From Cars to Ships a Volunteer Finds a New Purpose

A couple of years ago, Jako van Leenen became disillusioned with his job in the Netherlands, and that frustration began to seep into his customer interactions.

“So the last year of selling cars, I didn’t really feel satisfaction anymore,” Jako shared. “I remember that I started to kind of think, ‘Yeah, you shouldn’t buy this car because it’s not that important.”

Jako began to think more deeply about his purpose and the impact that he wanted to make with his life. That’s when he attended an event about Mercy Ships and applied to serve as a volunteer. His initial hope was to serve as a receptionist, thinking the job would utilize his strong people skills, but there were no openings available. Still, Jako did not lose hope.

“I was sure it was God’s way, so I was still like okay, it’s going to happen, but I had no idea when,” he shared.

In early 2020, COVID-19 began to spread around the world. However, Jako was not dissuaded. He reached out to Mercy Ships once again, telling them he was open to other departments. Initially, he asked them for a position away from house cleaning, but when he heard back, there was ironically, housekeeping was the only team with an opening.

“It was a lesson for me to just serve,” he said.

According to Jako, the experience working in housekeeping was both humbling and joyful. During his time on board, he was able to connect with his team in meaningful ways.

“It was amazing,” he said. “The housekeeping team is just an amazing team.”

Because he moved to the Africa Mercy® during the pandemic, the ship and the crew became his whole world. Jako spent his time docked in Tenerife, unable to leave the ship very often due to lockdowns.

But Jako didn’t find the quarantined ship life stifling. In fact, he shared that he felt refreshed.

“We come from a consuming world, from a materialistic world,” he said. “Big houses, nice cars, and that’s the world. But there is so much more. And on the ship [the focus is on Mercy Ships] core values, and that’s why you are in this world. And all the other things, they disappear because nobody [onboard] has a house [there], nobody has a car because you’re all living on the ship.”

He spent four months in housekeeping, then extended his stay when a position in reception opened. Though he began his service with Mercy Ships during a challenging time, Jako has committed to serve for two more years, excited for the Africa Mercy’s return to Senegal.

“The community is still there, and you’re just getting a lot of energy,” he said. “We’re still bringing hope and healing to each other.”

Living in a community and knowing that his work makes a lasting difference has reinvigorated Jako’s purpose that he began to seek back in the Netherlands.

“I never expected a life like this,” he said. “You’re suddenly traveling around the world and doing cool stuff and going to cool places and making new friends.”

The Mercy Ships community onboard our hospital ships is like none other. Our volunteer crew brings their unique skills from around the world to serve the people who need it most. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience and meaningful community, consider joining the Mercy Ships team and making your mark aboard one of our ships, the Africa Mercy or the Global Mercy®. Discover how you can make your mark at