by Dorothy McIlroy, Canada and Bermuda Territory
I first heard of Mercy Ships on a television broadcast. I was amazed to consider a floating hospital taking specialised health care to developing countries. Eventually I would volunteer with Mercy Ships in Liberia, but God needed to prepare me for this adventure.
I was not a complete stranger to ships. When I was 17 I wanted to join the Navy. My friend from school had joined and kept us supplied with stories of an exciting life. I believed the recruiting posters and glossy brochures which portrayed life in the armed forces as one long round of fun and adventure.
Consequently I woke up one morning as a fully-fledged member of the Women's Royal Naval Service. My job was clerical. My workplace was a ship complete with cabins, bulkheads (walls), deckheads (ceilings) and flights of stairs which never led upstairs or downstairs, but always 'up top' or 'down below'. Having grown up attending The Salvation Army in England, I had a head start on marching. I still love to march behind the band - Royal Marines or Salvation Army!
My spiritual life did suffer in the Navy; not because I didn't love the Lord and want to serve him, but because I didn't have a complete understanding of the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. I didn't know how to search for answers to my conflicts, and I didn't understand that the traditions taught in church were based on biblically sound principals. As a result, I began to mimic some of the world's thinking.
Eventually I ended up in a bad marriage. I needed to think through my understanding of God's idea of marriage. I now know that one man and one woman committed to each other for life is the only romantic relationship that God blesses.
About halfway through my time in the Navy I had an identity crisis. My work didn't fulfil me. God dropped into my mind the possibility of training as a nurse. In my younger years I was too shy to be a nurse, painfully shy. I had struggled to gain confidence. My naval training helped me to learn how to speak, sing and pray in public. I wondered if I could be a nurse now.
Amazingly, God did manage to make a nurse out of me. I moved to Toronto, Canada, and spent many years working in hospitals and volunteering with The Salvation Army in various ministries.
My thoughts turned to volunteering full-time when I took early retirement.
From top: Dorothy gives much more than required to a Liberian boy; Mercy Ships shares the Jesus film in a Liberian community
My thoughts turned to Mercy Ships - volunteers uniting in ministry from diverse nations to help people ravaged by civil war. Soon I was on a plane to Liberia.
I didn't know what to expect when I flew into Liberia. I knew that once it had been a proud nation with a good economy, and that ships from many nations had once flown the Liberian flag as their own.
I was completely unprepared for what I saw - bombed-out buildings and squalid shacks at the side of the road posing as homes and shops. The roads, with huge potholes in the tarmac, were impossible to travel at anything approaching a reasonable speed, even in a good vehicle. Africans with babies on their backs and huge burdens on their heads teemed in the streets; even children were plying their trade with enthusiasm and skill nearby the port. I focused my eyes on the big white ship in the distance.
It was on this ship that I?experienced some of the most significant events that have profoundly impacted my life. I have treated women with birth defects and seen patients blinded by eye conditions; even ostracised by their communities because of untreated birth defects. I have been in a prison with Mercy Ship volunteers as we gave spiritual care to people at the mercy of a terribly flawed justice system. In villages, I helped to show the Jesus film. What a privilege it has been to be right in the centre of God's will for my life, knowing that he never asks me to do anything for which he does not equip me.
Ships and hospitals - where does God get his great ideas from? Who but Almighty God could think of putting those two things together? And who but our loving God would come to earth and take the punishment for his erring children? What a mighty God we serve!