From a Farm in Kazakhstan to a Ship in Africa

DK grew up in Kazakhstan, helping on the farm and learning electrical work from his father. With a passion for technology, DK later got his degree in informatics and then received a scholarship to study English in the United States. His host family in Pennsylvania shared about Mercy Ships one evening and DK applied to join that night! He had no idea that his life would soon be radically changed.

In this episode, DK shares the powerful story of his life and heart transformation while on board, his willingness to volunteer in housekeeping even though he applied to help in the IS department, and how all the skills he learned growing up on the farm were put to good use on the ship.

DK has a gentle spirit and a willingness to do whatever and go wherever God guides him. You will be blessed as you listen to this episode.

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 gift, volunteering 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 we get to hear from an incredible man from Kazakhstan. While growing up on a farm, DK learned many life skills, including electrical work from his father. DK had never heard of Mercy Ships, but while studying English and the United States on an exchange program, DK’s host family changed that. Compelled by what he heard, DK immediately applied to volunteer with Mercy Ships and thus began a journey that completely transformed his life. You are going to be blown away and inspired by this incredible man. Here is my interview with DK.

Raeanne Newquist:

Well, DK Welcome to season 2 of New Mercies. We are excited to have you on the podcast today and to hear a little bit about your Mercy Ships journey. So welcome!

DK:

Thank you for this opportunity to share my story.

Raeanne:

Why don’t we start by hearing a little bit about your background, tell us where you’re from, what your life was like growing up, your interests, your family, etc. Just give us a little glimpse into who you are.

DK:

So I came from Kazakhstan. I was born and raised there. It is a former Soviet Union country that has borders with Russia and China. I’m explaining because a lot of people ask like, hey, like, where is that? I know, it’s a very young country. And I had a lot of opportunities. I was born and raised in a very small village pretty much doing farming and tending the cattle basically like a country boy, but I really had a passion for technology, especially computers. Growing up, I always wanted to be an IT engineer and work in that field. So, I pursued a bachelor’s, and then masters and then and now I live in Los Angeles in California where I’m pursuing a master’s in healthcare data science. I also work part-time for Mercy Ships as a product engineer. So basically our team supports all the medical systems onboard the ship to keep it running and improvements.

Raeanne:

Real quick, you mentioned that you’re in Los Angeles in Southern California. I know that you are currently a student at USC. Fight on Trojans! What program are you pursuing right now at USC?

DK:

Healthcare data science

Raeanne:

Oh, that is awesome. You said that you grew up in a very small village in Kazakhstan. How did you hear about Mercy Ships?

DK:

I’d been working in the engineering telecommunications industry for years. And then I just kind of got tired of it, and I wanted to do something different. And so I applied for a scholarship to learn English. I didn’t know even how to speak in English, so I had to go through some training and English language courses. I went to Philadelphia, and I got to live with a family in the homestay system. So I was living with a Christian family and one day they while we’re having dinner, they just told me about Mercy Ships. Well, they didn’t tell me, but they were just mentioning how their daughter wanted to go there. And I asked — what’s the Mercy Ships? She said it’s the hospital ship, you can go there, too and I took it seriously. So that evening, I applied it, I went on the internet, and then I really loved the mission, and I just applied just like that.

Raeanne:

What was it that struck you in that conversation that made you think I’m going to go apply tonight?

DK:

You know, I didn’t know. I didn’t know, it was just probably my adventurous spirit. I thought I’d love to have an experience like that, that kind of diversity and working alongside people who want to make difference. And I don’t know, I think something was drawing me to that.

Raeanne:

Oh, that is so neat. So you applied and what role were you applying for with Mercy Ships?

DK:

So yeah, I applied as the IS Support Specialist, and I had enough expertise to do that because I’ve been working as IT engineer as I said earlier, and then in one and a half months, I got an interview and at that time and then just had to wait. So I was waiting, I went back to Kazakhstan, and I kept working, waiting for the call.

Raeanne:

So when the call came, when did you get on board? And what were your first impressions of life on a ship?

DK:

Before the call came, I received another call that the IS position was no longer available. So I had to apply for different positions or not go there at all because I had a very limited timeframe. I had a very strong desire to go there, and I knew that somehow something in my life is going to be changed on the ship, I just knew it in my gut. So I bought all the tickets, got all the necessary shots, and did the paperwork, I was very excited. And you know, even before entering the ship, I was impressed by Martha Rodriguez who picked me up at the airport. She shared her story of how she came for a couple of weeks or a month or so and then she just ended up staying for six or seven years. And her servant heart and spirit really impressed me. Like, you clearly saw that there’s something different about these people. And we came really late to the ship, it was about 11 pm. So I went to my cabin, and they were six people sleeping in three bunks — the first impression was not comfortable!

