Mercy Ships, a TCK, Ex-Missionaries, and Small Clubs


“We’re part of a small club.” That’s what a friend told me not long ago.

I was at a meeting where a young missionary couple had just finished presenting why they had left their ministry and had come back to the States. A former missionary myself, I made my way to the husband to thank him for sharing. Then my friend and his wife joined us. They had returned from the mission field, too. My friend said with a sigh, “We’re part of a small club.”

It is a small club. And when you’ve come back well before you thought you would, when you didn’t come back celebrating a finished work or returning to a greater ministry, when you’re still in the process of refinding your place back home, it’s a club that can feel smaller than it really is.

A few days later, I read an article in Christianity Today about a still smaller club. It’s a club  that currently has just one member. Her name is Carys Parker.

Carys is a TCK and an MK. And she’s the only person to have been raised on a Mercy Ship from birth through high school graduation. Spun off from Youth With a Mission (YWAM),  Mercy Ships is a Christian ministry providing free health care in port cities around the world—mostly in Africa—from the decks of its floating hospital.

Carys is the daughter of Gary Parker, an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, and Susan Parker, an executive assistant. The couple met while working with Mercy Ships in 1987. Carys lived on the ship Anastasis until she was 12 years old, then moved with her family, including a younger brother, Wesley, to the Africa Mercy.

At the graduation ceremony for Mercy Ships Academy last year, Carys and her two classmates, aboard their home docked at Conakry, Guinea, addressed the audience. Carys began her speech,

I grew up here.  And without a doubt, my 18 years on a hospital ship in Africa will define me—even when I no longer live here. For just as every person’s worldview develops out of their unique set of experiences, living in this place, with all of you, has profoundly formed and shaped me.  And I am deeply grateful for a lifetime in this community.

And she ended with these words:

There’s an ancient African proverb that says this: “If you want to travel fast travel alone; But if you want to travel far, travel together.” I’m glad that we’ve traveled this road together.  I’m so grateful for you—as well as many former crew, who have passed through my life and now have gone on to other things.  By God’s grace, may I always be faithful to keep the main thing the main thing. Thank you.

Carys is now beginning her second year at Whitworth, a private liberal arts university. About the decision for Carys to attend the Presbyterian-church-affiliated school, Susan told Whitworth University News, “We come from a small shipboard community, and we know that the quality of the community is directly related to the quality of the product—whether that be healthcare or education.”

According to Whitworth University, their community is a campus located in Spokane, Washington, with 3,000 students . . . one of whom grew up on a boat off the coast of Africa, with 400 crew members representing more than 35 countries.

The Whitworth article includes links to segments from a 60 Minutes show that aired last year. The first is a 12-minute spot on Africa Mercy and the inspiring work done by Mercy Ships in Togo, West Africa. The second is a closer look at the Parker family, part of 60 Minutes Overtime.

Reporter Scott Pelley spends considerable time with Gary Parker and his family, and we hear about the staff’s amazing medical ministry as well as what it’s like raising a family in a 630-square-foot ship’s cabin. “The only life the kids have known has made them strangers back home,” he says, and Susan Parker tells TCK stories about her children: In the States, Carys didn’t know what a mailbox looked like, and Wesley (a white child in a white family) came back from school one day to tell his mother that in the past Americans had made slaves out of “our people.” Producer Henry Schuster describes Carys’s life in a way that would be familiar to Third Culture Kids: “She’s got one foot in America. She’s got one foot in Africa. But she’s in this other place in between.”

Living on a ship, of course, has its tensions and difficulties. “It’s not all sweetness and light,” Pelley reports, noting that Susan has not always wanted to raise her children onboard long term. But now, she believes that a ship is the best place for her and Gary to bring up their children, and she no longer wants to return to the States. “There’s nothing wrong with living at home,” she says, “but I don’t think it’s what we’re supposed to do.”

Pelley calls the ship “a tribe unto itself.” That’s a term I’ve heard—tribe—used to describe those who are or have been missionaries. I count myself a member of that tribe. I’ve never been part of a hospital ship, but I know the camaraderie and  purposefulness of being part of a mission community.

