Celebrating the holidays onboard the Africa Mercy

The decorated Christmas tree stands over a collection of gifts. Stockings hang over a fireplace or sit on a table waiting to be discovered before Christmas breakfast. There’s a magic in the air on Christmas morning as most households wake to celebrate this special time with family and loved ones.

For many of the volunteers onboard the Africa Mercy, Christmas looks different this year. Instead of dealing with big box stores and holiday traffic, they are living on a hospital ship off the coast of the West African country of Senegal. The weather is warm, mainly in the 80s, but that doesn’t hinder the spirit of the holidays.

For those volunteering with Mercy Ships, Christmas is a special time to celebrate the birth of our savior. Jesus Christ is the heart of the Mercy Ships mission, and the crew onboard the Africa Mercy has been celebrating through friendship and worship since the beginning of December.

In honor of the birth of Jesus, the Chaplaincy department onboard the ship is providing Sundays of Advent, with Advent candles of peace, hope, joy, love, and Christ being lit every week. During these services, crew from around the world share scriptures to encourage those attending, before celebrating through songs.

And celebrations continue throughout the week as well! With 400 volunteers from around the world serving at any time onboard the Africa Mercy, volunteers have seen many different holiday traditions, including a visit from Sinterklaas, a Netherland’s tradition.

“As a Dutch family, Sinterklaas is a big celebration with a lot of goodies and presents,” Janetta Voogd, a volunteer from the Netherlands, said. “We write poems for each other and make jokes. There is a lot of creativity that comes out as we celebrate this with our family! I have never had as big of a Christmas season as I see on the ship!”

The night before Christmas, the crew put their shoes outside their cabin doors for Sinterklaas to visit and leave small presents, notes, and cards.

While Christmas shopping is limited living onboard a ship, volunteers and their families are able to enjoy a Christmas Baazar full of handmade items and homemade treats.

“The Baazar started with an awesome musical bit by some of the deck crew before the market opened,” Raeanne Newquist, a volunteer from the United States, said. “It was an absolute blast! I did quite a bit of shopping!”

Since surgeries are not scheduled during the holiday week, some volunteers are also able to go off-ship to travel a bit.

“This is the only time in the field service we can do this, so that is always a highlight,” Voogd said. “I think it’s important to have a break from the intense lives we have.”

While Christmas may not come with the same trimmings as many would get back home, our dedicated volunteer staff still share their love of the holidays and their unique celebration of Christ’s birth with a cheerful heart!

This holiday season we ask you to keep those we serve and who serve with us in your prayers. Wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!