New Mercies: Caroline Kirchner
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Celebrating Mother’s Day on Board the Global Mercy

Happy Mother’s Day to all moms throughout the world! Many families come on board our hospital ships, bringing moms who care for their children from infants to teenagers. In this episode of New Mercies, we get to hear from a mom who is no longer caring for young children but came to volunteer with Mercy Ships because her adult daughter invited her!

Caroline Kirchner raised her three daughters to love and serve God, even taking short-term mission trips to instill in their children the value of caring for the poor. One of her adult daughters has been serving with Mercy Ships for over 5 years and invited her mom and dad to come join her. In the fall of 2021, Caroline and her husband boarded the Africa Mercy to volunteer alongside their daughter Beth. Caroline volunteers in hospitality and loves getting to know all the new crew and helping them settle into their new home when they come aboard.

In this episode, Caroline shares her highlights of volunteering on both the Africa Mercy and the Global Mercy, the joys of serving with her daughter, and the gift to be a “ship-mom” to many crew members.

To take a virtual tour of the Global Mercy, go to www.experience.mercyships.org

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.

Raeanne Newquist:

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms around the world! On New Mercies, we’ve heard about some special moms who have raised young children on board our ships, but today we get to hear from a mother on board who is not with young children. Caroline Kirchner is finished raising her three daughters and has now been invited by her adult daughter Beth to volunteer alongside her on board the Global Mercy. For this special Mother’s Day episode, we get to hear Caroline share the joys of serving with her daughter and how volunteering in hospitality has allowed her to meet all the new crew and become a “ship mom” to many of them. Enjoy this interview with Caroline Kirchner. 

Happy Mother’s Day, Caroline. We’re excited to have you on today. Welcome to the New Mercies podcast.

Caroline Kirchner:

Thank you. I’m very excited about being here.

Raeanne:

Where exactly are you right now?

Caroline:

I am sitting in my cabin number 6425 on the Global Mercy and in Tenerife, enjoying our time just before we get ready to sail down to Senegal and meet our sister ship, the Africa Mercy, in a few weeks.

Raeanne:

When did you first get on board?

Caroline:

Well, on the Africa Mercy, my husband and I came last August. And then, in December, we transferred to the Global Mercy, and the Africa Mercy went off to Senegal, and we went to Antwerp to join the Global Mercy and were involved in the whole European celebration in Rotterdam. And now we’ve sailed down to Tenerife in our waiting for a few weeks before we meet our sister ship and have a big Africa celebration to welcome the Global Mercy, the brand-new ship, into the fleet of Mercy Ships.

Raeanne:

Oh, how exciting. So, you’ve been on board one of the ships for about eight months, and in those eight months, you have probably sailed more than most Mercy Ships crew get to during their time of service! You sailed from Belgium to Rotterdam and then down to Tenerife and eventually down to Senegal. So that’s pretty exciting for you. What is your role onboard? What do you do?

Caroline:

I am a hostess in hospitality in the hospitality department. We welcome all the new crew that comes on board, and we embark them, and there are a few technical things we have to do. According to maritime law, we have to give all new crew a tour of the ship; we have to make sure they know the drill signals and the emergency system we have on board. And we just make sure that they feel like they’re at a home away from home and warmly embraced during their time of service here and hopefully make them feel like they belong. And they’re part of our bigger Global Mercy family or Africa Mercy, depending on what ship.

Raeanne:

Have you had some crew that get on and are pretty nervous?

Caroline:

Every once in a while! This is a much bigger ship than the Africa Mercy, so the crew that have been on the Africa Mercy that come on the Global Mercy are in awe of how big it is compared to the other ship. It’s a little daunting. And it looks different and a little hard to get around. But for those who have never been on either ship, they figure out their way around pretty easily. And everybody seems to be very excited. I think when people come on board as new crew, they’re ready to bond with this whole experience, whatever it might be. And so, there’s an excitement. It’s not only an emotional excitement, but I truly believe it, that physiological excitement. There’s something in all of that going on inside of our body, emotionally and physically.

