“Seeing the struggle of people in the world’s poorest nations of Africa changes my perspective of many things,” says 28 year old medical scientist, Kathryn Evans, who is serving her third term as a volunteer with Mercy Ships.
“The people of Liberia, where the hospital ship Africa Mercy is currently on field service, struggle with poverty and have to deal with issues that most of us are never likely to know anything about.
“They certainly don’t worry about having the latest fashion trend in clothes, acquiring the latest gadget, or where to go for dinner. Many don’t even get dinner.
“They are fortunate if they have somewhere clean and dry to sleep at night.
“Many are refugees, remembering times when rebel forces swept through their home villages more than once, killing or maiming family members, even taking their children to become child soldiers during the long civil war.
“Somehow, in the face of all that, our concerns seem a little petty,” Katheryn said.
Kathryn, who worships with the Pine Rivers Uniting Church in Brisbane, did not expect to return to West Africa so soon.
She was among the volunteer crew of more than 450 earlier this year, and had been considering returning in a year or two, but received word the hospital ship urgently needed another laboratory technologist.
“That was much sooner than I had been anticipating. I prayed and thought about it, and was certain the decision to return to Africa was a ‘God thing’. Everything happened so quickly and smoothly.”
It was at a missions conference four or five years ago Kathryn heard about Mercy Ships, an international Christian charity, now in its 30th year of service, bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor.
She says she felt many years ago while still at school the call of God to work in Africa. “I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t want to go to Africa where it is hot, isolated, and teaming with various diseases.
“I conveniently forgot about it while I finished my education and gained some practical experience in the lab.
“God is always right, however, and while I thought being in Africa would be a terrible experience, I really love it.”
Kathryn spends much her time in the ship’s lab testing specimens from patients for a range of things, but readily acknowledges that she is only just one member of a team with a huge variety of skills that go into the work of Mercy Ships bringing skilled medical care to correct disability, disfigurement and blindness, as well as undertaking a wide range of community development projects in partnership with local residents and organisations.
“My family and close friends know this is something I have to do, and they are mostly philosophical about it.
“Others say I am doing a really good thing. But I am sure they don’t realise I get more out of the experience than I give.
“The work done by volunteers serving with Mercy Ships means that people can resume normal living following life-changing surgery.
“Little babies with cleft palates find it difficult to feed and end up malnourished. Surgeons repair cleft lips and palates.
“People with huge facial tumours can end up suffocating, but in most cases surgeons can remove the tumours. Eye surgeons can remove cataracts, enable the blind to see again and enjoy new life.
“Many who have been rejected because of disability or disfigurement are able to be re-integrated to community life.
“While my work as a scientist in the lab is not at the cutting edge of all that is going on, it does make it easier for doctors and nurses provide better patient care, and sometimes it does make the difference between life and death.
“I don’t know about the future as a result of this my third period of service with Mercy Ships. The human side of me tells me I would like to know, but I am trying to leave that up to God,” Kathryn concludes.
Mercy Ships is an international Christian charity that has operated hospital ships in developing nations since 1978.
Following the example of Jesus, Mercy Ships brings hope and healing to the poor, mobilizing people and resources worldwide.
Mercy Ships offers a range of health and community development services free of charge. Highly skilled surgeons on board the ships perform thousands of operations each year to correct disability, disfigurement and blindness.
Medical and dental teams travel the countries and establish clinics to provide vaccination programs, dental treatment and basic health care for those with no access to these facilities.
Local community health workers receive training in hygiene, nutrition and disease prevention.
Mercy Ships builds hospitals, clinics, training facilities and basic housing where none exist. Agricultural projects help replenish livestock in war-torn areas and boost food production.
Working in partnership with local people, Mercy Ships empowers communities to help themselves. The result is a way out of poverty.
The emphasis is on the needs of the world’s poorest nations in West Africa, where the hospital ship Africa Mercy provides the platform for services extending up to ten months at a time.
A permanent land-based program operates in Sierra Leone, while teams also work in several nations of Central America and the Caribbean.
Photo : Kathryn Evans and at work in the hospital ship’s lab