This week, we will celebrate our one-year anniversary of being on the m/v Africa Mercy! After five weeks of training in Texas followed by our three-week field service in Ghana last year, we joined the ship on August 2, 2012.
This vacation we just took over this past summer to go back home was our first return trip as a family since we left back on June 8, 2012. Being our first trip home, we encountered lots of amazing love and support and welcome… Lots of smiles and hugs…
And lots and lots of questions! (Which is good — we like questions! — we’d rather respond to what people really want to know than just guess and talk and bore everyone!).
One of the top questions we received was, “What is the hardest part about life on the ship?” Our answer to that question: living in community. We just didn’t anticipate how much of a challenge it was going to be to live in community.
Community life is hard. Our church building back home is roughly the size of the ship, and to give our friends and family a perspective, we told them, “Imagine you lived at the church, with about 450 other church members, and you spend all of your time with them, sharing every life activity with them, all within the physical confines of the church building itself.”
- you live together,
- work together,
- eat, worship, play, sleep, socialize.
- You serve together.
- You get hot together when the A/C is out.
- You stink together when water reserves are low, and the ship has to restrict laundry and showers.
- You get sick together when a flu goes around.
- You all long for chocolate and Coca-Cola together when the ship’s stores are running low.
- You all experience all of your lives — together!
Life was much easier back home, where I would drive to work — spend time with those people — then drive home. Then drive to church — spend time with those people — then drive home. Then drive to an event with friends — spend time with them — then drive home. Life is less complicated when you don’t muddle it all up with community.
On the ship, though, you don’t have a peaceful, solitary drive home at the end of a busy, hectic, stressful day.
And one thing about being the HR Manager is that people generally don’t come visit my office to tell me how great their job is and how wonderful their lives are onboard! Many of my office visitors tend to be mad or upset or hurt or disappointed — and usually about something that will have a serious impact on their whole lives. (HR issues here do not just impact one’s professional careers, but also their home, where they live, their community, their relationships, their holistic calling to the ship — it’s all tied up in their actual employment onboard…)
In my work, I get to have a lot of hard conversations with people — quite regularly. And it would be one thing if at the end of the day, I could lock up my office, walk out to the parking lot, and head home in the refreshing privacy of my car. But on the ship, when I lock my office door at the end of the day, I walk down the hallway to the dining room, where I will now eat dinner with all those people I had to have hard conversations with.
Then I’ll go upstairs and share in a worship service with all those same people.
Then we’ll all go up to the top deck and hang out with our kids and enjoy watching the sunset together.
Every corridor, every staircase, every gathering and function and event — all filled with people I’ve gotten to interact with in my job. Many times with positive outcomes, but many other times with very difficult and uncomfortable outcomes. And it’s hard.
And it’s the same for all of us onboard!
- Our Crew Physician lives with all his patients!
- The Academy teachers live among all of their students!
- Our Chaplains live together with all those they pastor and counsel!
We all share in the hardships and difficulties of our common community life, together.
So that first popular question from friends back home — “What is the hardest part about life on the ship?” and it’s answer: living in community — almost always leads into this follow-up question: “So what is the best part about life on the ship?”
My answer: living in community.
Yes, it’s both the hardest part AND THE BEST PART! — all at the same time!
Why the best? …Well, I’ll tell you in my next blog post… Boom! Cliffhanger! :-)