress that you have already made, that we might see a forgiveness of the international debt to the country, the nation of Liberia."

In her remarks, the Liberian President, Madame Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, said:"There is a prepared text that was made for me, but I won’t read it. Because it doesn’t take words put together to thank you. It doesn’t take something that is so prepared and formal and official. It only takes knowing what you do, having been a part of it."

She continued: "Last year when the Anastasis was here we visited, and we saw, we felt, what happened in the lives of the many young people, the women, the older people who came and they left the ship completely changed. Not only changed physically because of the treatment they received, but changed morally and spiritually.

"In coming back today and just walking the corridors and going into the rooms of this much larger, more improved, more modern facility that will serve our people, what do you say? Today we have you here, and we’re so grateful that you could come, so you can see for yourself how much we appreciate what’s being done to serve our people."

The Liberian President added: "Our minister and others have done a lot, we have come from a long way, one a lot to try to reconstruct, rebuild our health systems, not only in the capital city, but in the rural areas where the needs are greatest - trying to respond with the scarce resources that we have. And we’ve made a lot of progress. We’ve tried to revitalize the John F. Kennedy Hospital as a referral hospital and tried see how they can respond to the needs of the people.

"We have others that have come to help and I see a few of them in the room. Some of them are family. My son is a doctor; my sister’s son is a neurosurgeon working in Alaska. He and a team are here working at JFK. My son and others come from Connecticut where he practices. They come, they bring of their service, their talent, their spare time that they have and they serve people. And they come with others, not just them -- they’re family, they can do it -- but they come with those whose only reason is because they care, because they want to make a difference in the lives of those whom they help, and that’s what Mercy Ships is all about."

President Johnson-Sirleaf commented on a video that was played, adding: "You can’t help but feel something deep inside, that for all the things that we have done to ourselves as a people, your response is one of love. Your response is one that helps us to see a different way to look at ourselves with a different value."

Commenting on Stephens' references to his family, Johnson-Sirleaf said: "You just talked about your personal life and the difficulties you had with your son. You could easily have been so bitter with life and what it meted out to you, but your response was to serve humanity, and to make up, not only to your son, but to make up to the thousands and thousands of other people’s sons and daughters throughout the world, to give them a better life, to give them a better chance to be renewed."

Referring to the ship's staff and crew, Johnson-Sirleaf said: "All of you who serve on the ship, and serve voluntarily, I just want you to know that the Liberian people are grateful. The Liberian people receive you with such warmth just knowing what you bring, what you bring to us, how you enable us, many of our people, to live again, to be able to be part of society in a normal way -- no longer an object of pity, no longer silenced by their handicaps, no longer ashamed of their condition. You’ve brought them something. We thank you.

She added: "I want you to know that this government will be a partner to you. We may not have all the resources that we would like to see to give the support that you so rightfully deserve, but that which we have, just being there with you, responding to you in any way that we can, making sure that the basics that is required of us, that it’s met, but more importantly, just being there as your friend in appreciation for all that you have done for us.

"Thank you for being here. Thank you for your service. Thank you for being the wonderful people that you are. And we know that added to what you do is that great belief in God, something that is shared by the majority of our people. We will be there with you. We will pray with you. And our people will be forever grateful. God bless you."

** Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Lake Forest, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station.

** You may republish this story with proper attribution.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

We have arrived in Monrovia, Liberia!

Yes, the Africa Mercy has arrived in Monrovia, Liberia! What an exciting day this is! We are so blessed. To see a short video of our arrival....please click here. This is a short video that Tyrone Barton shot. More to come later! Got to go!

We are docked across from the Anastasis. She will be retired (next month) after we complete transfering crew, equipment and supplies. The Anastasis has been in service for over 25 years and is the original Mercy Ship!

We have arrived in Monrovia, Liberia on the Africa Mercy!

Dear Friends,

Just a quick note to let you know that we have arrived across the dock from the Anastasis in Monrovia, Liberia! What an incredible day it has been! The crew of the Anastasis was waiting for us for 4-6 hours on the dock and welcomed us with singing "To God be the Glory ... Great things He has done!" If you'd like to see a short video clip... please click here . If this link doesn't work ...go to and click on the video and or story! The video was looking from Deck 7 on the Africa Mercy. Thank you for all your prayer support!

As we enter this new season in Africa...please keep praying for us and for our crew! We will be all joining together as one crew in unity! It was just amazing to see the International Lounge filled to overflowing today as we met together for a briefing this afternoon!

May God bless you abundantly as you trust in Him!

God's blessings,

Denise and Rob

Mercy Ships, M/V Africa Mercy

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Sailing to Monrovia, Liberia!

Hello Friends,

We are so excited!!! We are actually sailing en route to Monrovia, Liberia aboard the Africa Mercy.

On March 28th, we set sail on Seatrials and sailed to Blyth, England from the A&P shipyard. Our time in Blyth was very busy, loading the ship, adjusting to our new home and getting everything ready to sail and actually go to Monrovia, Liberia. We had many volunteers come to help us move boxes and empty the warehouses there to load up the ship. It was a very busy time and we all worked hard to keep on schedule. It seemed an impossible task.

