Mercy Ships Celebrates Day of the Seafarer
David Sandberg spent a year working on fishing boats in his home country of Sweden, so he was accustomed to the maritime life.
But stepping on board the Global Mercy, a state-of-the-art hospital ship filled with volunteers providing free surgical care to those who need it,was like entering a different world.
What he found there was nothing like the crew he had come from.
“It’s another life at sea here,” he said.
Joining the Mercy Ships crew was one more step on an unexpected journey for David — one that brought him closer to God, to others, and to himself.
A New Person
Before David had heard of Mercy Ships, he surprised himself by going to Bible school. He was wrestling with questions about his faith, and he’d promised his mother that he would “give God a chance.”
At the time, he was still working on fishing boats.
“A seaman’s life is hard and tough,” he said. “I had some rough people around me.”
When he got to Bible school, everything was foreign to him. He questioned whether he was in the right place. But as he talked with the people around him, he realized that being uncomfortable might be exactly what he needed.
“After that, God changed me to a new person,” he said.
David didn’t know what to do after school, but he did know one thing: He didn’t want to work on land.
“I really wanted to go back out,” he said. “One day, one of my friends texted me about Mercy Ships.”
‘This Is Not Normal as a Ship’
When David joined the crew of the Global Mercy, he was prepared for a difficult transition. While he hadn’t worked on a large ship before, a family member who was a seafarer had told him the culture could be rough.
But when he arrived on board, he was greeted by a very different environment than he expected.
“This is a completely different place,” he said. “I was like, ‘We pray in the morning?’ I was very shocked.”
David found a life that was rich with friendship, songs, prayer, and praise. Even for people who don’t identify as Christian, David said, the unique community and positive culture on board can be a welcome change.
“This is not normal as a ship,” he said. “This is the only type of ship you can work on that has this culture. … Especially if you’re an old-timer, when you’re used to how rough it can be sometimes … I would recommend this place.”
Learning Who You Are
David joined the crew as a volunteer deck
“Even if you don’t have the skills, you will learn a lot here,” he said.
The work David and his colleagues do is not easy.
“You do a lot of physical things as a deckie, a lot of physical labor,” he said. “You get to know your own strength in your own body, your own mind.”
Even though the work is meaningful, it’s not always glamorous.
“You’ve just got to wash the ship every day and every night, because the sand, the wind comes and blows and makes everything dirty,” he said. “But while you’re doing it, you think with yourself, you talk to yourself. You explore, you develop.”
What he’s found in those moments of contemplation, David said, is himself.
“When you are at sea you learn who you are.”
While on board, David has also been embraced by a community like no other made up of 1,100 crew from 59 nations.
“People of all different personalities, people of all different outlooks on life,” he said. “That’s what I think makes Mercy Ships great. I know it’s very cliché, but it’s true. It’s one of the true things about this place.”
‘You Will Save Lives’
Now looking back at his journey from fishing boats to Bible school to the Global Mercy, David can see how it all fit together.
“God has his ways,” he said. “He is funny sometimes.”
As the Global Mercy finishes her field service in Senegal and gets ready to sail to Sierra Leone, David knows that every simple task he and his fellow volunteers perform serves a greater purpose.
“When you do the job, think about what this will accomplish,” he said. “Even if you work as a deckie, maybe don’t get seen a lot … you will save lives.”
For those who have never experienced life on a Mercy Ships vessel — or any kind of life at sea — David has some advice.
“Go for it, because this is probably the best thing you can do,” he said. “Do it when you have time, before you get stuck on the mainland!”
Learn more about the diverse volunteer opportunities on board the Global Mercy here.