The 60 Minutes segments tug at my heart. Sometimes it’s easy to figure out “what we’re supposed to do.” Sometimes it’s not easy at all. We think, we pray, we talk, we argue, we worry, we wonder, we decide . . . and then we stay or we go.

Hearing Carys and her family’s story helps me better appreciate my club, my tribe. But I understand that I’m now here, raising my kids here. And that means I’m no longer part of a more exclusive club, those who are still there.

(Kate Tracy, “Carys Parker, Raised Entirely aboard Mercy Ships, Drops Anchor,” Christianity Today, July 8, 2014; Carys Parker, “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing,” doingmercy, May 24, 2013; “Student Disembarks at Whitworth after Life at Sea,” October 16, 2013; “Africa Mercy: Hospital of Hope,” 60 Mintues, CBS, February 17, 2013; “Raising Kids at Sea: Meet the Parkers,” 60 Minutes Overtime, CBS, August 4, 2013)

[photo: “Africa Mercy,” by Denise Miller, used under a Creative Commons license]


I Like “I Like Giving”

6510934443_8bd2942b79_qGeorge was born in Romania to an impoverished family who couldn’t care for him. When he was fourteen months old, he weighed only 9 pounds. reports that his medical report  already included a space for the time and date of his death.

When Mike and Sharon Dennehy, of Ashland, Virginia, saw his picture, they decided to adopt him, and in 1995, he joined their three biological children as part of their family. That was 18 years ago, and since then, the Dennehy’s have adopted eight more children. Including those from Romania and the US, their family now has representatives of six countries.

The Dennehy’s story, I Like Adoption, is one of many collected by Brad Formsma on the website I Like Giving, because “generosity inspires generosity.” It all started when Formsma heard about a Sudanese family whose bicycles had been stolen. He and his wife and children went out, bought some bikes, found the family, and gave the bikes to them. The father from Sudan kept saying, “I like bike. I like bike.”

A couple other “I like” stories with cross-cultural aspects (and videos) are I Like Soccer Balls, telling about a ten-year-old boy who travels to Mozambique and decides to make return trips to Africa, giving soccer balls to kids wherever he goes, and I Like Bug Shells, about two little girls who collect money and soda cans door to door to help children in Africa without clean water.

I Like Giving invites you to share your story to inspire others. Your generosity doesn’t have to be huge. You don’t have to have a video. And, of course, your efforts don’t have to cross cultures. Crossing the street is just fine.

“I like ____________.®” You fill in the blank.

(Last year, George Dennehy became something of an internet celebrity. As part of the Dennehy family, George learned how to play the piano, drums, guitar, and cello—with his feet. After playing a Goo Goo Dolls’ song on his guitar at a fair, a friend posted a video of his performance on YouTube. When Mike Malinin, the band’s drummer saw the video, he invited George to play with them at a concert. “It was amazing to see this boy who once was almost dead up there onstage with the Goo Goo Dolls,” Mike told “The whole place exploded with excitement.”)

(Amy Flowers Umble, “Couple Found Time to Adopt Nine Children,”, November 7, 2012)

[photo: “Gift,” by asenat29, used under a Creative Commons license]

Rising from Ashes: A Documentary on Biking and Hope in Rwanda

londonHere’s another entry for my list of movies “coming later to a library near you”—the documentary Rising from Ashes (2012), directed by T.C. Johnstone and narrated by Forest Whitaker.

It tells the story of the formation of a bicycling team in Rwanda and its quest to send a rider to the 2012 London Olympics. Coached by American Jock Boyer, the team includes many who as children had lost multiple family members in the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Therefore, Team Rwanda has to deal not only with issues of equipment, conditioning, and time trials, but they also tackle such things as loss, emotional pain, and poverty.

One of the focal points of the film is Adrien Niyonshuti, a member of the team who lost 60 members of his family, including 6 brothers, in the genocide. Since the documentary was completed, Niyonshuti became the first cyclist to represent Rwanda in the Olympics and the first black African to qualify in mountain biking.

