What is Life Like on Mercy Ships?!?

Are you intrigued by the above question?

Have you spent countless nights laying in bed, burning with desire to know the answer??

Maybe you’re a prospective volunteer and have stumbled upon this blog while desperately searching for any information that might tell you what it’s like to actually live on a hospital ship in Africa.

Maybe you’re a friend of mine who just wants to know what a day in my life is like.

Or maybe you’re a stalker, in which case i’ll politely ask you to stop reading even though I know you won’t.  Because that’s what stalkers do.


Life on the Africa Mercy.


Above is a picture of the crew.  I’m not in this picture as it was taken when the ship arrived in Pointe Noire.  However it sort of gives you a birds eye view of how many people you’ll be living with while you’re here.
In case you are OCD and want to count… there are roughly 400 people there.  Add the 200 local Congolese day workers and you get about 600 people running around this floating hospital.

Of course they are running around the hospital, the galley, the academy (there is a legitimate K-12 school on board), the engine room and many other places, but that comes later.

Morning Time:


This is my cabin.  I share it with 3 other dudes: two african fellows named Innocent and Emmanuel and a tall guy named Andrew who is on vacation somewhere right now.  It’s small, but not ridiculously small.  When I was headed here I was expecting my closet to be equivalent to two shoeboxes stacked on top of each other.  However it’s actually pretty spacious!  I have room for my ukulele (i wish i’d brought more instruments) as well as all my clothes!  Why didn’t I make my bed?  So that you know this is a realistic portrayal of life on the ship! There will be no fakery here!  (Also I forgot, but isn’t my other excuse way better?)


So if you’re thinking of heading here, i’d recommend packing light, but still make sure you bring that thing that you really love.  You’re in a closed environment for a long time and it’s invaluable to have that little piece of home to cling to when things get a little crazy.  My thing was my uke, and I have to admit that having my own little midnight worship time on the dock has been just the ticket to staying sane a few times.


Honestly though you probably won’t be spending too much time in your cabin, there’s too many other fun things to do!

Like shower!


Haha I’m just kidding.  If you’re volunteering on the Africa Mercy unfortunately you’re going to have to give up a few of life’s little luxuries.  One of these is that nice long shower that everyone loves.  Here on the ship you’re (strongly) advised to take two minute showers.  I was a bit worried about this, but I didn’t really need to be because having four people in the morning all rushing to get ready for work really limits your bathroom time anyways!

But don’t let that influence your entire decision to volunteer, it actually is the smallest inconvenience.  I’ve never heard anyone complain about it amazingly.  Also they give you a towel!  But bring an extra one if you don’t like doing laundry (mom can you send me like 50 towels please?).


Breakfast!  Best meal of the day.  A great man once wrote a poem about breakfast that has really stuck with me:

“Each morning what I always say,

Is that this is the hungriest I’ve been today.”  – Kyle Siemens

And how do I satisfy that hunger?  With cereal!  Everyone else eats hard-boiled eggs and porridge, but I need my fiber.  Woo fiber!  I love it!

Coffee Break:

Coffee break just squeezes in above work as most important things of my morning.  We have a real life Starbucks on board, with real life Starbucks coffee!  It’s super cheap which is awesome and I go there way too often.  They also have most of what they have at home so you can totally get your crazy specific Starbucks specialty if you’re willing to explain it slowly to whoever is working.

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photo (3)


If you’re coming here as a nurse then you’ll spend the day, or evening, or night, down in the wards doing nurse things.  Some of these things are things I hope never to do, but most of them seem to involve playing with patients.  Every time I go down there they are playing Jenga.  Seriously, African’s love Jenga.  I’m not trying to start a stereotype or anything but who would have thought that of all the games in the world the one that would transcend language and culture was Jenga??  Also they are amazing at it.


My work consists of emailing a billion people, organizing schedules, guiding media teams around and all that fun stuff.  It’s hard to call it work honestly because so far i’m really enjoying it.  Also i’m not getting paid.


You eat lunch.  Simple.  The food is really tasty here.

Shop at the Ship Shop:

We have a shop on board!  It’s got everything you could need (and a few things you could want)!  Come here for all your shampoo, toilet paper, chocolate… I’m sure there’s other stuff there but honestly that’s all I’ve bought so far.  I’ll leave it to the eagle eyed readers to pick out shop stuff from the picture.


Blah blah blah the rest of the day:

More work and dinner and stuff.  I’m bored of writing the daily stuff now.  I’ll write all the fun stuff you can do!

Hang out with Patients!

Come up to deck 7 each day in the afternoon and get some air with the patients!  The kids rip around on little bikes while caregivers and parents nap around them!  Challenge someone to Jenga and prepare to get beaten!  Fun times and fresh air to be had by all!

Photo Credit Mercy Ships

Mercy Ministries!

Almost every day there are opportunities to go into town and to be involved in Mercy Ministries.  These consist of such things as Orphange visits (pictures from which i will put below!  Watch me beat children at tug of rope!), visiting seniors, the Hope center, watching Jesus Film with locals, cuddling abandoned babies – You can do all of these things and more!  And actually it’s super rewarding and amazing, especially if you go multiple times and build relationships with the kids.


The one i’ve spent the most time at is the boy’s orphanage.  There are maybe 20 kids age 6-14 there and they are awesome.  We play games and sports, tell stories and just hang out with them.  I practice my french and they practice their english.  It’s a good time.


Church / Bible Studies!

