Volunteers share their experience onboard the Africa Mercy
The Newquist’s are a family of five who decided to embark on an adventure this year! They are currently serving onboard the Africa Mercy as a family, helping bring hope and healing to those in need. Roger Newquist spent 19 years working as part of the California Highway Patrol before retiring and joining our crew as the new Chaplain. His wife, Raeanne, has worked in ministry and education and now volunteers with the Communications Team onboard the Africa Mercy.
What inspired you and your family to join Mercy Ships?
Raeanne: Quite simply, Beth Kirchner. Beth is the Kindergarten Teacher onboard, and she has been a dear friend of our family for many years. When she first joined Mercy Ships in Benin, she invited us to support her, and that was the first we heard of Mercy Ships. It was through her service that we learned more about the ministry!
As my husband was approaching eligibility for retirement, we desired to get back into full-time ministry and discovered that Mercy Ships was looking for a chaplain for 2019. As we watched the videos online of patient stories and documentaries on Mercy Ships, the passion and heart for the ministry began to grow. Every time we had an interview, we’d hang up and cry — we were so honored to be speaking with such incredible men and women of God, and to be possibly considered as one of them was very humbling.
Each of you serves in a different role onboard the Africa Mercy, what do you think is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Raeanne: For me, helping in the Communication Department, the most rewarding aspect is getting to know a lot more about the patients and their personal stories. They are not just faces and names, but they are people with families, dreams, hardships, and victories. I have loved being “in the know” about the patient selection process and to see patients move from nurse diagnostics to surgeon screening to admission. It’s humbling to understand the process and all that are involved, as I believe they have some of the hardest jobs on the ship.
Roger: The most rewarding aspect of my role as Chaplain is anytime I get to speak encouragement into the life of the community. It is a great privilege to be welcomed into such personal moments in the lives of our crew members — moments of challenge, weariness, sadness, and the unknown. And to be able to listen, encourage, speak into, and pray for these amazing servants, to see God breathe new life into them, and to watch them lean into the Lord and keep pressing on — is extremely rewarding and a great encouragement to me personally to keep pressing on.
What is your favorite part about living onboard the Africa Mercy?
Raeanne: There are many things that are fun about living on the Africa Mercy; I could list many! But I have to say that the simplicity it has offered my family and me might be my favorite part of living onboard! Simplicity in the sense that we are not rushing around in a frantic lifestyle here. I’m not in the car every day (or ever actually!!) driving my children to soccer or baseball or ballet rushing to get to places on time and fighting traffic. I don’t have to decide on meals for the week, grocery shop, and cook. We get to be together more, in a smaller space, and we have more margin. Although there are many opportunities here for us to fill our time, most things are located on the ship, and there is never a tough commute!
Roger: Definitely the community onboard. The AFM is a floating village where we live, work, go to school, shop, dine, play games, do our banking, watch movies, seek God, and worship together! While at times it can be overwhelming and you need to get time away from it, it’s very special to know that you are doing all these things with people who are experiencing the same joys and challenges of ship life that you are.
How has volunteering in West Africa changed the way you see the world?
Raeanne: The more I travel and the more people I meet, I see that the world is rather small and people are the same wherever you go. Each mother in every nation longs to give her children love and care. Every father in any town or village wants to provide food and shelter for his family. Each human being longs to be seen and accepted just the way they are — whether they live in Los Angeles, California, or Dakar Senegal. We all long to be loved and accepted. We all experience poverty on some level, perhaps poverty of hope, poverty of love, or physical poverty.
In my limited time in West Africa, I have seen something here that I have seen in other places throughout the world, and that is that oftentimes, those who possess the least amount of material wealth are often the richest in joy!
West Africans are lovely, generous, joy-filled people. When I see patients on the dock or in the wards, they smile and have an untouchable joy. They want to welcome me, make sure they get my name, and grab my hand with a warm embrace.
We know that quality time is important for families, how do you and your family take time to stay connected?
Raeanne: At home, we had Friday night family movie nights with pizza. It was a predictable, consistent, weekly time to unwind together and just be together. Now that we’re getting more settled here, we’ve tried to continue our tradition of Friday night movie night in our cabin as a family, and a few weeks ago, I tried my hand at homemade pizzas as well!
A couple of other ways we stay connected is to have lunch together daily, and on Sunday nights, after church, we have “family check-in time,” where we simply go around and see how everyone is doing and how we can pray for each other.
What is something you’ve learned during your time onboard the Africa Mercy?
Raeanne: One thing that has been affirmed to me is the power of prayer. If we choose to keep things in the dark, hidden, or secret, we are not fully giving God the opportunity to show off! He is able to do more than we could ask or imagine, and nothing is too difficult for him. Whenever you step out in obedience to do what God has called you to do, there will be opposition! But we have been given every weapon to combat the enemy, and one of the greatest weapons is prayer. I’m so grateful that we have solid prayer support back home that we can call upon any time to intercede for us — and we do!
I have learned that having a strong support system is essential in any ministry, but especially living overseas in such a unique situation. I’ve also taken note of how I will better support my friends in ministry as now I can understand more the profound need for care and support on this side.
Roger: There are so many things I’ve learned during my time here! Something I learned the other day during a tour of the engine room is that someone is responsible for managing the sewage onboard the ship. I hadn’t really thought about it before. I am truly grateful for that person! I’ve learned that there are so many people serving God behind the scenes — servants who go unnoticed but without whom our shipboard life would be unmanageable, and our mission would not be possible!
What is one thing you would tell someone who is considering joining Mercy Ships?
Raeanne: If God is calling you to go – GO! Stepping out in obedience is always the right thing to do.
Roger: Speak with people who are serving onboard the ship, or have in the past. Ask any and every question that comes to mind — anything you can think of — and become as familiar as you can about life and ministry onboard a ship. It’s not for everyone, and you don’t want to find out it’s not for you once you’re here. That said, there’s only so much information you can take in. At some point, you just have to trust the Lord and step out in faith, if that’s what He’s calling you to do!
Moving your entire family to a hospital ship is quite a leap of faith, and wouldn’t be possible without the help of everyone in the family. The Newquist children, Emma, Georgia, and Mack, have learned a lot living onboard the Africa Mercy!
How did you prepare for serving with Mercy Ships?
We went to onboarding. We watched all of Charis Parker’s videos! We downsized and packed only what was necessary and things that helped us remember home.
What is the most surprising part of living onboard the Africa Mercy?
The food is great, and we have several special things like waffles on Fridays during our school morning break, popcorn after school on Tuesdays, ice cream on Thursday nights, and we love the crepe/pancakes they make for breakfast on Wednesday mornings. We call them “crakes”!
Going to school onboard a hospital ship is very different from other students. What are some things you enjoy about the Mercy Ships Academy?
There are lots of fun things about school on the ship. During the sail, we had a science class out on the bow. Sometimes the captain does our PE class, or we have PE in the pool. Student Life is cool — we get to work with people on the ship. Because there are small classes, we get to know everyone. Once during a fire drill, we got to dress up in the suit and be a part of the drill to see how they respond onboard to emergencies. There are people from over ten countries in our school!
If you could share one thing about Mercy Ships with someone your age, what would it be?
Georgia: I love visiting patients. It is fun to go to the wards, color with the patients, hold babies, play with them, and then when you see them the next day, they remember you and have a big smile!
Mack: There are fun activities off the ship like going to the beach!
Emma: I love going to youth group. We play fun games like Sardines all over the ship, we listen to a Bible lesson, break into small group, and have good snacks. Sometimes we go off the ship with the youth group.
You can see more of the Newquist’s adventure by following their blog!