With her permission, I am writing about my wife’s experiences with the Christian charity, Mercy Ships. Come aboard the Anastasis, a ship gone to history but doubtless not forgotten by the many dedicated people who served onboard. What was it like to have this experience? Let’s find out…
There is another life for me across the sea, beyond the horizon. It is beyond my comprehension. I can see it just a little in people who have been there and come back different, changed, better. I am looking across the horizon now and I am focusing on a ship as it gradually approaches Brisbane. It is a container ship pregnant with maybe cars or other consumer goods. I wonder what life will be like contained within the metal walls of a ship. I will be heading out to sea myself but first I have to say goodbye. My father, a quiet and deliberative man is not given to strong manifestations of emotion. My brother is also a restrained presence. I know that they will miss me and that I will miss them. They are good people but it is time to say goodbye. I have done this before. I have been here before, saying goodbye and wondering what will come next.
I said goodbye years before when I began my epic journey in my little car to an exotic location across the horizon. Brisbane to Adelaide seems like a small journey compared to what I am about to embark on but at the time it was all new to me. I would work as a vet for many years before I decided to say goodbye to that life. I said goodbye to my mother when she left this life too early. That goodbye was protracted and painful. That was four years ago now. It is 1993. It is time to go. I think that I will be away for a few months. I think that those months will change me. They will, but months will turn to years and the years will take me so far away that from where I am now that today will seem like a dream that happened to someone else. Across the sea another life beckons. My new home will be a ship but my new life will not be contained within its metal walls. That lies beyond my comprehension at the moment. So let me tell you what I thought I knew then about my new home, the Anastasis.
The Anastasis was the hospital ship used by the Christian humanitarian organisation, Mercy Ships. Anastasis is the Greek word for resurrection. I would come to life serving on this ship but that is all ahead of me now as I begin my long journey to meet her. She started life as an Italian Ocean Liner in 1953. After extensive renovations she would become a specialist Hospital ship from 1978 to 2007. Sitting in Brisbane airport in 1993 I am about to fully leave behind my speciality. I still wonder what a burnt-out vet can offer the world. The extensive renovations within me are yet to occur so along with my bags I have a portion of old anxiety to carry with me. I won’t be renamed like the ship but I will constantly be repurposed on board. None of this is visible to me as I sit in the airport. Airports would become familiar territory over the next few years.
I fly Brisbane to Singapore, Singapore to Madrid, Madrid to Teneriffe. I sleep the last portion of the journey and wake on the plane as we descend to Tenerife. The sight of a snow covered volcano outside the rounded window makes me doubt that I am on the right aircraft. Later that day I would doubt if I am the right person for this new life when I can’t open the doors on an elevator. All elevators open automatically all over the world don’t they? I sleep walk into a city that is an eclectic mixture of old and new. I can’t speak the language and I have three days before I can enter the ship which is already docked in port. I will just be a student on the ship. My initial tenure is five months. I haven’t set foot on the ship but I am already adrift in a sea of unfamiliar faces and customs. I seek the familiar and eat at MacDonald’s. The comfort food sustains me. I haven’t yet understood how much the unfamiliar can nurture me. That lies ahead. Tomorrow I will step on board the Anastasis and the wider world of Mercy Ships.