Earlier this year I had the chance to speak with Ellie about her experiences on the YWAM Ships. I think the work she does it so fantastic I just had to share this with you all.
Can you briefly tell us who YWAM Ships are and what they do?
YWAM ships is a non profit organisation which is a vital part of YWAM as a whole. YWAM (Youth With A Mission) was set up in the 1960’s by a young American couple, Loren and Darlene Cunningham who felt called to start an organisation that trains up young people and sends them out in to the world to share the word of God. YWAM now has over 100, 000 full time workers in 135 different countries. YWAM ships is a by-product of YWAM, and they are focused on bringing medical care to remote and isolated people groups. The ship I am on is based in Papua New Guinea, alongside 1, soon to be 2, other YWAM vessels.
What made you decide to volunteer with YWAM?
Before coming to the ship I knew that missions was going to be my life. I had known since I was about 16 and had known that it would be medical mission particularly. I went to nursing School, with the plan to go into missions after a 2 year consolidation of my nursing education. One evening i was praying about my next steps and remembered having read Loren Cunningham's book, ‘Is that really you God?’ about 5 years before, before my first ever missions trip to India. I felt I needed some more missions specific training before I went out into the field and so decided to do a YWAM Discipleship training school (DTS) in Wisconsin in the US. A DTS is a 5-6 month training school where you build a deeper relationship with God and prepare for life as a missionary. The first 3-4 months are ‘lecture phase’ where you have lots of teaching by different speakers, essentially a bible course, followed by 2 months of outreach. My outreach was in Thailand. During my outreach I really felt that the next step was ship ministry and so started looking in to YWAM ships, and had a real peace about the ship I am on now.
How long have you been volunteering and where have you been based?
I will have been staffing with YWAM for a year in September, with my DTS, I have been with YWAM for 18 months. My DTS was in Madison, Wisconsin in the United States, but now I am based on a medical ship in Papua New Guinea that has its main base in Kona, Hawaii, not that I’ve been to Hawaii yet!
Do you have any favourite stories about people you've worked with?
So many. I get the cool privilege of working with so many different kinds of people. The PNG people are amazing, some of the most generous people you’ve ever met; they have nothing, but will give you everything you have in a heartbeat. One of my favourite stories is the time we were half way up a huge river in the East Sepik province, it is super remote and we had been on the river for about 3 weeks at this point. We were in the main ‘city’ transitioning people out for an outreach change over (outreaches typically last 2 weeks) and so we were planning on being in this area for about a week. The first evening we got there I was asked to come and look at an elderly gentleman who was very sick. I went to his house, and here I met John. A 78-year-old man who was sick in bed with a very bad case of pneumonia. I started him on a course of oral antibiotics with the promise I would check on him in the morning, but if he got worse over night that they could come and get me (the house was 2 minutes from the ship). The next day I checked on John and took my colleague Lori with me for a second opinion, she agreed, but John was getting worse. We continued to walk through with his family how best to care for him, and with the plan to change his drugs if we didn’t see any improvement in the next few days. As we were leaving we asked John if we could pray for him, he was incredibly grateful for prayer, and said ‘thank you so much, you have bought an umbrella of joy in to our household.’ It got to the middle of the week, we were still checking in on John at the end of each day, but this particular day his daughter ran over to me and saying that John was shaking violently. When we got there John was in a bad way, and we decided to start him on an injectable antibiotic, but John was a frail old man and a severe case on pneumonia could kill him. We had to prepare his family for quite how sick he was. We gave him 2 days of injectable antibiotic and waited for him to stop shaking. Over the next 2 days we started to see an improvement. By the end of the week we came to check on John and saw him walking around the house unaided. He had made a remarkable recovery. He was still not back to normal, but he was chatting and sharing stories. He was a truly delightful man to be around and I have such great memories of being able to talk with him and spend time with him.
What is the best thing about volunteering with YWAM?
There are so many great things. I get to meet people from all over the world, and have made some of my best friends through YWAM. I get to help people who otherwise are wouldn’t get any help, and bring some hope to hopeless situations. And I get to share God with the people I meet ,and see people who feel forgotten reminded that God is always with them.
What course of action would you recommend to someone who wanted to pursue a medical position with YWAM?
Pray about it and apply at www.ywamships.net. If they want to be a long term staff they would first have to do a DTS, but to come and volunteer for just one or two outreaches then apply online. We are always looking for more volunteers!
Are there volunteering opportunities for those without a medical background or other ways to help?
Yes! To run the clinics we do there is always a need for general volunteers, either to help out on the ship or with being involved with the general running of the clinics.
What does the future hold for your journey with YWAM?
My commitment to the ship is for 2 years, and so should technically be up in September 2018. I’m unsure what life looks like after that. I love YWAM, the work it’s doing and the community you get from being a part of it, so I may stay in YWAM longer. But I know that whatever happen with my YWAM journey that I’m going to be in missions for a long time.