With her permission, I am writing about my wife’s experiences with the Christian charity, Mercy Ships. This is part three.
I had mostly forgotten about the awkward self consciousness that happened when I first stood up to the public scrutiny of performing in front of people. I am back on the Canary Islands. After my first three months on the ship it was time to serve Mercy Ships on dry land. When I chose to be part of this outreach team I thought I would have been able to hide my face and speak through puppets to children. The reality in front of me was not the reality I envisaged in my head. I am performing to Spanish speaking adults and I know that my face could be revealing my feelings and my body is probably looking dorky. But with Mercy ships when there is a job to do, we learn to forget about ourselves and just get it done. This challenge would seem trivial after I had spent ten years with Mercy Ships. But it is still 1994 and I am illustrating the gospel message wearing garishly bright baggy trousers and a white tee shirt while a handful of people and a startled dog watch us. I could treat the dog if necessary as I have been formally trained as a Veterinary Surgeon. But I am operating on a different level today standing on this beach outside in the sun, outside of my comfort zone. The strange thing is that I am learning so much by doing the thing that was not my first choice. I came to serve on a ship but here I am back where it all started on the island where I first came on board the Anastasis.
The Canary Islands lie 100 km west of Morocco. This subtropical place is a collection of eight main islands that is geographically part of Africa but politically and economically connected to Spain. Before I left the ship to travel across these islands I had to decide what role I would play when I came onboard again. I gravitated to what I thought I knew. As well as choosing the ship drama team as one of my preferences, I also chose working in Reception. Some of the Reception duties would be similar to what I have done as a Vet. I can answer the phone, I can greet people, but would the reality in my head match the reality I would experience? I enjoyed my time on the Canary Islands but I was also very keen to step back onboard the ship. We spent one uncomfortable night sleeping at an airport because we had arrived late in the day and our connecting trip to another island was very early the following morning. I could never know when I would step outside of my comfort zone. I did know that this new life was for me because after the fact it felt good to be a little stretched.
Stepping into a new life takes time and it was in this time and on these islands that I had to continue to take baby steps into forgetting myself and just acting confident. Feeling confident would come after acting confident. In drama there was a lot of acting. I remember almost stepping into the path of a car when crossing a road as they drove on the opposite side of the road to what I was used to in Australia. So yes I soon sensed the need to be cautious as I stepped into my new life on the ship. It could be exhilarating and challenging at the same time.
Reception would be my first job on the Anastasis. In Reception I would see so many people file on board the ship. Many had their faces deformed by life threatening illness and I could see in their faces fear and hope. Many had been shunned because of what they looked like and in some communities people believed that their illness was the result of demon possession. Just the act of stepping onboard a ship took bravery as many had never been in a large structure in their life. I would see many of these people file off the ship healed, their faces changed forever. I would be forever changed by my time aboard the ship. I would eventually run Reception myself but in 1994 I could not know that this would be just the start of a long journey that would take me to so many places. As I forgot about how I might be perceived by others, I gained the freedom to choose my next Mercy Ships adventure some days and on other days be ok when the adventure chose me.