Dear Paula,
I'm a piping petrochemical engineer in Houston who's used to going where I want and doing what I please; yet I feel that the Lord is speaking to me about working with the Anastasis. I know that major culture shock is coming down the pipes. Can you give me any tips?
—Dorothy Logans
Dear Dorothy,
You're the first piping petrochemical engineer I've ever corresponded with. The most important thing is to be convinced that the Lord is directing you here. If you're sure he is, that's all that really matters, for his directing is always an excellent thing. So pray, Dorothy, take a deep breath, and dare to believe.
—Paula Kirby, Media Liaison

The Anastasis

The piping petrochemical engineer followed the advice of 13-year Anastasis veteran missionary Paula Kirby: 48-year-old Dorothy prayed fervently, took a deep breath, and dared to believe God wanted her to be a missionary. Within weeks, Dorothy was busily dismantling the pillars of the hard-earned existence she had built, choosing instead a life on a missionary ship.

One friend took her furniture, another her clothes, and a third, her car. An uncle died, leaving money that helped finance this radical move. Many looked on in disbelief as the avowed careerist casually gave away all she owned. It took Dorothy a few brief months to strip her life to its bare bones. Finally, dispossessed of career, home, and worldly goods, she booked a flight to Germany to join the Anastasis, flagship of the Mercy Ships ministry, the maritime arm of Youth with a Mission (YWAM).

After the five months of training required for all long-term applicants to Mercy Ships at a YWAM Discipleship Training School (DTS), Dorothy served on outreaches in Albania, Sierre Leone, Europe, and Senegal. But it was in Sierre Leone that Dorothy began to sense God's transformation of her heart. Teams from the Anastasis were working in Kroo Bay, near Freetown, a community of 4,000 people. As they shared the gospel, the missionaries built latrines, taught the inhabitants of Kroo Bay about hygiene and disease, and tried to wean them from the occult, prostitution, and drugs.

One day Dorothy stood on a hill and looked down at this community. All she could see was a landscape littered with smoke, mud shacks, open sewage, debris, and despair. While she knew positive changes were happening in other parts of Sierra Leone, as she looked at this community, she became angry with God. How on earth could he forget these people? How could human beings be expected to live like this?

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Over the next few days, she received her answers. God had not forgotten these people, because the Anastasis had come to Kroo Bay, bringing hundreds of Christians from all over the world who were daily ministering in his name. And most amazing of all, she, Dorothy, was there. God had somehow taken an independent woman on a successful career track and turned her into an evangelist in Africa. Her life had been transformed from one of single-minded ambition and earthly purpose to one of apparent aimlessness, as she drifted from one country to another to serve the needy. And it was in Kroo Bay that she realized there was no turning back.


On any given outreach of the Anastasis, there are about 400 people like Dorothy aboard, men and women who left what they were doing in the mainstream of society to serve as volunteer crew on the 12,700-ton, 522-foot vessel. The world's largest nongovernmental hospital ship, the Anastasis has three fully equipped operating rooms, a dental clinic, a laboratory, and x-ray units to perform the thousands of corrective surgeries the ministry provides. While there are many doctors, nurses, and dentists aboard, medical professionals are just a portion of the work force. There are also carpenters, cleaners, cooks, engineers, teachers, communications staff, housekeepers, and kitchen personnel, among others.

I met Dorothy and many other crew members of the Anastasis earlier this year. The ship was moored in Tema, West Ghana, on a five-month outreach to the port region and outlying villages. I had flown to Ghana to spend a week aboard the ship, to discover firsthand what life was like on a missionary ship and why people chose such a life.

Sitting on the harbor front of Tema with Dorothy, a slender African American with an unusual combination of wired, taut energy and tranquility, I asked her more questions about her lifestyle change, how it had come about. She struggled with the words at first, but then they tumbled out: how the still, small voice of God had pierced the din of her existence as an engineering executive in Houston; how, in the midst of projects, deadlines, and the general chaos of fast-track living, he had illuminated the shadowy outline of another way ahead.

"I've always had great jobs. I went into engineering, then construction, and I ended up running my own company. At the same time, I was also always doing Christian projects, like turning around a nursing home. But the year before I came to the ship, I began to feel tired. I mean tired. I was angry with the way life was, with the suffering and the sin. And I was frustrated by my inability to change any of it."

