Tara's Story


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 Just a few short weeks ago, I was an assistant buyer for an exclusive men's clothing company.  Now, I'm heading out to catch a plane (my first time flying) to take me on a missions trip.  


My head is spinning with the changes.  Seriously spinning.  I am 18.  I was an up and coming businesswoman.  Yep. I was at age 18.  I had job offers in New York City with huge clothing manufacturers and exclusive design houses.  Now, I've given it all up and I am a missionary.  What happened?  Yeah, I want to know that too.  What happened!  Well, let me back up a bit, tell you about it and then, maybe I'll be boarding my flight.  

I graduated from high school a semester early.  I didn't want to deal with the drama of high school anymore and I only had ONE class that was mandatory to take during my second semester.  So, I took it at the local community college.  I enjoyed school enough but I was done with the name calling and the cat fights.  I wasn't Miss Popularity and was ready to try something different.  

After I graduted, I needed a job.  I applied for several, was interviewed for a few.  Can you see me as a vacumm cleaner salesperson?  Well, I can't really either.  So, I turned down a few as well.  Then, an interesting one popped up. Taking catalog orders for an exclusive men's clothing company.  Bachrach's corporate headquarters was just 25 miles from my home.  They had very nice stores in malls across America.  Not a bad entry level job.  Better than flipping burgers at Micky D's.  And for sure way better than selling vacumm cleaners!  

My job was really quite simple.  Answer the phone (I was good at that.), take the customer's order, answer any questions (that did get harder sometimes), and then enter the order in the computer.  Oh, dear!  I was good until that part.  Typing was not my strong point.  I struggled through and each night the other ladies were frustrated because we all had to leave together.  They were not allowed to help me key in my orders and I was slow.  The supervisor did end up allowing the other girls to help me against the rules.  And, I did finally get MUCH faster (I now type 80 words per minute, ahhh).  

One day, a buyer came back and asked our supervisor, Mike for some extra help.  I was selected. (I think because I was still pretty slow at typing, just a thought.)  I helped with transferring dress shirts from stores that had too many in a particular size to stores that didn't have very many.  It was really rather easy to me and I enjoyed the work.  A couple of days later, I was requested again!  I was HAPPY to oblige.  The other girls didn't enjoy working up with the 'snobs' as they referred to the buyers but I enjoyed the work and I was being given increasing responsibilities.  

Soon, Mike didn't want me on HIS payroll anymore so I was moved permantly to the assistant buyer position.  Generally, the buyers forgot that I was just 17 and I did my work and loved it.  The day of high school graduation came.  I went to the ceremony and was again, grateful that I had graduated (unofficially) early.  It was nice to see my friends but I had entered a new world.  One that most of my friends didn't yet understand, the daily work force.  I probably didn't endear myself to most of them.  I might have bragged a bit!  Well, I was afterall an assistant buyer for Bachrachs.  

I wasn't home much and my parents and I had some clashes about me  not doing my chores.  So, I moved in with some family friends from church.  I missed my family but I had freedom!  I had bought a car by now and enjoyed being closer to work and spending time with my best friend, her parents were the ones brave enough to take me in!  I was learning so much about the clothing industry and producing a catalog.  Bachrachs had great models and an amazing catalog.  

I thoroghly enjoyed my job but I longed to travel.  I wanted to be a visual merchandiser.  The person who went into a store and decided which clothing was displayed on what manequins and how the other items were set up!  I asked questions when the VM's came to corporate and I yearned to travel.  I was now 18 and ready for a new adventure.  Problem was... I was actually doing a job that most VM's were trying to get!  Hummmmm.... 

Meanwhile, I was active at church and busy teaching children's church most weeks.  I enjoyed our church emensely and I loved the little kids!  One Sunday, a family came and shared about their plans to go live on a ship and do missions work.  My mom was SURE this was what I needed to do.  She wanted me to ask them if I could borrow the video (I missed seeing it during church) and view it at home.  I wasn't too sure about all this but, I wanted to honor my mom.  It was a powerful video and I agreed that I would fill out the application (what could it hurt).  

I sent the application in and didn't hear anything.  I went on with my work and decided that I would talk to the vice president (my boss) about becoming a Visual Merchandiser during my next evaluation date!  I kept on being the best assistant buyer I could and the job offers in big cities kept coming!  I was seriously being asked to take jobs in New York City.  I did think I was maybe a bit too young for that!  

