New Mercies: Heilke de Heer
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Living in a Place of Hope

Heilke de Heer left her home in the Netherlands to board the Africa Mercy in Dakar, Senegal. She originally came as a receptionist but has willingly volunteered wherever there is a need. Currently, she is serving in the communications department as a media liaison, enjoying meeting new people and giving them a taste of what Mercy Ships is all about.

In this episode Heilke shares how seeing love in action impacted her. She also tells of the joys of volunteering on board the Global Mercy while the ship was in her home country of the Netherlands, and how the atmosphere of hope touches everyone who comes on board. 

Heilke is passionate about living intentionally and her words will inspire you to do the same.

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:

Heilke, welcome to New Mercies. I am so excited to have you on the podcast today. And you’re coming to us from the Global Mercy in the Canary Islands. So welcome.

Heilke de Heer:

Thank you Raeanne, shalom.

Raeanne:

Heilke, why don’t you start off and tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? And also, how did your Mercy Ships journey begin?

Heilke:

Yes, of course, I’m from the Netherlands originally. And I’m from a smaller town, and grew up there with kind of outdoor life with four brothers and sisters. And I would say, a comfortable life, not knowing too much about what is happening on the mission fields. We did go to different countries and you know, we would visit all these places, but you definitely see a certain part of countries if you only go for holiday. And so I would say I lived a comfortable life. And I worked in an internet marketing agency at that time. And at the same time, I really saw that as working and living in the kingdom of God. I was really convinced that that is a place that is so underestimated and super important to have confessing Christians. And that was kind of the life before as I would call it.

How did my Mercy Ships journey begin? For me it started with a video and one of these videos was a seven-minute video about Keith Green. And at that time, I didn’t know anything about this man or his ministry. But this was a video in which he was speaking to a large crowd of young people. And he recently went through certain missions and he just saw the need in the world. And he tried to communicate that and make sure that people understood that this need in the world is actually the responsibility of us. So he clearly stated, all the souls in the world that we have at this moment, it’s our responsibility as Christians, so for me, it was very clear. He said, there is one little command in the Bible that we often forget, and that is — Go! Go and make disciples of all nations. And he said, I don’t want you to stand that day before the throne of God and say, I haven’t heard you calling because this call is clear. And for me, that was so touching. I can say I’m kind of a person that likes it written, and this is something that is written in the Bible. And it is a command. And this was the first moment that I was awakened, maybe I can say it that way. The commandment to go into the world touched me and from that moment on, I started to pray and seek the face of the Lord and see which mission because there are so many. It was overwhelming, but Mercy Ships came my way multiple times and I see that as confirmation. In a magazine ad, people talking at my church, Mercy Ships kept coming up. And so these things I really saw as confirmation that this was the direction and I should quit my job and go. And afterwards, I actually discovered that Keith Green did this message on the video that I saw after he visited the Anastasis and it was so beautiful to see that all woven together.

Raeanne:

That’s so neat. Now, you said that Mercy Ships kind of kept popping up in your world through a magazine and different things you heard, but what was it about Mercy Ships specifically that captured your heart?

Heilke:

It was medical. I was not interested. My background is not medical and I don’t even connect with Africa, I really have an interest in the Middle East and in this part of the world. So actually, all of these, these things that you would say need to connect, didn’t connect. But it was clearly the name that came back over and over. And when you ask for confirmation and God gives it, then you must go even when you don’t understand.

Raeanne::

When did you get on board? And what were you doing when you first got on board at the Africa Mercy?

Heilke:

When I first got on the Africa Mercy it was in Senegal, and I came on board as receptionist. And that was perfect for me because my language was still a struggle. And at reception, you have many people coming to the desk and phone calls and things happening, so I could learn quickly. And it was also very helpful to get to know the crew and their names because people came to reception for their cabin key, vehicle key, or just all these questions.

Raeanne:

You said that, at first, there wasn’t anything that really connected you to Mercy Ships. But eventually, over time, there was. When was that moment that things changed for you, and you felt connected to the mission?

