Chaplaincy On Board with Andrew Clark
Dr. Andrew Clark has served with Mercy Ships for 30 years as a physician and serves currently as the International Chaplain. During his time with Mercy Ships, Dr. Andrew has had the rare opportunity to go aboard every vessel, from our first ship to our newest custom-built ship the Global Mercy. His history is long, and his stories are fascinating.
In this episode, Dr. Andrew shares how God has been weaving his Mercy Ships journey from the time he was a boy and immigrated to New Zealand from South Africa on a ship. Dr. Andrew also gives great insight into the purpose of chaplaincy and how intentional crew care is a priority for Mercy Ships. From serving as crew physician to his current role as International Chaplain, Dr. Andrew’s stories of God’s incredible work are sure to encourage you!
New Mercies Podcast Transcript
Welcome to the New Mercies, a podcast by Mercy Ships, where we’ll take you behind the scenes and onboard 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 we get to hear from Dr. Andrew Clark. Dr. Andrew joined Mercy Ships as a physician 30 years ago, and today serves as our International Chaplain with an excitement for the crew of Mercy Ships and a passion for God. Dr. Andrew is sure to inspire you on today’s episode.
Dr. Andrew Clark:
Thank you so much. It’s a great pleasure to be with you.
I have to start by saying congratulations, because 2022 marks 30 years of service for you with Mercy Ships, which is quite outstanding. So, congratulations!
Thank you. It seems like quite a long time but actually, my journey with Mercy Ships started in 1983. As a donor, I met the Anastasis in my hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand. And that’s where I first came to know Mercy Ships. So eventually I joined Mercy Ships in 1992 but had the connection there from 1983.
Wow. Oh, that’s incredible. Well, I know over this many years, you have quite a few stories to share, both on ship and off ship. So, we’re so excited to hear some of those stories today. And why don’t we just kick off with the beginning. Tell us how you first got involved with Mercy Ships and what was it like in those early years.
I was in medical school, actually in New Zealand. And I was actually born in South Africa. So, I have this strange accent. For people listening, they’re probably trying to pick where is he from? I was born in South Africa, and I spent 14 years there. And then I went to medical school in Dunedin, New Zealand. So that’s where we were living at the time. We emigrated to New Zealand in 1977. And it was during that time that my father was involved with a ministers fraternal and ministers group, he was an Anglican minister. And he told me about this ship that was going to come to the port in Dunedin and thought that I might be interested in it because it was a medical ship. And so that’s where my interest first started. I went on a tour and experienced the ship from the perspective of a visitor on board. But there was something there that I was kind of drawn to.
And the strange thing for me was that I had this strange sense that I had been on the ship before and I couldn’t picture it, I couldn’t work it out. And I eventually realized when I spoke to my dad, that we had actually emigrated from South Africa on a ship from the Lloyd Triestino line. And that was the very same line of the Anastasis, which was formerly called the Victoria. The Galileo Galilei, the ship that we emigrated on, and the Victoria were sister ships, they were identical ships. And so that was the very weird feeling that I’d been on the ship before. But it was more than just that. It was just for the very first time, I think I realized that there was a really practical outworking of Christianity that I’d never thought about, and perhaps that was the reason that I was going into medicine. Because at that stage, I didn’t really feel comfortable in medical school — I wasn’t too sure why I was there. And the other thing about New Zealand is that you go into medical school, virtually out of school, you don’t get to do a degree. So, I was 17, when I first went into the first year of medical school and I was just so young, and I didn’t really know exactly what I wanted to do. There was a sense that, wow, there’s a whole area that I had never explored — that medicine could be used in a missional way. That was very exciting for me, and I think that’s what I was attracted to.
Oh, that’s so neat. Well, then, you finished medical school and then did Mercy Ships circle back around in your heart and in your mind, or how did you end up joining the mission?