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One day, sitting in the office of a Christian friend, Dorothy expressed her desire for a new direction in life. He pointed to a picture hanging on the wall of a woman holding a child. The woman was Paula Kirby. "Why not join the ship Paula is on?" he suggested. For some reason, the suggestion felt right.

A few days later, Dorothy was at work in the drafting room when "all the lights came on and I had a real bolt of insight as to what I felt God wanted me to do. After that, the doors just flew open. And from the first moment I saw the ship in Germany, I felt as though I had come home."

Dorothy's description of her new life seemed too good to be true; I asked her if she struggled with any personal issues. "Health is probably my biggest worry," she said. "And sometimes, I struggle with fear. I'll start thinking, I'm crazy. This stuff is for kids. What am I doing with my life? I should be thinking about a pension. It took me a while to come to grips with that, but I talked it out with older Christians who have taken all kinds of risks and who trust God deeply. And I made it over a few of those hurdles."

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We stacked our chairs and walked up the gangway of the Anastasis, which swept up behind us like a luminous, white cliff. I traveled through the ship's long, sinewy corridors in search of my cabin, feeling as Alice in Wonderland must have felt as she slipped down the hole into another world. My cabin was small even for one person, and I tried to imagine sharing the space with two others as many do on the ship, where just getting time in the shower required ingenuity. What was it like to live on board for months on end?


Except for the fact that the Anastasis had the feel of a floating village, life aboard ship seemed much like that of any community. One evening, on the way back to my cabin, I noticed a big piece of colored paper taped to the corridor wall. "A. I'm sorry. Please forgive me. TD." I could not help wondering who A and TD were and what TD had done to A in the first place. I thought about the tolerance required to navigate such levels of intimacy for weeks and months, years even, and wondered how many others had struggled to come to terms with the heat, the confined quarters, the newness of the environment.

While the policy of giving more cabin space on board the Anastasis to married couples with families seemed perfectly understandable, several of the singles admitted it was hard if you were in your thirties or forties suddenly to find yourself in a tiny cabin with one, often two, others. But Dorothy said that if she ever felt psychologically confined, all she had to do was go up on deck and look out to sea; it had an instant calming effect. There was an unwritten code aboard the Anastasis that if someone was sitting quietly on deck or staring into space, they were not to be interrupted. Quiet time was sacrosanct.

While families had more cabin space, they also had other issues to deal with, such as nurturing the family unit in a communal environment. "It's definitely a challenge," said registered nurse Karen Henderson, mother of three teenagers. "You have to be strict on insisting on family time as the kids invariably want to spend all their spare time with their friends. And you can't yell for them up the stairs like you can at home."

Despite the confined space, in my week on the ship I never once heard anyone raise his or her voice to another person. People were unfailingly gracious and polite, concerned and considerate. If there were those who were biting hard on their tongues to prevent saying something they might regret, they did a good job of hiding it.

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Paula noted that peace aboard the ship existed because everyone understood the dynamics of humility. "No couple, family, or community can last for long unless people can acknowledge faults and try to live out forgiveness," she said. "Conflicts build when people are too proud to acknowledge they might be wrong and are unable to say they are sorry." Departmental devotions or worship meetings, held on a regular basis, gave members of a particular department the chance to discuss personal worries, while the larger, communal worship meetings held several times a week also presented ongoing opportunities for discussion and fellowship.

A diversity of religious traditions peppered the Anastasis crew; I met Baptists, Catholics, Pentecostals, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Presbyterians, Mennonites, and Methodists. But all, apparently, lived tolerantly together. Said Bing Henderson, Karen's husband and one of the ship's doctors, "Here you get the idea how the Lord sees his church: as one body with a common purpose and a common call."

The crew also shared a common responsibility to raise support for crew fees, usually in the range of $250 a month per person. For many people, this dependence on others was one of the toughest issues with which they wrestled. After years of earning a living and paying one's way, it was hard and humbling to appeal suddenly to family, friends, and churches for ongoing financial support. "It was the hardest thing we had to do, but we had to do it," said Karen. It was the only way the ship could offer for as little as $100 surgeries that would cost at least $6,000 to $10,000 in the United States.


We headed for the village of Asutsuare in the Dangme region, where the ship ran a medical clinic three days a week. As we sped past small family compounds-huts made out of concrete slabs with roofs of dried palm and grass-I could see some signs of farming: neatly pegged lanes ready for seeds. Soon the vegetation became more dense. Fat, curly palms lapped around papaya and statuesque baobab trees.

