“I can’t believe you’re giving up your entire summer and fall instead of going to college, Heather. I mean, it’s like forever! And just look where you’ll be living. How can you stand it? There’s no room to move, no privacy either!”
“I’ll be home in time for Christmas,” Heather Barlow reminded her sixteen-year-old sis- ter, Amber. “And I don’t care about the living conditions. As for college, I’ll start in January. You’ll hardly know I’m gone.”
At eighteen, Heather was going off on a Mercy Ship to work in Africa, to try to make a difference in a place where children starved to death or died from terrible illnesses. She had grown up wanting to do something worthwhile with her life, but now that she was actually on board the ship, now that it was almost time to say goodbye to her family, Heather was beginning to feel the clutch of self-doubt. And Amber’s reluctance to see her leave wasn’t helping.
Amber glanced around the cramped quarters. “It’s just so—so primitive.”
Ignoring Amber’s complaints, Heather opened her duffel bags and began putting her clothes into the narrow drawers of the dresser bolted to the wall. She would be sharing this old-fashioned small stateroom with a Swedish girl named Ingrid, whom she’d not yet met.
Across the narrow room, Amber seated herself on a bed attached by cables to the metal wall of the ship. “Ugh! This mattress is so thin, I can feel the springs.”
“It’s a hospital ship, sis, not a luxury liner anymore,” Heather reminded her.
Years before, Anastasis had served as a cruise ship. But in the mid-1980s, it had been converted into a floating hospital, with three operating rooms, a dental clinic, a laboratory, and an X-ray unit. The aging ship, painted white from bow to stern, was more than five hundred feet long and nine stories high. Its staterooms, once luxurious quarters for wealthy travelers, now housed crew and staff—175 volunteers who paid their own expenses and agreed to serve a tour of duty as the ship sailed from port to port, bringing life-saving medical services to countries ravaged by disease, famine, war, and poverty.
Long-term crew members—missionary and medical personnel and their families who had signed up for extended tours of duty—were housed in the more spacious upper-deck staterooms, while short-term volunteers such as Heather were assigned the smaller rooms. The ship’s once-elegant lounge and dining areas served as conference rooms and training centers. Children of the crew and staff attended school on board.
Once the ship dropped anchor in a port, engineers, carpenters, teachers, and evangelists took medical and dental services and supplies into remote areas and inland villages. They built schools, hospitals, and housing, all with donated goods. The Mercy Ship was a floating hospital. And a vision of hope.
“Well, I think it’s a dumb idea to even be going on this trip, and I don’t know why you want to go in the first place,” Amber said, voicing her displeasure once again. “I’ll bet there’s no decent guys to date, and nowhere to go even if there were.”
Heather sighed. It irritated her when Amber sounded so frivolous. Why couldn’t she understand how important this trip was? Heather had spent so much time thinking about the trip, a whole year planning it, and ten days in May at a special boot camp preparing for it. She asked, “Are you trying to make me feel guilty? Because I won’t. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, and you know it.”
Amber scuffed her fashionable shoes on the floor. “I’m going to miss you,” she said quietly.
“I’ll miss you, too.” Heather saw tears shimmering in her sister’s green eyes. “Hey, what’s this? I thought you’d be glad to have the house to yourself. And no big sister to be in your way when school starts, either. You always said you couldn’t wait until me and my friends were out of high school so that you and your friends could have the halls all to yourself.” Heather sat beside Amber on the bunk and put her arm around Amber’s shoulders.
“What fun is there in being home by myself? Mom and Dad won’t have anything to do but go to work. And grouse at me, of course. You’re the one they think is perfect in this family, you know.”
“They grouse at you now,” Heather teased gently. “So what will be different?”
“You won’t be there to get them off my case.”From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Angel of Mercy by Lurlene McDaniel. Copyright © 2001 by Lurlene McDaniel. Excerpted by permission of Laurel Leaf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.