Ships of mercy

By Stephen Weigand

Former Island residents Chuck and Sue Duby are leading a life of adventure, travel and meeting new people from around the world.

``We feel like we're living a life a lot of people wait a lifetime to do,'' said Sue.

They also help people in medical need in developing parts of the world. The Dubys are chaplains on board a former Greek passenger liner called the Anastasis that's been converted into a floating hospital.

``Our whole focus is to demonstrate the love of God,'' said Sue.

The Anastasis is the 522-foot flagship in a fleet of former commercial passenger ships now owned by Mercy Ships, a charitable Christian organization formed in 1978. The nongovernmental organization (NGO) provides medical care in developing countries on board each of its four ships, which include the Africa Mercy, the Caribbean Mercy and the Island Mercy.

The Caribbean Mercy was docked in Chicksaw, Ala., two miles north of Mobile, when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast last month and survived. The ship is usually docked at a

Central American or Caribbean port to help people, but is now serving as a command center and housing for relief teams.

Sue and Chuck departed Monday, Aug. 1, for East London, South Africa, where the Anastasis was being outfitted before it sails to Liberia to bring medical care to the impoverished, war-torn country for eight months.

Mercy Ships' mission is to serve the poorest of the poor, said Sue. ``Liberia and Sierra Leone are at the top of the list.''

Work begins with a country's government about a year-and-a-half before the ship arrives. An advance team works with local medical facilities, churches and other NGOs to plan for Mercy Ship's visit.

Word of the visit is out even before the ship docks at its new home for eight months. ``It's totally overwhelming,'' said Sue. ``People will walk for three days to get screened.''

Eye conditions and facial tumors that started out as infections are just some of the ailments the medical staff see.

Some people cannot be treated, however. In those cases, the staff does everything it can to treat them well and let them know they are a valued person, said Sue.

Each ship is a state-of-the-art medical facility not found in the countries they visit.

``It's hard enough for these people to get basic medical care, but for specialty care, it's almost non-existant,'' said Mike Osbourne, a spokesperson for Mercy Ships.

Nearly 500 procedures were performed in Liberia earlier this year when the Anastasis spent 14 weeks in the capital of Monrovia. An additional 1,250 people were treated in off-ship dental clinics during that time.

Besides the medical staff and equipment, the ship's other facilities include a bank, post office and hair salon. The diverse occupations among the crew include computer technicians, electricians, plumbers and cooks.

``It's like a little floating city,'' said Sue. ``. . . The medical staff is a small percentage of the staff. Take any away and it wouldn't work.''

The crews are all-volunteer, including the medical professionals. The Dubys, like many of the volunteers, pay their own way. Doing so allows the ships to extend its stay in a port. The Dubys raise their fee from supporters like the Mercer Island Presbyterian Church (MIPC).

According to Marilyn Jensen, associate pastor at MIPC, the church has helped support the Dubys for 10 years. ``We like to support children of the church as they go out in mission,'' said Jensen.

Sue has been involved with the church since she was 5, and her children have interned at MIPC.

``They've made us family, which is important,'' she said.

``It's nice to know you have anchors at home,'' she continued. ``We couldn't do it otherwise.''

The Dubys are two of four chaplains for the 400-member crew that is made up of multiple nationalities and denominations, all living where they work.

Sue and Chuck became involved with the organization after trying out a couple of other Christian fellowship programs, such as volunteering at the state penitentiary in Monroe, Wash. They were living in Seattle after graduating college -- Sue from Stanford and Chuck from the University of California at Davis -- but none of the programs they volunteered for quite fit until they heard that a Mercy Ship vessel, the Anastasis, was in Seattle.

After hearing a five-minute presentation to the medical staff, they thought, ``This is it. We know we are supposed to be a part of this,'' Sue explained. After a five-month training program and a year of fundraising, the Dubys joined Mercy Ships in 1989.

Their son, Peter, was 3 and their daughter, Christa, was 7. They grew up on the ships and have traveled to more than 20 countries. They are now 21 and 25, respectively.

The Dubys haven't lived in the Seattle area since joining Mercy Ships. There are people representing more than 35 nationalities involved with the organization. When in the United States., they spend their time at its headquarters in Van, Texas.

``We literally have friends all over the world now,'' said Sue.

Sue still calls Mercer Island home, however. Her parents, Hugo and Olive Oswald, moved to the Shorewood Apartments some 50 years ago before building a home off West Mercer Way.

``That's home to me,'' said Sue.

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