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Beacon Senior News

Captain of mercy: Retired captain volunteers aboard vessel of hope

Nov 06, 2018 05:18AM ● By Carole Ann McKelvey

Mercy Ships volunteer Captain Taylor Perez fills in as chief officer on the Africa Mercy sailing from the Canary Islands to Guinea. Photo by Shawn Thompson, courtesy of Mercy Ships.

“Right place, right time.”

That’s how Captain Taylor Perez, 65, of Montrose sums up his life and his amazing 40-year career at sea.

Thousands line up for patient screening by Mercy Ships medical crew to see if they might have a condition they can treat.

He credits the man upstairs for all of his achievements. He shows gratitude by doing God’s work, volunteering with the international charity Mercy Ships, which connected him to his faith family and the love of his life.

Perez has seen the positive impact that Mercy Ships has had on the communities it serves. This Christian-based ministry brings hope and healing to nations via state-of-the-art hospital ships. Patients arrive with large facial tumors, bowed legs, burn contractures, severe cleft lips, blindness and other maladies.

After receiving free surgeries onboard, the patients leave, physically and emotionally healed.

But the ships’ crews do more than provide medical treatments, Perez said.

“Teams from the ship become involved in other nation-building activities, spreading throughout the countryside, helping to teach other future doctors, nurses and medical personnel,” he said.

Retiring from his career as a merchant marine doesn’t mean he’s ready to leave the mariner lifestyle for good. In fact, he considers volunteering aboard Mercy Ships as some of his greatest work.

Shipping out

Perez launched his sailing career in 1976. He graduated as a third mate in 1973 from the State University of New York, but back then, jobs for sailors were hard to come by. He took a few years off before landing a job as third mate on a foreign-flagged ship that transported iron ore from Norway and the Western Sahara to the United Kingdom.

His first years of sailing took him on the huge tanker from Kirkenes, Norway to Nouadhibou, Africa. After that, he spent nine years on a crude oil tanker transporting oil from the Caribbean to the U.S.

He soon discovered that U.S. merchant marine unions were opening to new members, and by that time, he’d already made numerous international runs on a variety of vessels, including general cargo freighters, container vessels and tankers. He earned his U.S Coast Guard National Master Unlimited license fairly quickly and qualified to sail as captain.

Just as Perez was considering leaving the tanker industry, a phone call from an old sailing buddy turned his life around.

He learned that AT&T was converting a ship it’d bought to lay ocean cables, which indicated they might soon be hiring. It was just a hunch, but Perez drove from Jacksonville to Ft. Lauderdale in hopes of securing a position. He did, and he quickly rose in the ranks, stepping into the first officer position after the previous officer had been terminated.

Heeding the call

Perez spent the rest of his career on ships laying and maintaining transoceanic fiber optic cables. He was introduced to Mercy Ships in 1984 when his ship stopped in Hawaii on its way to Okinawa. The Mercy Ship Anastasis was docked nearby and some of the crew invited him on board for lunch and a tour.

“I was overwhelmed by the quality and professionalism of the crew and atmosphere on board,” he said. “There were professional people of all ages, including families with children, from nations all around the globe. They all felt called to be there.”

A Mercy Ships volunteer physical therapist changes the casts on Pierre’s legs, which were placed after surgery to correct an orthopedic deformity.

It wasn’t long before Perez heard the call as well. A few months later, he found out Mercy Ships was outfitting a new ship for ministry. He took his next vacation and drove to Jacksonville to look over the ship; then he chipped in to help paint. Before he knew it, he became a full-fledged volunteer.

He met his wife Marie at a Bible study on the Anastasis in 1988. Marie, who was from Sweden, was a manager in charge of housing events, hospitality and other shipboard duties and had been part of the vessel’s crew since the organization’s beginning.

Marie always wanted to live in the mountains, so they married and moved to Cimarron, Colorado. Even though they were far from the sea, they still felt connected to Mercy Ships, living just 30 miles away from Olathe, the town where Mercy Ships’ founder Don Stephens resided when Mercy Ships began.

Perez’s sons, Lukas and Jordan, traveled with him and Marie to serve on Mercy Ships while he utilized vacation time from his regular job to fill in for long-term captains onboard the vessels. The boys were homeschooled until the family decided to move to Montrose when they were in high school.

Make sail

Although Perez is retired from his career at sea, he isn’t giving up on giving.

Paul Pascal, cleft lip and palate patient in the wards right before his palate surgery with Sarah Loving, Ward Nurse.

Perez is one of 29 deck and 24 engineering crew on Mercy Ships’ Africa Mercy—the world’s largest private hospital ship. He recently returned home to Montrose after serving on the Africa Mercy and visiting the ports of Conakry, Guinea; Douala, Cameroon; Dakar, Senegal and Grand Canary Island.

“I volunteer because there is a need,” Perez said. “Although there are needs all around us, as a credentialed mariner, I have some of the unique qualifications that are critical to the operation and support of this ministry.”

He also loves working with the passionate crew aboard.

“Living in a multi-ethnic, multi-generational, international community of people who share a common vision and make personal sacrifices to bless others is an amazing experience,” he said. “It’s like a huge family on the ships, children, mothers, fathers, all living and working together for the good work they do.”

Since its inception in 1978, Mercy Ships crews have provided more than 95,000 free surgeries to people without access to good medical care. The crew of 400 onboard Africa Mercy will continue its mission by supplying more than 2,000 free surgeries for patients in Guinea in the next 10 months.

As for the Perezes, they’re selling their home in Montrose and moving back to Cimarron, but it won’t be long before they return to the sea as Mercy Ships volunteers.

For volunteer opportunities or donation information, visit www.mercyships.org.

Hear ye! Hear ye!

Lend a hand ye landlubbers!

It don’t ye matter if:

thee have but two left feet, or even a wooden leg, no time to make yer way ‘round the horn, or can’t hold yer grog. Dost ye have gold, treasure or coin of the realm? Then send it.

Mail ye a check to: Mercy Ships P.O. Box 1930 Lindale, TX 75771

I’ll be sendin’ in my booty, too!

- Captain Kevin

Seriously, send in a donation and write “BEACON Senior News” in the memo line, and donations received by November 30 will be matched by some krazy ol’ koot (that’s me!).

So send in a donation—even if it’s just $5! Mercy Ships is a 501(c)3 organization.