A Volunteer on our Hospital Ship:
When experience lives through hope

When the Hospital Ship Feels like Home

Having just returned to shore from her fifth stint as a nurse on the Africa Mercy, Lillian says she is still ready to return for one last time before her professional nursing license ends in November 2022. She heard about Mercy Ships from a couple met during a mission trip and quickly decided it wasn’t for her, as she couldn’t imagine living in a windowless cabin. However, after diving a little deeper, even the size of the cabin couldn’t stop her.

“After five times on board, it’s like coming home!”

She is happy to meet known and appreciated volunteers each time she comes on board. She even tells us that she had the chance to see a surgeon three times even though he was only coming for two weeks at a time. These encounters with her international colleagues make the experience memorable and enriching.

Lilian, canadian nurse
Lil Woelk, PACU Nurse, Amber Greenhow, Ward Nurse and Guido Nüsslein, Ward Nurse, looking over a patient's chart in the ward on board our hospital ship the Africa Mercy. © Mercy Ships

An Unwavering Joy

Her last assignment was a little different than usual, as it was in the midst of a pandemic that Lillian came on board. To ensure that patients and crew were protected, health restrictions were in place, but nothing could take away from Lillian’s enjoyment of serving patients. She was concerned that the circumstances would prevent her from bonding onboard. In the end, she was glad to have the privilege of sharing precious time playing board games with other volunteers or developing new friendships with those who shared her cabin. Her experience on board the Africa Mercy continues to give her the opportunity to work with people she holds in high esteem and to leave her with a sense of accomplishment.

Lilian Woelk (middle) and 2 other volunteers. © Mercy Ships

More than Healthcare

Mercy Ships puts effort and energy into providing transformative surgeries, but sometimes the results are not what one would expect. On her first mission to Madagascar, one story stuck with Lillian when a little girl died following her surgery. However, what remains at the heart of Lil’s memory is all the grace, care and support offered to the family who had to say goodbye to their little girl: “One crew member built a casket, another offered a dress and a partner organization was able to provide special transportation for an uncle to join the parents.” All of this care was a testament to the values that Mercy Ships holds dear, which are to accompany both patients and their families to offer dignity and hope in the circumstances of restored health, but also through disappointing results or even grief.

Patients and hope center
Patients and crew all put their hands together at the HOPE Center. © Mercy Ships

To find out about the different roles onboard, visit our page for onboard opportunities or to learn about other volunteer stories.