‘You Belong to This Community’

Every volunteer crewmember onboard a Mercy Ships vessel has a job to do. From doctors to chefs to hairstylists, our crew works hard to use their talents to bring hope and healing to those who need it most. But none of them would be able to perform their duties without the help and support of one particular volunteer.

Meet Daniela Cruz Ontiveros, the chief steward of the Global Mercy®.

As the chief steward, Daniela is in charge of organizing each volunteer’s living situation onboard, from the dining room and galley to hospitality and housekeeping. But more than doling out sheets and towels and creating menus, Daniela says the core of her job is to “maintain that ‘home’ aspect of the ship.”

To meet this need, Daniela asks the question, “What does home mean for people?” The answer is as unique as the volunteers who serve with us; for some, it’s an extra pillow. For others, a birthday cake or photos up on the wall.

For Daniela, who first began volunteering on the Africa Mercy in 2017, the people were the heart of her new home.

She’s built that community onboard the ship for years — and now, she’s ready to form another. This year, Daniela transferred to the Global Mercy, the newest and largest civilian hospital ship in the world.

“The Global Mercy for me means a professional challenge as well as personal growth,” she said. “It’s a chance to see what God has made me capable of.”

Daniela was part of a skeleton crew that sailed the Global Mercy to Belgium, where the ship is currently being equipped as a working hospital. The ship is getting ready to welcome patients aboard for life-changing surgery — and Daniela is getting ready to welcome many more volunteers.

“It’s exciting to see the teams coming together and how everyone is bringing such a unique experience, not only to the work but also to the community,” she said. “Little by little, you’re going to start building this community of thousands.”

Right now, Daniela is focused on one goal. Making sure every person who steps aboard in the coming months feels fully welcomed into the fold.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. You can be a surgeon or a housekeeper, you can be in the dining room, or you can be a guest,” she said. “You belong to this community.”

For those interested in joining this unique community, Daniela has one message: “Expect to meet people all over the world, expect people will want to know about you and share your story. Expect a lot of work but at the same time, expect probably one of the most meaningful experiences of your life.”

Daniela doesn’t need to be a surgeon or a nurse to know that she’s a vital part of the hope and healing that Mercy Ships brings to those without access to surgical and medical care.

“You’re a part of this experience of changing someone’s life,” she said. “It’s not only about the physical change, but it goes much deeper for patients. … They say, ‘Someone did this for me. A stranger loved me so much that they were willing to come in the ship, look at me, and change my life, and love me through that process.’”

Are you ready to be a part of that experience? Whether you’re near retirement or just starting your career, whether you have two weeks or several years to give, whether you bring decades of experience or just a desire to learn, we have a place for you. If you’re ready to Make Your Mark, visit mercyships.org/makeyourmark and get started.