Raeanne:

That’s neat. Well, I do know that there are new crew coming all the time throughout field service, especially from all over the world, so in hospitality, you are busy! Like you said, you give tours and greet the new crew, but what are some other aspects of your job aside from that?

Caroline:

Because I get to meet almost everybody that comes on board for the younger crew, I kind of become a ship mom. A lot of younger crew will come to me and say, “Oh, I need this or need that, or can you help me with that.” And I love that aspect of kind of a motherly relationship and then with my peers and others crew. It’s just a great way to get to know people right off the bat, right when they get on the ship, and connect with them in a really special way. I think in hospitality, really, it’s an opportunity to really connect with people right when they get on board and then continue that relationship on through their service.

Raeanne:

It’s a pretty important role. In a lot of ways, you can really set the tone for someone’s experience. You’re the first person that they get to interact with and spend a good amount of time with on their tour and asking questions and so forth. So, it’s important that they have a friendly, motherly, welcoming person to help them kind of assimilate if you will. You mentioned that you got on board about eight months ago with your husband. So, tell us a little bit about your connection to Mercy Ships and what brought you guys to serve in the first place?

Caroline:

Well, our big connection with Mercy Ship is our daughter. Our daughter Beth has been serving with Mercy Ships for about five years. She is the kindergarten teacher in the Academy. And in 2016, she was appointed as a kindergarten teacher. And I found out that she was going to embark the ship in Durban, South Africa, and get to sail all the way up to Benin to start the field service for this 2016-17 year, and I thought — I want to be in on that adventure. So, I contacted Mercy Ships and said I will scrub the floors. I will clean toilets. I will cook in the galley or serve food. I will do whatever you want if I could be on this sale going around the Cape of Good Hope and all the way up and, and kind of do it with our daughter, and she was very excited about the possibility. So, I ended up in the housekeeping department. The housekeeper’s job is to clean the ship. My job now is in hospitality. And my job is also to clean the cabins.

So, my first introduction to Mercy Ships was a long time ago, actually, when I was in college. I knew about Mercy Ships from a missions conference to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. But many years later, when our daughter started serving with Mercy Ships, we got an inside view. But not only did our daughter Beth, one of our older daughters start serving with Mercy Ships in 2016. But then in 2017, January of 2017, our youngest daughter was in a gap year between high school and university. And she came and served too. So, I had two daughters serving at the same time. And when that daughter graduated from university last year, my husband I thought, all right, we’re done with the financial responsibility of our children, so now God, what do you want us to do? And our daughter Beth had always wanted somebody who her family to serve with her on one of the Mercy Ships. So here we are!

Raeanne:

You mentioned your first experience was 2016, sailing from Durban, South Africa, up to the Benin — I’ve heard that sailing around the Cape of Good Hope, which is, you know, the southernmost part of the continent, that the waters can be a little bit rough. What was that sail like for you and that experience?

Caroline:

Well, I love sailing, I don’t get seasick. So, I loved every single minute of it. Not true for all crew. But for me, it is true. The first couple of days at Durban and then out of Cape Town, were pretty rough, a lot of rocking and a lot of pitching back and forth one day, and then just imagine the worst turbulence possible on an airplane. And that’s what the second day we have to tie everything down before we sail like you said, you know, we don’t sail that often. So, we have to tie everything down. Things roll around. We just got finished with a sail from Rotterdam here to Tenerife. And we were thinking it would be a pretty calm sail, but it was pretty rough.

And we had about three days of pitching back and forth side to side, it was pretty intense. So, if anything wasn’t tied down, it would roll from one end of the room to the other, especially like the office chairs that are on rollers, and people in office chairs with rollers could not sit at their desk and work because it was just too back and forth. But I love it. I loved all of that. I love being outside and seeing the waves and feeling the wind blow through my hair. I love the nights, it’s like being in a cradle, bouncing back and forth, back and forth.

Raeanne:

So, once you arrived in Benin after that big sail around the Cape of Good Hope, you continued to volunteer in housekeeping but also got another opportunity. Why don’t you tell us about that?

