Make Your Mark: Deb Duff

Finding Purpose in a Trial

Deb Duff’s journey as a Mercy Ships volunteer has been full of unpredictable starts and stops.

It started with some disheartening news when she found out her job in Australia would be eliminated.

Deb had been working for 25 years, and she’d been thinking about taking some time to volunteer.

“I’d started thinking, ‘What is my life about? What am I doing to make a difference in the world?'” she said.

Deb took a leap of faith, and she used the unexpected fork in the road as a sign and applied to Mercy Ships. She was accepted a few weeks later and soon traveled to the Africa Mercy to serve in Senegal. 

Only six months later, however, another abrupt stop took place. The COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe.

As a receptionist, Deb worked hard to ensure the volunteers onboard had everything they needed to travel back to their home countries when the ship left Senegal. 

“There were a lot of crazy emotions going on,” she said. “What reception could do was be a calm place.”

She had one team member who was an artist, and Deb encouraged that person to draw pictures on the board behind the reception desk.

“I’ve never seen something so beautiful on a whiteboard,” Deb said.


There was still a lot of work, and drawing wasn’t exactly in the job description. Or was it?

“We’re there to do what is needed, and that was what was needed at that time,” Deb said. “That glimpse of something beautiful on a whiteboard behind reception became this beacon of assurance and hope.”

Deb felt at that moment that she was making her mark.

“I can’t draw, but I can draw out the talents of people,” she said.

Though Deb had to leave the ship during the hiatus, she knew it wasn’t the end of her journey. She thought, “‘ Well, God has brought me to Mercy Ships.’ I wanted to see that two-year commitment fulfilled, no matter where we were.”

She intended to take a two-month break, but it ended up being over a year before Deb stepped back on board a Mercy Ship. 

“It was a really hard time to process what God was doing,” she said. “But it was a really rich time of God saying, ‘Yep, just be still, have this time of rest, learn much more about who you are.”

Now Deb is back on board, serving as the head receptionist on the newly built Global Mercy® during a historic season for Mercy Ships. She’s found that being behind the reception desk is a powerful place to make a difference. 

She and her team are the first faces crew members see when they board.

“Some of them have traveled for 40 hours to get to wherever we are, and we can be the face of reason and kindness and sanctuary,” she said.

Deb’s time as a Mercy Ships volunteer has changed her life and her purpose. She measures it differently now.

“Now I think, what is the value of my life? Not, what can I earn in my life?” she said. “And that’s a different thing. What can I give, rather than what can I receive?”

Do you want to Make Your Mark and find a new adventure like Deb? We need volunteers for positions from receptionists to deckhands to nurses on board the Mercy Ships fleet. Find your place on board at