Telling the Mercy Ships story

Tonight Maria spoke about our experiences on the Anastasis at Filadelfia Church. There were other speakers too – one other from the Anastasis who we last saw in northern Germany in 2003, and who served last year in Liberia. And there was another who has worked in church work in the Central African Republic.

Maria was excellent and it was good to see her speaking about a subject so close to our hearts in her native language. It is a long time since she has given any Mercy Ships talks, and it was great to revisit our old experiences, and also to hear some of the more recent stories from the field from our friend Julia, whose sister was a close friend when we were onboard. We had no idea that she lived in the same town as us. It is a small world…

We had an email from Mercy Ships today to say that the Caribbean Mercy was finally sold yesterday. It was purchased by a family charitable trust which apparently wants to use the ship for medical service in Central America, as well as leasing the ship to a company called CME at Sea, a cruise company specializing in medical conferences. I had a look at their website; the ships they use seem to be in a different class to the Caribbean Mercy, but maybe they plan to completely renovate the old vessel before it is put into service.

I felt vaguely sad to read that the Caribbean Mercy was to continue to offer medical services but under a different flag. We have heard so much over recent years about the sorry state of the ship, making it financially non-viable to keep in service. Our impression has been that the ship is at the end of its useful life. Hence the decision to sell the vessel. But the buyer clearly believes that it has a viable future, not just as a broken down medical relief facility limping around the Caribbean, but as a potential venue for classy medical education courses. Perhaps the trust that has acquired the ship believes that the income generated by “paying customers” might help cover the costs of the medical services offered. One wonders whether Mercy Ships could not have leased the vessel back, or entered into some agreement to continue providing staff for the provision of medical services, even if the ship is owned by someone else. But I suspect that such an option is not within the strategic plan of Mercy Ships International. It is not the first time such a plan has been suggested as a way of continuing to provide services without the massive expense of ship maintenance. Perhaps the International Board sees it as just too complicated.

So with the impending end of the Anastasis, and the final launch of the Africa Mercy, Mercy Ships will become “Mercy Ship” (singular). I can’t help thinking that the shrinkage of the “fleet” to just one ship must have caused great sadness in the soul of Don Stephens, the founder of the organisation. But perhaps he has come to the point where he feels that the Anastasis and the Caribbean Mercy are more trouble than they are worth, and that the organisation is better off without them. Perhaps this shrinkage brings with it, as much as sadness, a certain relief. Who knows what goes on in the mind of leaders…

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