We have a church service of sorts twice a week: on sunday and thursday.  The worship on board is awesome, with all sorts of music styles represented.  Last week we had an African team leading and though I didn’t understand any of the words the spirit was definitely moving!

I got the opportunity to play with one of the worship teams and it was amazing.  One of my strongest delights is spending time worshiping the lord with music and i’m so grateful that I got the opportunity to do that on the ship.


There are also many bible studies and small groups that you can join if that’s your thing.  Though we don’t do a lot of field evangelizing here (or at least personally I haven’t), there is still a strong emphasis on Christ-like community and it seems like everyone is always up for talking about God – which I love.  I’ve had some pretty intense conversations with people here – make sure to ask people the reasons why they came to Mercy Ships, nearly everyone I’ve asked has had an incredible God story.

Be with Buddies!

Good news for extroverts, you’re living in an environment where you can literally always talk to someone if you want to!  No matter where you are, if you whisper a joke someone will hear it!  Do you love physical contact?  Just stretch your arms out quickly and you’re bound to touch someone!

No it’s not that bad.  I’m definitely kidding.

Sometimes though it can feel this way.  Especially if you’re an introvert like I am.  Luckily there are many places that you can sequester yourself for some quiet time.  Curl up in one of the comfy couches in midships, or hide in the library (one of my favorite places).  If tanning is your thing then sunscreen up, stick in your headphones and lounge beside the pool on the top of the ship.

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Once you’ve got your fill of quiet time then head back into the social atmosphere for some fun!

Great news for everyone – the people on the ship are super friendly.  You can sit at literally any table and be welcomed.  Back in my first week I sat at a new table every single meal and made friends of nearly half the crew.  Now i’m a jaded 3-weeker and i’ve sort of found my crew, but I still make it my goal to sit with the guy sitting all alone.

Once you’ve found your friends there is tons to do.  Enjoy coffee, watch a movie, play games, go to a cafe, jam on the beach, play with the kids on board, workout – you guys get the drift, normal friend stuff.



My burning question coming here was will I be able to workout?  The answer is yes!  (Kind of).

There is a gym on board.  If you are in there alone it’s mediocre.  They’ve got some free weights, a bench press, a ghetto pull down bar; decent stuff.  If you’re in there with another person it’s cramped and mediocre.


If you’re a runner!  You’re advised not to run alone (though it’s not too bad to stay within the port – roughly 2-3k) but luckily there are running groups all the time.  I don’t know why but doctors and nurses really seem to like running.  I usually go out three times a week or so in the evening so if you join us feel free to find me and tag along!  Just look out for the monsoons; a few raindrops may seem innocent until your run has turned into a swim.

Go Into Town!

There is so much fun stuff in town!  Yay!  Hike the gorge!  Swim the beach!  Eat at restaurants!  Dance at local church!  Shop at markets!  Get lost in Taxis!  The possibilities are limitless (as long as you are super creative).IMG_1404

The Gorge


The Beach


Live Music!



Other Things!

There is literally always something going on.  People take weekend trips to other towns or go camping sometimes.  I’ve spent many happy evening chatting with people – there are 40 different nations here so the stories and variety is nearly endless.  I’ve yet to be bored.  Last week we went with one of the day crew to listen to live music.  This week we are supposed to go and buy fabric at the Grande Market so that we can tailor a traditional African outfit (though i’m not sure if that’s happening yet).

Final Thoughts:

So that’s a brief overview of life on Mercy Ships.  There’s always something to do and someone to talk to, but it’s important to find time to yourself to do personal things, like update blogs and whatnot.  In conclusion I’ll just list a few other things that maybe new people would want to know:

– The culture on the ship is super unique.  People are always coming and going and it’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been.  So if people aren’t super social when you meet them it could be because they just said goodbye to one of their good friends and they aren’t quite ready to fill their seat yet.

– I brought ten shirts and I wish I’d brought a few more.  Laundry is great on board but I dislike doing it so much.

– If you enjoy writing bring extra notebooks they are hard to find here.

– The library has a great selection so don’t worry too much about bringing ten million books

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head.  Feel free to message me kyle.siemens@gmail.com if you have any questions or anything like that, I’m happy to answer.

And so with that I say goodnight!  If it is day time I please ask you to close your eyes and imagine it is night so that we are all on the same page here.



8 thoughts on “What is Life Like on Mercy Ships?!?

  1. I was feeling sympathetic until i read about the starbucks n swimming pool – lol. Looks pretty nice too. Sounds like an amazing n rewarding experience, although i know from my own travels, these dont usually come without some intense n tough times too. May the lord bless u n keep u 🙂 one question – introvert???!!!?? REALLY??!

  2. Just closed my eyes and pretended it was night— ha ha! Thanks for the inside scoop about life on board! I’ve been absolutely devouring everything I can find about Mercy Ships these days and am praying about applying.

  3. Thank you so, so much for posting this (even though it’s a year and a half later that I’m reading it!) I’m heading to Madagascar to volunteer in February and this was one of the most helpful posts I’ve found as far as getting an idea of what to expect.. and getting me even more excited. Appreciate you taking the time to write this!

  4. Thank you so much, My Daughter is comeing the end of March 2016. God bless you all and Keep you. Be safe and come home safe. God be with all you do .Deanna, ps I want to go

  5. Hey Kyle! Thanks for the info – I’m leaving in August with Mercy Ships in Benin – your post has been super helpful in getting my expectations sorted out 🙂

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