Showing Mercy: Elizabeth LeFeber
Early in her life, Bethel-educated nurse Elizabeth LeFeber ’10 felt led to serve in Africa. She pursued nursing as a career at Bethel College. And earlier this year, she volunteered to work on the Africa Mercy, a 78-bed floating surgical hospital, then docked in Madagascar. The hospital ship provides free and lifesaving surgeries for people without access to medical care. It’s all part of Mercy Ships, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Lindale, Texas, dedicated to bringing health and healing to the poor.
You could say that Mercy Ships inspired Elizabeth LeFeber to pursue nursing as a career. It all started in middle school, when she read “The Dangerous Voyage,” by Dave Gustaveson, published through Youth With a Mission. A chapter of the book describes life and work on a Mercy Ships floating hospital.
“I found that idea [of working for Mercy Ships] to be inspiring and I wanted to be a part of it,” says LeFeber.
She came to Bethel with the goal of using nursing to go into missions and help people.
After graduation, she worked as a nurse at St. Joseph Medical Center and Hubbard Hill Estates (a retirement community), getting the necessary experience (two years) to serve on the ship and was put on a waiting list.
In Dec. 2015, after four flights and a seven-hour bus ride, she arrived at the Africa Mercy for a 2-month assignment.
“It was a dream come true!” she says.
As an admissions nurse, LeFeber served as one of the first medical professionals patients would see in the admissions tent outside the ship. Her job involved working through an interpreter to do a basic health assessment, check patients in and go over a basic health history. Sometimes, she would get to walk patients onto the ship.
“It’s a surgical hospital, so they repair cleft lip and palate, they do tumor removals, [repair] burn contracture (a process through which a joint can’t straighten because of a burn that hasn’t healed properly) … they also do surgery to repair hernias, goiter, women’s health issues caused by childbirth complications (obstetric fistula), or more serious issues that are debilitating and may impact a person’s ability to work or eat.”
LeFeber recalls a baby named Priscilla who came to admissions with a cleft lip and palate in need of repair, but a respiratory infection prevented her from getting surgery.
“We prayed God would heal her so she could have her surgery,” LeFeber says. And He did.
“I got to visit her and her mom after surgery. Her mom was so happy and smiling. I continue to pray for [them] – not just for physical healing, but for spiritual healing as well, because that’s eternal.”
Now, Priscilla will have a chance to not just survive, but thrive, like other patients who have received life-changing medical services on the Africa Mercy.
The transformation is perhaps post apparent in women who have surgery to correct obstetric fistula.
“These are women who have lost babies and even husbands; many are leaking urine. They have bladder surgery and then re-training,” LeFeber explains. “After recovery, they get to participate in a dress ceremony – they get a dress and hat and get to come out and thank the doctors. They get soap to remind them they are clean. A mirror to remind them they are beautiful, and a Bible.”
LeFeber loves Mercy ships because it’s not just about physical healing; there is prayer throughout the process, from admission, through surgery and recovery.
“It’s a good reminder that we can do what we can medically, but ultimately, God is in charge. It’s just exciting to partner with Him.”
Whether at home or abroad, LeFeber intends to continue partnering with God to bring healing through nursing.
The Africa Mercy is a 16,572-ton rail ferry that was converted into a floating hospital. The ship includes five operating theatres, recovery, intensive care and low dependency wards – totaling 78 patient beds. The hospital offers CT scan, X-ray and laboratory services, with a Nikon Coolscope for remote diagnosis. It is the largest civilian hospital ship in the world, with the capacity to house a crew of 450. Volunteer medical teams bring state-of-the-art care to those in desperate need – free of charge. (MercyShips.org)