Caroline:

Well, I would like to share about helping with screening because I think a lot of times people think, oh, I’m going to come and I’m going to clean up the ship with housekeeping and greet new crew in hospitality — I’m just going to be serving the crew, but there are opportunities to actually be involved in with patients and in a broader scope. But for me, it was being part of the screening team, I didn’t look at anybody medically, I was a face that was smiling, and hopefully, a warm persona, saying to people who just got the news that Mercy Ships could not help them, that even though they got a” no” from Mercy Ships for whatever reason, that there’s still people that have loved and I pray for them. I mean, as those people went by, I would pray for them. I didn’t know their stories, I didn’t know anything, but at least I could pray for them. And I really enjoyed that.

And then, I was also able to help with the eye clinic when I was a guest on the ship once I wasn’t even crew. But this is when I just came in as a guest. And I was able to just help people who were blind; I guided them into the waiting room, that’s all I did, I had a little Mercy Ships passed on, and I just took people by the elbow and guided them. Hopefully, I was just a warm voice to them because they couldn’t see me, I was just a steady hand on their elbow and just help them up the stairs. That’s what I did for eight hours a day. But you know what, I was part of the medical team doing that! So, I was glad to be involved in that, even though I was in housekeeping. And so, I’m looking forward to seeing how the Lord will open a few opportunities for me in hospitality when we get there. Finally, wherever we’re going in Africa somewhere.

Raeanne:

And you know, that is a special opportunity that a lot of non-medical crew have the option to be a part of. I know, when I was on board, non-medical, I was able to sign up to go out with the eye team one day and help them. I wrote down blood pressure, and I wrote down, you know, different things, I handed out tickets for people to have their number in line to know when it was their turn to see the doctor for their examination. But it was powerful to see firsthand how some of the screening team works. And it was really special, as you said, to be able to pray for those people that I got to smile and be a warm presence with them, even though I’m not medical, but still got to interact with the patients in that way. There’s a lot of opportunity for non-medical crew on board our ships to really take apart and see the heart of the mission firsthand.

Caroline:

Absolutely. One thing that is very attractive about the mission of Mercy Ships to is that we all know we’re on the same page towards the same goal. So, whether I was cleaning the baseboard in the hallway of the hospital, or I am embarking on a new crew member, or I’m helping with the eye team, we’re all focused on this one laser-focused mission. And it really does build that community. So, there’s a connection between the mission and the community, that is, bar none. I’ve never experienced this in any other ministry. I haven’t experienced that before in another ministry.

So, you know, it’s really something that you could be a maxillofacial surgeon of renowned surgeon and be doing these amazing surgeries, and then you’ve got somebody like me cleaning, cleaning floors, or cleaning toilets, but we’re all part of the same mission. And we all are important and an important part because without the maxillofacial surgeon, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing. And without me cleaning the toilet, we’re not going to be able to be doing what we’re doing.

Raeanne:

That’s right. Everyone is essential.

It’s definitely a unique environment. So, since the time you and your husband got on board with Mercy Ships last year, your ship, if you will, has changed course a little bit from what you originally expected. How have you dealt with those changes of expectations?

Caroline:

Well, yes, at first, it was very disappointing to know that we were not going to go to Africa when we thought we were. We are eventually going to go, but we thought we would be going a lot earlier. So, I think we went through is a bit of the grieving process, like many people do, that kind of involves and sadness, and maybe even some anger and dashed expectations because you think you’re going to do one thing, and then something else happens totally out of your control.

And you got to figure out, but for us knowing that God is sovereign and that we are overcomers, you know, we are here to do what it takes to get the ship into field service in Africa as soon as possible. And if that means staying here in Tenerife for a few extra months, that could be worse places we could be!

Raeanne:

So, when you were on the Africa Mercy, and then you and your husband got on the Global Mercy, the understanding was that you were going to then go into field service, but that has been delayed. So, with that, you got to experience sailing to Rotterdam and experience a couple of weeks of the Rotterdam celebration. So, I assume that with the change, of course, that has happened with you, there have been some surprises and some highlights. Like you said, now being in Tenerife, what a beautiful place to be. But what are some of those highlights and surprises that have come?