Rising from Ashes also features Boyer, someone who knows about firsts—being the first American to race in the Tour de France. He also knows about defeat and brokenness and striving to rebuild lives. In 2002 Boyer pled guilty to having sexual contact with a girl beginning when she was 12 years old and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. That sentence was stayed, and he was put on 5 years probation and spent 8 months in jail. A 2009 article about Boyer in the magazine Bicycling begins with the simple sentence, “The child molester prays before every meal.” It then goes on to give a detailed account of Boyer’s life, his crime, and his work in Rwanda, where he now lives.

Boyer was invited to Africa by the bicycle builder and racer Tom Ritchey, who himself had come to Rwanda searching for meaning in his own life. “To me, Rwanda represents new beginnings,” he told Bicycling, “Goodness, mercy, hope. Rwanda is me. . . . It’s anyone having to work through serious disappointments in life.”

That is the story of Rwanda, not wanting to be defined by the past mass killings but to be celebrated for redemption, recovery,  . . . and champions racing on bikes.

(Kathryn Bertine, “Documentary Tells Team Rwanda’s Moving Story,” espnW, May 8, 2013; Steve Friedman, “The Impossible Redemption of Jonathan Boyer,” Bicycling, January 2009)

[photo from First Run Features]

Nando’s: Tastes like Chicken, Looks like an Art Gallery

2791367612_e1be822cbf_nThe Obama family are currently in South Africa, as part of a three-country visit to the African continent. The president will not meet with Nelson Mandela, who is in the hospital, but he has spoken with Mandela’s family by phone. While there, they will also tour Robben Island, where Mandela was a prisoner for 18 years.

I’ve never been to South Africa, but would love to visit. I have, though, found a place (somewhat) closer to home that might some day give me a taste of the country.

In Chris Stark’s interview with Mila Kunis, Stark invites Kunis to a Nando’s for some chicken (to which she responds, “You’re teaching me so much.”)

So what is Nando’s? Why, it’s “Home of the legendary, Portuguese flame-grilled Peri-Peri chicken,” of course.

And what does that have to do with South Africa? Go to the “Story of Nando’s” and you’ll see an animated history of how the restaurant came to be. In a nutshell. . . . Years ago, exploring Portuguese sailors ended up in Mozambique where they discovered the African Bird’s Eye chili pepper. Some 400 years later, some of these Portuguese left Mozambique for Johannesburg, taking with them their peri-peri chicken recipes. (Peri-peri is how they pronounced the Swahili name for the chili.) In 1987, Fernando Duarte and Robert Brozin bought a chicken restaurant—featuring peri-peri sauce—in the Rosettenville suburb of Jo’burg. They changed the name from Chickenland to Nando’s, and the chain was born. Nando’s restaurants are now found around the globe, and while they’re present in the US, they’re (so far) confined to Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

While each Nando’s is unique, one constant is that they all display artwork from South Africa. Their “art project” started in 2002, and since then, Nando’s has become the self-proclaimed “largest buyer of South African contemporary art in the world.”

What we like most about our art project is that it’s given undiscovered, emerging and established artists from diverse social and economic backgrounds the opportunity to have their work on display in our restaurants around the world. It feels really good to know that we’ve helped give many artists the freedom to focus on their art full time, and that we’ve given our customers something beautiful to look at, without having to set foot in a gallery. (from “Our Restaurants)

Nando’s even has an online display of over 170 pieces of their South African art, produced by “everyone from bushmen on community farms to renowned Johannesburg painters.”

Here’s a recent commercial for Nando’s in South Africa. Eyes down. Now up. Now look closely and you’ll see some of the South African art on the wall.

[photo: “Nando’s Peri Peri Sign,” by Mr T in DC, used under a Creative Commons license]

Is This the Africa You Know?

“What do you know about Africa?”

That’s the question that the producers of My Africa Is asked pedestrians on the streets of New York. Not surprisingly, the answers they received showed a lack of knowledge mixed with an abundance of stereotypes. But there was also a desire to learn more about the continent.

