Would You Pay for the Gift of Helping People? Check out Africa Mercy

by Shlomo Maital

Mercy ShipsDr. Gary Parker, Nurse Alley Chendra & patient


 Some 35 years ago, a Texas entrepreneur and devoted Christian named Don Stephens and his wife Deyon had an idea. Let’s create hospital ships, he said, and sail them to West Africa, to treat illnesses there that go untreated, while in the West they’re cured in hours. Stephens was inspired by the international hospital ship S.S. Hope.

“Stephens’ research showed that 95 of the 100 largest cities in the world were port cities. Therefore, a hospital ship could deliver healthcare very efficiently to large numbers of people. The birth of Stephens’ profoundly disabled son, John Paul, also inspired him to move forward with his vision of a floating hospital. A visit with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India, further deepened his commitment to serving the world’s neediest people.”

What emerged is a fleet of three hospital ships, including Africa Mercy, a 500 ft. ship with 8 decks and crew of 450, including 90 nurses, 15 surgeons and 8 operating rooms. Africa Mercy docks at ports in West Africa. In a recent 5 month period at port in Togo, 281 benign facial tumors were removed (causing terrible facial distortion, including ostracism, and often threatening death by strangulation), 34 cleft palates were repaired, and 794 blind people were given restored sight through cataract surgery.

What is Stephens’ business model? Companies sponsor the ships, and people PAY to work on it, including nurses and doctors, in part by raising donations in their home communities in the U.S. Surgeon Gary Parker has served on the ship for 26 years! And is raising his two sons on it, together with his wife. Nurse Alley Chendra also met her husband on board (“we call it ‘The Love Boat’, she says).

I still find it angering and unacceptable, that a 30-minute routine operation to restore sight by removing cataracts and replacing foggy lenses with plastic ones, should be unavailable to many of the world’s poor. But unlike me, Don Stephens did something about it. He chose to act, rather than sink into despair over his son. Some of the pictures of the African children and adults, faced terribly distorted by benign massive tumors, are hard to look at. But African Mercy is doing something about it.

It was recently featured on a segment of the CBS TV program Sixty Minutes.