On board the Global Mercy, docked in Spain’s Canary Islands, there is an atmosphere of expectation.
Ever since the new ship's construction was completed in mid-2021, she’s been getting ready to serve her very first patients. Day after day, her crew has been patiently preparing for a moment that’s finally about to arrive.
Soon, the newest ship in the Mercy Ships fleet will lower her gangway in Dakar, Senegal, and welcome patients on board to receive life-changing surgery.
Preparing the Ship
Janet and Lawrence Adjei, from Ghana, live on board the Global Mercy with four children, ages 5 through 13. While normally volunteer families spend most of their time serving in West Africa, the Adjeis have been working on the Global Mercy for the past year, making sure she’s ready to serve her first patients.
Now, Janet can’t wait to sail to Senegal in February.
“For the first time, this purpose-built ship is going for field service and to serve its purpose,” she said. “It’s amazing.”
Janet has watched the mood shift on the ship. Anticipation is growing, and new crewmembers arrive regularly.
"Seeing people coming and going, meeting new people, and also getting the hospital ready, it’s exciting,” she said. “We're just looking forward for the ship to start working.”
For both Janet and her children, the experience of seeing patients receive surgery in Dakar will be a fulfillment of a year of planning and dreaming.
“It's going to be a nice thing to see the patients come in and be healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” she said.
Lawrence Adjei, the Global Mercy’s bosun, has been with Mercy Ships since 1991, serving all over West Africa. But for the past year, he has been hard at work in the Canary Islands, preparing the deck and the crew of this brand-new floating hospital.
“It’s a big ship,” he said with a laugh. “More work, more to be done. And more people to be reached out to.”
"We're going to double the work we did before,” Lawrence said.
The Global Mercy’s size and custom design give her the capacity to serve more people than ever before. This capacity will be important in 2023, as Mercy Ships serves patients in two countries – Senegal and The Gambia – from one port.
Preparing the Hospital
Perhaps the most exciting element of the upcoming field service is the chance to see the Global Mercy’s hospital in action for the first time.
"This will be a historic field service," said Mercy Ships Director of Clinical Services Nathan Claus. “This place really is incredible.”
The Global Mercy hospital will bring new technology and larger spaces to the field service. For the 2023 Senegal field service, she’ll start with two operating rooms running simultaneously, as the crew gets used to the new platform. She’ll eventually scale up to four operating rooms, and in subsequent field services, she'll begin maximizing her full capacity.
“It’s amazing how much surgery and training we will do in this place,” Claus said. “How many patients, caregivers, trainees, crew, and day crew will be on board at any given time. Decks 3 and 4 will be bustling, and we can’t wait for that.”
The new hospital has several advantages. Many of the off-ship facilities, like the dockside medical tents, have been moved on board. This saves weeks of setup and tear-down, allowing more time for surgeries.
Built-in cameras will allow trainees to watch surgeries remotely, exponentially expanding training opportunities.
The hospital has more physical space, with six operating rooms and 199 beds, significantly increasing the number of surgeries that can be performed during a field service.
“This hospital is six times the size of the Africa Mercy,” Claus said. “It’s a whole different way of working, and it has been helpful to have this time to figure out how we’re going to run this place.”
Claus has been moved by the dedication of the volunteers who have worked on the Global Mercy month in and month out during the equipping phase, without being able to see the transformation that they're making possible.
For the first time, this purpose-built ship is going for field service and to serve its purpose
"Equipping has been long and not always glamorous,” he said. “It’s tremendous to see their stamina and endurance.”
Preparing the Africa Mercy
Now that the Africa Mercy has finished her 2022 field service in Senegal, it’s her turn to take time for rebuilding. While the Global Mercy takes the lead on the next field service, the Africa Mercy will sail to South Africa for an intensive maintenance period known as “refit.”
According to Lawrence Adjei, refit is especially important because it translates to “upgrade.”
“It's necessary to take time to work on the ship, so that the doctors and the nurses will be able to do their job," he said. “The ship cannot go on without upgrade; some things have to be done for the ship to last longer."
Preparing the Community
As Lawrence says, “it’s the people that make the community.”
If there’s anyone who knows the importance of having community on board, it’s the Kirchner family.
Beth Kirchner started volunteering as a teacher in the Africa Mercy Academy six years ago. In the summer of 2021, her parents Caroline and Mike joined her.
“For years, we've heard about what she's doing,” said Mike. “It's just a special privilege to get to see it.”
All three have now transferred to the Global Mercy, where Mike is a science and social studies teacher, and Caroline leads the hospitality team.
The Kirchners make the most of the community time together on the ship, scheduling standing lunch dates and regular weekend adventures.
"We're all in the same boat, literally,” Caroline said. “We might as well make the best of it and make it meaningful.”
Caroline's team is responsible for greeting new crew, and she puts her position to good use.
“My mom is literally the first person to meet everybody who comes on board,” Beth said.
Caroline is intentional about making sure each new volunteer knows about all the activities they can join. The Kirchners put on a movie night every Friday. They host regular game nights. They gather fans of The Chosen to watch the show on Tuesdays.
“We need to take the initiative to build community on the ship,” Mike said. “The GLM is new. … There's a lot of people who come by themselves; they don't know anyone. We want them to feel a part.”
Beth has spent years on the well-established Africa Mercy, which has many of its own traditions. Now, she said, the Global Mercy feels like home.
"It's a little different because it's a different space," she said. “I think it can be a very similar community, in that it is a lot of people who all have one purpose."
Mike and Caroline have both had the opportunity to see the Africa Mercy in action, if only for a short period. But they know many of their fellow crewmembers have never seen the joy of a successful surgery firsthand.
“They haven't had that visceral experience,” said Caroline. “So, I'm super excited for everybody on the ship to actually experience it.”
In the meantime, Caroline has been giving hospital tours to as many GLM volunteers as she can.
When they step into the Global Mercy’s gleaming OR, she pictures it as it soon will be: Surgical equipment whirring, ward beds covered with quilts and stuffed animals, lives being transformed.
Every time she enters, Caroline said, she remembers. “Oh, yeah. This is what we're here for.”
The Global Mercy will soon be making her way to Senegal, and the team are looking forward to serving their first patients for 2023.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Mercy Ships.