Indiana State University Newsroom

Mercy mission: Nursing student works aboard hospital ship

February 12, 2014

In some ways, Indiana State University graduate student Rebekah Price's two weeks aboard the Africa Mercy resembled her life in Terre Haute. Just like at home, she worked as a perianesthesia nurse helping patients awaken from surgery.

Yet nothing was the same. Price's two weeks aboard the ship changed everything about the way she approaches her job and treats her patients. It showed her how to chase a purpose, not a paycheck.

"To serve a greater purpose that is fulfilling and serving those that have nothing is pretty awesome," Price said. "You can chase money all of your life...but there are people out there chasing purpose instead of a paycheck."

Mission trips have always been a part of Price's life. As an undergraduate nursing student, she took trips to Thailand and India, where she spent an entire summer working in tuberculosis clinics. She also worked as a dental assistant at medical clinics in China and Guatemala.

After a "random conversation" with her pastor, the wife and mother of two had a desire to go back into the mission field.

"I had a deep desire to go to Africa," she said. "When I found out they were focused in Africa, that's when I knew I was going to go."

Price was immediately "enmeshed" into the Congo culture, working alongside the Congolese people who served as the day crew for the ship. She also spent time at an orphanage in Pointe Noire.

"It was such a dichotomous thing," she said. "They had nothing but they were so happy... there was just an incredible warmth to the people."

With state-of-the-art medical equipment and a world renowned surgical team, the Mercy ship travels along the coasts of Africa offering medical procedures for its people. During her service, Price specifically helped with maxillofacial, plastic and general surgeries.

Surgeons, doctors and nurses from around the world make up the volunteer staff and serve anywhere from a two-week stint to indefinitely.

"There are 35 different nationalities represented at all times," Price said. "It was crazy. I could close my eyes in the cafeteria and would hear more than 30 different dialects around me."

Price said that the biggest difference between a normal hospital staff and the crew serving aboard the Africa Mercy was that everyone was there to serve a purpose without any social hierarchies or pretenses.

"I sat next to janitors on one side of me and then on the other side was an anesthesiologist," she said. "Everyone was respected for what they brought to the table and everyone contributed equally. That was beautiful to me."

One of the biggest impacts that Price felt from the trip was speaking with chief surgeon Gary Parker, who gave up everything to serve on the ship. Self-supported by family and friends in America, Parker and his wife have spent the last 27 years on the ship, serving the African people.

"He could have millions of dollars, but to him that is just stuff," she said. "What he is doing is serving a purpose that is fulfilling in a way that no paycheck could ever do."

Price said that coming back to America has been a "culture adjustment." She said that she is "continually [shedding] a lot of selfishness."

"I am no different than the poverty-stricken people in the street or the woman with the tumor," she said. "We are all people inside and we all have our hang-ups and our hurts. But I really believe that deep down inside there is something in all of us that wants to serve a purpose... not serving ourselves, but serving others."

Price is a family nurse practitioner student at Indiana State. She also serves on the Student Affairs Committee on behalf of the graduate nursing program and taught undergraduate nursing classes as an adjunct faculty member last semester. She said her experiences in Africa changed the way she interacts with people, particularly her patients.

"In Africa, their diseases are so obvious, they're out there externally for you to see," Price said. "It's these huge tumors, grotesque-looking things all over. You learn to look past that and look into the person."

Price said that she will continue pursue mission opportunities for the rest of her life and that "the goal is to chase them with [her] family."

"Chasing opportunities has nothing to do with distance," she said. "We can go to the edges of the world, out in the Congo and make a difference, but all you have to do is open your eyes, get your eyes off yourself and look out.There are millions of [service] opportunities in our community."

Price hopes that her story inspires people to seek opportunities to serve and bless others.

"I feel like I've been given the greatest gift and I can either keep that to myself or I can share it and hope that it challenges others," she said.

Photo: - Rebekah Price, a graduate student in nursing at Indiana State University, tends to a patient aboard the Africa Mercy hospital ship.

Photo: - Rebekah Price, a graduate student in nursing at Indiana State University, poses alongside the Africa Mercy. Price spent two weeks aboard the hospital ship as a perianethesia nurse helping patients awaken from surgery, the same job she performs in Terre Haute.

Writer: Emily Sturgess, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or


Story Highlights

Rebeka Price, a student in Indiana State's family nurce practitioner program, spent two weeks aboard the Africa Mercy working with patients who might not have been treated for their illnesses or injuries had it not been for the hospital ship.

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