I am in the presence of greatness.
Don Stephens, founder of Mercy Ships, is an incredible man who has done incredible things. All the incredible things he has done all started with a dream he had at nineteen years old to have a “hospital ship to serve the needy and forgotten poor”. In Don’s book, Ships of Mercy, written in 2005, he says:
“Most such ideas fade away with time. This one didn’t. And I found myself, day after day, year after year, in the middle of an idea that would not let me go. Until one day my imagined crew came to life before my eyes and, amazingly, made the dream set sail.”
“So on October 5, 1978, with a million-dollar loan from the a Swiss bank, the first Mercy Ship was ours. And soon it was towed by tugs to the bay of Elevsis in Greece to begin its renovations.”
“On July 7, 1982, we were ready to sail. At long last, the Mercy Ship Anastasis was sailing into the world.”
“It was easy to be overwhelmed twenty-five years ago; it still is today, because even after helping so many, there are so many more. And we realize that even with this new, mighty twenty-first century ship, we’ll never reach every person in need.”
“So why bother at all? Why do we continue to sail?”
“Standing here, feeling not only the hum of the mechanical energy that runs the ship but also feeling the wonderful human energy as well, I can think of several good reasons. But maybe the best answer comes from one of Lord McColl’s tiniest patients, a little girl who told her new Mercy Ship friends how she likes to rescue starfish stranded on the beach and put them back in the ocean. When someone pointed out the futility of such action in the grand scheme of things, she said: “It makes a difference to the starfish.”
“Every man, woman and child who finds him- or herself, by accident of birth and geography, out of reach of even the basics of of modern medicine, is like the starfish. We know this deep in our souls: every life is worthy. The best inside of us wants to offer the best to others. Behind every statistic, there’s a person in need of hope and healing. Every one’s a story. Some heart wrenching, some heart stirring-none, though, you can ever forget.”
Don Stephens is someone I admire and respect a great deal and someone I have hoped to have the privilege of meeting since I began working with Mercy Ships in 2006. Sunday night I was finally able to meet him!
Like the rest of the world, I always like to make a great and memorable first impression, which is why it took 6 days of him being on the ship for me to finally introduce myself to him. I had to be sure I was completely confident and I had to be sure I had all the perfect questions for him. I wanted him to remember me. I wanted to have something more for him than just the same questions he gets from everyone. I so badly wanted to receive some very wise words of wisdom and experiences from him. However, after our introduction and me telling him my name 5 times, he called me, Melissa… I then show him my badge and repeat my name again and he still called me, Melissa, again….. Talk about all my hopes and dreams being shattered. He completely threw me off my game. I had imagined the worst case scenarios, such as me not remembering anything I wanted to say or me getting nervous and babbling about the most random things in the world. Just as I had imagined the worst things, they happened… I couldn’t remember what I wanted to say and ask because I couldn’t stop thinking about how he thinks my name is Melissa and then I started babbling about my job back home, people he doesn’t know and things he doesn’t understand because I was trying to find something to talk about and I just couldn’t think about anything except… Melissa. So I guess in the end, I did have half of what I hoped for. It was a memorable introduction for me but not a great first impression for him. However, I think the next day made up for it!
I was having a super tough day at work. I was very short staffed and I was also still training my new Day Crew who speak very little English. I was exhausted and a bit frustrated and unfortunately, Don Stephens randomly appeared in my work area and I had the misfortune of him seeing a little bit of my frustration as I talked with my boss. I was quite embarrassed, again… As I went back to work, feeling even worse than I did before, Don Stephens appeared yet again. I tried my best to avoid any eye contact because I didn’t want to speak with him. I think he could tell I was doing all I could to avoid the eye contact so he reached out and grabbed my arm and this is what he said:
“Thank you for what you do. It matters”
Once again, I couldn’t say anything. As my eyes began to fill with tears I couldn’t control, he says even more:
“Don’t worry, you will get everything sorted out. You have a wonderful, refreshing, kind, happy spirit and that spreads around more than you know and when that spirit is coming from leadership, that means you’re going to have the best department no matter what you’re doing. So like I said, thank you for what you’re doing because it does matter.”
He then smiled at me, let go of my arm and walked away. I might not have had the most memorable and great first impression with Don Stephens but, I did finally receive amazing words of wisdom from him.
Two days later he was in the cafe having coffee so I walked over and said good morning to him. He smiled at me and asked me to sit down with him. After talking for a minute he asks: “Tell me again where you’re from, Melissa?” I couldn’t help but giggle this time. He might not have my name straight but, he does know who I am. And I guess it works out better that I’m Melissa because there are other Lisa’s on the ship but, there is only one Melissa on the ship ! 🙂