Raeanne:

A great first impression with Martha Rodriguez who picked you up at the airport. But yes, then finding your small living quarters might be a bit of an adjustment, I have to say. So what role did you have on board if you weren’t doing the IS position?

DK:

I didn’t have many options. The only option was three months of service as a housekeeper, and I took it. It was great. I really loved it.

Raeanne:

Tell us a little bit about your job. What did you do in housekeeping?

DK:

Well, first of all, working with the day crew was really something that you cannot find on the ship everywhere, and that interaction with the local people and getting to know their culture was great. And especially going to Senegal, I never met anyone from Senegal, and that was very interesting for me. And in the end, I found that they are people like us, you know like we were joking around and hugging each other. And it was a lot of fun. I really loved the part where I would go to the wards and clean the wards while the patients were on deck seven, having some time outside. I got to see just a little bit and kind of see the tangible contribution from my side, like cleaning the wards made me feel like I was actually doing something for the patients. That’s what I really liked about it. And I got to see some of the patients while I was cleaning the wards and mopping and that was really awesome.

Raeanne:

You’re so right, you’re making a contribution to the patient’s transformation by keeping the wards clean in the hospital, and that’s so essential. It’s one thing that we talk a lot about in Mercy Ships is, you know, safe surgery practices and things being sanitary and being clean are a big part of safe surgery when things are clean. So it is so important for our housekeepers to play an integral part in our patients’ well-being in their health while they’re on board. So that is awesome that you got a glimpse into that. Now, you talked about working with the day crew and how fun it is to be with the local people and to learn from their culture. You’d never met someone from Senegal before. But I bet you the Senegalese had never met anyone from Kazakhstan either. So were you able to share some of your culture with them as well?

DK:

Yeah, absolutely. First I would explain where Kazakhstan is, which languages we speak, and even some of the culture.

Raeanne:

Tell us what are some other jobs that you had on board aside from housekeeping?

DK:

At the end of the housekeeping, I really wanted to have a taste of how to work in the IS department, and I talked to Stuart, and we agreed that I can work one month with IS, so I extended my commitment to one more month as an IS specialist, and then I ended up extending it for another year. And meanwhile, I also had a chance to work as an electrician for two and a half months. And then I volunteered in the dining room and in the galley, it was a blessing for me to see how the ship operates from a different angle and how each member’s so crucial.

I really want to mention the engineering department because I feel like they’re kind of overlooked. Because I worked there, it is a hard job down in the engine room, doing all the maintenance, keeping the ship running, electrically, taking care of their generators, and bunkering the fuel. It was such a joy to work with them.

Raeanne:

The engineers down on deck one in the engine room — it is loud down there, and it is hot. It is so hot. We took a tour as a family through the engine room, and they give us earplugs, but still it’s deafening down there. I was most blown away by how knowledgeable they are. There’s so much that they need to know — all the different valves and dials, there’s so many pieces of equipment down in the engine room, there’s just so much to know. But those engineers are phenomenal. So yes, let’s give a shout-out to the engineering team. Those guys are awesome. I’m glad you got that experience to work down there. You got to experience a lot of different things on the ship, which is pretty awesome. With your time in Senegal. Was there a highlight moment for you?

DK:

I served in the field service of 2019-2020. As we all know, it ended shortly because COVID hit. And that is the highlight, like kind of a negative highlight. Because I remember that atmosphere and the heaviness and that uncertain atmosphere. I remember discharging patients and knowing that some of the patients were still waiting to receive the surgery, and it was really devastating. It was really tough. Then in a couple of weeks packing everything up and sailing to the Canary Islands, it was really something.

Raeanne

In your time in Senegal, prior to the pandemic hitting, what was something special that stood out to you, in your experience?

DK:

Well, when I joined the ship, I had to fill out the application that asked what’s your religious background and things like that, as we know, Mercy Ships follows a 2000-year-old model of Jesus. And I filled out as a cultural Muslim because I grew up in a cultural Muslim family and in fact, my dad is a practical Muslim these days. However, I gave my life to Christ on board the ship. So two and a half months of being on the ship, God just got ahold of my life and then I just realized that I knew something was going to change in my life. And that’s definitely something that I cannot boast about, but only be grateful about how God changed me. I grew up knowing that there is God but I did not know him personally. And I remember the one sermon that I went to, and it was an invitation from Jesus, and it was from Matthew 6:33. Seek the kingdom of God first in His righteousness and all the things that you need will be given to you. That was my invitation, I was so overwhelmed by that. And I went up and in looking up to the night sky, I asked him, Do you really want me to become a Christian? That’s the truth. And I couldn’t believe that because I grew up thinking the Bible is corrupt. Christianity is wrong and all that. It was an amazing transformation of my life, and so much brokenness and woundedness that I had, and so many deceptions that I believe for years, all those were shattered by the truth of God. Later on, I had a tension with my family and I was just thinking it is such a blessing to be born into a Christian household. And some people just don’t realize that there is persecution going on in different parts of the world. I’m not saying that I was persecuted. I’m just saying that there are a lot of different countries that are prosecuted.