At Asutsuare, the village square was thronged with people waiting to be seen at the medical clinic, a sparse, plain building, where three doctors from the ship, with the aid of interpreters, examined patients. Outside the clinic, children lined up to give urine samples. "The big problem with children is the schistosomiasis parasite," explained medical coordinator Daslin Small. "It breeds in snails in the river and gets into the skin and eventually wrecks the kidneys and other vital organs." She explained that while medication helped, the real issue was how to stop the children playing in the river. I began to appreciate how enormous the problem was when I saw laughing, naked children splashing each other in the river, unaware of any danger.

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I also had a personal encounter with a traditional village latrine. Behind a rough grouping of vegetation, the ground was dug out to form an open pit, a solitary wooden board planted across the center. Suffice it to say that one was brutally exposed. I took a place on the plank, alongside another missionary, and hoped it was a bad day for mosquitoes. As I left, I promised myself I would never again take certain basics for granted: privacy; a covered washroom; a hot shower; a cup of clean, clear water.

On the way back to the ship, we gave a ride to two women with their children. One was a girl about 14 years of age carrying a tiny baby. She told us that her baby, who looked like a parched doll, was eight months old, but he was barely the size of an eight-week infant. He lay perfectly still, looking up at us with big, somber eyes as if aware of his own plight. We gave them what we had, which was not much: a couple of sandwiches and some fresh water, but the young girl was delighted and departed giggling with her trophies.

Not long after, I thought again of the young girl and her baby. I imagined the Lord gazing sadly at the tiny, stunted infant, then looking out across the world and opening his arms to his church: "Who shall I send to help him?" In my mind's eye, I saw a big, white ship sailing over the blue seas carrying thousands of people gathered from all corners of the earth, responding with one voice: "Here I am, Lord, send me."


Few people experienced a lightening-bolt call to serve on the Anastasis. The sovereign God of all creation was not in the habit, it seemed, of giving precise instructions with maps and destinations. For many people, discerning whether they should become part of the Anastasis had been a process involving months, and often years, of thinking about such a venture, praying for guidance, and waiting on God. During this time of trusting, their lives on the outside remained much the same. The missionaries-to-be went to work, came home, worried about bills, took care of children, socialized with friends.

But deep inside, something had changed. God had switched off the ignition key controlling their own personal desires, and they existed as though suspended in time, living without agendas except to listen for his voice. It was as though God was preparing them for a life of drifting on the sea by giving them a taste of drifting on land.

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Chuck and Sue Duby had spent long periods of time in this acutely uncomfortable realm. The Dubys and their two children, 14-year-old Krista and 10-year-old Peter, waited for seven years in this manner. For years, Chuck, a sales and marketing manager, had been searching for a deeper sense of fulfillment in his work. Even when he was working in a corporate dream job and being groomed for a vice presidency, he sensed that the world of private enterprise was not for him. Then, in 1987, this couple from Seattle saw the Anastasis. "There was something about the spirit of the crew that totally overwhelmed us," said Sue. "Whatever the crew had, we wanted it, and we wanted to be part of it."

Added Chuck, "We wanted to jump on board then and there. But the kids were three and seven at the time. We couldn't just get up and go." However, less than six months after seeing the Anastasis, the fortyish Dubys had rented their four-bedroom house, sold their two cars, packed their furniture away, and were on their way to DTS training in Montana.

With the training completed, the Lord then directed the Dubys back home to serve in their local church. "This was the start of our not-knowing period. It was a time in our lives where we simply had no control," says Chuck. "We couldn't afford to live in our house, because we didn't have jobs. We had a total of $75. I started working in our local church, began a one-man construction business, and basically worked for my friends. They were all living in nice homes and becoming vice presidents, and I was this fellow doing all their grunt work. It was a very humbling experience."

That year they house-sat. "We moved 18 times," said Sue. "We'd pile everything up in our station wagon and live here for a week, there for a weekend, another place for a month. We home-schooled the kids. When I look back, I don't know how we did it, but God gave us the grace to manage."

Eventually, their direction was clarified: the Dubys worked in the Mercy Ships-Los Angeles office, then at the home base in Lindale, Texas, organizing the DTS schools, and finally they came aboard the Anastasis in September 1994 to work for a year as directors of the DTS courses held on board. (They have recently returned to the U.S. and are working in pastoral care in the Lindale office.)