I became a donor, and I was very faithful as a donor. And it was interesting, because I had really settled into life as a young physician. I had some of the trappings — I had a nice house that was architecturally designed and was in a really nice area and had a little, nice little sporty type red car and I remember driving out of the driveway one day and I had forgotten something. So, I went back and I went into the house and I got the thing that I needed to get and was going out of the house and the phone started ringing and I thought I’m not going to answer that because back then you know, some, listeners will know that we have these things called little tape recorders that let you answer phones. And this was way back in the day. Right? And so, this was back in 1991. And I thought the answer phone will answer it. But for some reason, I felt that I need to answer this. And so, I actually walked back in the house, the phone was still ringing, and I picked it up. And it was someone from New Zealand who was just letting me know, “Hey, we’ve got a ship here that we’re going to be sailing under Mercy Ships and we are calling all of the donors, and we just want to know who you are and a little bit more about you.”
It was a great donor call. Then he found out that I was a physician. At this stage, I had done training as a family physician, and I had moved up to a town in the North Island of New Zealand called Tauranga. I was working there as a young physician and suddenly, he was like, “you know, you’re a physician, this is a medical ship, we would be really interested in you joining us for a trip.” And I said to him no, I’m super busy. I was working as a locum physician, so I was looking after other doctors’ practices. And I said to him, I’m really super busy, I just can’t do it. I said to him, “Well, when is it?” and he told me that dates that they were sailing, and I looked up on the calendar. And there was this kind of a shiver that went through me because I had forgotten that I had tried really hard to get work for a certain period of time, I was fully booked up for most of the year, except for nine consecutive weeks. He said to me, you know, these are the dates. And it was a seven-week period. And I looked up at the calendar, and it was bang, smack in the middle of those nine weeks where I had no work. Wow! And so, I just said to him, you know, let me pray about it — which is a silly thing to say. Because God was almost saying, this is what I want you to do. This is how I’ve organized it, that’s why you haven’t been able to get the work for this time. I was fully booked beforehand and fully booked afterwards.
There was this crazy time when I had nothing. And you know, it’s interesting, because I just see how God works, even looking back at the fact that he was working, even for me to go on the ship to state the sister ship I’ve Anastasis. And, interestingly enough to when we traveled as a family in Norway, in the early 70s I went on a ship in Norway, which eventually we bought as the Caribbean Mercy. I lived on that ship for three years. Isn’t it funny how God sort of puts things in place? In the end, I said yes to going on the Pacific Ruby and I sailed on that ship. That was in 1991. Then in 1992, I decided to join full time.
Wow. Now a little fun fact about you. You are possibly the only person who has served on all of the Mercy Ships vessels. Is that right?
Yeah, I think so. I think there may have been one or to others that have been on all of the ships. But I think once I sail on the Global Mercy, which will be in February, I think that will be the first time that I’ve sailed on all six ships and sign on articles on all six ships. It’s going to be exciting.
Oh, my goodness. Well, you went and joined as a doctor, what was that like in the early days? Tell us about being a doctor on board?
Yeah, you know, I can only really speak from my own experience which was on smaller ships. So of course, we had the Anastasis and the Anastasis was re refitted so that they could have a hospital on board with operating rooms as well. But on the Pacific Ruby, we didn’t have an operating room, so we had to do a lot of work off the ship, it was exciting. There was a lot of exciting things that we could do. And we did a lot of dental work, and we did a lot of eye work. The different places that we went to and the lack of access to medical care — we talk a lot about this in Mercy Ships, the lack of access to surgical care is such an important thing, so many people in the world today lack access to safe, affordable and timely surgery. And that’s what I saw in these different places was that they were able to take care of their people pretty much from a primary care perspective, but what they didn’t have was the specialist care, in particular the surgery. And that was really, really tough. I remember one particular story — you asked me what it was like on my very first trip on the Pacific Ruby — we were in the Cook Islands, and we sailed to an island, that was way up right close to the equator. So, the very, very top of the of the Cook Islands, and the Cook Islands is spread out over, I think it’s like 2 million square miles or something kilometers, it’s a huge part of the ocean, but it’s very, very spread out. So, we went to this very remote island and when we got to the island, they were excited because they said there was someone there that needed surgery. We had myself and then there was an ophthalmologist on board and then we had another doctor who was actually the Minister of Health. None of us were surgeons and she needed surgery. And I remember thinking at the time, you know, there’s nothing we can do. And yet they were looking to us and saying, you’ve brought the ship here, can you please help. It was a sad story. I mean, she had a baby that had died in utero. She, she needed surgery. I remember thinking, I was very self-focused at that stage, because I thought, “Everyone’s looking at me, I’m the crew doctor.” On the ship, there was no operating room, there was a small clinic on this island, but there was no operating room there. We didn’t have anesthesia; we didn’t have instruments. And we didn’t have one of those little boxes, you know, that that says how to do surgery, you couldn’t watch a video on YouTube or something.