When we arrived in Blyth, the ship was just barely operational. Reception, the Galley and Dining Room needed to become fully operational immediately!

We moved all the crew on board, emptied the warehouse, sorted out the offices and departments to get them running properly. Trained the non-technical crew as we prepared for the surveys and inspections that seemed never ending!

God was so faithful as we pressed in to His promises to give us rest and strength to complete the tasks. We were in a community meeting, as the Captain was still meeting with the inspectors and surveyors. Half way through the meeting the Captain came in and told us that all the certificates were issued and that we would be able to leave on time...the next morning 04 May 2007 for Rotterdam..Tenerife and Monrovia! Praise the Lord! He alone could make it possible! We appreciate all your prayers, too!

We have sailed via Rotterdam, Netherlands and had a wonderful reception hosted by the Mercy Ships Netherlands office.
They were very gracious and just couldn’t seem to do enough for us. We were quite humbled by the experience.

The Netherlands office planned tours of the ship for about 1200-1500 people in just 2 days. It was amazing and very well planned.

We had a short time to enjoy walking around the city and being in a central location, just across the bridge from the city center, made it very convenient. We enjoyed a Chinese dinner in a huge Chinese Restaurant and Hotel.

After a few days in Rotterdam, we sailed for six days to Santa Cruz de Tenerife off the northwest coast of Africa.

The first part of the sail was a little bumpy as we headed through the English Channel towards the Bay of Biscay. As we entered the Bay the ride became even more of a challenge.

We had strong headwinds (Gale Force 10) and a varying sea state from 8-12 feet with larger swells at times. The Africa Mercy is a very stable ship and corrects herself quickly which can be an interesting ride at times.

The crew was amazing and did very well at sea for the most part. We got our “sea legs” back after two years of not sailing. We’d take this sail any day over being moored to the dock.

The sea calmed down after crossing the Bay of Biscay and we then had a lovely sail on to Tenerife.

As we sailed closer to Tenerife, the coats and jackets were set aside as the weather was warmer and the crew gathered on "Monkey Island" (top of the bridge) and made it a "Sun Deck". We enjoyed standing by the rail and looking into the deep blue ocean to possibly see a whale or some dolphins! One of our crew saw two sea turtles!

We arrived in Tenerife on Monday at 3:00pm. We came to refuel and the engineers were busy directly upon arrival bunkering fuel. The second day we were there, divers came to check the bottom of the ship for the surveyors. And then the next day more fuel! The crew arranged for everyone to have at least one day off while we were there! The dock was lovely and just a short walk into the town. Very nice and bustling with activity, it was just nice to walk around and enjoy the culture. Most of the crew (us included) did much walking the few days we were in Tenerife!

Denise was anxious to have a nice Spanish dinner of Arroz con Pollo or Paella as her favorite dishes are Spanish! We couldn’t get it the first night, but after a couple days of looking we found a really nice restaurant.

She was able to get paella at lunch time the day before we left Tenerife! It was one of the highlights of Tenerife! The specialty of the house was “Olympia Paella” which was very good with, fresh shrimp, Spanish rice, clams, chicken, langostinos (very small lobsters), pork, mussels, green beans, peas, red and green peppers, onions. We’ve included a picture for you. Is your mouth watering yet?

Rosa, our waitress, was very pleasant and we had a wonderful meal. We also managed to treat ourselves to ice cream cones a couple times.

Several of the crew found out how quickly the sun here can cause sunburn. Denise was well prepared with her sun block cream #48. We looked just like all the other tourists with our camera, sun hats, white arms and legs looking at all of the sites with much curiosity. We had a lovely time in Tenerife.

We were reminded many times while in Tenerife of our times spent on the Caribbean Mercy. Tenerife is a Spanish island and the latin culture of Central America is very similar as there was much Spanish influence there. There was not the poverty that we observed in Central America.

Tenerife is a rich island with most developed nation luxuries. Much like any modern city in a developed nation. Occasionally, we could see signs of it's history as a developing nation.

The parks are beautiful with the lovely flowers, as we looked closely we could see that this one was in rememberance of a time when the village people came here to get their water for their homes. Many of the villages in Central America that we served in had central wells for the village and the women and children carried the buckets on their heads.

Many of the villages that we will serve in Liberia will not have running water or electricity to the homes of the people. In fact, many of the homes in Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia don't have running water or electricity.

So, we thought much about where we have served in Central America and the Caribbean and also about where we will serve in Africa.

As we walked around the city of Santa Cruz, this was a good time of preparation, reflection and time to change from the ship project thinking and the many lists of to dos and focus on our ministry and what God is preparing for our service in Africa.