Raeanne:

You know, you had mentioned with that host family in Philadelphia, when they mentioned Mercy Ships, you were compelled to go apply immediately. And I think looking back now, you probably would agree that that was just the Holy Spirit drawing you. Because God had a plan that he wanted to completely transform your life in such an amazing way. And I love that he used a place like Mercy Ships to do it, to be surrounded by people that can encourage you and love on you in your faith journey, which is so awesome. But to know that was something that God was working in your heart, before you even got on board, before you even joined Mercy Ships, he was seeking you and searching for you, and was calling you.

DK:

That is true. And I remember when I accepted Christ and gave my life to him, and I was praying — I don’t want to work for men anymore, I want to work for you. And I remember how all my life was like a puzzle that came to the right place. And I knew that all these years ago, God was leading me to this moment when I will have to say yes because there is no, no, I will have to say yes. And I have many stories to share. But probably this episode will be quite long. So we’ll have to move on.

Raeanne:

We love your stories! Well, definitely, that would be a huge highlight moment for you. I have to say, the fact that your life was totally transformed as you became a Jesus follower is pretty awesome. You also said that you ended up extending an extra year with your commitment. Tell us about that. How did that come about? And why? Why did you stay another year?

DK:

Yes, another testimony. So when I came to Christ, I went to local church in Dakar. And Alphonse who was a chief engineer at that time, and I remember we were going back to the ship from church and I was praying, Lord, I don’t want to go back now. I wanted to stay longer. And then just the thought came to me like, hey, just defer your study another year and be with me. And I remember like, that was crazy, right? Your family is expecting to you to go there, your scholarship is expected, I think you’re expecting to go to USC. But I took a step of faith. And I started to pursue that. It was even before the pandemic actually. Yeah, and everything just worked so well. And actually, 2020 was the best year in my life. Because there was so much enlightenment in my life, and I got baptized on board the ship. It’s another story.

I remember before the baptism the pool was so dirty, because the tech department was so busy with packing and unpacking in Canary Islands and then right before the baptism day, they cleaned it and they filled it on that same day with clean water. Yeah, and I remember it just represented my life. Like there was so much pride, so much brokenness and woundedness and that pool represented my life, how dirty it was. And then the day I got baptized, the pool was clean. And that represented my old self and has been forgiven and I was made new. After the baptism, there was a feast that the chaplaincy team were planning to do. I never felt so special in my life. And God did it. And I was like, oh, Lord, this is all for me. I couldn’t believe it was happening. And thus far, it is my best day.

Raeanne:

Well, I have to say, getting to witness that was probably the best day for me and my family on the ship, I can honestly say that. I know, my husband got to take part in baptizing you and he would say hands down, that was his highlight of our time on the ship. Wow, I’m getting a little emotional here. But I love that imagery that you just shared about how the pool was dirty. And people went up there and worked on it, to clean it, and to get fresh water in there. But what a beautiful symbol of our lives that we all struggle with so much and have pain in our lives and brokenness and things that are just dirty and not right. But God comes in and he transforms us and makes us clean and makes us new in him. It is such a beautiful gift. And I love that you got to experience that on the ship in the Canary Islands, it was a beautiful day in a beautiful setting. What a wonderful experience, not only for you, but for everyone that got to witness that. It was a wonderful day for sure. Well, your time on board in that extended year. What role did you have then?

DK:

So I kept working in the IS department as a support specialist. And then probably sometime in July, Denise Ingram, an electrician, came and she asked if we could you give her a hand. Because of the pandemic and because of the shortage of electricians, she was only one electrician, and the other one was in the quarantine. And so I gave a hand and I kind of felt compelled to help her and I went to Alphonse, Chief engineering and asked him, is there any way I can help out the electricians? And he said, you know, DK I was just praying, and you just kept coming to my mind and then you just knocked on the door! So, I got to work as electrician for two and a half months. And it was a whole different experience, as I said, so my dad was an electrician. He’s retired now and because I like all this technical stuff, I kind of learned from him some stuff. And I was not a full electrician, but I was doing basic stuff and covering where I where I could. And, that was also such a blessing to get to see the ship from down in the bottom. Like I’ve been in compartments that only probably a few people have been, like green light to every room. Yeah, I got to also clean the smoke detectors and kind of administering the fire panel. And I just loved it.