Right? There was nothing like there’s no Internet back then. There was nothing, we just couldn’t help this person. And I remember feeling completely and utterly helpless. I was really quite mad at God, because this was our first patient. And I thought to myself, you know, here I am, I’d be, I’d been introduced to the organization in 1983. This is now 1991, I’m super excited to finally be part of the organization and to be working with them. And there’s absolutely nothing I can do. And I remember going out, and just standing under this palm tree and just really very angry with God, if I’m going to be absolutely honest. And I was like, God, why are you doing this? You know, if you’d given me a patient, like someone with a sore throat, or cold or even pneumonia, I could deal with that. But this is a surgical case. And we don’t have any way to operate, and we can’t do anything. And I remember, I was very, very self-focused and I was extremely negative. I remember while I was sort of wallowing in misery and just getting mad about this whole situation that I couldn’t do anything about, I remember this young woman came up and tapped me on the shoulder and she said, “Hey, we need to go and pray for this woman,” she was one of our crew members. I turned around her and I remember saying this, “Margie, she doesn’t need prayer, she needs an operation.” And then Margie said, “You know what, there isn’t anything you can do right now. So we need to pray for her.” I said, “Fine, I’ll come with you.” We went to the room, and she asked me if I would pray. And I said, “You know, honestly, I’m in such a bad place at the moment. I think you need to pray.” So she goes, okay. And then she said, “I think, I’ll start by singing over her” and I nearly lost it. I mean, you can tell I was just in such a bad place, just from myself. And it was a selfish place. It was in a self-centered place. And, and in the end, I said, “Okay, you pray” and Margie said a short prayer. And I thought, wow, that was short, but anyway, we went away, and we went back to the ship, and we were slightly out… By the way, we did do what we could do, we put an intravenous line up and we put in some intravenous antibiotics, but, you know, she was in a serious place. She really needed the dead fetus to come to be delivered.
And I remember going back in the morning and thinking, you know, I’m going to come back and she’s not going to be okay. And there was a nurse on the island who had been kind of looking after her and went back and when I got to the room, she was sitting at the edge of her bed. She was completely better from really being deathly ill than the night before. She motioned to me and then through a translator, she explained that in the middle of the of the night, she had this urge to pass this dead fetus, and she did. And she passed the fetus and everything and she was completely better. And I remember thinking to myself, I went back to that that tree, you know, where I got mad at God, the palm tree, and I just said, “God, I’m really, really sorry. I was so focused on what I couldn’t do, I didn’t even think about what you could do. And I was selfish.” I think that was a highlight for me because it was the beginning of my time at Mercy Ships where I realized that, and someone gave me a plaque. I still have the plaque in my in my office, but they gave me this plaque and the plaque essentially says this, that God never asks about your ability, or your inability. He asks about your availability.
And I thought to myself, that’s a powerful thing. God never asked. It doesn’t mean that I’ve heard the quote, misquoted where it says God doesn’t care about your abilities. No, he really does care about your abilities. And by the way, Mercy Ships cares about abilities. Yes, we’re not going to put people in positions that they’re not qualified for. Absolutely. And so, everyone is highly qualified. I mean, you have to be qualified. But God doesn’t start by asking about whether you’re able, he doesn’t ask about your abilities or inability, he starts by asking, Are you available? I had made myself available, except I didn’t make myself available to the living God. I didn’t go to him and say, God, there’s nothing I can do, here I am. What do I need to do here? And had I done that? And had I had that posture? I think the Lord would have said, you know, you can pray. That was a really, really important lesson. And I remember that really shaped how I approached things from there onwards, because as I said, we couldn’t do surgery, which is so, so important. And I’m just thrilled that that’s what Mercy Ships focuses on right now. But we did do what we could do. And there were times when we could do great stuff. And there were times when, when you took your five loaves and fishes, and you put them into the Master’s hands, and you saw him do amazing things.