To help us all in our education, here are five videos that creatively take on the task of tearing down common misconceptions about Africa and replacing them with a more complete picture:

The first video is from the Kickstarter campaign of My Africa Is, a proposed documentary series. (The campaign ended in July of last year, without reaching its goal.)

My Africa Is Kickstarter Video

“We know what you’ve seen and heard about Africa—what they think is happening, what they think she needs, what they think she is. The four things that come to mind when people think of Africa are population, problems, poverty, and promise unfulfilled . . . but that’s not the whole story.”

The next two come from Mama Hope, part of its video campaign “Stop the Pity. Unlock the Potential.”

African Men. Hollywood Stereotypes

“If people believed only what they saw in movies, they would think we are all warlords who love violence.”

Call Me Hope

“It is only when people are no longer seen through the stereotypes of poverty that we can begin to see we are not so different from each other.”

The following video is from Radi-Aid, inspired by the Live Aid concerts of the mid 1980s.

Africa for Norway

“Imagine if every person in Africa saw the ‘Africa for Norway’-video, and this was the only information they ever got about Norway. What would they think about Norway?”

And finally, here’s a clip from the documentary This Is My Africa, in which interviewees imagine the Africa of the future.

This Is My Africa—Excerpt—Africa 2060

“Created to reveal a more personal vision of the continent  by weaving together the personal memories, tastes and experiences of 21 Africans and Africaphiles, This Is My Africa has been described as a 50-minute crash course in African culture.”

Related Post:
Coca-Cola: Selling Soda and Marketing Global Happiness
T-Shirts Redux

Chris Jodan’s Art Helps Us “Feel” Some “Enormous Statistics”

Chris Jordan produces some really big artwork to represent some really big numbers. For example, this first piece below “depicts 92,500 agricultural plant seeds, equal to one hundredth of one percent of the number of people in the world today who suffer from malnutrition.”

This next one “depicts 240,000 plastic bags, equal to the estimated number of plastic bags consumed around the world every ten seconds.”

And this one “depicts 270,000 fossilized shark teeth, equal to the estimated number of sharks of all species killed around the world every day for their fins.”

All are part of the collection “Running the Numbers II: Portraits of Global Mass Culture.” Click on the thumbnails above and you’ll go to Jordan’s site, where you can see what makes these images so interesting. By clicking on the selected photos there, you’ll zoom all the way in to see the tiny parts—the seeds, the plastic bags, the shark teeth—that make up the larger whole.

In the TED Talk below, Jordan discusses the motivation behind his work, as he talks specifically about his earlier “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait,” which looks at excesses and issues in US culture, such as personal bankruptcy, deaths caused by smoking, and the country’s high rate of incarceration.

“Now I want to emphasize that these are just examples,” Jordan tells the TED audience. “I’m not holding these out as being the biggest issues. They’re just examples. And the reason that I do this . . . it’s because I have this fear that we aren’t feeling enough as a culture right now. There’s this kind of anesthesia in America at the moment.”

Using his creative talents, Jordan’s goal is, as he says, to take “gigantic numbers” and “enormous statistics” and “translate them into a more universal visual language that can be felt.”

It makes me think about what numbers I’d like to see shown in this way, such as those representing worldwide refugees and displaced people, abortions, human trafficking, and child soldiers, to name a few. I’m sure that we each have our own list of statistics that we believe need to be heard, seen . . . and felt.

And finally, we can see Jordan’s ability to challenge and educate using more traditional images in Ushirikiano: Building a Sustainable Future in Kenya’s Northern Rangelands. This book chronicles, in words and photographs, “the Nakuprat-Gotu Conservancy in Northern Kenya, an initiative led by tribal Elders, which aims to bring peace and prosperity to a region ravaged by violence and climate change.” Go here to see over 70 stunning photos from the collection, including many beautiful portraits of Kenya’s Turkana, Samburu, Borana, and Meru people.