Caroline:

Well, being in Rotterdam was absolutely fantastic. We had 12,000 people over the course of 13 days on this ship, seeing what our new ship looks like, what we’re doing, and the production team that did the Rotterdam event was just, bar none, the best. It was an outstanding hour that each visit we got to spend on this ship and really get to know a little bit about our mission, what we do medically, and then also a little bit about what it’s like to serve on the ship in other capacities.

So that was super, super amazing. And a highlight definitely, I would have to say the other highlight for us right now is because we did transfer from the Africa Mercy to the Global Mercy is that we kind of split and each ship. So, we have a little, Africa Mercy Family but now we’ve got a Global Mercy Family too. So, when the two ships come together in May, for a month or two, we will feel like we can be a bridge between the two crews. We also feel like the Lord has positioned us in a way that we can build that bridge between two crews and continue to build that one fleet mentality that we’re trying to do here and Mercy Ships with two ships. So, we’re excited about that. And there are people coming back and forth. So sometimes we have transfers coming from the AFM, then sometimes we’re sending people from the Global Mercy back to the Africa Mercy. There’s a lot of love between the two ships and building up that love. Having a foot in both ships is kind of nice.

Raeanne:

What does your husband do on board?

Caroline:

Mike is a teacher in the Academy, just like our daughter. So, like father, like daughter, Mike teachers the high school science classes and the middle school science classes, and Beth teaches the kindergarten. So, they’re kind of on opposite ends of the Academy, we have an academy on board that provides outstanding educational opportunities and learning for preschool through 12th grade. So, families can serve here on the ship without too much disruption to their family life.

Raeanne:

I love that you both were able to come together. In this season of your life, you have three daughters that are adult daughters now, and they’re on their own. How lovely that you and your husband could take this opportunity to come serve, and you’ve committed for two years. Is that correct?

Caroline:

Yeah. Right. And who knows? Our initial commitment is two years, but who knows, right? Just really, who knows? We’re open. So, you know I’m coming from a teacher background too. But I decided well, first of all, I teach English as a second language. So English is the language on the ship and most people have to have a certain level of English proficiency to serve on the ship and the little kids not so much, but they learn English so fast. So anyway, there wasn’t really a teacher position for me, but I’m telling you what, I am so happy to be in hospitality. It is my wheelhouse. I am really enjoying that. Have no faculty meetings anymore. For me, that’s the bonus!

Raeanne:

Well, I would agree you are completely tailor-made with a gift of hospitality. And I know that you are most welcoming to all that come on board. And I love how you mentioned being a bridge between both ships, and the community, on the Africa Mercy, the community on the Global Mercy, and to be able to cross back and forth in those communities. It’s really a larger Mercy Ships family, it’s not isolated to one ship or the other. And as we continue to grow, I’m excited to see that as well, for the organization to have this larger Mercy Ships family to be a part of it’s really a special thing.

Speaking of family, we did talk about that it is Mother’s Day. And we’re excited to be celebrating all of our moms and our special moms on the Africa Mercy and the Global Mercy as well. What a special Mother’s Day for you that you get to spend it serving with your adult daughter, Beth, who you said is a kindergarten teacher, what is that like for you to volunteer alongside your daughter?

Caroline:

It’s fantastic! My husband and I have always invested our resources, our time, and our money in our daughters when they were growing up in terms of mission trips. So, we always would spend at least some of our summertime doing something in service as a family. Of course, our kids would do short-term mission trips with their youth groups, etc., too. But we always did something every year as a family to serve. And a couple of summers, we actually spent the whole summer as a family in Africa and working in different organizations, not Mercy Ships, but from different organizations.

In fact, we’ve always said to our three daughters that whoever they decide to marry, that young man has to do a mission trip with our family before we give the green light to marry into our family! So, missions and service has always been a high priority for us. So, to be able to actually go from a mother and a minor daughter, dragging them along, but not dragging them on in a good way. Bringing them along with in missions in service capacity to actually being recruited by my own daughter to come serve on this ship has been great. You know, I think about that, that verse in 1 John 3:14 that says, “There’s no greater joy to hear that my children are walking in truth and following truth.” And our daughters, all three of them, are serving the Lord. Yeah, to be able to say that my children are following the WAY, the TRUTH, and the LIFE and Jesus Christ — there’s no greater joy.