The day came.  I had my evaluation set.  Stan told me how great I was doing and told me to step up the attire and dress a little more carefully (we were after all a clothing company).  I was after all a country girl and didn't love dressing up.  I shared how badly I wanted to be a VM.  He shared how much he liked me and couldn't let me do it yet because I was too young!  Just 18.  I told him that my parents had already said it was fine and I wasn't even living at home.  HE assured me the answer was NO!  I was so disappointed.  He assured me we could reconsider it next year!  To me, that was a lifetime away!  I was so bummed! 

Later that week a phone call came that would seriously change my life!  I do mean seriously! 

Mercy Ships, you know that organization that I applied for but hadn't heard anything from?  Yeah, them.  The man who phoned, had a LOVELY accent.  Tony was from New Zealand.  The ship had just returned from Mexico and hadn't gotten my paperwork until just that week.  Could I please be there in 2 weeks?  To work in the dining room?  Ummmm.... well.... Uhhhhhh.... can I call you back?  

"Sure." the divine voice assured me, "just let me know soon."

Well, ok. I phoned my mom.  She was VERY much encouraging me to go.  I prayed. I waivered.  I had a job, a career.  I wasn't sure I wanted to be a missionary.  I mean, not that they weren't great people and all but.... I was an assistant buyer for a men's cothing company!   I had people in NYC offering me jobs!  

Maybe God needed me... maybe?  But, seriously.  Working in the dining room?  Well, I was still a bit 'sore' that Stan wouldn't let me be a visual merchansider.  OK.  I'll take it!  I am afterall still young.  If I want to return to buying men's clothing.  I can!  The youngest assistant was 27... nearly 10 years my senior.  

I picked up the phone and called Tony.  Oh, my!  I could listen to him talk all day long!  I decided right then, that I loved New Zealander's.  I loved hearing them talk!  He wanted me to fly in on the Monday after Easter.  Whew.  That was quick.  


The next morning, I went into Stan's office, very nervous.  Very... very nervous.  I was going to throw away all that he had done for me!  I told him I was giving my two weeks notice.  He was shocked.  He was even more shocked when I told him what I was going to do.  I am sure he thought I had lost my head.  Well, I probably had in a way.  Doing what God wants doesn't always make sense.  Often, it is the hardest and most reewarding thing we can do.  (I'll explain more about that later.) 

The other people I worked with were equally shocked.  They did not understand what I was doing, at all.  However, they were entrigued by the whole idea of living on a ship.  And of course, the traveling part appealed to people as well.  I moved back home allowing me to have all of my posessions in one place and I began frantically packing.  What to take?  I didn't even know how long I was going to be gone! Finally my suitcase was packed, my flight confirmed, my monthly support raised (yes, I was actually going to be paying to work.) and all my plans set in motion.  So, My last day was a Friday, I drove to my grandparents home and spend the Easter weekend with them and my immediate family.  



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So, here we are... I'm waiting for my flight.  I have told my parents goodbye.  My mom cried.  AND she was the one who got me into this!  Silly parents.  She gave me a book that the founder of Youth With A Mission, the parent organization of Mercy Ships wrote to read on the plane.  She was seriously having second thoughts about what she had encouraged me to do!  She had done web searches and a ton of research to make sure that I wasn't going off into some strange cult!  I did feel loved.  

I mentioned earlier that I had never flown before.  Well, I should also mention that I had never been in a city bigger than 100,000 people.  Oh, and did I mention that I was flying into LAX?  Yep. With not one but three layovers and plane changes!  I would be a seasoned flier by the time this was all over!  I was nervous but so very excited.  I had just entered the world of peanuts and free drinks.  Life was good.  What growing 18 year old wouldn't love free peanuts and drinks?  This one did.  

We landed in LAX and I was to look for a person holding a sign with my first name and Mercy Ships on it.  Well.... I had no idea!  No idea what that was going to mean.   Remember... 100,000 people was my max.  WHOA.  I stepped out of the security area and there were 100,000 people all right there!  How was I ever going to find this one small sign?  Oh, wait... there it was.  My name! on a sign.  

Simon was there, holding the sign and he knew the way around the airport.  We went to baggage claim, found my one rather large and ummm a bit overloaded suitcase, loaded it into the TINY car and then... wow.  Simon could drive!  The streets of LA were no match for him.  I was scared but exhilarated at the same time!  It was really sensory overload.  I would never have been able to get back to the airport if I had wanted to as we wound and curved our way through the backroads to the docks.  The ship was docked in San Pedro and the view of her as we came down the hill was breath-taking.  I was awestruck and speechless.  Yes, me. Speechless!  (It hasn't happened since, really but... ) The Anastasis was so beautiful.  Graceful and streamlined but powerful and strong.  