[all images are by Chris Jordan, used under a Creative Commons license]

Coca-Cola: Selling Soda and Marketing Global Happiness

Remember the Coca-Cola chorus in the 70s singing “I’d like to buy the world a Coke”? Well, The Coca-Cola Company is getting one step closer to that goal. Myanmar, one of only three countries left where Coke is not sold, will soon join the rest of the globe in serving the world’s most popular soft drink. After being gone for more than 60 years, Coca-Cola plans to re-enter the Myanmar market soon, when the US government officially allows investments there, this in response to Myanmar’s recent turn to democracy. This will leave only Cuba and North Korea on the outside of the Coke market.

Buying the world a Coke wasn’t The Coca-Cola Company’s only plan. It also wanted to “teach the world to sing” and “buy the world a home and furnish it with love.” Today, Coke’s hopes are still lofty. Their current campaign is “open happiness,” and they are spreading the message that “There are reasons to believe in a better world.” Below are three videos demonstrating this theme—citing what seem to me to be some odd pairings of vague statistics (“While one scientist is creating a new weapon . . . 1 million moms are baking chocolate cakes”). Oh well. They’re fun videos, and the music is cool. It’s the thought that counts, right? It’s Coca-Cola.

The first video is the global edition. The second is for Africa. The third is for India. And finally, the fourth video is of a guy who traveled around the world and drank a Coke in every country he visited.

(Tony Jordan, “Coca-Cola Announces Will Return to Myanmar after 60 Years,” Yahoo! Finance, June 15, 2012)

[photo: “Faces, Langa, Cape Town,” by Dietmar Temps, used under a Creative Commons license]

Got a Couple Hours? Take Time for Cairo

When it comes to movies, I’m often late to the game, as I usually catch them on DVD well after they’ve been released in the theaters. So only last week did I bring Cairo Time (2009) home from the library and watch it with my wife. I had not heard about it before and only picked it out because of the title and synopsis on the case. Sometimes that leads to disappointment, but this time, it paid off.

Cario Time is directed by Ruba Nadda, an Arab-Canadian, and stars Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig. Clarkson plays Juliette, the wife of a UN worker who travels to Egypt to meet her husband for a long-awaited vacation. When she arrives, her husband is unable to leave his work in Gaza, so his friend, Tareq (Siddig) picks her up at the airport and introduces her to the city. Tareq is a dashing gentleman, and he and Juliette develop a relationship over the next several days. As several reviewers mention, Cairo is another major character in the story, as Juliette is swept off her feet by a city that also frustrates her. In a way, her relationship with Tareq mirrors how she feels about Cairo, enchanted yet perplexed by her own feelings . . . infatuated by the exotic newness while drawn back by her own “culture.”

Included on the DVD is a “Making Of” segment, in which Nadda says that the reason she became a filmmaker was because she “was desperate to shed light on the common misconceptions the West has of the Middle East.” The segment also includes behind-the-scenes footage from a “very Islamic, very religious” part of Egypt where they filmed a scene. The director was warned not to go there, but they did anyway, and she says it turned out being “one of the best days of [her] life.” They met a poor family there who welcomed them, gave them sodas, and asked about Seinfeld. With accompanying footage, Nadda tells this story:

The man’s wife, she’s veiled, she said “I need to be validated, I need to show the world what I look like.” And she began to unveil. And I was like, “But you’re going to be on camera. The West will see you.” And she said, “I don’t care. I want to show people that I exist.”

Cairo Time is not a fast-paced movie. Rather it moves at a deliberate, thoughtful pace. As Clarkson says in “Toronto Q & A” (also on in the “Bonus” section of the DVD), the director “had the courage to let there be silence.” Nadda adds,

I wanted to show a story that wasn’t about immediate gratification, you know, which is, I find, sometimes, a bit North American. It was “Cairo time.” . . . Cairo is so crazy and chaotic and beautiful, bustling, but it’s also an assault to the senses, and that chips away at your guard and it forces you to slow down whether you like it or not.

[photo: “Pyramids,” by Wilhelm Joys Andersen, used under a Creative Commons license]