I remember another story, later on the following year, where there was a little child and there was nothing that we could do. I mean, literally, they had a very, very severe infection and a fever. And I remember, we did what we could do. And the mom looked at us and said, Is there anything else you can do? And I said, Well, I would like to pray. She said, Yes, I would like that too. And we prayed for this little child. And the next day, we came back and the little boy was completely well. And I remember looking at the mom and she just looked at me, and through a translator, she said, God has healed my baby. Wow. And she recognized where the healing had come from. God is sovereign isn’t. You just have to say, God, we’re here. We are required to give you the five loaves and fishes. We are required to put those into your hands. And we look to you to use those to multiply them to feed your people. That’s kind of what we do.
I love how you shared just that you were so focused on yourself and so selfish and motivated by what you could and couldn’t do. But yet, God was transforming your heart and God was transforming you through that time to show you, you need to rely on him because he can do things even more than you will ever be able to do.
I work in chaplaincy now, before that I was in organizational development for a little bit which is, you know, essentially the health of the organization. But now, I’m involved in the spiritual health of the organization and of our crew. And I’ve often said and I remember just recently, I was I was meeting with someone on one of the ships and I looked at them at one stage, I looked at them and I said, I think you need Mercy Ships as much as Mercy Ships needs you. And they sort of looked at me and they were like, you know, I think you’re right. Because what happens is that people come because they have a talent and a gift. And they have something that they can do, and that they can provide for. People come with their roles and with their gifts and with their talents. But what often happens is that God starts to work in them, as well. And so many times I’ve heard people say — I think I got more out of Mercy Ships than I gave, but of course, you know, we never know how much we get, right. And we’re always our own worst critics, and we don’t really realize the gifts that we were able to give — the gift of ourselves and our experience and our talents and all. But the interesting thing is that, I think that so often, God does really reach into our lives. And the great thing about the sovereignty and the majesty and the glory of God is how he takes people and he uses people, broken people, often to do amazing things. I just think it’s wonderful to see people being transformed. And we talk about lives being transformed. But it’s not just our patients that are transformed. It’s often our crew, and our volunteers that are transformed as well.
You have a passion for sharing God’s love and truth. And I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone listening that you eventually found yourself serving in chaplaincy. So tell us about chaplaincy on board and what the purpose of it is.
We have sort of a two-tiered approach that we have kind of essentially two different teams. But working under the umbrella of chaplaincy. One of our teams is chaplains that work with a crew and the other team is the chaplains that work with the patients. They’re two very different teams, because they have two very different ideals. I think it’s Angie Fadely, who’s been heading up HR for many years, she coined a phrase by saying that it’s the toughest job that you’ll ever love. And I love that, it is the toughest job that you’ll ever love. And I think people would attest to that. But it’s also a tough job. And sometimes you see stuff that you that you haven’t seen before, you’ll see tumors and conditions that you’ve never seen before, if you’re in the medical side of things, you’ll see all sorts of different things. And I often think that we’ve got this situation where we’ve brought a whole bunch of people together from different age groups, different language, ethnicities, from different countries — we bring them together, and they have different personalities of male and female, there’s different socio economic groups, there’s different occupational groups, there’s different denominational groups, there’s some people that have a very strong faith, there’s some people that are early in their faith with the Lord, there’s others that are still wondering what is this all about? And so, you bring all of these people and you put them all on one building, essentially, right? And you say to them, oh, by the way, you’re going to live in this building. And you’re going to work in this building, and you’re going to worship in this building, and you’re going to play and recreate in this building, and this is gonna be your home for the next X number of months. And so, of course we will get into situations where we need someone to walk alongside of us.
