The Bineys Celebrate 30 Years with Mercy Ships
Joe and Agnes Biney joined Mercy Ships in the 1990s with no end date. Their prayer was always:
“God if you still want us here, give us the grace to continue to serve.”
Three decades later, Agnes says, “We’ve been here since.”
They left their home in Ghana to live on the original Mercy Ship, the Anastasis. From there, they would raise two children at sea, transferring to the Caribbean Mercy and then to the Africa Mercy.
Together, the family sailed around the world, from Africa to the U.S. and Central America.
A Floating Family
Living and working so closely with her family was a gift for Agnes.
“It was a blessing to have my children around me so that 24/7, I keep an eye on them,” she said.
Josephine and Caleb Biney attended school at the then-fledgling Mercy Ships Academy. Josephine stayed until she was 16, when she left for high school in the U.S. Caleb went from Kindergarten to 12th grade on board — the first student to do so.
“They came on board as babies, they grew up with the ship culture,” Agnes said. “The ship was their home; the ship was everything to them.”
She and Joe call them “third-culture kids,” although their culture cannot be traced back to any single country.
“They are shocked when they go out on land,” she said. “To ask them where they are from, they don’t know where they are coming from. They say they are from the ship.”
Despite the challenges her kids have faced acclimating to life outside the ship, Agnes said, “It’s been a joy.”
Josephine will soon graduate from nursing school. Caleb is at the University of Dallas where he wants to study microbiology and become an inventor.
Agnes can see the influence of Josephine’s time helping in the wards and Caleb’s hours in the ship’s lab. Both of their paths have been guided not just by the need they saw as children but also by the work that engaged their young minds and the patients they knew and loved.
“They’ve been to the wards, they’ve been to the hospitals,” Agnes said. “They grew up here, and that’s all that they knew. That’s the world that they grew up in. And they don’t want people to suffer. They want to help their suffering.”
‘It’s a Miracle to Us as Well’
Over 30 years on board, Agnes has seen patients’ lives changed through surgery. And she’s been impacted just as powerfully.
“Though we are transforming the patients, we are being transformed as well,” Agnes said. “We see the miracle, and it’s a miracle to us as well.”
She carries with her the stories of patients who became friends and who will remain a part of her story forever — patients like Grace, a teenager from the Republic of the Congo who had a facial tumor weighing over four pounds removed. She suffered from the large mass for years, as it limited her breathing and food intake, threatening to suffocate or starve her.
Agnes remembers one special moment in Grace’s recovery.
“After everything she had faced, they took the bandages off,” Agnes said. “She looked at herself. And then she said, ‘God is good.'”
Then there was a woman in Liberia who received surgery for a childbirth injury called an obstetric fistula. More than 90% of fistulas can be repaired surgically, but many women in Africa never get the chance to have an operation due to financial hardship and a lack of trained fistula surgeons. Once this need was identified, Mercy Ships began offering this specialized surgery and training other surgeons to perform it.
Agnes knew this woman’s condition had likely isolated her from her community, taking away her hope for a good future. Finally, she’d found help.
Agnes would sit with her in the ward, washing and braiding her hair. This woman was just one of many receiving surgeries for the same condition. Other crewmembers would join as well, painting the patients’ nails.
“All of them at the end of the day, they say with a big hug, ‘Thank you,'” Agnes recalled. “And then look to the sky and say, ‘Thank God.'”
From Brokenness to Hope
Growing up comfortably in Ghana with a father in the military, Agnes had always had access to medical treatment. She was shocked when she first came on board the Anastasis and saw some of the tumors and diseases affecting the patients.
“I’m like, ‘How can something like this happen to a human being?'” she said. “You look at a human being in that state, and it really breaks your heart. You get broken.”
But she didn’t stay broken.
“From there, you see how God works,” she said.
From Agnes’s role in HR, bringing in volunteers, to Joe’s service in the engine room — keeping the lights on — she knows God has used them to heal others. At the same time, they’ve been given a gift that many people never get to experience.
“I’ve seen a bigger side of God,” Agnes said. “He can use anybody to work out His purposes in the lives of His people.”
Agnes holds the patients she’s had the privilege of serving in her heart. They’ve changed her.
“I’m sitting here talking about Grace, I’m talking about this lady, when, I mean, they are part of my life,” she said. “What I witnessed is what I saw, is what we were part of … It’s a privilege to be part of their story. And they also are part of my story.”
Looking to the Future
Joe and Agnes continue to serve together on board the Africa Mercy. And after three decades on three different hospital ships, they have a unique perspective on what is happening today.
“It’s such a wonderful and historic time,” said Agnes.
The newly built Global Mercy® will be commissioned on June 2, during the upcoming Mercy Ships Africa Celebration in Dakar, Senegal. Once in service, the largest ever Mercy Ship will more than double the fleet’s capacity for hope and healing.
“We are so excited and happy about what the Lord is going to use the Global Mercy plus the Africa Mercy to do on the continent for the next 30 years,” Agnes said. “It is a vision and a dream come true.”
Along with the commissioning, another historic moment is taking place in Senegal. Political leaders and scientific experts from across the continent are gathering to create a roadmap to safer surgery in Africa by 2030.
After years of witnessing the depth of the need firsthand, Agnes and Joe are hopeful that these leaders will chart a course to a healthier future for the nations and people they love.
“We’re looking forward to seeing our healthcare system on the continent become better and more affordable and accessible,” said Agnes. “We need our healthcare system to improve.”