Mercy Ships International
Organization: Mercy Ships
Web Site: www.mercyships.org/
Tom and AnnMarie Waechter
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Many times throughout Scripture, we are reminded to remember the Faithfulness of God towards us. This theme shows up repeatedly in both the Old and New Testaments and is especially true when we are facing trying or uncertain times. One of our current favorite contemporary praise choruses has a line in it that says “You’ve never failed and You won’t start now…” Remembering God’s faithfulness towards us has been especially important for us on our journey to Mercy Ships and the “Africa Mercy”.
A few years after our young son Aaron was kicked in the head by one of our horses, shattering his skull into 12 fragments, we were asked to share our testimony in church during what we then called “Faith Promise” Sunday. My initial response to the request was “No”, but in our small group that week, we were talking about one of the many miracles in the Bible and someone asked “Wouldn’t it be great if God worked like that today?” I was going through a discouraging and difficult time and I thought, “Boy, you sure have that right!” But in the ensuing discussion, someone else reminded us of the many miracles that God had worked for us during and immediately after Aaron’s accident, carrying us through one of the hardest and most challenging times of our lives. I was ashamed to see how quickly I had forgotten God’s faithfulness then, and yet I still find myself needing to work at remembering God’s faithfulness in our lives today. (Yes, we did share our testimony during that Faith Promise Sunday service).
So, as we complete our training at the Mercy Ships International Operations Center (IOC) in Lindale, Texas and head out to Madagascar, we wanted to take a moment to reflect back on God’s incredible faithfulness and provision to getting us here and giving us this amazing opportunity to serve Him aboard the ship “Africa Mercy”. So, where do we start the story of God’s faithfulness in this incredible journey that we are on? Do we start with the initial seeds that He planted many years ago when Ann-Marie read about the hospital ship “Hope” as a young girl and decided to become a nurse with the hope that she might one day be able to work on a hospital ship, serving the desperately poor on this earth? Actually, we are sure the story goes back even further than that and we realize that we don’t really even know a great deal of it. But we will highlight what we do know:
After a tumultuous year and a half as the Operations Director at my work, it became increasingly clearer to me that the toll it was taking on my marriage, my family, my health and my walk with God was unacceptable. By God’s grace, I decided to step down into an uncertain future. That same night at Bible study, one of the questions that was asked was “What things can hinder your relationship with God?” In my mind, it became crystal clear that my job had done that and it was confirmed for me that I had done the right thing in stepping down. I have never second-guessed that decision.
While searching for what our future may hold and what we should pursue next, we felt led to “think outside of the box” in the process of reinventing ourselves and go beyond the boundaries that our careers and experiences led us to up to that point. About this time, I received a totally unsolicited phone call from a long-time friend who works at Mercy Ships, telling me that they were in need of a Math teacher for the school that is held for children of crew members onboard the “Africa Mercy”. We prayed about it and submitted our applications in March of 2013.
It was an exciting time. Our applications were accepted and we were offered positions to attend the introductory Foundations of Mercy Ships (FMS) course in June of 2013. In my mind, I had a plan and timeline where we would apply to Mercy Ships in March, attend the FMS course in June and report for a two-year assignment in August of 2013. Fortunately, God had a much better and more comprehensive timeline and plan in mind for us. We came to FMS in June, but were told at the end of the week that the Math teacher position had been filled by a certified teacher, that they really didn’t have any jobs for us at that time and that it was probable that there would not be any jobs in the future. Not knowing what to do, we returned home, still convinced we were supposed to pursue serving with Mercy Ships, but very unsure of what that meant.
During this time, we felt God confirm in our hearts the call to serve at Mercy Ships. While we didn’t hear an audible voice, we felt this confirmation came from many directions and the message was always the same: keep pursuing the dream, keep heading for the ship, don’t give up, God was in all of this and He had a plan for our lives. We heard this reinforcement in the sermon series Pastor Bruce gave titled “From Apathy to Action”. We heard it in our Bible study group as we studied a book on prayer titled “The Circle Maker”. We heard it in our quiet times with God and from multiple friends. While progress towards getting to the ship was not obvious at all (there was none that we could see), the message was always the same: “Trust Me, have Faith, Keep Heading for the Ship”.
So what did “Heading for the Ship” look like in our daily lives? We asked that question a lot. Without really knowing the whole picture, we took one tentative step at a time. We started to aggressively pay down the debt that we had accumulated during our kids’ school years. We decided to put our home of 30+ years up for sale. When they decided to down-size at my work, knowing that my position was being eliminated, I asked to be given a severance package vs. trying to find another position for myself. The list goes on — on our good days, we felt God’s peace and leading in our lives. On our not-so-good days, we often asked ourselves “What are we doing/Are we crazy?” There were a lot of not-so-good days, but God remained faithful.
Things that we didn’t even think would be possible started happening. We sold our house to the perfect buyers in eight days. We eliminated all of our debt. Our son, Joel, found a great location in a restored mill building to relocate his soap business from our basement. Our daughter, Hannah-Joy, found the perfect apartment in Dover to move into. I received a generous severance package from work and ended up officially retiring long before I had ever planned to do so. Those things that had the most sentimental value went to perfect new owners, as did all our pets, and we were able to sell/give away/get rid of all the rest. The list goes on and on….
Yet through it all, we never heard anything from Mercy Ships. In fact, during the summer, we received a call telling us that they did not have any positions available, that they did not anticipate having any positions available this year and that if we were still interested, we could contact them again after the first of the year. There is a verse in Hebrews that describes Abraham’s faithfulness by saying he headed out, “…not knowing where he was going…” While we are not Abraham by a long stretch, we could definitely relate to the “…not knowing where he was going…” part of the story.
That all changed on Thursday, September 4, 2014. We received an e-mail offer from the HR department at Mercy Ships saying that they had two positions for us if we could be in Texas to start our training by Saturday, September 13, 2014. Ann-Marie was offered the position of Crew Nurse, who coordinates health care for the 400+ crew members with an emphasis on wellness. Tom was offered the position of Maintenance Coordinator and will work with the group responsible to maintain the various on-shore facilities that support the overall mission of the ship, including the Eye Clinic, Dental Clinic and the HOPE (Hospital Out-Patient Extension) Center.
We accepted their offers and scrambled to get to Texas — we will be forever grateful to those of you who helped make that possible. After we completed our training, we packed our bags one more time to “head to the ship”, which will be our new home for the next two years. For our first field service (until June of next year), we will be working in Madagascar, which is one of the poorest nations on earth (the United Nations ranks Madagascar’s poverty level with that of Haiti). Through each and every step, God has been faithful and we are humbled when we see how He has taken care of each and every detail. When times of uncertainty or doubt set in, we try to remind ourselves that God is faithful and that He can be trusted; that “…He has never failed and He won’t start now.”