And I often joke and say, you know the verse that says, wherever two or three are gathered together, the in the name of Jesus, there will be conflict. Of course, it doesn’t say that, right? I mean, I often think that’s sort of the way it is sometimes because you’ve got people of all various different people, and we’re putting them all together. And so one of the things that we want to do is we want to point people to Jesus, because He is the one thing that unites all of us. We want to inspire people to follow Jesus and to make Him known as we live our core values and community. What we actually do is that we promote spiritual, emotional, and relational health for our staff and crew. We do assessments, we do spiritual formation, which is a really important part of what we do. And then we do member care and come alongside people. And we always aim to be objective. We want to be safe, we want to be impartial, in order to provide the best possible environment for spiritual growth and development. What would it look like if chaplaincy was doing a really, really great job in the organization — I think we envision a vibrant, healthy community where God is glorified and individuals discover and live out of their purpose. I think that’s why I was saying, how important it is to realize that when you come to Mercy Ships, you come thinking, Oh, I’ve got so much to give. But you then realize, oh, my gosh, I got so much. I can come to this organization to give, but at the same time, I’m going to discover and live up my purpose, or whatever. Don and Dion, who you’ve had on the podcast, they started Mercy Ships over 40 years ago. For others, it’s, it’s just a very short period of time. Maybe it’s just a few months or a few years. But I think that each one of us that comes, we can discover and live out our purpose. And so hopefully, if we’re doing a great job in chaplaincy, we’re working to inspire people to follow Jesus to live out the core values and community. And then we end up with this vibrant, healthy community with God is glorified and people live out and find and live out their purpose.
I think it’s wonderful that Mercy Ships is intentional with caring for their crew. And it’s true with any role onboard, it is the hardest job you’ll ever love. The speaking of intentional, our new ship, the Global Mercy was intentionally built not only with the patients in mind, but also the crew. Now, you’ve just been on the Global Mercy. So, tell us about this new ship and how it will facilitate spiritual growth and development for those on board.
The ship itself is just wonderful. It is purpose built. There’s a beautiful verse in Luke 2:52 and it says that Jesus grew in stature, in wisdom, and in favor with God and man. In other words, that’s a whole person development. He grew physically and stature. He grew in favor with God, which is spiritual development, he grew in favor with man, which is interpersonal development. And he grew in wisdom, which is intellectual development. So, when we have people coming to our ship, we’re cognizant of the fact that they are whole people, and that they have spiritual lives, they have a physical part of their being, they have a spiritual part, they have an emotional social part. And they have an intellectual part. And when I walked around the ship, I realized, gosh, we have got things on board that cater to every part of that. We have a beautiful chapel on the ship, which is dedicated for the worship of God, for personal devotionals personal reflection, and also for Team devotionals. It’s just a beautiful place. When I first went into it, I thought, oh, my gosh, this feels like a holy place and we’re going to be very excited when we’re in Rotterdam, the donor of the chapel, the person that actually donated money for the chapel is going to be in Rotterdam and we’re going to consecrate the chapel and have a service. We want to invite the Lord and the Holy Spirit to be in that place and to work in and through people that come into that place. But I could already sense that there was just a wonderful feeling as I walked into the chapel with a couple of really beautiful stained-glass windows there.
We have a really great international lounge where we have our main meetings and where we can have our Sunday services. The service is on Sunday evenings because we want to encourage people to go to local churches during those Sunday mornings. We also have a Thursday community gathering when we meet together in the international lounge just to share stories, to build up one another’s faith through testimony and through teaching, through spiritual formation, through encouragement, and through worship. We have great technology. But the other thing that we do is we’ve got lots of different meeting rooms where we can have people developing things that they do in the evenings together, like Bible studies and small groups and things like that which is very helpful for the crew, as well. And then we have a fantastic library, we have a lot of books. And of course, the technology is amazing, because we have technology now where we can pipe in people from all over. So we were not limited to just speakers that are onboard, but we can bring speakers in from internationally to speak through the wonders of technology. So I think the ship itself is just fantastic.