Since leaving Santa Cruz de Tenerife at 10:00am on Thursday 17 May, 2007, we have experienced a very smooth sail thus far. The waves are very calm, cloudless skies, and just a gentle rocking of the ship from port to starboard as we make our way to Monrovia, Liberia. It is very pleasant and relaxing. We are also able to work on board and get things completed before we reach Monrovia.
We, as a crew, have spent time together watching some training DVDs put together by the Anastasis crew to share with us, to help us prepare for Monrovia, Liberia and to appreciate what the people of Liberia have experienced over the past 14 years of civil war. This training helps us understand better what the reality of life in Liberia is.
Dr. Gary Parker, our Chief Medical Officer, does an excellent job of helping us focus on God and what we have been called to in serving the Liberian people. We are in the third day of our sail to Monrovia, Liberia. We are scheduled to arrive at 0700am on Wednesday, 23 May 2007.

We ask you to be in prayer with us as we prepare for the next season God has brought us into. We are very humbled and privileged to be part of this crew; we very much look forward to the combining of our crew on the Anastasis and all of us onto the Africa Mercy. We will be one crew together on one ship! We are excited as we have just a glimpse of what God is going to do.
We ask for your continued prayer covering, for health and safety. We pray for those that God will use us to reach, we pray that we will stay focused daily on God as the source of our strength and that we will not give into the thought that we are able to do any of this in our own strength but only by the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
Thank you for your prayers for us! Will you email us with the prayer needs you have, so we may also, join with you in prayer? We very much appreciate hearing of answered prayer as well. The victories we can share, which encourages each of us. God's plans for each of us so beautifully weave together into His purpose and to bring Him the Glory!

We are a little apprehensive as to how God will use us in Liberia. We know he’ll stretch us and take us out of our comfort zone. We know he’ll continue to prune us and mold us into his image. Along the way we just pray that there will be evidence of His presence in us. Enough where our actions may speak into the lives of those people we come into contact with. We look for the opportunities and make ourselves available.
This will be our first time to Africa and we are looking forward to see what God has in His mind for us!
We know beyond a shadow of doubt that we are where He has sent us and we sooooo appreciate your support and your love shown to us in many many ways! And especially your prayers! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

God's abundant blessings,
Denise and Rob
Mercy Ships, M/V Africa Mercy


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Lynne and Denise in Reception

This picture was taken by BBC in Blyth, UK. They came to do a story on the Africa Mercy. To see all the pictures in their story and many of the inside of the Africa Mercy, please click here. BBC Photos

Great fun to watch the waves breaking on the bow

Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.

Many of the crew on the Africa Mercy enjoy watching the ship plow through the water. Even small waves are spectacular and if the ship hits the wave just right the water flys up the bow and even splashes up on the windows that we are looking out on Deck 6. Most of the time when the waves are less than about 6 or 8 feet, the ship is very stable and still inside.

Occasionally a wave hits just right and the ship rolls from side to side. The last couple days as we went across the Bay of Biscay, the ship rolled quite a lot and we had a head wind of Gale Force 10 with seas of 12-14 feet and up to 16-18 feet. Quite a ride!

Those on the crew that wanted to see how the ship did through rough seas...found out!

The picture above is of Rob sitting looking out the starboard windows of the International Lounge and the picture to the right is of Nancy and Gordi Friebel watching over the bow from Deck 6. It is just beautiful to watch out over the water!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Denise and Rob on the Africa Mercy in Rotterdam

Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
Here we are getting ready to set sail to Africa....the trip is from Rotterdam, the Netherlands to Tenerife, Canary Islands (6 days), refueling there and then on to Monrovia, Liberia (6 days). We are scheduled to arrive in Monrovia on 22nd or 23rd of May.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

"The Maiden Voyage" of the Africa Mercy

Originally uploaded by MercyWatch.
This is approximately the path of the sail from England, from Blyth, UK to Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Sailing to Rotterdam

We took this video while sailing to Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The sail was very smooth and good weather! God is so good! And our newest Mercy Ship is marvelous! We leave Rotterdam tomorrow to head towards Monrovia, Liberia with a short overnight stop for refueling in Tenerife. To see more videos of the sail go to

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Thursday, May 03, 2007

We are Headed for Rotterdam in the Morning!

Dear Friends,
We thought we'd share the wonderful news with you! Tonight, we heard at our community meeting that the Africa Mercy will sail in the morning! 10:00 AM! We are soooo excited! We've been working VERY hard to accomplish all that was needed to pass all the inspections and surveys and tests! But we knew that we could not accomplish this incredible task without the help of the Lord! It really would have been impossible without the Lord! So... thank you so much for your prayers, encouragement and support!

This picture was taken last night by a new friend of ours, here in Blyth! Thank you, Joseph for the picture!
We'll be in Rotterdam until Tuesday and then we sail 6 days to Tenerife, refuel and sail 6 more days ...then we'll be there in Monrovia, Liberia! We can't wait!! and the waiting is almost over!!! Well...I need to get to sleep, cause I know I'll be up early and we have a pre-sail briefing at 7:45! Praise the Lord! and give Him the Glory!

God's blessings,
Denise and Rob
Mercy Ships, Africa Mercy