Two years ago, when the hospital ship the Africa Mercy was forced to leave Senegal, Mercy Ships was heartbroken with the knowledge that hundreds of patients were still waiting for their chance for surgery.

Though Mercy Ships continued providing medical training and surgeries at hospitals throughout Africa, there were still many waiting for healing. On February 1, the Africa Mercy returned to once again bring hope and healing to those patients and their families.

Three weeks later was the exciting culmination of this long wait. Nurses had spent hours scrubbing every inch of the hospital, down to the plastic toy blocks the pediatric patients would soon play with.

The operating room was meticulously sterilized. The dockside tents were set up and filled with eager team members. The volunteer community on board grew with new crew coming from around the world.

Finally, on February 23, patients boarded the ship, and the first life-changing surgeries took place!

“Two years ago, we had to say, ‘I’m sorry. We can’t help you right now. We’ll be back — we just don’t know when,'” Dr. Miriam John, Mercy Ships International Chief Medical Officer, said. “Now, we’re fulfilling a promise to our patients. The door is open, and we step through that door when we start operating. That is the moment we start doing what we came here to do.”

The first patient to receive surgery during this field service was Sokhna, a young mother in her twenties. She’s from southern Senegal, where she and her husband are farmers. Sokhna spends most of her time tending to her home and taking care of her baby, the joy of her life. She’s spent her life living with a cleft lip and first had hope that she might receive surgery back in 2019 when the Africa Mercy sailed to Senegal. But before Sokhna could get to the ship, she heard the news that her operation would have to wait.

In the face of a devastating delay, Sokhna stayed positive, saying, “It must have been God’s plan that I didn’t have surgery then.”

When the Africa Mercy returned to Senegal, Sokhna’s faith was rewarded as she became the first patient to enter the ship and receive surgery. She said she didn’t have many nerves on her admissions day: “I feel just peace and joy.”

She’s got her eyes set on the light at the end of the tunnel to the thing she’s most looking forward to. She can picture it already: the moment she finally goes home healed and her husband sees her, for the first time, with her cleft lip repaired.

Sokhna’s hospital admission and surgery were followed by another patient, just as eager for healing.

Benjamin, a 23-year-old man, came to the Africa Mercy to have his facial tumor removed. He first heard about Mercy Ships from his volleyball coach back in 2019. But when he was told the Africa Mercy would leave early due to COVID-19, the surgery to remove Benjamin’s tumor was postponed.

He was told Mercy Ships would return but found it hard to hold onto hope. Standing in front of the ship on the day of his hospital admission, he said he’s finally starting to believe it’s truly happening.

“I’m just happy to be here, waiting for surgery,” Benjamin said. “I feel confident, and I’m leaving it all in God’s hands.”

On the morning of the surgery, a familiar sound filled the ship. Pausing in the operating room hallway moments before surgery, volunteer surgeon Dr. Gary Parker spoke a word of prayer for Sokhna and Benjamin. Through the intercom system, volunteers across the ship set down their work to join him in prayer.

We are so grateful for these precious first surgeries and the hundreds more that will take place over the coming months. Hope and healing are only possible because of the support and love we see every day.

And you can join our mission today. There are many ways to bring hope and healing, from giving a gift of hope, praying for our volunteers and patients, and going on board yourself.

True impact starts by saving one life and continues with changing a generation. We hope you will continue to join us in this vital work in 2022.