Prayerful expectation: how being with Mercy Ships helps you answer patients’ heartfelt prayers

Prayerful expectation: how being with Mercy Ships helps you answer patients’ heartfelt prayers

Nurse Rachel Greenland has volunteered onboard Mercy Ships hospital ships for 20 years, using her expertise to help answer patients’ prayers: “Many people have prayed for someone to help them for years – being part of the answer to their prayers is incredible.” Next month, she will be volunteering for the 15th time.

Flicking through a magazine in 2001, an advert caught Rachel Greenland’s eye that would change the course of her life.

It told of a charity hospital ship, the Anastasis, docking at London and inviting visitors to come and view it. It sparked an immediate interest in the nurse from Devon, who had been working in the intensive care unit of Coventry Hospital for the past eight years.

Rachel said, “As a joke, I said to my friend, ‘If I’m not on the coach home, I have gone on the ship.’ And she said, ‘Why don’t you? It combines work, travel and your faith.’”

She decided she needed to keep an open mind when she went onboard the Mercy Ships vessel to have a look around. But she was surprised how strongly she felt immediately.

“When I went onboard something really stirred in me! I realised I would really love to do this. I applied not really thinking anything would happen.”

But it did. Later that year she would head to West Africa and spend five months volunteering onboard as an intensive care unit (ICU) nurse and a recovery nurse (PACU) before returning a further 13 times before 2012. Her volunteering ranged from three weeks to 11 months periods when the ship was based in Benin, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.

And despite her extensive time in ICU in the UK, she admits there is something very different about the Mercy Ships experience that keeps pulling her back: “I was so shocked to see the level of need on such an extreme level in what people suffer with out there. They never complain and just accept it as if it’s normal life. It is unique because you cannot experience compassion like it.

“You physically see someone’s dreams come true in front of your eyes. Many people have prayed for someone to help them for years – being part of the answer to their prayers is incredible.”

Full time

In 2012, she made the massive decision to quit her job in Coventry, where she had now been for 19 years, and take up a full-time post on hospital ship the Africa Mercy.

“I felt it was time to leave my NHS job and devote more of my life to working with Mercy Ships. As an ICU nurse, I had a busy job managing an ICU, but had felt an increasing dissatisfaction in my job, and a strong desire to work on the ship again. I could not settle at home. I did not feel satisfied, so I left.”

She planned to volunteer for six months but stayed for six years.

“My intention was to serve as a PACU nurse for six months but that soon changed to maxillofacial (head and neck) ward team leader then later as ward supervisor. Six months became six years! These proved to be very special years of my life.”

In September 2018, she decided it was time for a break from the ship and she headed to Texas to assist with the induction programme for new Mercy Ships crew, called Onboarding. COVID-19 saw her decide to return home to work as an ICU nurse to help the country cope with the pandemic.

“After almost three years, I am now preparing to return to the ship for six weeks in Senegal in April.”

And she cannot wait to return.


When Rachel volunteers in April it will be her 15th time. But what makes it so addictive and what makes her keep coming back for more?

“There is something so special about it that just draws me back. It fulfils things in me that I cannot do back home. It is such a unique atmosphere and enriching experience. It helps get life into perspective.”

“It is impossible to work on the ship as a nurse, without becoming intimately involved in the life of the patients, and also our wonderful day crew (translators) who we are so dependent upon. It is a privilege it is to work in an international team, with people who are so passionate about the work they do.”

After three years, her longest time away from serving, Rachel said she cannot wait to return.

She added: “My greatest passion is to see God’s love change and transform lives, both patients, crew and others.  It is an honour to do this job and this journey continues to be so much more than I could ever have imagined.”

Do you want to use your unique talents and skills to transform lives like Rachel? Make Your Mark by looking at opportunities here.

  • Next week, Rachel highlights her most memorable patient experiences and transformations in her own words and pictures. Look out on social media for the next instalment. Read part two here!