New Mercies: Bob and Sherilyn Cook
mercy-ships-podcast-new-mercies-episode-47-bob-sherilyn-cook-feature

Ambassadors for Mercy Ships

Bob and Sherilyn Cook can trace their Mercy Ships roots way back to when they were young teenagers at church in rural Colorado. Some of their friends in youth group, Don and Deyon Stephens, went on to marry and become the founders of Mercy Ships. Although Bob and Sherilyn have never served on board one of the Mercy Ships vessels, they are passionate about the mission and have dedicated the past four years to traveling and speaking at churches on behalf of Mercy Ships.

In this episode, you will be encouraged as Bob and Sherilyn share stories of the people they’ve met and the relationships they’ve built as they speak about Mercy Ships. These incredible ambassadors share the love of Jesus and encourage many to get on board with us by volunteering and partnering with us through prayer. 

Mercy Ships has brought hope and healing to those who need it most for over 40 years. Using hospital ships, we are able to provide safe, free surgical care to those in need and bring medical training to healthcare workers living in the countries we serve.

Looking for a way to join our mission of bringing hope and healing? Partner with us through a giftvolunteering with us, or by joining us in prayer.

New Mercies Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the New Mercies, a podcast by Mercy Ships, where we’ll take you behind the scenes and on board our incredible hospital ships that are transforming lives all over the world. We invite you to join us each week as we sit down with our crew, patients, volunteers, and partners to hear their stories of life-changing hope and healing.

Today on New Mercies, Bob and Sherilyn Cook are joining us to share their unique Mercy Ships story. They never volunteered on board one of our ships, yet Bob and Sherilyn are passionate about the mission. And they decided to travel around the United States speaking in churches about what God is doing through Mercy Ships. They are encouraging people to come volunteer, and I know that they will encourage you too. Here is my interview with Bob and Sherilyn Cook.

Raeanne Newquist:

Well, Bob and Sherilyn, I am thrilled to have you both on the podcast today because I’ve had the privilege of meeting you both, and you are very special and unique people who have the ability to make anybody that you’re with feel special, and feel seen and known and loved. And so I’m excited to share that with our listeners today. So guys, welcome to New Mercies.

Bob & Sherilyn Cook:

Thank you, Raeanne. It’s a joy to be here with you today.

Raeanne:

Well, you guys have a very interesting Mercy Ships story that we all can’t wait to hear about. Because neither one of you have you ever volunteered on board one of our ships. And I understand that many years ago, you did take a tour of the Anastasis, but that’s kind of as close as you’ve gotten. However, you guys are very strong supporters and mouthpieces for the organization. So how did this all come about? Why don’t you guys start by telling us your connection to the organization, and why you’re so passionate about Mercy Ships.

Bob & Sherilyn:

We love Mercy Ships and our story goes way, way back when we were teenagers now, full disclosure — here are the end of 2022, we are 72 and 70 years old. We haven’t always been this old at one time we were teenagers! And back when Sherilyn was 12, and I was 14, we were part of a local church in western Colorado. And it just happened to be the same local church where a young lady named Deyon Green and then her fiancé or boyfriend was some guy named Don Stevens, who had been raised about 50 miles south of Grand Junction. He comes to Grand Junction to go to junior college, he begins attending the same church where Deyon Green is. Our family goes way back to the Green family.

Sherilyn:

Yes, Deyon’s sister, Charlotte, was one of my very close friends and their mom made our wedding cake!

Bob:

Here we are, we’re 14 and 12. And I still remember the day Raeanne, when in our church, a group of about eight to ten young adults, Don Stevens and Deyon Green were part of that group, and we prayed over them as a church, because they were going on that now famous summer of service. That was in July or August of 1964. They went to the Bahamas, and anyone who knows the story of how God birthed Mercy Ships in Don’s heart knows that it was during that trip, especially the weeks when Hurricane Cleo impacted that missions trip that the Lord did a powerful thing. We remember them coming back and hearing the stories of what God did and that really gave a boost to our church as far as missions. And of course, Don and Deyon ended up getting married and they were leaders and Youth With A Mission and then Mercy Ships in 1978. So our connection goes way, way back.

