Coincidence; being in the right place at the right time; luck.
Whatever you choose to call it, Captain Taylor Perez’s life is filled with it. But as he explains it, God makes such connections happen. A simple connection is how he came to be a volunteer with the organization Mercy Ships.
Growing up in White Plains, New York, Perez learned to sail in his youth. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1973 from State University of New York Maritime College. He received a Merchant Marine Third Mate license in the Coast Guard and had also been commissioned by the Navy.
After spending three years racing sailboats, Perez decided to pursue a career at sea. Through the alumni association at his college, he ended up on a foreign flight vessel.
“Everything fell into place,” Perez said.
In 1980, Perez became a Christian. While working on a cable ship in 1987, his ship was on its way to Guam when it made a stop in Hawaii to refuel. Next to his ship sat a Greenpeace ship, and next to that was the Anastasis, the first Mercy Ship.
Perez said he had some questions about how such a ship would work, but he was impressed by the crew he found on the vessel.
“I went went on board and I was just amazed at the high-quality, high-caliber incredible people who were on board,” Perez said. “It was whole families; it wasn’t just a couple of lost souls, it was a vibrant community and that really impressed me.”
Perez was later invited to see a vessel Mercy Ships recently obtained from someone in Canada, which was being worked on in Jacksonville, Florida, close to where Perez was living. Once he returned to the States, he went for a visit which included Perez helping the organization by chipping rust off the ship, and the next thing you know, he said, he was the captain of the ship sailing it to Honduras in 1985.
Mercy Ships, founded by Don and Deyon Stephens in 1978, is the largest non-governmental hospital ship providing medical care and education to the world’s poorest countries. This faith-based organization houses an average of 1,000 volunteer crew from about 35 nations. One of the main purposes of the hospital ship is to be a medical capacity building.The organization has performed more than 95,000 life-changing or life-saving operations such as cleft lip and palate repair, cataract removal, orthopedic procedures, facial reconstruction and obstetric fistula repair, according to a press release.
During a certain stint in Perez’s career, his schedule was four months at sea, four months at home. So while he was off duty, he volunteered some of his time to Mercy Ships. There is a five-month discipleship training school, or as Perez describes it, a Bible school, for volunteers on the ship which Perez wanted to be a part of to learn and grow as a person and in his faith, but for which he did not have the time.
After another connection from the Big Guy, Perez had a radical change occur in his schedule which allowed him to participate in this program. He boarded the ship in Houston and met one of the leaders of the school, a long-time volunteer from Sweden named Marie, who would eventually become his wife. The day before Perez started the program was when Marie was transferred to the discipleship program herself.
Perez, a father of five, said over 20 years later, his son participated in a discipleship program and met his wife through the program as well.
“I think God orchestrates these things,” Perez, who has been married for 29 years, said. “Our whole lives have been that, so there are too many to recount but when we look back there are many stones of remembrance in our path.”
Since his first tour with Mercy Ships, Perez has volunteered with the organization about a half a dozen tours both as a family and as an individual. He describes the ship as its own city.
About three weeks ago, Perez, who currently lives in Montrose, returned from his couple-months tour aboard Africa Mercy. Perez helped to sail the ship from the Canary Islands to Guinea, West Africa. The ship will remain in Guinea for the next 10 months, where it will provide about 2,000 free surgeries.
“We believe in the organization and what it’s doing and also because we have such deep roots and relationship with the people in the organization,” Perez said.
According to Perez, there is currently a need for professional mariners in all technical fields: deck, engine and electronics. World Maritime Day, was celebrated Sept. 27. Perez encourages mariners to volunteer with Mercy Ships.
“It goes without saying — Mercy ships would not exist today without the dedicated deck and engineering officers who have labored long and hard to make this organization what it is today,” said Jim Paterson, Senior Vice President of Operations for Mercy Ships, in a press release. “I don’t believe we have ever missed one full day of surgery due to technical issues thanks to our dedicated Marine crew … We encourage more mariners to volunteer to help us bring hope and healing to Africa...”
There is a training officer on board for the technical crew with the possibility for those who are interested in gaining their certificates, advancing in their credentials and eventually becoming officers, Perez said. He said many of the technical crew members are from Africa, adding they are incredible, inspiring people even though they may have come from dire situations.
But mariners are not the only needed volunteers. The ship can also use teachers, cooks, housekeepers, bookkeepers, etc., Perez explained anyone can volunteer.
“The satisfaction of being part of something bigger than me,” Perez said of what he has gained from volunteering with the organization, adding it’s a calling.
Now that he has been “repurposed” (his phrase for retirement), Perez and his wife support the ministry by sponsoring volunteers onboard, but next year they hope to volunteer full time and continue on for a couple to a few years.
For more on Mercy Ships, visit mercyships.org.
Monica Garcia is the news editor for the Montrose Daily Press.