West Africa (MNN) — The Ebola crisis is causing compound health concerns. Mercy Ships operates the world’s largest civilian hospital ship in ports of West Africa. They provide health care months at a time from the basics to surgeries. However, they are unequipped to treat viral epidemics like Ebola.
President and founder of Mercy Ships, Don Stephens, explains how the virus forced them to cancel a trip to Guinea where the sickness began showing up in April.
Mercy Ships set their sights on Benin next where no confirmed cases of Ebola have been reported.
But now, Stephens says, “We have delayed our departure to Africa.”
The team monitors the situation regularly to be certain they’re not sending their crew into danger.
“The safety of our crew is utmost, it’s paramount. We view that we have a pastoral protective role as well as serving and showing mercy as we follow the model of Jesus in the countries we serve,” Stephens says.
While they are making their decision, Mercy Ships is re-calibrating their propellers to make sure they are getting proper fuel usage.
Meanwhile, “All of our department heads are involved in meetings as we make the adjustments in protocols and service for when we do arrive in Africa,” Stephens says.
The work to get the ship to port and begin ministering to the people in the area is expansive.
Stephens says, “When we’re fully staffed, [we have] approximately 400 people on board from 40 nations with up to 60 children. So it’s like a beehive of activity with everyone having their specified job description.
“And one of the many beauties is everyone’s there for a common purpose. We’re there following the model of Jesus, bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor. And when you work shoulder to shoulder with others of a common vision, common purpose, it’s very wonderful.”
Stephens shares that their ministry is organized to minister to people in a similar way that Jesus did. Stephen’s explains one hand is for helping and the other is for proclaiming truth. “As we follow the model of Jesus, we bring hope and healing. Hope is the very nature of the Good News. That’s who we are, that’s why we exist. The healing is what happens in the wards or in the surgical room. So those two are linked together.”
It takes 18-24 months to plan out a deployment to a country.
“We begin collaborating and communicating with all of the mission hospitals, mission agencies, ministry of health, churches, church leaders, as we prepare to best serve the host nation when the ship arrives,” Stephens says.
Often the host government advertises the arrival to their people through pictures. Many people in target countries are illiterate.
But for now, Mercy Ships has to wait for the okay to drop anchor in Benin. And thousands on shore are waiting for medical help. But during the wait, there is something we all can be doing: pray. Pray that God will protect Mercy Ships, their crew, and those that they minister to. Pray that they would be able to head to Benin soon. Ask God to minister and prepare the hearts of those who are waiting for medical care.
Stephens adds to this: “Many of us, myself included, we want to pray, plus: ‘What else can we do?’ Sometimes praying is enough. Sometimes it’s only the beginning. So, the ‘what else’ everyone can do is: we can give. We can be part of the face of Jesus as these drugs and supplies are delivered.”
One of Stephens’ friends mentioned that Mercy Ships is in a situation like Daniel in the lion’s den. If Benin is where God leads Mercy Ships, He will be in control of their safety. He is the one who has power over all things.
And at the same time, He may choose to keep Mercy Ships out of Benin because of the danger.
“God didn’t have Daniel put his head in the lion’s mouth even though he was in the lion’s den,” Stephens says.
He says that Ebola is a game-changer, that it has been around for a long time. He says it will affect all of us and even show up in major U.S. cities. But Stephens is not scared. He is moved to act.
“I don’t subscribe to the panic and fear that’s in a lot of the news media. The medical science of Ebola is containable; we have drugs that are working. So, I would encourage the Body of Christ to have a measured, reasoned approach to Ebola.” Stephens also stresses showing compassion.
Mercy Ships has more information on how you can respond to the Ebola situation here.