I walked on board and was greeted by so many people with so many accents from so many places.  I was just sure I would never remember everyone but they were all so nice.  


 ****************************************Don’t forget to change tenses at the beginning of this chapter. ******


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I walked on board and was greeted by so many people with so many accents from so many places.  I was just sure I would never remember everyone but they were all so nice.  


 ****************************************Don’t forget to change tenses at the beginning of this chapter. ******

I was told who my boss would be and when to meet up with her.  I had a lot of free time but didn’t know anyone.  I was just beginning to get a bit worried about what to do when one of my roommates asked me if I wanted to go to the home office, just up the street!  I said sure, unpacking my suitcase and getting settled into my tiny (and I do mean tiny) cabin could happen later, right?  I was on the adventure of a lifetime and let it start NOW! 

The walk up the street was well… UP the street.   I should have remembered just how steep the road was from my trip to the ship.  Oh, well…. Exercise is good, right?  So, I met even MORE new people.  Some of the people are staff members at the Home Office and some are fellow crew members. 

Sammy told us about the fire truck that was donated in Lazaro Cardeneas and how incredibly grateful the local people were to have such an amazing tool.  Luke shared about the community health education that went on and how people really didn’t have a clue about the importance of brushing their teeth.  Imagine that… someone who didn’t understand how important brushing your teeth was.  Having just finished 4 years of braces, I was a bit surprised about that. 

And, the most amazing thing was seeing the pictures of all the kids who had cleft lip and cleft palate repairs and the enormity of their smiles.  WOW.  What beautiful faces and such gratitude.  One of Mercy Ships primary visions is helping the extremely needed have vision, hope and health again.  In many of the countries that Mercy Ships visits, the poorest of the poor are even worse off because of superstitions that go with the conditions they are born with.  If a child is born with a cleft lip or palate in the US, they are given the corrective treatment at or shortly after birth.  In these countries, surgery is unheard of and the cause is blamed on the parents doing something ‘wrong’ or the child having an issue. 

How sad for these poor kids and their families.  They are ostracized from day one.  There are also many people with tumors that grow to grapefruit size or larger.  These tumors prevent the victim from getting a job, oftentimes even being able to even eat correctly.  Mercy Ships maxi facial surgeon (formerly a leading surgeon in the US who gave up his practice to join Mercy Ships) comes up with a treatment plan and executes the stages to mesh with the ships visit/visits.  The amazement and shock for these people to discover that not only does someone want to do this for them, that someone wants to do it for free is unbelievable.  When they discover that Jesus Christ is the reason behind the surgery, many quickly seek to follow him. 


It was late.  I knew that I should be returning to the ship but I was having fun.  I was learning about the multi-faceted organization I had chosen, well… ok… I didn’t really choose but, you know, to work with and how much of an impact was made in people’s lives because of the work that I was now a part of.  And, I didn’t have to work tomorrow, just show up and get a schedule for the coming days.  So, party on! 


Finally, we did head back to the ship and I got lost on my way back to my cabin.  Five decks of living space and 9 decks in total left me a bit turned around.  So, I went back to where I knew and started over again.  Bam.  I found my cabin.  3 doors in on B deck.  Just down from the Bank.  Yes.  There was a Bank, a Post Office, a hair salon and just about everything else you would need to live in a small town.   A small town, floating on the water.  

We were scheduled to set sail for Santa Cruz, CA on Wednesday.  I was really excited about that but I quickly found that there was ALWAYS something going on around me.  The rumble of the engines took some getting used to but I could see getting used to that in time.  The people, the people.  I couldn't believe just how many people there were and from all walks of life but all still fellow believers.  THAT was surprising and that too took some adjusting.  

My work schedule is 0600 to 1400 hours.  Yes.  Military time.  All things ship were recorded that way.  OK.  So, I quickly learned that if I added two to the time that my MIND said it was, it would be military time if it was afternoon.  Well, that worked ok until it was 11pm.  then... it was a bit more difficult.  There are so many things like this that I must adjust too.  Not to mention that much of the ship's labeling is still in it's original _________.  I see so much adventure around me.  


