The Royston Family gave up a comfortable life in Wales to work and live as volunteers on Africa Mercy, the world’s largest charity hospital ship. Here’s their story
Up until the end of 2007, Patricia Royston lived a typical life in Cardiff, with her husband Tony and son Elliot. A high school English teacher and member of All Nations Church, Patricia’s life was full of the normal routine of work, school, social events and church.Tony had worked for a number of years at University Hospital of Wales, as an electrical engineer, maintaining medical equipment throughout the hospital, and Elliot was a normal seven-year-old boy, who liked riding his bike and playing football with friends.
For some years, however, Patricia and Tony had discussed wanting to do something different with their lives. They wanted to help those less fortunate than themselves, but were not sure what to do.Then one day at church in 1995, they saw a short film about the work of Mercy Ships, the international Christian charity that has provided free medical and humanitarian aid to the world’s poorest for more than 30 years.“We instinctively knew that this was what we were being called to do”, said Patricia.
Mercy Ships runs the world’s largest charity hospital ship, the Africa Mercy, staffed by more than 400 volunteers from 40 nations.Early in 2007, Tony volunteered for a few weeks on the ship while it was in Newcastle, in order to make sure they could commit to the mission and life on the ship. With family cabins and an on-board school, it was an opportunity for the family to experience a new life. It took approximately two years to complete the recruitment process, and the family had to raise funds for the crew fees required to be paid by every volunteer to cover their cost of staying on board.Patricia said, “People are sometimes surprised that we not only volunteer our time and expertise, but that we also pay to do so. I think this is what makes Mercy Ships unique. It means that more donations can go directly to help the patients.”
The Royston’s joined the Africa Mercy in January 2008 when the ship started a 10-month outreach to Liberia – a country ravaged by more than 15 years of civil war. The contrast to life back home could not have been more severe. “Although we had watched films about the ship and West Africa, life on board still took some getting used to, especially living in such close quarters with the rest of the crew”, said Patricia.
“Furthermore, hearing stories told by local people and patients, and seeing the dire conditions in which many Liberian people lived, was heart-wrenching. We often felt that we, who had come to bless, were more often the ones being blessed by these people, who demonstrated such staunch faith and belief in God in the face of incredible hardships!”
Four years later, Patricia is the liaison for the hospital day workers, and Tony is the biomedical/clinical engineer, responsible for the safe and successful functioning of the medical equipment on the ship, as well as at offshore projects, such as dental clinics. Elliot is also thriving, and is living a unique life with the other children on the ship.
Patricia says of life on the Africa Mercy, “Serving the people of West Africa is an honour and a privilege, and I consider myself to be hugely blessed by the many people I meet, particularly the people of West Africa who are welcoming, friendly and joyous. Our experiences have ranged from extreme highs to extreme lows, and living in a confined space with so many people has its challenges, but it is well worth it.“We have seen the lives of thousands of men, women and children transformed by the work of the volunteer medical teams on the ship, and it is wonderful to witness.“We have no plans to leave, and would recommend volunteering or supporting Mercy Ships to everyone who believes in our mission.”
Tony said, “I think Mercy Ships is a mission with an amazing God-given vision. I would encourage everyone to support the incredible work of this charity.” Founded in 1978, Mercy Ships has worked in more than 70 countries, providing services valued at more than £630 million, with more than 2.35 million direct beneficiaries.The international charity has treated more than 520,000 people in village medical and dental clinics; performed over 56,000 surgeries, and completed more than 1,000 community projects, focusing on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture.
For more information about Mercy Ships, please visit www.mercyships.org.uk or call 01438 727800.