Raeanne:

That’s so cool. I love the things that you learned growing up on the farm and from your father and your family that you got to use all these years later on a ship in so many different departments. During your time living on a ship. What is something that you learned?

DK:

I wasn’t really organized before I came to the ship. Like honestly, I was kind of messy, especially in the kitchen area. And because I worked as a housekeeper and then a little bit in the galley on weekends and in the Dining Room, I got to wash a lot of dishes in the crew galley and in the dining room, cleaning up for people. And I don’t know, it just gave me another kind of vision from that point. And so I learned to be organized.

Raeanne:

That’s awesome. You never really know the things that you’re going to learn when you live on a ship. But you learned to be clean, and you learned to be organized. How did you see lives changed during your time volunteering?

DK:

Yeah, so probably the moments where I could get to see the patients was when I was housekeeper, cleaning the wards. And as an IS support specialist, or as electrician, you don’t get to see those things. But I remember for us, sometimes in the community gatherings, they show some different stories of patients so that we can kind of stay up to date. And I remember there was one boy, and he said that he just wanted to run. And I love running and the thing that I was taking for granted, just running. And because when he was a kid, he didn’t have enough nutrients and his legs were deformed. And he just couldn’t run, it was just a simple dream. I want to run. And I don’t think that —Do I wanna run? I just do it, and I take it for granted. I don’t think about it, I just do it. For some people it is a dream and realizing that is really heartbreaking for me, because there are people who are suffering who don’t even have the right food to eat. To be able to grow up healthy, and I’m not talking about even the health care that we take also for granted. And it was really touching.

Raeanne:

So this patient had a dream of being able to run. Did he ever get to run?

DK:

Yes, I saw him run.

Raeanne:

That’s incredible. That is a huge life change, for sure. So DK, how has your life been transformed because of Mercy Ships?

DK:

I really got to see the different families on board the ship. And I really liked the families because they had a calling. They sold their houses, they sold their cars, and they just went to the mission because God called them. In the eyes of the world it is kind of crazy. But accepting the call and following that was amazing. It is always easy to stay in your comfort zone and not to take any challenges because it’s easy. And I think what I’ve really learned is to be a bit crazy in the sense that if you receive the call, just keep doing, just keep following. Having faith and just doing it. That’s why I try not to cling on to things, not to settle for something as my permanent place. I like to be open, open to God’s call.

Raeanne:

Well, I wouldn’t doubt that there’s people listening to this right now. Who are contemplating, should I  go? Should I not? What does it look like to move to live on a ship in West Africa? What would you say to people who are considering going or people that are listening to this? What would your encouragement be to them?

DK:

Yeah, a lot of people have talked about here on podcast that they received more than they gave. I would just say if you are feeling that God is calling you to do this, to do this mission with him, just do it. There might not be another chance and you might regret that. As many of the previous podcast guests have already told that they received more than they gave and I would say the same thing. If you’re called to serve here on board one of these ships, just go ahead and do it. Because you will never regret. That’s 100% I say, and if you’re not sure, if you’re called or not, still do it, you will not lose anything. And I love how Jesus tells about whoever loses his life will gain it, whoever tries to save his life will lose it. And definitely there are some sacrifices to be made, some challenges are waiting for you, but all these are far less than what you might gain. I think it is a blessing to be a part of God’s mission and do God’s work.

Raeanne:

I love how you said you’ll never regret it, just do it. And I think that’s so true. I think sometimes we talk ourselves out of things. We allow fear to come in and take over and all the what ifs, what if I can’t afford it? What if I can’t find a job when I get back? What if what if, but where there’s risk, there’s reward. And if God is calling you to do something, the best place you can possibly be is in obedience to what he’s calling you to do, because he’s going to provide, he’s going to take care of you. He’s not going to call you somewhere that he can’t take care of you. No regrets. Just do it.

Well, DK, you are an incredible man of faith and a man of God. I’m so grateful that you said yes, years ago to go work with Mercy Ships. Obviously, God was drawing you at that time because he knew he was going to turn your life upside down. And I love that you said yes, and that you’re continuing to live in that obedience. So thanks for inspiring us today. Thanks for encouraging us with your story. And we wish you a lot of blessings as you finish up this degree that I know you’re going to continue to use to bring glory to God.

DK:

Thank you.

Raeanne:

Perhaps this is the first you’re hearing of Mercy Ships and like DK you’re compelled to go volunteer. Well, you can check out opportunities at mercyships.org/volunteer. Next week we have a lovely physical therapist on the podcast, sharing with us the important role of physios on board. Come back next week to hear Alli Miller share her Mercy Ships story.

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.