Interview: Mercy Ships New CEO on Past and Future

Mercy Ships announced the appointment of its new chief executive officer, Cal Huge, late last month.

Huge, who was in the midst of a jam-pack week filled with meetings and programs, spoke to The Christian Post on Tuesday evening about his past experiences and what he looks forward to for the hospital charity ship ministry in 2007.

CP: How were you introduced to Mercy Ships?

Huge: That goes back to 1987 Switzerland when I joined what was then YWAM (Youth With a Mission). Mercy Ships at that time was part of YWAM. In Lausanne, my wife and I went to join the relief and development work of YWAM and I ended up there becoming the manager of the Mercy Ships office for Europe. That is how I got introduced.

CP: What about Mercy Ships attracted you?

Huge: I think what attracted me is what Mercy Ships provides to the people it serves is life-changing. The operations we perform in Africa are performed to the people at no charge and to people who in many ways are the outcasts. In their societies, some of these deforming issues make people marginalized and pushed to the outskirts of their societies. Correcting, for example, a cleft palate or a tumor on the neck, can change a person’s whole life.

In many cultures in Africa when you have something like that you are looked to be possessed. What we do absolutely changes their lives and their family’s lives.

CP: How will your role in the ministry change now that you are CEO?

Huge: I just came back here. I have not worked with Mercy Ships for nearly 20 years. I think what my role is as CEO is to free our founder, Don Stephens, who is an old friend of mine, from the operational side of things and allow him to do what he does best – being our spokesperson in telling the world what Mercy Ships does.

CP: Have you ever spent an extensive time on one of the hospital ships?

Huge: I have not.

CP: I read that you have experience working in Afghanistan. How will this experience help you in your new role?

Huge: First of all I’m a lawyer by profession, so I think I used those skills from practicing law with the government and in private practice to help people focus on what our jobs are in Mercy Ships.

With my work in Afghanistan I got a really good taste of cross-cultural living in a culture that is non-Western. I’ve lived in Europe and I’ve traveled extensively in Africa and other parts of the world, but I’ve never gone to Africa and lived there for an extended period of time.

But living for six months in Afghanistan, it is a totally foreign culture to what we in the West are use to. The experience really opened my eyes and heart to those living in less developed countries. When you live with those people on a daily basis it just totally changes your perspective on a lot of things.

CP: Could you be more specific on what perspectives changed for you?

Huge: Just what is important to you. For instance, we take for granted electricity, medical care, and communications abilities. We in the West can communicate on the computer at home.

When I went to Kabul last year we had electricity 3-4 hours a day every other day. And we were blessed because we can turn on a generator and heat our water to take a hot shower. But the Afghan next door to us couldn’t afford to have a generator.

It is a very different life and you come to appreciate how difficult it is for them and how they really just want what we want, which is a better life for themselves and their children.

In the West, we can go down the street to have these surgeries we do done. But in parts of Africa where we work, most of that medical care is unheard of.

CP: What are some of the new plans or goals for Mercy Ships in 2007?

Huge: We are in the process of finishing our new ship, the Africa Mercy. The new ship will more than double our capacity. The new ship has six operating rooms and 80 hospital beds. We should have that ship in Africa by summer time. It has been a more than seven year process retooling the ship to be the servant for the forgotten poor.

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