Tyrone Barton was on board the old cruise liner docked along the coast of West Africa when they paged the galley for him to come down. He was working as a chef, feeding the crew of the Mercy Ship’s “Anastasis,” a hospital ship that travels from port to port, offering much-needed surgeries.
Tyrone had reported his blood type when he registered to go to sea—all the ship’s blood banks are supplied by the crew members—and they called him down when one of the surgeons needed more of his blood type to finish a procedure to remove a tumor. In that moment, Tyrone knew he was saving a life.
“For me it’s an overwhelming thought that you have directly given blood to someone who is having life-changing surgery,” Tyrone said.
Tyrone was aboard one of a fleet of four ships that have toured the world over the past three decades, providing more than 82,000 lifesaving surgeries. He’s been to the Carribbean, Africa and Central America. He even met his wife, Stephanie, on one of his trips.
Note: That’s not unusual. The Mercy Ships website boasts more than 250 couples met on the “Anastasis” alone.
In 2008, Tyrone and Stephanie came back to the United States after losing funding during the economic downturn. They lived the landlocked life for a while—Tyrone is head chef at Valley Fellowship Christian Academy, an accredited, thriving school with a mission focused on raising Godly leaders.
At Valley Fellowship, Tyrone developed a nutritious, quality meal program parents say enhanced their children’s health and academic performance. But his services on the seas were needed, and Tyrone knew they had to go back.
Things lined up for them to go on another two-year trip, this time on the “Africa Mercy.” And this time, they will be traveling with their two children, Tytus, 6, and Ezra, 4.
It’s a lot of work to get a 16,000-ton ship halfway around the country. So, wouldn’t it be easier to set up a hospital once you get there? Short answer—no.
The ships’ onboard, state-of-the-art hospitals give doctors a controlled, sterile work environment to keep patients safe. The “Africa Mercy” has a flat bottom, allowing it to get into shallow ports otherwise unreachable by ships that size. More than 75 percent of the world’s population lives within 100 miles of a port city. That makes a hospital ship the most efficient platform reaching areas where clean water, electricity, medical facilities and skilled staff are almost nonexistent.”
Tyrone will head the kitchen area, preparing food for the 450-member crew and patients who come aboard for surgery, while Stephanie will work as a registered nurse. Most of the surgeries they see are tumor removals, Tyrone said. They’re usually benign, but they cause a lifetime of distress if not removed. The crew also sees a lot of cleft-palate and club-foot surgeries.
They also handle dental, women’s health, general surgeries, eye care, mental health and spiritual care for the terminally ill.
You can see before and after photos of some of these surgeries here.
According to the Mercy Ships website, more than 85 percent of children living in underdeveloped countries will need surgery before they turn 15. What’s worse, healthcare is either non-existent or completely unaffordable in countries like Togo and Guinea.
Life On Board
Tyrone and Stephanie always planned on returning to Mercy Ships. Tytus developed severe allergies and asthma that delayed their next tour. When Ezra later developed similar allergies, they postponed their return further. Recently, however, doctors found out how to control their allergies, even on board a ship in Africa.
“The progression of things that were happening around us gave us hope that we would go back,” Tyrone said.
While Tyrone and Stephanie are working roughly 45 hours per week, the boys will attend an on-board academy accredited through the United States. More than 50 students from kindergarten through 12th grade go to school on the ship while their parents work.
Tytus and Ezra will see a new culture most American schoolchildren never see. In July 2017, the Bartons head to Texas for training, then fly to the Canary Islands to meet the ship and sail down to Cameroon for the next 10 month outreach.
During their time in port, the families can leave the ship to participate in ministry opportunities or just to see the country.
Worth 1,000 Words
Mercy Ships isn’t an excuse to travel the world and help a few people. Volunteers make a two-year commitment and raise funds for their expenses. One Huntsville photographer, Sarah Annerton of Pixel Me Photography, volunteered her services to the Barton family so they would have professional photos for their prayer cards and fundraising items needed to support the overall mission to provide quality healthcare.
“God has given each of us gifts and talents,” she explained, “and it is my desire to use whatever He gives me to serve others…Beyond quality child and family portraiture, the goal of our studio is to increase the impact of Christ-honoring organizations through visual storytelling—photographs, video and graphic design.”
Those photos, Tyrone said, help bring awareness to Mercy Ships and the Barton’s service around the world. Sarah considered it an honor to provide her services to the Bartons.
“It’s one thing to read about an organization,” she said, “but to actually see its mission through visual means informs, inspires, stirs interest and influences others with far better and longer-lasting results. The Bartons are…impacting the world and honoring Christ with their gifts.”
If you would like to donate to the Barton’s work with Mercy Ships, click here.
To read their family blog while they’re overseas, check it out here.
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