28 Sep Making a hospital ship home: Clementine Tengue
“Togo is my country, but Mercy Ships is my home.”
It was a conversation with her pastor, all the way back in 1995, that changed the trajectory of Clementine’s life. She was working at her church when she heard that a hospital ship would soon be arriving in her home country of Togo. She was immediately intrigued — enough to leave her job to serve onboard as a local day crew. She didn’t mind what the job was; she would serve wherever she was needed.
“I saw the way Mercy Ships was treating the patients with care, love, acceptance, and I thought this is exactly what I want to do, helping my own people. My first job on the ship, I worked in the dining room. Every department is important. Whether I’m in the galley or the dining room, it’s a mission. I thought, I’m staying here.”
Dream come true
Almost two years later, Mercy Ships founder Don Stephens asked Clementine to step into a newly created role ministering to patients: “Every hospital has a chaplain.” Connecting with people all day – and sharing about her faith? It was her dream come true.
“We have patients that were rejected and outcast. The worst thing is, they rejected themselves. We help prepare them for the doctors so they have confidence and trust that it’s a world-class hospital ship coming to serve them free of charge. We give them that assurance and love,” asserted Clementine.
She was recruited for just five months – and 23 years later, Clementine was still onboard. “It’s my home.”
A change of plans and an answer to prayer
In 2020, Clementine took a brief leave of absence from the Africa Mercy to travel back to Togo and visit her family as her mother was unwell. One week before her return to the ship, where she had left all her belongings, she learned that a pandemic was quickly sweeping the globe.
Travel came to a halt. She had no idea when or how she’d return to the community that had become home.
As weeks turned to months and then a year, Clementine continued to live out her faith joyfully every day in Togo. Before leaving the Africa Mercy, she had received cataract surgery onboard but still needed a second operation to fully restore her sight. Mercy Ships volunteer ophthalmic surgeon Dr Glenn Strauss, the surgeon who performed her first surgery, connected Clementine with DrWodomé, a former Mercy Ships trainee who now runs his own cataract surgical clinic in Togo. Here, Clementine received the second surgery she needed free of charge.
After her surgery, Dr Wodomé asked Clementine if she would be willing to serve in a ministry role in the clinic – to replicate what she had done onboard the ship. Many of his patients come from remote regions of the country without access to surgical care and are nervous about receiving cataract surgery. They needed someone to serve as a safe space, and Clementine had 20-plus years of experience in the role.
It was an easy yes. Every morning, Clementine comes to the clinic and meets all the patients before their surgery begins. With her signature glowing smile, she leads devotionals, calms fears, and prays for each patient before they go into the operating room. After surgery, she celebrates with each patient’s success, often leading them in singing and dancing.
Making her mark wherever she goes
Sometimes the greatest impact comes from the smallest gestures. Offering a hug to someone who’s afraid. Dancing alongside someone’s happy moment. And praying with anyone who needs a listening ear. No matter where she is in the world, Clementine knows how to make her mark.
As soon as possible, Clementine plans to return to her ship home. After spending time filling vital needs on the Africa Mercy, she will embark on a new adventure as a hospital chaplain onboard the Global Mercy™ . No matter where she goes, Clementine will continue doing what she does best: loving people.
“I’m so excited for the Global Mercy™ — I’ve been praying for that ship for so long! I’m looking forward to stepping on that ship for the first field service to be with the patients and the crew, my ship family.
“It’s like a small village where everyone is welcome. Whatever place you can find on a Mercy Ship, please come and join us – we’d love you to come. We need you!”
Mercy Ships needs the unique skills you bring. Are you ready to Make Your Mark? Find your place onboard at mercyships.org/makeyourmark