Ian and Sarah Graham didn’t come onboard expecting that volunteering would change their lives. In fact, this young couple — who, at the time, were complete strangers — didn’t even expect to be onboard for long.
Sarah, from Germany, initially decided to volunteer onboard the Africa Mercy to pad her resume. After leaving a long-time job, she thought that adding some volunteer experience would look better than an unexplained employment gap.
“I knew I was ready for the next thing and needed a bit of a break,” she shared. “Mercy Ships came back into my mind. And I thought ‘maybe I could go for three months.’ The time flew by, and after six months, I realized that I was not ready to leave yet. From there, I extended for another year… and then another.”
Four years later, Sarah continues to work with Mercy Ships.
Ian’s story was similar. He was looking for a change of pace from a grueling job when his mom mentioned hearing about a hospital ship. It piqued Ian’s interest.
“I realized that I didn’t have to get another job right away but that I could go do something somewhat fun,” he shared.
He decided to volunteer with the Hospital Out-Patient Extension (HOPE) Center, taking care of patients before and after surgery. Within a few months of hearing about the role, Ian was on a plane and headed to join the Africa Mercy in Cameroon.
As young professionals, career goals were high on the list of their priorities. But both quickly realized that volunteering onboard a Mercy Ship was about something much bigger than themselves.
Finding Each Other on the “Love Boat”
It didn’t take too long for these two to notice each other. Once they started working as teammates in the supply department, the German and American duo quickly found common ground. They would wind up in the same places to eat lunch or take a stroll around town after work.
“We just got along well without anything romantic between us. But… having spent a lot of time together, you get used to it and start enjoying it,” Sarah recalled. “I wasn’t going to mention anything. But then he asked if I wanted to go on a date. My first reaction when he asked was, ‘But you know that I am older than you?’ And his answer was, ‘Why do you think that matters?’”
A year later, Ian and Sarah were engaged, and six months after that, they were married.
They celebrated their first anniversary in a special way — by stepping onboard the gangway of the Global Mercy for the very first time. Currently, the two are sailing with our new vessel all the way to Antwerp for the equipping phase, where they’ll make sure the ship has all the medical inventory and supplies it needs for its first field service. Currently, Ian is serving as the Medical Inventory Controller, while Sarah is the Project Supply & Logistics Manager.
Supplying Hope and Healing
As members of the supply team, Ian and Sarah are like the well-oiled machines in the background making sure our ships continue to function. They’re both happy to be out of the limelight, saying it means they’re doing their job well if no one notices what’s in supply — it means the ship is fully stocked! But their behind-the-scenes role is essential to life onboard.
“With general supply, the goods are everywhere and you can see them being used in every department. It’s cool when you can go to the dining room and be like, ‘Oh yeah, here’s the new fruit I got today,’” said Ian.
Sarah added, “If they don’t have supplies, they cannot cook food. We are really the supporting function to get everything and everyone on the stage so that things work well. If teams go out for screening or security, they need items. Guess where they stop before they leave? They come to the supply office.”
Community Life, Ward Photography, and Video Games
When they’re not gathering fresh produce for mealtimes or making sure the hospital has the supplies it needs, Ian and Sarah love being involved in the community onboard.
“There’s always a group that’s going out to town, or in the dining room, or playing a game. Or you could just hang out in the café drinking your coffee and listening to the music and watching people passing by, and maybe someone joins you,” says Sarah.
She particularly loves the variety of the different cultures onboard, saying living all in one small space creates a natural intimacy together.
For Ian, it’s the variety of interests onboard that really stands out.
“You can always find people with similar interests. I’d play video games with the kids during the sail,” Ian said. “One was interested in flight simulators, and I’d thought I was going to be the only nerd onboard who liked that!”
In her free time, Sarah loves baking for her team. She’s built up quite the reputation for her baking skills, and even passed it on to others, inspiring a sweet tooth in her colleagues. Meanwhile, you can often find Ian using his skills behind a camera to shoot crew and patients down in the hospital wards. As a part-time ward photographer, Ian’s able to provide a much-needed service to crew who want a keepsake to bring with them when they leave.
When they first heard about Mercy Ships, Ian and Sarah had no idea just how different their lives would look only a few months later. We’re so grateful they took the plunge to join Mercy Ships — and in doing so, found a teammate for life.
From would-be retirees to young professionals looking to make a difference, all kinds of volunteers find their way onboard a Mercy Ship. Are you ready to make your mark? There’s a place for you onboard! Discover more at mercyships.org/makeyourmark.