And we did look at the Anastasis in 1986. At that time, I had gone into pastoral ministry and was teaching at a Christian college and we took our kids to look at the Anastasis and our kids were close to the same age as Don and Deyon’s, so we’ve been connected from way back in our teenage years. And then all the years that we pastored, our churches would support Mercy Ships and we would hear news about Mercy Ships and of course, during those days, when Don was on trial in Greece, we still remember hearing all of that and praying because, you know, they were part of our home church, which continues to be our home church to this day.

And so we were very connected with the Stephens family and the Green family. Mercy Ships has been part of our orbit of our world. Lately, interestingly Raeanne, about five years ago, we stepped back from senior pastoring. And ironically, we were pastoring, that same local church in Grand Junction, where it all started. So it was kind of full circle, and through a series of unique circumstances, and we won’t bore you with all the details, it was God ordained that we began to link with Mercy Ships. We heard about the new ship being built, and one thing led to another, and we basically came to Mercy Ships, to Don Stevens and the other leaders. and we said, hey, would you be open to us just volunteering and traveling to churches to represent Mercy Ships? We had been told that there aren’t really people that are designated to be folks who travel and talk about Mercy Ships, and we just kind of jumped up and said, Hey, pick us, we’ll do that! So in, I guess it was this the fall of 2018, four years ago, we began to reach out to churches. I had been the superintendent of Assemblies of God churches in Colorado and Utah, because of those relationships, we reached out and of course, many of the churches knew of Mercy Ships. So we just began to travel and share and we’ve got brochures, and we put together some PowerPoints and pop up displays, we kind of trailblaze and just began to travel and told people about opportunities to serve on the ship. We were often asked if we’d ever been on the ship and we’d say no, we still live in Colorado. And of course, churches gave offerings and Mercy Ships never put pressure on us to raise funds, but it was interesting how the Lord would speak to hearts and churches and individuals. So Sherilyn tell him the story about Dove Creek, Colorado.

Sherilyn:

Okay. Well, let me just back up first, and just say so many of the churches that we have gone to have been small churches in small communities. But it’s just amazing how God brought Don Stephens out of a small church and birthed this amazing ministry in his heart! So we just encourage the small churches — you never know who God is going to use from small churches and the small towns.

We always ask when we begin our presentation in a church, how many of you before today have never heard of Mercy Ships? And it’s always more than 50% of the crowd that this is their first exposure to Mercy Ships. So that always just encourages me that, you know, hey, this is what the Lord wants us to do. But anyway, we went to two different churches down in the southwest part of Colorado. One was on Sunday morning, we were in Cortez, Colorado, and then Sunday night we were in this small church and Dove Creek, Colorado. We thought maybe they’ll probably be 15 people there, but that little church was packed, probably a good 35 to 40 people. Yeah, tiny little building, but we just had a wonderful time presenting Mercy Ships. They were so receptive. The pastor took up an offering afterwards, and I believe there was about $1,000. The Lord just really ministered to us that He can use small churches to really encourage this ministry. And so anyway, we left, but then a couple of months later, we get a notification from the office there in Lyndale that they had received a gift from a older woman in this church in Dove Creek, Colorado, and she had sent in a check for $15,000.00.

Bob:

And the development people were asking me if we knew who this person was. We didn’t. So I called the pastor to get the story. And we don’t know the full story, but it was a very elderly lady who obviously the Lord spoke to her heart. But that just illustrates, we’ve just gone for the last four years, and we’ve gone to churches, mostly in Colorado and Utah. But over the last year and a half, we’ve begun to travel to churches across America. And we’ll be in Michigan later this month, and down in Florida, and Tennessee, and all kinds of places. So, you know, we’re thankful for the chance to go, we’ve been volunteers during most of this time, but then Mercy Ships graciously said, hey, we’ll help to pay your travels. So we appreciate that. So we just feel like we’re part of the team, we’re just out there beating the drum for Mercy Ships and letting people know about this amazing organization and what they can do to come alongside.

Raeanne:

This is so interesting, because a lot of people are passionate about Mercy Ships, when they’ve experienced it — they’ve gone and served on board the ship, and it transforms your life so much that you can’t help but tell everybody about it. But your situation is so unique in that you haven’t served on board one of our ships. And obviously, as you mentioned, you grew up knowing Don and Deyon and love them, but this was your own initiative, just to go out and start traveling to churches and talking about Mercy Ships. What was it specifically about the mission or the organization that captured your heart and compelled you to want to go tell other people about it?

