Monday, July 13, 2009

San Francisco Pastor and his wife to become Chaplains on Africa Mercy Ship

A San Franciscan pastor and his wife, Marty and Catherine Schwebel, are leaving the city streets for life in Africa on the decks of the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship - see previous blog

'Okay, I'll go, but only if we can get a monkey!' said one of their three boys on hearing the news that his parents wanted to transport them half-way around the world to live on a ship in Africa.

He didn't just mean a pet monkey on board, but one that he could eventually bring back to San Francisco!

It was a tricky bartering situation but much to Catherine's relief, google provided her with a simple solution: it is illegal to import monkeys!

With that minor hurdle out of the way, the family settled down to the serious business of leaving family and friends and preparing for the biggest adventure of their lives, to spend an initial two years on board the Africa Mercy.

The Africa Mercy is the flagship of the Mercy Ships fleet, equipped with six operating theatres, a 78-bed ward, and satellite communications to enable digital images, including CT and X-rays, to be transmitted and diagnosed remotely.

One of the common operations they perform is for obstetric fistula, a disabling and distressing result of prolonged labour where the baby usually dies and the woman is left incontinent. Often this leads to a wife being deserted by her husband and shunned in the community.

On the ship, though, women are healed and then presented with a new dress in a 'dress ceremony' to return home in style. Mercy Ships are also involved in community and healthcare programmes, so that Marty and Catherine will be supporting a wide scope of work through their chaplaincy care.

During the fund-raising afternoon at San Francisco airport's Aviation Museum they showed a video of the work of the Africa Mercy and answered questions.

'How are you going to get your hair done?' someone had lightheartedly asked Catherine.

'There's a hair salon on board!' she said. With a lot of short-term roles on the ship, it turned out that Marty had already recruited a hair-stylist! Pointing out that the chaplains review all work applications, he added, ' goal is to stock the ship with all the people I know and love so I won't be homesick!'

Of course another of his aims, as a trained opera singer, is to start a choir, so no doubt patients will find themselves recuperating to the sound of heavenly singing.

Apart from hairdressing, another perk on board will be Starbucks coffee, he said. The chairman of the board of directors of Mercy Ships happens to be the CEO of the large department store chain, JC Penney, and a board member of Starbucks. So the coffee company has made a generous donation of ten years of free coffee.

'I will be a well-caffeinated chaplain!' joked Marty.

What is the childrens' biggest fear? someone asked. 'Missing their friends and our dog,' was the answer.

Shadow, their black poodle, is to live with Catherine's parents. However, Marty consoles himself with this thought: every time he thinks of Shadow, he visualizes him drinking Chardonnay by the pool! Wine-sipping pooch or not, they are comforted by the fact that he will be loved and cared for.

After Togo, they sail in August to South Africa, travelling around the Cape of Good Hope to the city of East London. Where they will spend their second year is not yet known. It could be one of several countries including Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Congo, Angola or Sierra Leone.

Another question was about security, regarding both pirates and political instability. The ships, reassured Catherine, are very safety conscious. They don't sail where pirates operate and they only enter countries where they are welcomed. Once in port, there is security on board, added Marty.

Other questions were about their finances, as all work on the ship is voluntary and they need funding as a family, and what they will do when their initial two-year stint is over. The answer about the future is that it will depend on family circumstances whether they stay on the ship or return to San Francisco.

In the meantime the family aim to keep in touch via satellite phone, email, Facebook, blogs and Twitter. Afterwards, Catherine posted on Facebook:

'I'm very blessed and touched by all our friends who came to our Mercy Ships fundraiser last guys are awesome and so supportive! We'll miss you!!'

For Marty and Catherine's blog:

pics show: Marty and Catherine speaking; a screen grab from the video showing a child with a cleft palate

1 comment:

Josh said...

It's great to see people making a difference!!