Ward nurse Rachel Lappin

I first joined in August 2015 in Madagascar, for what was only to be one field service. During this time, I worked on the wards, mainly with women suffering from obstetric fistulas. I fell in love with the work, so much so that I joined the screening team and stayed for two more years, serving in Benin and Cameroon.

Why I volunteered with Mercy Ships?

I felt called to mission since I was a little girl. Becoming a nurse opened many doors for me to serve God, using the skills and talents He had given me. I had been doing ‘short term’ mission trips for many years before stepping out long term. For me personally, my final short-term trip to Niger, broke my heart. It was only 2 short weeks, but in those weeks, I saw so much suffering, heartache and injustice. I struggled to process this and comprehend why. It was this experience that God used to push me into serving Him a long-term capacity abroad and be the voice for the voiceless. Colleagues in my hospital in Northern Ireland had mentioned Mercy Ships to me and finally a lady from my church handed me a leaflet about them and said I should look into them. When I looked up their website and read the line ‘bringing hope and healing to the world’s forgotten poor’ something inside my heart ignited and I knew God wanted me to step out and into the boat with Him.

My most impacting experience

There were so many experiences during my 3years it’s so hard to pick a few.

Professionally: I clearly remember how one evening, on the ward during my first year, I was working with the VVF ladies. These ladies, wow, they are some of the most incredibly courageous and beautiful women you will ever have the privilege to meet in your life. When I first met them, they wouldn’t lift their heads, wouldn’t look anyone in the eyes and would barely speak. The shame, rejection and brokenness they felt was evident to see and simply broke my heart. It was here, where we simply were the hands and feet of Jesus. We showed His love in our actions and smiles…such simple things that have such a huge impact. Bit by bit they began to speak with the other patients and they very quickly realized they were not alone. We built rapport with them quickly and it was beautiful to watch it unfold. Quickly we were laughing, clapping and singing together. Hope was restored. Life began to spring up everywhere.

We had one lady, and her case was complex. She stayed with us for an extended period of time. She had listened intently and watched as nurses had educated patients over and over again. One evening, I was about to begin a group pre-op patient education session, when she tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could do it. I hesitated for a second and looked at her. She was so excited and passion oozed from her. I asked her tell me the important points and she rattled them off by heart. What could I say? I nodded and watched, as she passionately taught her fellow country women. They all sat and soaked up every word she said. My heart could have burst. This is what it was all about: empowering the people!

Personally: I have met so many amazing people from around the world. Each have impacted sounds like it should not work, but the beautiful thing is we are all united in the same purpose and goal. And I believe God being at the center of it all, is what makes the difference. Friends that I made onboard have become some of my closest friends to this day. We may be separated by distance and not talk often, but when we do; we pick up where we left off. We get each other, in a way that my friends at home don’t: we shared a unique period of life together. One that was intense, challenging and like no other but one that I am forever thankful for. And finally, my patients: each and every one of them hold a special place in my heart. For me this was my biggest blessing. Every conversation; every tear; every smile, every shout and dance for joy with each and everyone…..Priceless!

The biggest take away from my time onboard

I am a richer and better person for being onboard: richer in my friendships, perspectives and personal walk with God. I gained and learnt so much professionally from having the privilege of working alongside some of the best nurses and surgeons in the world.

Each and every patient is special and unique in their own way. Each have a story that deserves to be heard. Each have a right to safe, accessible and affordable surgery.

Rachel would be one of the first to tell you how important every member of the Mercy Ships crew is. Our hospital can’t function without the deck, engineering and technology teams hard at work. Our technical teams need to be fed – and together our whole crew provides life-transforming services for people in desperate need. Won’t you join us?

maritime, medical and general volunteer roles with Mercy Ships