I have three roommates.  Well, one of them leaves shortly after we arrive in Santa Cruz, I hear.  I haven't really met all of them yet because I am working early so I am the first one in the shower that 8 of us share.  Did I mention our cabin is small?  Well, let me try to describe just how small it is.  Ummmm... I can't!  LOL.  Just kidding.  I will do my best.  There are 2 sets of bunk beds each with 2 drawers underneath one for each occupant.  There is a little nightstand thingy in between the bunks again, with one drawer for each of us.  That's the 'sleeping' area.  Then there is a small sink basin and 4 wooden lockers in the 'dressing' area.  That's it.  We share a bathroom that is a toliet and shower all in one.  So much for cleaning, well... not really.  So, we have to work out the bathroom schedule between 8 of us.  I am grateful for my early morning shift, no one else in either cabin has that schedule for the moment.  

I was also introduced to the idea of ship showers today.  You wet down, turn the water off.  Soap up, turn the water on and repeat as needed.  This will be hugely important and madatory starting tomorrow when we leave port for Santa Cruz and the whole time we are in Santa Cruz as we will be at anchor and not in a bearth.  I am hearing that this will be an interesting city because we will be taking powered lifeboats to shore when we need to go and the guests who come to visit for our various events will be taking a lifeboat out to see us.  I will keep you posted on how that works.  I guess I won't be just taking a walk up the hill to visit someone.  

Oh, silly me. I have been referring to the bathroom as a bathroom.  My mistake.  It is a head.  Yes.... ship terms all the way!  I shower in the head each morning.  We also hear announcements asking people to meet on the port side of Lido Deck or the starboard side of the bow.  Yes, ship life is an adjustment.  

Before we sail we must have a fire drill.  We all meet in the international lounge.  It is a mandatory meeting (season sailors are not excluded).  The vetrans on board have worked things out so that our work load is adjusted to acommodate the delay in getting things done.  I feel bad for my new friend Sammy who works in the engine room all night and has to get up in the middle of his sleep.  He assures me he will drop right off when we are finished with the drill.  

During the meeting, we are reminded how very, very important it is to respond quickly and to the correct location.  If we aren't where we are supposed to be, someone is risking their life to find us.  It is also important to use the sign in sheet when we leave the ship so that again, someone isn't looking for us when we aren't even on board.  Ship life is very different from land lubbing.  I make a mental note to never ever forget to sign out or back in!  Ever.  

I can't believe that I flew all across the country and am getting ready to sail on the ocean in a ship! My life went from interestingly work oreinted to amazingly fun in just a couple of days!  I have met people from ALL over the world.  Right now, I am getting ready to head out with some Fijians before we sail away from LA.  It is a fun city but I am all ready to head to Santa Cruz.  We are going to have some appetizers for an amazing price at a bar where they serve great food hoping you will buy a drink.  Well, I will obviously not be buying a drink (gotta love being 18)  but I hear Mercy Ships Crew are stellar about finding great deals!  

Sailing day!  I can’t wait.  I am up with plenty of time to start my shift working in the dining room.  I think it will be physically hard but not challenging.  I hope I am right! 

My first assignment… make coffee!  YIKES!  I am the wrong person for that job!  I don’t drink coffee.  Oh, well. Here goes nothing.  I decide that stronger is better, right?  If it is too strong, you can add water.  If it is too weak, well… you are stuck! 

A watchman walks through…. How long til the coffee is ready?  I say, Just a few 

more minutes.  Another mental note... get the coffee done first when I start working by myself.  Well, at least it smells good.  

I work in the dining room which is part of the kitchen, oh,I mean the galley (ship jargon and all that)  but there is a strong line diving us from the galley!  I am warned quietly by my co-worker that we are NEVER to cross into the galley.  One of the cooks was a bit ummmm.... well, protective of his territory!  However, this morning's cook was very nice.  His name was Ian.  He had a lovely accent.  VERY lovely.  He was not from New Zealand but rather... Australia.  I didn't enter his territory but I did chat with him a bit.  He was going to be here for nearly a year.  He had just arrived a few weeks before me.  Did I mention, I love Australian accents as much as New Zealand accents?  Hummm... I did?  Oh, dear. 

Ian and I were on the same schedule for the next few days so he invited me to watch a movie with him and some of his mates after we finished working.  OK... We would be sailing by then and there aren't too many fast food joints on the high seas, or so I am told!  




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