A Volunteer at Home

Volunteering aboard a Mercy Ship doesn’t always mean traversing across the globe. For some volunteers, like Birgit Hufkens, serving onboard is as simple as commuting from her home every day.

Our newest Mercy Ship, the Global Mercy®, is currently docked in Birgit’s hometown in Belgium. Here, crewmembers are busy preparing the largest civilian-run hospital ship in the world to provide free surgical care and medical training in Africa. Every night, after Birgit wraps up her tasks as an operations assistant, she returns home. However, she’s still had to make some major life adjustments in order to serve — including taking a year off from her work as a schoolteacher. Birgit will work on the ship until the end of January 2022, shortly before the ship departs for its next stop in the Netherlands.

“My colleagues and principal were very supportive of me,” she said. “They were also really curious as to what would inspire me to take a year off to serve.”

A big part of the reason, it turns out, is her fellow citizens.

“For me as a Belgian, it’s such a blessing to have the ship here,” she shared. “Belgium really needs to see what God is really capable of, and what drives the volunteers to come and help.”

When she explains Mercy Ships to her coworkers, she shares the ways it directly serves patients while also helping build up local healthcare systems.

Birgit spends most of her time on board helping to unpack the many supplies needed to bring hope and healing to those in need, saying her job is comparable to helping with a giant move-in… except the house is a 12-deck ship with a galley, a full-blown hospital and training facility, a giant common area, and among many other spaces, an academy.

As a teacher in her day-to-day life, Birgit loves helping in practical ways and has a special interest in getting the classrooms set up for future students. Soon, the school desks onboard will be filled by the children of volunteers from around the world.

“At first there were only the little table and chairs for the kids,” recalls Birgit. “Now we’ve done all the books and the toys. Now, it really looks like the kids can just come and run around and do things… it will be very nice.”

Birgit is enjoying putting all the pieces together like an intricate puzzle. While she’s working on some of the most detailed aspects of the ship’s mission, she also has her eye on the bigger purpose.

“It’s work that you do for God,” she shared. “In my school, I was really more searching, like how can I serve you here, God?” she says. “But [on the Global Mercy] it comes very naturally.”

The Mercy Ships community on our hospital ships is like none other. Our volunteer crew brings their unique skills and vibrant life experiences from around the world to serve the people who need it most. It’s about so much more than a professional title. It’s about bringing all that you are — both in and out of the workplace. Whether you’re a physician, an accountant, or a teacher, Mercy Ships needs you.

Ready to make your mark? There’s a place for you onboard: mercyships.org/makeyourmark