Bob:

There were a number of things. Again, I had stepped back from pastoral ministry, we were still helping the church with senior adults, but we wanted to stay active and, you know, I really do believe it was a nudge from the Lord if it came out of the proverbial left field. And it wasn’t something that was on our radar, it’s something that the Lord put together. And we will also say, it doesn’t take but watching one or two videos that the team from Mercy Ships puts out — I mean, if their videos don’t grab your heart, then you’re pretty well froze!

I think part of it was hearing about the new ship being built and we thought, wow, maybe we could play a small, little part. Gary Brandenburg tells the story about the one person in the symphony that’s just playing the little triangle, you know, and they don’t have a huge part, but they’re important. It was the Lord saying, hey, this was a part, a small part, but you can be part of this team. You know, I haven’t trained yet to be a surgeon like Gary Parker, who knows that may come down the line, but we are just doing what we love to do and that’s to travel and meet people and love on people, share the love of Jesus with them and tell them about this amazing organization. And you know, so far in the four years that we’ve traveled, we know of two people from the services that we’ve been in, that have served on the ship. You know, maybe there’s more, but most recently this one gentleman from  western Colorado that served — in fact, he flew away from the Global Mercy yesterday! You know, just seeing him post pictures and tell about the 30 days that he served on board the Global Mercy, you know, that just warms our hearts.

Raeanne:

And maybe that gentleman and other people would have never heard of Mercy Ships otherwise, had you not gone and told them!

Bob:

Yeah, we know that God orchestrates the lives of his kids. We’re just thankful for the opportunity. The other one was a pastor’s daughter, who was in her senior year and God spoke to her heart when we were there at their church and she ended up spending a few weeks on the Africa Mercy working with children’s ministry, and now she’s in college and we met with her and I have no doubt Raeanne but that one day she will be back on one of our ships because it changed her life. And so we’re just going to keep on going and tell as many people as we can.

Raeanne:

Well, at this point, do you know approximately how many Churches you’ve visited? How often do you travel?

Bob:

The norm is two weekends a month. And it doesn’t always work ideally because sometimes it’s three Sundays in a row. We’re in Michigan one Sunday, the next Sunday, we’re down in Florida, so it’s not a neat way of scheduling. And so, probably in the four years we’ve been traveling, counting conferences that we’ve gone to, to represent Mercy Ships, we’ve probably been to 50 to 60 churches. And now we’re going to Christian colleges too. And we realize that protocols of Mercy Ships are that we can’t accept nursing students until they’ve had two years’ experience, but we’re just planting seeds. We’re going out there, in an auditorium filled with nursing students and nursing  faculty at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, and we had the opportunity just to share with them this opportunity they may have in years to come and just to see their response and their eyes light up — we can tell that it was the Lord that was using us to plant seeds. So we’re going to be in, let’s see, we were just down on the campus of Baylor University, talking about Mercy Ships there and we’re going to be at North Central University in Minneapolis and Evangel University in Springfield, and Northwest University in Seattle, they have a wonderful nursing program, and then a small little Bible College up in North Dakota. We’ll be planting seeds, and you never know what’s going to come from that.

Raeanne:

Give us a little bit of a snapshot of what you are sharing when you’re in these churches or university settings. What’s your presentation, like?

Bob:

We tag team, we both go up together, we have a PowerPoint presentation that has about 26 slides. We will share pertinent info about Mercy Ships and then we also have two videos, both of them about two and a half to three minutes long, and we interspersed those in the middle. I tell about volunteers, the type of volunteers that we need, how many — over 400 on the on the Africa Mercy over 600 on the Global Mercy, that everyone is a volunteer, you pay your own airfare to the port city and also monthly room and board fees. We talk about surgeries and early on Raeanne, we really felt that we wanted to at least mention the fact that we do the fistula surgery, the repair of the fistula for women so Sherilyn tell them what you did.