Heilke:

I don’t know at what time, but what really struck me after observing for a while, is seeing what love and action does. And as I said, I was very much on Scripture and knowing everything, and this was still very important to me. But with Mercy Ships, I discovered that people’s lives are changed from the inside out because they experience love. And this is something that was so powerful in the community. This is also something that is not stopped by the walls of denominations or different backgrounds. This is one part that I started loving. So for a practical example, I felt more called to an organization that was sharing the word in preaching and sharing the written word of God. And I didn’t see that happening in Mercy Ships. So that was for me, at first something that I didn’t connect with, but after observing, I saw, actually, people get in touch with the people of God. And if we are truly changed in our hearts, this is a different world. This is the kingdom, you know. And I also saw that over time, how many people actually are connected with the word, but I just didn’t see it firsthand. So, this is something that changed. For me, the vision of Mercy Ships is also more focused on long-term change in the African nations, the working together with Africa, and there is this whole preparation time before we go to a nation and all the work that happens. I really admire putting so much time in building relationships, because you know, systems are built this way. And if change is needed, then you need to dig deep. And that takes patience. If you compare that with missions that just go for a few weeks, this is really investing long term and digging deep into a culture and relation building with nations.

Raeanne:

Well, as a receptionist, you obviously got to meet a lot of people as they came in and off the ship. What was the highlight for you in your time serving in reception?

Heilke:

A highlight was definitely early in the morning when day crew arrived. It was mostly dark because you work shift work. So if you work the night shift, you will work from 12 until 7 and early in the morning, around 5, day crew would arrive. And that’s a joyful moment, because it has been quiet in the night, you’re getting tired, and you’re ready to go to bed, and then they arrive and they’re joyful, and they are ready to start the day. Wow. And they all greet you and they know you by name and friendships were built at that time. So that was a highlight. I think just the connections with people who come by to say hi and have a small chat is a highlight.

Raeanne:

So you worked in reception for how long? And then are you currently working in reception?

Heilke:

I’m currently not working in reception. I worked in reception for a year and a half and then we had to leave Senegal early than expected and we had a very small crew and the crew took up multiple jobs so everyone did different things. I still worked with reception and at the same time, I helped out as a tech engineering administrator and then sometimes in the café. It was a very special time in which I could discover different departments. But my main role was receptionist all the time. And when I moved to the Global Mercy, I moved to the communications department as a media liaison. And that’s my current role.

Raeanne:

So what do you do as a media liaison?

Heilke:

Media Liason is responsible for organizing and hosting media trips and business visitors, also called vision trips. Vision trips are really giving a taste of what it is to be on board and seeing the work of Mercy Ships firsthand. So people who are already partnering with us for a long time have the opportunity to come to the ship, and I’m the person who is going to arrange everything for them, and host them while they are on board. Similar for media trips, there are many channels around the world who would like to give a glimpse of what it is like on board, and we give the chance to them to see more on board, and then I will be the person being with them.

Raeanne:

Give us a little example of something that you’ve done as a media liaison.

Heilke:

A good example would be the many media outlets that came when our ship was in Rotterdam. You know, you have the news, who is very interested what this big ship is doing in in Rotterdam. And they submitted their request to come on board, and I hosted them with the families or the spokesperson that they were going to talk with. We also had the honor of having the royal princess of the UK on board. This was a big event to get organized and we got many volunteers involved, she was very interested in talking with our volunteers. As a media liaison, you’re very much in the background, arranging everything, and making sure that person who is actually on the vessel and is visiting is getting the best taste, the most realistic view of what Mercy Ships is really about. And sometimes that means that they want to meet people, sometimes that means they want to have in depth conversations with people. And so you try to work closely with the teams that are coming to make sure that the visit is going well for them.

Raeanne:

So being in Rotterdam in the Netherlands, that is your home country, so was that fun for you to be in your home country with the ship and get to share that with your country?

Heilke:

For me, it was very special to sail into the country because before that moment, these worlds were still separated. So I had my life in the Netherlands before. And I had life on the ships. And that was far away from the Netherlands. And all of a sudden when we sailed in, we were up in the bridge and approaching the Netherlands and I got the first calls of some family members who were at the closest points where the ship was sailing in. And they were coming and saying, are you seeing us and they were super small, of course. So we had to really search for them and wave and it was so joyful to see these two worlds connected. And then all of a sudden, I was with the ship with my ship family in my country, you know with my own language and the place that is so familiar to me. Rotterdam is quite close to my hometown. So it was very special to sail in and to be there for two weeks.

Also as a media liaison, I remember once on the Canary Islands, we had a news broadcaster from the island coming to have some interviews with crew. We just wrapped up the interviews in the bridge with one of our officers and then she came to me and she was a little bit moved. And I said “Are you okay?” And she said yes. She said, usually, as a news reporter, I go to places that are hopeless, you know, I go to places where things go wrong, things are negative. And she said this is the first time I come to a place where there’s hope. And this gives me hope, you know, as a person, and I was touched because I thought, Oh, this is true. It’s not only patients, it’s not only crew, but it’s even news reporters or business visitors who come on board and they all of a sudden see hope here and think, is there something more? It was very touching to me.

