Look outward to have an impact

Look outward to have an impact

In April during Spring Harvest, I chatted with Sim Dendy of TBN UK as part of his new “Leading Edge” series looking at the everyday challenges facing Christian leaders.

Now, as that interview is ready for broadcast on 24 October, reflecting on our conversation reminds me of one of the most important things we all can do to be an effective change leader: widen your viewpoint to see beyond yourself.

For me, panning that wide lens across sub-Saharan Africa emphasises the vastness of need that Mercy Ships volunteers are fighting. The odds are overwhelming:

  • Globally, the number of people living on less than $2 a day has been cut in half in the last 25 years — except in Africa. There, it has increased.
  • Here in Western Europe, we’re 38 times more likely to get safe, timely surgery than if we were born in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • More than 17 million people will die this year because of conditions that could be treated with surgery.

Expanding access to health care and safe surgery saves lives and creates a base for people to lead productive lives. And that’s the core of what Mercy Ships does.

When Mercy Ships arrives in a new port, we are always humbled by the sheer number of people who come to us by whatever means they can find. These courageous men, women and children are blinded by cataracts, crippled from carrying the weight of a 10-pound tumour, unable to work because a foot deformity prevents them from walking. Yet they come to our ship because it offers the only hope that’s available.

My worldview was opened wide years ago when I first watched a Mercy Ships video of a boy who had only months to live because a throat tumour threatened his breathing. A 40-minute operation from Mercy Ships healed him. I was stunned. How can these conditions be allowed to exist? How does that even happen in our world today, when so many of us are blessed with so much?

Recognising the problem and focusing on it made it clear that I needed to expand my worldview. Nothing will change if we don’t keep these needs in our lens every day and commit to act in whatever way is possible for us at the moment.

What does that action look like? It’s different for each of us. For me, it meant coming to work with Mercy Ships so I can be more directly involved in finding a solution.

For others, it could mean providing financial support. Mercy Ships relies on the generosity of countless people who give what they can to help fund our work — children collecting coins for Mercy Ships, families supporting us with a monthly recurring gift, individuals who give in honour of their loved ones, or even those loved ones who remember Mercy Ships in their wills. All around the world, our supporters’ actions help us continue our work.

For others, it could mean volunteering for Mercy Ships. We need hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers to keep our hospital ship running. And only about half of those positions are medical. We need teachers and deckhands and cooks and machinists. If you have a skill, Mercy Ships surely has a place for you.

And, for others, action takes the form of committed and life-impacting prayer.

The global surgery crisis is enormous. It’s so vast that it might even appear to be impossible to solve. It could be easier to turn away.

But we simply must keep our lens focused wide. We can’t turn a blind eye to this injustice. Mercy Ships has made a difference for more than 2.71 million people in our 40 years of service. We know there’s much more to do, and indeed it’s daunting and difficult. But by focusing our lens on the landscape, we never lose sight of the motivation that led us to action in the first place. And that’s how we keep moving forward to fight this crisis together.

Lea Milligan is executive director of Mercy Ships UK.

Listen again here