Don Stephens was not originally planning to be a ministry mariner.

His plans changed, however, when he had a vision of a disabled African boy and went on to establish Mercy Ships in 1978.

Greg Mitchell, Mercy Ships’ engagement coordinator, met with the Kilgore Lion’s Club during the group’s June 6 meeting, spreading the story of the Mercy Ships ministry.

Mercy Ships sends doctors, medical staff and other ship crew members, on the vessel the Africa Mercy in West Africa. Per the Mercy Ships website, the Africa Mercy is “the largest non-governmental hospital ship in the world”.

The Africa Mercy was renovated with medical equipment between 1999 and 2007. However, the main goal of the renovation was not simply to have nicer equipment.

“It is about the restoration of the individual, not the ship,” Mitchell said. The entire purpose of Mercy Ships is to give surgery and medical care to the people of countries with poor medical equipment and healthcare. “We train their medical people with good equipment and training.”

After his vision of the African boy,Stephens eventually met with Mother Teresa. She asked him what he planned to do.

With the vision in mind, Stephens started doing disaster relief in California on a ship called the Anastasis (or, “Resurrection” in Greek). Stephens and his family lived on the ship for the next 10 years, while Stephens served as president of his Mercy Ships ministry.

According to the Mercy Ships Website, during his time leading the ministry, Stephens travelled to 40 countries where he established offices and acquired thousands of volunteers. In 1983, Stephens acquired a second ship, the Good Samaritan. With that ship, Stephens decided to focus more on the Earth’s southern hemisphere.

Today, Mercy Ships’ main base is in Africa. Closer to home, the main United States base is located in Garden Valley. The U.S. base is in a building that once housed a children’s ministry and a government hospital. When the government sold the building to Mercy Ships for cheap, it left all of the government’s equipment for the hospital. “We had everything,” said Mitchell.

Mercy Ships is currently building the first purpose-built hospital ship, known as the Global Mercy.

More info about Mercy Ships can be found at www.mercyships.org.  

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