mercy ships

Presidential Perspectives: Mercy

In a new series on The Bell, President Lindsay will be bringing a variety of perspectives from his corner office in Frost to the far-flung corners of the world where he travels—and everything in between.

We had traveled from all corners of the world and convened for a long weekend in Cotonou, Benin to see up-close the extraordinary work of an organization called Mercy Ships. Founded nearly 40 years ago by Don Stephens, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to some of the poorest people in the world, providing medical care through floating hospitals. For nearly 10 months, the Africa Mercy has been docked in Benin’s capital of Cotonou on the west coast of Africa.

© 2016 Mercy Ships, Photo Credit Ruben Plomp; Don Stephens (USA) Founder and President of Mercy Ships. Visiting the Africa Mercy in Madagascar.

Mercy Ships President/Founder Don Stephens visits with a patient onboard the Africa Mercy in Madagascar in 2016. ©Mercy Ships/credit: Ruben Plomp

When the Africa Mercy docks somewhere, it can instantly double or triple the number of surgeons in a city like Cotonou. Although they help thousands of people each year (2.5 million and counting), many more sick people seek the help of Mercy Ships than the ministry can assist. And there are always cases that are more complex or involve terminal illnesses that Mercy Ships simply cannot address. The crew says that making the heartbreaking judgement to turn people away is the hardest part of their work. Yet in cases where Mercy Ships cannot assist, the crew gathers at least once a week to pray for the individuals by name, asking God for miraculous healing.

I joined the Board of Directors of Mercy Ships a year ago, and I am thrilled that Don Stephens will preach at our upcoming Baccalaureate service and receive an honorary doctorate degree at Commencement.  As we come together to celebrate Don, it will be a special time to recognize his longstanding service and the profound impact of this ministry.

mercy ships

Mercy Ships volunteer in Benin

Walking the dusty roads in this African city and meeting some of the families who desperately seek medical care for their loved ones, I was overwhelmed by the needs around me. I met children whose cleft palates were affecting their ability to breathe. I saw women with cysts on their bodies that were as large as grapefruits, the weight of which made it impossible for them to do simple things like walk or sit properly. And my heart broke for the parents and grandparents who would sleep underneath the medical bed while they tended to their children and grandchildren who were on board for surgical treatments.

Poverty has a cascading effect in people’s lives—it affects their ability to get nutritious food, to correct modest deformities that eventually become debilitating disabilities, and to pursue gainful employment because of decades spent dealing with issues that in America could be fixed quickly and seamlessly. It is impossible to see this kind of poverty and human suffering up close and not be deeply affected. But I can’t help but imagine all the ways Gordon students and alumni could begin to fill those needs.

It will take me long time to process what I saw in Benin. But of this I am sure: the Lord wants to bring hope and healing to the lives of everyone. Sometimes he accomplishes that through miraculous intervention. Other times he uses people like us to be his vessels of blessing to others; that’s the ministry that Mercy Ships provides. And on occasion neither of those come to pass; in those instances, we are reminded that the entire world awaits God’s full redemption. We must do all we can to work for his purposes within our respective spheres of responsibility and service even as we pray for the Lord to make all things new.