And then there’s the academy too, which I love the fact that families belong to crew, and they’re very, very important. I remember when I was young, and I was in school in South Africa, I was in boarding school there. And there was a young man that I met that I got really friendly with. And I finally found out that his parents were missionaries in Thailand. So he saw his parents once a year for about three weeks. And he was a troubled young man. And he played up a lot going into a lot of mischief and a lot of trouble. And I often thought to myself, that must be so hard. And I remember thinking to myself, I would like to be involved in missions in some way, but not if kids are not going to be part of the organization. I think that is so important. And I love the fact that we look after the littlest of our people, of our crew members. And so, we have a terrific school that that provides instruction, so the kids themselves are learning and they’re going to a Christian school, and they’re learning Bible. All the way through it sort of permeates how do we help people? How do we come alongside people? And how do we have spiritual development, spiritual formation, to help people with what they’re doing while they’re with us? And I think the new ship is really well suited to that, because it’s been purpose built with that kind of thing in mind.
I think it’s important probably to mention to anyone listening that it is not a requirement to be a Christian to come serve with Mercy Ships. However, we unashamedly say that yes, we follow the 2,000-year-old model of Jesus, and the heart of the organization is to bring glory to God, and we do this because of Jesus, and because of his love. But we welcome anybody to come and serve with us. What is one thing that you are most excited about in this new season of Mercy Ships as we bring two ships online? What are you most excited about in this new, this new chapter?
Thank you for saying what you just said, because I think is really important. No one is required to be a Christian, and certainly for our patients, there’s never a requirement for them to follow Christianity or in order for them to receive surgery. We will serve anyone regardless of where they are in their faith journey. And I think what is exciting for me because I think every one of us is on a journey. We’re on a life journey. Right? And I think personally, it’s harder to deny the existence of God than it is to accept the existence. And as a scientist, I mean, the complexities of life and the universe does kind of scream out that’s that there is intelligent design behind all of that. What I’m most excited about, as I’ll come back to, is what I said to you before, to see lives being transformed in our patients and in our crew, and people recognizing that they were put on this earth for a specific purpose. That they were able to, through Mercy Ships, they were able to find a little bit more of their purpose, to free it up and to focus it. I think that if we can do that, if we can help people, and this is not just not just helping our crew, but helping our patients also helping our incredible partners who give to this organization, because they feel that they’re called that this is their calling to do that. But if you can help people to find to free up and to focus the life that they were born to live, that to me is so exciting. And that’s pretty much what gets me out of bed every day. It’s what I love to be involved in. I was listening to an interview with Dr. Larry Crabb, an incredible biblical counselor who died recently, he was being interviewed. And he said he was going through a particularly tough time, and he felt the Lord say four things to him. And I want to leave the four things with those that are listening today. He said, he felt the Lord saying to him, personally, I want you, I am with you, I can use you, I’m coming for you. I want you, I’m with you, I can use you and I’m coming for you. And I would just say to all that are listening to this podcast, I feel like that’s what God is saying to you. He wants us, He created us, but we need to come to him. He’s with us. He’s promised to be with us no matter what even it says that when we go through trials, when we go through deep waters, when we go through fire, we will not be burned, we will not drown. He can use us if you’re sitting out there thinking, you know, can I use my talents? Contact us, tell us what you do. We need all sorts of people who make this organization function and work in our national offices, around the world, in on our ships and in our countries that we serve. And then the last thing, of course, is I’m coming for you. And ultimately, you know, we live our life knowing that one day will stand in the presence of the one who made us and what a wonderful thing if we can find out and free up and focus the reason that we were put on Earth in the first place.
Dr. Andrew, thank you so much for sharing your passion and your encouragement with us today. And thank you so much for 30 years of service with Mercy Ships.
No, thank you so much.
That was such a good word from Dr. Andrew. God wants you. He is with you. He can use you, and he is coming for you. If you’re looking for your passion and purpose, you just might find it on board one of our ships, go to Mercy ships.org/volunteer to find out how you can come on board. Next week we’ll hear from Merrill McKinsey, an OR nurse from Australia who will tell us all about the new hospital on the Global Mercy and the potential to transform even more lives.