Raeanne:

Well, how beautiful that you have raised your children with a heart for mission and making the name of Jesus known throughout the world and how it’s come full circle that your daughter serving in mission in Africa has said, Mom, come on, come on board with me mom and dad. Let’s go. Obviously, you’ve raised Beth well, and all of your daughters as well. So, you’ve already kind of mentioned this a little bit. I know that we talk at Mother’s Day, especially how our moms have made an impact on us. I was going to ask you how your daughter Beth has made an impact on you?

Caroline:

Beth is very enthusiastic, and she’s always joyful. It’s very humbling to be a mother and to see a sister in the Lord really, you know, come alongside of you and be so excited about the things that we share. Sometimes she calls me out on things that I need to be called out for in a very loving way, of course, so that iron sharpens iron concept from Scripture is just wonderful when it’s, you know, Mother Daughter, or Mother-Child you know, it’s really wonderful. I do have the reputation of being Beth’s mom on the ship. You know, she’s not Caroline’s daughter. I’m Beth’s mom. I’m very proud of her. Mike and I are super proud of her, and it’s just wonderful to have this shared experience with her, and you shared memories with her on this is a gift of a lifetime for sure.

Raeanne:

Well, with this season of life for you and your husband, you guys really could have gone and served anywhere with any organization. Aside from your daughter being on board. Why did you guys choose Mercy Ships?

Caroline:

That is a great question because my husband and I have been involved in ministry all of our married life and really great ministries, both parish church and church ministries, and also Christian education, literally our whole marriage 37 years, we’ve been involved in ministry. But when I came in 2016, on Mercy Ships, and served those five weeks on the sail, and then in the first few weeks, I’ve Benin, I came home, just so incredibly jazzed, I don’t even know how I’m just excited about Mercy Ships that I kept thinking, why are you so excited about this ministry? Because you’ve been involved in ministry all your life, basically. Why do you tell everybody, like even strangers, that I’d meet at the ice cream shop? And you know, I kind of landed on two things back in 2016.

And I think that there are two things that led us to come back. One is the laser-focused Mission of Mercy Ships. Really it is, you know, church ministries and school ministries have great missions, but the laser focus Mission of Mercy Ships to bring hope and healing with specific kinds of surgery to people who need it in poor and countries that don’t have access to those medical services that we bring to them. That laser focus of doing that, using Jesus’s model in his name bringing hope and healing to people in his name. It just really made me want to be part of this. But Mercy Ships is so focused on a certain kind of surgery that they’re able to say no to other good things. But we’re great at this one thing. And I really liked being part of that kind of mission and that kind of ministry. So, one is the Mission of Mercy Ships. And two, I would say the community, I love living and working with the same people, I love doing life with the people that I’m doing ministry with or living with. I love living life and living mission and ministry with the same people. And one of them is my daughter, but then I’ve got all these other really, great friends. And I’m doing that, and it’s not for everybody. I will readily admit that, you know, living in close community like we do on this ship is not for everybody, but it is for me, and it is for my husband, Mike, and we thrive in this kind of community just thrive in it. So those are the two things Michigan community.

Raeanne:

Well, I’m so encouraged in hearing your enthusiasm and your excitement for Mercy Ships, and I know many will be as well. I love that God has uniquely gifted you and your husband both to be people in that environment that can encourage and inspire other new crew as well. You know, I think a lot of people spend a lot of their lives trying to find their place and where they’re going to thrive. And I can just totally see that you and your husband are living into your gifts and your talents, and you’re able to encourage and inspire others all while making the name of Jesus known, and added bonus is that you get to do it with your daughter.

Well, thank you so much, Caroline, for sharing a little bit of your journey with us today. And I hope you have a fabulous Mother’s Day, especially celebrating on board the ship with your daughter.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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.

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