Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pastor Leaves San Francisco for Hospital Ship in Africa

A San Franciscan pastor and his wife are leaving the city streets for life in Africa on the decks of the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship.

Marty and Catherine Schwebel are to become chaplains on board the Africa Mercy, a ship nearly twice the size of a football field and on which 7,000 FREE operations a year are performed on some of the poorest people of Africa.

With them on their adventure will be their sons, 12-year-old Nathaniel, ten-year-old Ethan and six-year-old Theo.

'It's not an easy thing, to leave,' said Marty, who with Catherine has been involved in Cornerstone Church in the Mission District for 13 years, the last eight as one of their pastors.

He and Catherine were speaking yesterday afternoon at a fund-raising event for them at San Francisco airport's Aviation Museum, organized by members of the church.

In two weeks' time the family leave the city to travel to Valley Garden, Texas, until December for further training with the Mercy Ships organization. Then in January they will pack a few belongings to fill seven rolling duffel bags and a backpack each, and fly to Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, to meet up with the Africa Mercy.

On board they will begin to settle into their new life in a small three-bedroomed apartment as they sail across the Atlantic to their first port of call, the impoverished country of Togo, West Africa. There, the ship will be berthed and will provide free medical care until August.

Working overseas has been a long-held dream for the couple, who also want to give their children experience of life in another culture. And for Marty, he doesn't think that it will be very different from life in San Francisco.

'That's what Cornerstone has been about, ministering to many different nations,' Marty said.

On the ship are about 450 people from all over the world representing about 100 different denominations. All are voluntary, from the Captain and crew to the medical and support staff, alhough there is no religious prerequisite for people to receive treatment.

'They reach out to everyone,' said Marty.

He will join a team of four chaplains and Catherine will work part-time as an assistant chaplain and perhaps also teach ESL - English as a Second Language.

Both of them have lived abroad before - Catherine, who is from San Francisco, has even spent three months on board the first Mercy Ship, the Anastasis, after leaving college - and relish the prospect of living and working amongst so many different cultures.

With a love of living overseas, Catherine gained a Masters degree in Teaching English as a Foreign Language and has worked in Morocco, Spain and Switzerland. Marty is a trained opera singer from Texas who has had an extensive musical education. They met while they were teaching at summer school in Switzerland.

When they eventually settled in San Francisco, they joined Cornerstone where Catherine started a moms' group and Marty, aside from his pastoral skills, used his musical talents to direct the choir and perform in Easter musicals.

Yesterday, the choir with new and former members, performed an emotional farewell. As compere, Sung, said in his introduction:

'We are giving a tribute to an amazing, beautiful, incredible couple who are going into the repair and restoration business in Africa.'

The Africa Mercy is not only about medical and dental work. Their volunteers are involved with many community programmes. More about the ship, and Marty and Catherine and their family is in the next blog...

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