Raeanne:

There’s so much going on onboard the ships that is for the good and there is so much hope in a world that is hopeless. You come to a place where there is hope and it’s a stark contrast, you know, people notice it like this news reporter, she gets on board and she goes, something’s different about this place. And it’s true because we’re living for the positive outcome, we are achieving the goal of bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. And so it is a place of hope. And people experience that when they come on board.

Heilke:

I’ve experienced it. And I have to say, this kingdom life on board, it doesn’t go unnoticed. I truly believe that even for those who wouldn’t talk about it, it doesn’t go unnoticed.

Raeanne:

What are some of the things that you love about life on a ship?

Heilke:

One thing that I really like is that we don’t have to be on the road that much in order to get from A to B. On the ship, everything is very close by so from my cabin, to the dining room, to my work, to my church, to my friends, that’s all just a few decks apart, you just have to walk the stairs. That’s it. And so I really liked that, because I think this creates a life on board that is very intentional, because you spend much time with the same people. And although some of them, they will just be in your life for a few months and then they leave again, but the time that they were here, and you were together, is very intentional. You know, if you want to see a person, you don’t have to think about transportation, or you don’t have to think about is it really worth it to drive an hour to see a person for 50 minutes and go back? You don’t have to think that way. So I really liked that part.

Raeanne:

It does make relationships a lot easier, because everyone is more accessible.

What’s something you’ve learned from living on a ship?

Heilke:

What I really learned on board a ship is how to tell where you are in the ship. So for instance, you have staircases, they all have a color and a letter and you know exactly where it is. So when you are in aft and the starboard and the portside, all these things I never knew about because it’s a whole different vocabulary.

Raeanne:

Since your time being on board, how have you seen lives changed?

Heilke:

Yeah, the most powerful is seeing the hearts of people being changed. So when you see a person coming on board, they may be very shy. And after a while just being so engaged in the community, you see the whole person just coming out. For me, it’s very powerful to observe that, to see what a community full of love and acceptance can do to personalities, because people are so different. Everyone has a different upbringing. And for me, it’s very powerful to observe that slow change, because for me, I relate that to a very slow change that most likely is also going to stay, you see if something is all of a sudden changed, that can also be obviously changed again, it’s slowly and steady that is really lasting. That’s, for me, the most powerful. And I’m thinking also of those who are coming on board, who are non-Christians, and yet just kind of thrown into this, and especially those who have the courage to come to a Bible study, or to one of the Church services or have one of these crucial conversations like what do you actually believe? It’s so powerful to see how hearts can be changed. And this has lasting impact for me, it’s very powerful to observe that and see that happening with crew coming on board. And it can also be those who are believers already. But just come for instance, from an environment that is very task oriented, and most of those people, and I can relate to that, come on board can be very annoyed by the processes and the way things go here and oh, it’s so not efficient, you know? And then after awhile, you come to the realization that it isn’t about getting as many projects finished as possible in this lifetime? But is it really about each person that you meet every day? Could this be? It is my deepest desire and I’ve seen here on board, the change in hearts of people that glorifies God. And I really love to observe that and be part of it, and it’s so beautiful to see that happening here on board.

Raeanne:

Well, how has your life changed because of volunteering with Mercy Ships?

Heilke:

My life has changed a lot in perspective and my mindset that things need to be biblical, and it’s very much on what is written, I still love that and it’s still close to my heart, but what I’ve learned here on board, that there’s much more that it’s super valuable and very important to have conversations and listen to people, like Jesus did. And I really like this passage, I keep it with me always — when Jesus when he was 12, he went into the temple, it’s written that he asked questions, and he listened. And then after that, it’s written that they were amazed by his knowledge, did he preach?

This is something that I’ve learned on board when you ask questions, and you listen, you learn a lot. No one is the same. Everyone is created so uniquely here on board, and I’ve learned so much and have a different worldview now. People come from different backgrounds. And I’m also coming from a background which is just not the norm, you know, and that’s eye-opening, to realize that I’ve learned so much. It’s very practical. Everything is in prayer. I like that. That is for many communities, you know, you start in prayer each day, but also with your colleagues or even in the most practical things in your work. If we have to come up with a creative idea and it doesn’t work out, we pray, this is so intertwined with daily life. I really like that as well. And I see that as very powerful.

Raeanne:

Thank you so much for sharing some of your Mercy Ships journey with us today. Thank you so much for just enlightening us and inspiring us to be people who ask questions and listen.

Heilke:

Yeah, thank you so much for your time and speak to you later.

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 the countries we serve.

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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