Sherilyn:

We decided we wanted to highlight the fistula celebration, so they sent us a celebration dress from Cameroon. They were finishing up the field service in Cameroon, so they sent it to me and I thought well you know, I’ll wear it to some of our services. Well, I’m kind of small framed so it was going to be way too big. So I bought a mannequin and dressed her up, we call her Nelly and we bring her with us for our display table and then I just share during our presentation — I share three testimonies, one about the cleft palate surgeries, we showed pictures of a little boy that had the cleft palate / cleft lip surgery, also I share about a family of five where all the children had cataracts, and then I share about the fistula surgery. We have a celebration when they recover and we give them a new dress. As we explain this, we show pictures, then I just say if you’d like to be part of helping restore hope and dignity to one of these women who have been rejected by their family and society, come see me at the table later. And I just have all sorts of people come and hand me checks or $100 bills and

one time we raised enough for 27 celebration dresses!

Bob:

But you know, it’s when I share these stories of the surgeries and the testimonies, people are touched. We were in a church recently in Iowa and just looking out while I’m telling these stories, there were a couple of women that were just weeping. I just had to not look at them because I wanted to be able to talk with them. But it’s just it’s so neat to see how it grips different people’s hearts.

Raeanne:

What an incredible ministry that you guys have created in being a mouthpiece for Mercy Ships all over the place. And like you’re mentioning, people will come up to you at a table and donate money. Their hearts have been touched from what they’ve heard and what they’re seeing. Have you guys met some interesting people along the way, I would imagine that there’s so many fascinating folks that you’re encountering. Can you tell us a little bit about the people that you meet?

Bob:

Yeah, I mean, there’s interesting people in every church, and we’re just human beings are but we remember one service in Greeley, Colorado, where at the conclusion of the service, we went back to the display table, and all of a sudden, an African family walks up to us. And this African woman walks up and lets us know, she had been a patient on board, the Africa Mercy years before, and now they’re in Colorado! So it was just amazing.

And then another story I’ve got to tell you is COVID kind of changed everything and kind of stopped our travel schedule. But there was one church, and it was in the state of Utah, and, you know churches in Utah, that it’s a struggle for them because of all of the influence there. But it was a church that did not have their own property. And they had begun to raise money for the building of a building on property. And so when we were there, it was during the summer, they had erected tents and they were having their morning worship services under this tent. So we went with our PowerPoint, and they didn’t have a screen. And so we put up a sheet on the side of the tent. And it wasn’t the best, but then it started to rain during the service. So the conditions weren’t the best. But we made our presentation. And, you know, people responded well, and at the close, we always hand it back to the pastor, he called Sherilyn and me up, he said, Hey, we decided a few weeks ago, that we wanted to do something special for Mercy Ships. They had raised $150,000 that was going to be the down payment on this property. I think the property was a million dollars, they raised $150,000. And their elders decided that they should tithe off of that $150,000 they had raised and they were going to give it to missions. And a few weeks before we arrived, they decided, hey, when Bob and Sherilyn Cook arrive, we are going to give Mercy Ships a check for the tithe of that $150,000. They handed us a check for $15,000! We’re talking about a church that’s meaning in a tent! So we were so excited, we called Don Stephens on our way home from traveling from Utah.

Raeanne:

Well, I know earlier this year, you came on staff with Mercy Ships as the Church Relations Manager, which obviously is a perfect fit! You all are already reaching out to many churches, let’s just go ahead and make it official. So why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’re doing in this new role.

Bob:

So what I basically do is I’m in charge of connecting with churches who have given. So each day, I get a print out of the churches across America that are giving to Mercy Ships. Then I sit down and write a thank you card. Mercy Ships has some beautiful little cards and envelopes. So I just handwrite thank you notes to churches, or some of them, I call and some of them are email. And so each day I just connect with churches. Mercy Ships believes in donor care and I love that they do. We’re not pestering churches, but we’re letting them know that we thank them for their gift. Some of them give small gifts. One this morning, first time givers Raeanne, they gave their first time gift was $12. So I just wrote them a card, you know, thank you for your gift. Every little bit helps. Now balance that with one that I got last week from a new church, first time donors, and I pop it open Raeanne, and their first gift was for $50,000! And so I not only wrote them a card, I picked up the phone, they had the phone number there, and I talked to a nice lady in the office and just said, please let your pastor know. And so that’s what we do, basically. And we also, you know, there’s a Facebook post that we try to connect people with, and I stay in touch with some of the alumni of Mercy Ships, we call them ambassadors, people who are available to go speak at places if we need some representation. So that’s kind of what we do. I’m glad that we can do it from our home. We don’t live down in Lyndale. We live in southwest Missouri, but we just do what we do, staying in touch with people and saying thank you, your gift helps all this happen. We talk to them about the Africa Mercy and surgery is being done and Dakar and now the Global Mercy is coming online in a few weeks. And it’s going to head to Senegal and Sierra Leone and we just let them all know that every little bit what they’ve done, helps everything that happens for Mercy Ships.

