Herald JournalHerald Journal, April 13, 2004

Winsted youth serves aboard the Anastasis, one of three Mercy Ships

By Jenni Sebora, Correspondent

Naomi Behrens, 18, of Winsted has experienced the flavor of 35 different countries in two weeks.

Behrens spent about two weeks recently as a volunteer on the Anastasis, one of three vessels known as the Mercy Ships.

The Mercy Ships operate hospital ships that travel to developing nations, bringing free medical care, and the Gospel, to the poor. It has been in existence since 1978.

The fleet of three Mercy Ships serves all people without regard to race, gender, or religion.

The charity follows the 2,000 year-old model of Jesus Christ, according to its website, www.mercyships.org:

• the blind see (cataract operations),

• the lame walk (orthopedic operations),

• the mute speak (cleft-lip and palate operations),

• women’s reproductive health (VVF operations),

• and Good News (the nature and character of a loving God) is proclaimed among the poor.

There are people speaking different languages all over the ship, representing 35 different countries.

“All have to know some English or it would be chaos,” Behrens said.

Behrens initially learned of the Mercy Ships about 10 years ago when she picked up a brochure about the organization along with her parents, Dave and Mary Behrens, from Jimmy’s Pizza in Winsted.

She more recently learned of the charity when a nurse who volunteered on the Mercy Ships came to the school to speak about Mercy Ships and conveyed that more volunteers were needed. The nurse was also a former student of Dave Behren’s, who teaches at Lighthouse Ministries.

Behrens, a senior at Lighthouse Ministries at the time, decided to become a volunteer.

Good Shepherd Evangelical Free Church of Cokato, where Behrens is a member, financially supported her with half of the money she needed to work for Mercy Ships.

Behrens served as part of the crew service, which cleaned the ship daily, which was no small task.

Nine people on her crew – representing the United States, Europe, Africa, and Korea – cleaned 13 different levels and eight different decks.

Along with the crew services, there are about 10 different departments responsible for running the ship.

Engineers, mechanics, carpenters, cooks, deck hands, computer specialists, and personnel relations are among the volunteers needed to make the ships run smoothly, Behrens said.

Presently Mercy Ships has three different ships running: the Anastasis, which goes to Africa and usually to Sierra Leone, the poorest country in the world, and eventually to Asia; the Caribbean, which travels to Honduras and other islands in the Caribbean; and the Africa, which is presently being refurbished in England for $1.2 million, and will be back in action in 2005, Behrens stated.

“The Anastasis was built in 1953. It was in a ship graveyard when it was bought in 1978 and refurbished as a Mercy Ship,” Behrens explained.

“I initially applied to be on the Caribbean, but there were no openings, so my application was sent to the Anastasis,” Behrens said.

Volunteers have to pay crew fees to defray the costs of living on the ship.

Short-term volunteers can participate from two weeks to a full year with Mercy Ships, while others may choose to serve in a career capacity.

Behrens knew of some people that have been volunteering for 18 years. Crew fees are less if the volunteer signs up for more than one year.

“I had to pay $115 monthly, but crew fees have recently almost doubled,” Behrens said.

Besides crew fees, companies, hospitals, businesses, and individuals provide donations to run the ships, Behrens stated.

“It’s very expensive to be on sea. It’s pretty much a house on water. Satellite costs $12,000, and it’s expensive to make telephone calls,” Behrens said.

There is a laundry room, kitchen, Internet café with more than 100 computers on ship, three operating rooms, a dental room, a hospital ward that holds at least 30 people, and an intensive care room, Behrens explained.

“The medical part is actually a small part considering everything that goes on behind the curtains,” Behrens said.

Behrens was part of the PR, public relations outreach phase, which lasts about three months out of the year.

During this phase, the volunteers raise support including food, medicine, and money.

“I went alone, got on ship and arrived in Liverpool, England, where it docked for two weeks to raise support,” Behrens said.

Behrens explained that the ships dock at different cities where tours and dinners are given to get support. About 1,100 people toured the Anastasis while Behrens was on board.

“Even though I was on a ship for two weeks, we were never at sea,” Behrens said.

The outreach phase occurs during the other nine months. During this phase, the ships are docked and approximately one time weekly people and their medical conditions are screened to determine which people can be treated.

At a screening, there may be more than 3,000 people waiting in line to get free medical care according to Behrens.

“Word travels like wild fire when the Mercy Ship docks,” she said.

“A little boy had a massive facial tumor, and it was too big and too advanced for the doctor to do anything about,” Behrens said.

After the screening, appointments are scheduled, and patients are treated. There are doctors, nurses, medical technicians, dentists, hygienists, eye doctors, and dental technicians who work with patients.

Some medical operations that are performed include cleft lip and palate surgery, cataract removal, straightening of crossed eyes, and orthopedic and facial reconstruction. Dental treatments are also performed. Medical procedures available are limited to the equipment available onboard.

“They see a lot of medical issues that we wouldn’t see in the United States because these conditions are taken care of at earlier stages,” said Behrens.

There are more than 850 career staff and crew, and more than 1,600 short-term volunteers on Mercy Ships each year, providing service to people in 95 ports in 53 developing nations.

More than 800 surgeries are performed on an outreach phase.

Mercy Ships has completed close to 350 construction and agriculture projects including schools, clinics, orphanages and water wells, as well.

Gospel outreach is also a part of the Mercy Ships’ purpose. When the ships dock, different teams go out and do outreaches on land, such as vacation Bible School, Behrens said.

“Everyone who is taken care of medically also hears the Gospel. The medical part comes first and everything else follows. The Gospel is shared through treating patients,” Behrens said.

“There was one chaplin onboard from Nigeria and one from the United States,” Behrens said.

The ships are non-denominational.

“Christ is the center. You have to be a Christian to be a volunteer on the ships. You have to give a testimony to be a Christian on your application,” Behrens explained.

“You don’t have to be a great evangelist to help. You don’t have to have your Bible memorized. The love of Christ shows through your actions. Christ is shown though life-changing operations,” Behrens said.

“It’s not a big political debate between countries, it’s bringing people together,” Behrens stressed.

Behrens would like to go back to Africa in the future.

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