Surviving the devastation wreaked by a tropical hurricane and witnessing the human suffering it left in its trail inspired Don Stephens to set up a hospital ship for the world’s most vulnerable people.
In 1964, 19-year-old Don was visiting the Bahamas as part of a youth group when Hurricane Cleo swept through the region, in what was a one-in-a-hundred year storm. Don’s youth group took shelter in an aircraft hangar, but others were not so fortunate with Cleo claiming lives and destroying hundreds of homes. In the aftermath of the storm, he was struck by the words of suffering local people who pleaded for a hospital ship to treat their injured and provide urgently needed medicines.
“The hearing of it challenged me,’’ said Don.
It took years for this idea to reach fruition, but in 1978 Don’s goal became reality when he and fellow fundraisers paid $US1 million for the Victoria, a former cruise liner, and work began to convert her to a hospital ship. In 1982, the vessel, refitted with three operating theatres and a 40-bed ward, sailed as the Anastasis – the first Mercy Ship.
Since then, four ships, including the current vessel, the Africa Mercy, have served in 150 ports throughout developing nations, bringing hope, relief and healing to the most vulnerable people.
For Don, Mercy Ships’ work has become a lifelong driving force. He is the current President while his wife, Deyon, a registered nurse, is the Director of Training and oversees the Ships Watchmen program.
Their inspiring work has brought them awards and honours. Don received the Two Hungers Award and the Religious Heritage Award and in 2009 he and Deyon were honoured with the Variety Club International Humanitarian Award. Don is also a Paul Harris Fellow through Rotary. He has written three books about Mercy Ships.
You can watch a short video of our history here.