Raeanne:

I love that Mercy Ships is intentional about giving a personal thank you to their donors. I think that’s really, really special. Because it’s true, we are so grateful for our financial partners, it’s not just we receive your cheque and run with it. But it really impacts us. And I know that also on our staff, we pray for our donors. It’s an intentional time of praying for these people and thanking God for them. So I love that you’re writing handwritten notes and giving phone calls to these donors and these churches that are giving so generously. Well, maybe you guys each could answer this individually. But how has Mercy Ships impacted your lives?

Sherilyn:

I think just seeing their tremendous need, makes me thankful for my health and for the health care that we have in the United States as compared to what Africa is experiencing. One thing I might share, we have nine grandchildren and two of those grandchildren are from Nairobi, from Kenya, they are Kenyan. So, it just gives us an extra heart for Mercy Ships just because we know exactly what our grandkids were saved from by being adopted. They were abandoned by their mother the day after they were born in Western Kenya and our son and his wife found them in an orphanage, in a Christian orphanage in Western Kenya and they’ve been part of our family ever since. So we have a link with Africa.

Bob:

And so I think Mercy Ships has just almost augmented that in a great way. We love Africa. And so it’s impacted us and in compassion for the health care system that so many Africans have to deal with. We tell our American churches, hey, let’s confess, we’ve gotten used to griping about our health care system. But compared with what Sub-Saharan Africa has, for the most part, we are very, very fortunate. And so it’s just kind of helped us understand how blessed we really are.

Raeanne:

Well, we are coming upon giving Tuesday, which is a day where people all over the world are called to give generously to nonprofit organizations. I believe this year, it’s November 29, if I’m not mistaken. How would you encourage people to give to Mercy Ships in this season?

Bob:

That’s a great question. Give generously. There are so many wonderful organizations and of course, we want people to give to their local church, but we would encourage people to give generously to Mercy Ships on Giving Tuesday, you know, the entry-level gift is $19 a month for Mercy Ships. And the reason we chose 19, years ago that was the approximate cost of one cleft palate surgery on the ship. And so I just encourage people to go online, go to Mercyships.org and click the donate button and give as generously as they can.

Sherilyn:

We just got the giving catalog in the mail and I was just going through it today. You can go to MercyShipsgifts.org And just click on there, and it gives you different price points of things that you can give or purchase. You can give for an eye surgery, designate to sponsor the ER for one day, it’s really creative what they’ve done, some people just don’t want to give a generic gift. So yeah, again, go on Mercyships.org or Mercyshipsgifts.org and that’s a great way to give on Giving Tuesday, or you know, giving Wednesday or giving Thursday. Whatever day you want to give.

Raeanne:

Well, we are so grateful for how much you both have given to Mercy Ships. It is incredible again, to hear of a couple who just had this kind of grassroots movement within your own heart to go out and just share the Mission of Mercy Ships, even though y’all have never served on board. But God put a call on your life to be a mouthpiece for Mercy Ships and you are doing such incredible work to plant seeds in the hearts of so many people. We are so grateful for you and the impact that you guys are making on Mercy Ships. So thank you so much for all that you do. And thank you for sharing with us a little bit of your Mercy Ships journey today.

Bob and Sherilyn:

Thank you. Thank you.

Giving Tuesday is just around the corner, and we encourage you to consider giving to Mercy Ships this year to help transform more lives for the people who need it most. You can give at Mercyships.org

For more information about Mercy Ships, go to mercyships.org, and to keep up with the guests on New Mercies, follow us on Instagram at NewMerciesPodcast.