BEAVER SPRINGS - Radio ads from nearly a decade ago spurred Paula Pheasant to take a leave of absence from her job and embark on a Mercy Ship mission.
When Pheasant was a West Snyder High School student, she said she heard minute-long radio ads titled "Mercy Minute," which quickly detailed the story of a patient the program had healed. Although this was before she decided to go to Cedarville University for nursing, she was determined to become involved with the program.
"Hearing those stories just kind of gripped me," she said. "It became one of my life dreams."
Paula Pheasant, of Beaver Springs, plans to leave in January to serve on the Africa Mercy Ship as a nurse.
After she earned her nursing degree in Ohio, Pheasant moved back to Pennsylvania to work as a a nurse in the special care unit at Geisinger. Having over three years of experience as a practicing nurse - more than the required minimum of two years - Pheasant decided to act upon her dream, and applied in February to be a ward nurse with Mercy Ships. She anxiously awaited a response, questioning if there was any reason she would not be accepted.
Once she received confirmation, she approached her boss to request a leave of absence.
"It wasn't as scary as I thought it would be," recalled Pheasant. She filled out the necessary paperwork explaining what she wanted to do in her time away, and the year-long leave of absence was approved.
Between her acceptance in March 2011 and her upcoming departure in January , Pheasant has been hard at work raising $15,000 needed for her year-long endeavor. Part of this money will go toward her crew fees, which is the equivalent of her room and board on the ship, as well as her flights.
She said she has raised money through contributions from the Beaver Springs Rotary Club, various area churches, family and friends. Her home church, Community Mennonite Church in Milton, is among those that have pledged to donate a specific amount each month towards her service. She is just $1,200 away from her desired goal.
While Pheasant has been preparing for the past ten months, she still has more to do before she can board the Africa Mercy Ship. On Jan. 7, she will fly to Lindale, Texas, to start a five-week training course. Then, she will fly with the entire team of volunteers to Africa for two-and-a-half weeks of field service training, before they can board the boat. While some of this training will be like a classroom setting, with books to read and assignments, the majority of it will focus on how to prepare for the cultural differences.
Not only will Pheasant be living in Africa, but the team of volunteers she will be living and working with are from all over the world. By March 2, Pheasant will move onto the ship and begin her job as a ward nurse.
For the first few months of her term, she will be docked in Togo. Then in mid-July they will sail to Guinea, where she will finish her time with the Christian organization.
As Pheasant has been prepping herself for this year abroad physically and mentally, she said she also has been strengthening herself spiritually. The verse she is using on her prayer card is Psalm 82:3-4: "Defend the poor and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy; free them from the hand of the wicked."
Pheasant is looking forward to serving the poor in Africa, yet admitted she has had some anxious moments. She said her biggest challenge will be the long time away from her family, friends and coworkers.
So Paula won't feel so far away from her loved ones, her mother purchased several plain pillow cases and have everyone sign them with fabric pens. Not only will it remind Paula of all those who are thinking of her, but it is a lightweight, practical gift. She also believes it will be a bit of a struggle to adjust living with people from so many different cultures. While Pheasant has gone to Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Austria on vacation, she has never done missions abroad before.
The Mercy Ship's motto is "To provide hope and healing to the world's forgotten poor." The Africa Mercy ship is the only floating hospital in existence, and can hold about 100 patients, and has room for 450-480 crew members at one time. According to the Mercy Ship website, they provide free surgery and medical care for those who have tumours, congenital abnormalities, cleft lip and cleft palate, burns, cataracts, or corneal growths. They also provide care for those who have suffered injuries from childbirth, war or work accidents.
Pheasant said the program appeals to her because "they make the lame walk, and the blind see just like Jesus did. They just happen to do it in a different way than he had."
Pheasant will be a ward nurse, which means she will take care of the patients after they have had surgery, but before they are well enough to return home. To contribute to her Mercy Ship fund, visit paulasjourneytoafrica.blogspot.com.