Longtime volunteers Andy and Brenda Cole, have always seen serving with Mercy Ships as a family affair. The Cole’s Mercy Ships adventure began 21 years ago with a prayer.
“As a seafarer I had the desire to not be separated from my wife and family for six months of the year,” Andy shared. “I wanted to spend more time with my wife and children and take them on an adventure by sharing my world as a sailor. I love the ocean — the open seas are such special places. Having my family onboard and travelling to many countries in West Africa and getting to know African cultures is so enriching. It’s been an amazing journey.”
Their journey officially started in 2000, when Andy became involved with the refit of the Africa Mercy. The couple sold their house and moved halfway across the country to assist with the refit for what they thought would only be a year — it took nearly seven, and Andy and Brenda were in the front row for every step.
“It was my defining moment — getting the Africa Mercy out of shipyard and on the maiden voyage sail to Liberia after all those years,” Andy said. “It was, what I imagine, how everyone on the Global Mercy feels right now.”
Raising their family onboard the Africa Mercy inspired their children later in life. Their daughter spent summers helping patients in the hospital wards, which inspired her to become a nurse. After getting a front-row seat to watch their dad at work in the maritime field, two of their sons went on to become maritime engineers. Their youngest son’s passion for acting began onboard, with his first-ever role in an Academy play. As a bonus, Andy and Brenda say that the noise and mayhem of raising their children equipped them for the beautiful chaos of living in a tight-knit ship community!
“Here we are, 21 years later,” Brenda shard. “We’ve learned a lot in that time.”
Currently, Andy is serving onboard our new ship, the Global Mercy, during its very first sail, what he calls “real pioneering.” He will take over as Chief Engineer once the ship reaches Antwerp, Belgium, for its equipping phase. He’s had plenty of opportunities to use his maritime engineering skills and technical expertise with Mercy Ships over the past few decades. Brenda, who has served in various roles in Human Resources during her time onboard, calls Mercy Ships the “perfect blend for us as a family.” No matter where or how they serve, Andy and Brenda love that all positions onboard are equally valuable, saying,
“A surgeon is on the same level with everyone else. We are all needed to keep the ship functioning and the hospital working.”
Outside of their official roles, the Coles have loved discovering their place in the community onboard. Several years ago, their family experienced heart-breaking tragedy when they unexpectedly lost their 22-year-old daughter. Andy and Brenda have been able to channel their painful experiences to further enrich their relationships onboard and find healing in the global Mercy Ships community.
“By being honest and vulnerable about our life’s journey, we’re able to break down cultural barriers. Going back to the ship and sharing our story helped us to come alongside people. Because of what we’d been through, we had a deeper level of care and understanding. We’ve learned to laugh with those who laugh and genuinely cry with those who are hurting,” said Andy.
Among the community, Andy says he enjoys being vulnerable and nurturing people. Brenda says life onboard challenged her need for personal space. She shared her experience, saying, “I’m an introvert, but I’d push myself to be in community and always ended up being so energized by playing games with other crewmembers. I’d call myself a bit of a puzzle solver, both in games and in life.”
As they reflect on more than two decades of service, Brenda and Andy know they’re exactly where they are meant to be.
“It’s not easy to leave the comfort of home and the familiar, however, the rewards on so many levels are so worth it,” they said. “Our journey of 21 years associated with Mercy Ships has changed the destiny of our whole family.”
Ready to make your mark? There’s a place for you onboard — visit mercyships.org/makeyourmark to learn more.