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The reasons why crew members eventually chose life on a Mercy Ship varied. Many of those aboard the ship were attracted to the ministry because they wanted to experience more of the abundant life promised by Jesus and to be used as a means of passing this life on to others. Others were inspired to seek a new intimacy with Christ in the midst of a life transition. Some had left career paths with which they were dissatisfied, particularly at midlife. Others had struggled for years to balance full-time paid employment and ministry. In all situations, however, one common theme emerged: these men and women were finding newfound freedom in missions.


On one level, the free-floating spirit of the ship matched the spirit of our times. The nineties have thus far been a decade in which many have gone through intense life changes as companies downsized, jobs crashed, careers derailed, and relationships failed. For those aboard the Anastasis, such times of transition actually broadened their comfort zones and heralded a season of transformation in which they met Christ deeply.

Seniors, older couples, and singles were often the most enthusiastic about this new lifestyle. Seniors, especially, bubbled with excitement as they described what it felt like to become a missionary in one's fifties or sixties: it was like being a carefree kid again. The life obviously suited them; all the seniors to whom I spoke looked years younger than their age-in particular, the vibrant 50-something Simonne Dyer, who took over the role of CEO of the Anastasis in 1989.

Sitting behind her desk in a floral print dress, she looked the picture of cool efficiency. She joined the Anastasis as a secretary in 1983, and despite the fact that she "didn't even know how to type," she was superbly qualified for the eventual role God had in mind. A woman with an indefatigable ability to overcome difficulties, Simonne was widowed as a young woman, then lost her father six weeks after that. She was left to raise a family of three children on her own, while simultaneously coping with ongoing family illnesses.

In 1978, Simonne felt drawn to a life of service. The Anastasis visited New Zealand that summer, and Simonne felt the Lord speaking to her. "He told me that if I would sell my home, he would make me a new home on the ship." She responded by selling her house and making preparations to leave.

"My daughters thought I had gone mad. I'd worked hard all my life, and security was very important to me; yet here I was, giving everything up." Within a few years, she was on board the Anastasis; now, as CEO of the ship, she has the responsibility of discerning God's will for the Anastasis. Daunting as that sounds, Simonne has taken her role in stride. It has helped that she has a willing and eager crew to work with. "One of the best things about being the CEO on the Anastasis is that everyone wants to be here," she said. "There's a bottom-line commitment to work together."

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Indeed, the content attitude of the people aboard the Anastasis struck me most during my weeklong stay, despite the fact that all the crew members with whom I spoke had made considerable sacrifices to come here. They had walked away from the culturally revered goods of the world: solid career paths, security, stability. Possessions such as a savings account, a company pension fund, spacious quarters, or a truly comfortable bed were now a part of their past.

As a result of forsaking past lifestyles and literally giving themselves to a life of drifting, these crew members had discovered a Christianity that was deep and freeing. As Bing said, "This whole experience is about coming into real fellowship with the Lord so he can accomplish his purposes through us."

Thinking about this idea of drifting, I recalled a day when I saw two little girls in a boat in a London park. They lost their oars, then called their parents on the shore for help. "Don't worry," shouted the father of one of the girls from the bank. "We're here for you." Knowing that their fathers were nearby and that help was coming, the girls relaxed. They sat back in their boat, allowing it to go where it wanted. They spun in a full circle; they edged into the bank; they came out again, weaving all kinds of beautiful circular patterns and lines.

I remember how gently and elegantly the boat wove through the water. The girls had accepted their temporary plight for the time being and could thus enjoy it, lying back and following the rhythm of the boat. Soon enough they were brought in to shore.

The people on the Anastasis had learned to replace the cultural oars that had guided their lives with the intimate leading of the Lord's own hand. In a world that insists on certitude, action, goals, and achievement, drifting or pausing in life is an unspeakable crime. It flies in the face of our cultural admonition to keep moving at all cost, to constantly "do" and never "be."

Yet, it is often in moments or seasons of drifting in our lives, when the oars have slipped from our hands and our boat spins around us, that God can speak to us. Perhaps when we drift we are more able to hear the Father's voice, saying, "Trust and be free—I am here for you."

Marie Dawson is a British journalist who has lived in the U.S. for 11 years. She writes for publications in the U.S., Britain, and Canada and is working on a novel.

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