Living out a Dream

Three years ago, while at their home in the Netherlands, Harmen turned to his wife and asked her,

“Marijke, are you really living out the dreams you had as a little girl?”

For Marijke, the question came out of the blue. She thought for a second and said,

“If I’m really honest, no. My dream was always to work in Africa and really help the poorest people.”

Harmen replied, “If you have a dream, it’s your responsibility to fight for it.”

It was then that they decided to sell their home and pursue the dream that Marijke had as a child — to serve longterm with Mercy Ships.

Marijke’s first encounter with Mercy Ships was at age 15, when the first hospital ship — the Anastasis — sailed to the Port of Rotterdam.

“I heard all the stories and thought, ‘This is what I want to do,’” Marijke shared. “I liked all the science courses at school so I thought maybe I could be a doctor or a dentist. I wanted to focus on helping people.”

Marijke went on to become a dentist, and in 2010, she and Harmen volunteered on the Africa Mercy together for seven months.

After one field service, they decided to go home to the Netherlands so that Harmen, an entrepreneur, could start his business. The plan was always to return.

“When we were on the ship, we were thinking and talking about how when we have kids, it will be a very good experience to give them,” said Harmen.

Once back home, life got busy. Years passed. Harmen’s family-run company took off, and the couple had two children: Naomi, now 9, and Ruben, 6.

After hitting the milestone of turning 40, Harmen took some time to reflect.

“I had a company; Marijke was working as a dentist. I wondered, ‘What do I wish I’d done differently?’” Harmen recalled. “I have a very nice life, but if there is one thing I wish I had done more of, it would be Mercy Ships. I don’t want to be 80 and looking back and still wishing I’d done more. My deepest desire is to help people become more whole and live life with dignity. Now is our opportunity.”

They filled out an application with Mercy Ships. However, COVID-19 delayed their plans, leaving them with more than a year to wait and prepare in the Netherlands. In the meantime, Marijke partnered with the Mercy Ships dental clinic in Guinea to train and mentor students from afar. They started the Improve Foundation, which will connect sponsors in the Netherlands to students at the dental training program in Guinea, equipping them with resources to start their own dental clinics in-country after their training.

In August 2021, the wait ended as the family signed up for the 2022 field service. After traveling to the Mercy Ships headquarters in Texas for training and orientation, the family is now eagerly awaiting to board the Africa Mercy and, later, the Global Mercy.

As lead dentist, Marijke will provide free dental care to patients and volunteer crew. While their children study at the onboard Academy, primary caregiver Harmen plans to use his entrepreneurial skills wherever they are needed.

“I hope to work with Marijke and look for opportunities to help launch smaller dental programs. Maybe I can help Dayworkers set up their own businesses,” he shared. “There are so many ways to use leadership and business skills onboard.”

They’ve signed up to serve for two years, but they are open to staying onboard longer.

“We really believe that if you have a dream, and you really believe in something, it’s almost always possible,” Harmen said. “You just have to fight for it.”

The Mercy Ships community onboard our hospital ships is like none other. Our volunteer crew bring 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. Mercy Ships needs all you have to offer.

Ready to make your mark? Find your place onboard at mercyships.org/makeyourmark.