Michelle and Mercy: an inspiring story...

{Dear lovely readers, my friend Michelle Murrey has just embarked on the adventure of her life as the photographer aboard the Africa Mercy Ship for the next two years. I thought it was time to share her story, in hopes that it will inspire you too.}

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When I met Michelle on New Year's Eve 2004, she was walking with a cane. 

She and my husband had served on a team together for several summers, working with orphans in Romania.  I was told she had just been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and my heart broke for this young woman in her 20s who was already physically disabled.  I'll never forget the look in her eyes that night - there was a sadness and a struggle, yet a faint flicker of hope for healing.

It took a little while for us to get to know each other, but once I had the opportunity to see Michelle's heart, I was blown away by its beauty.  Perhaps because of her pain and struggle, she has one of the most compassionate hearts I've ever encountered, especially towards the needy, the sick, the special needs children who are often forgotten.

Since that night, Michelle's life has been restored in more ways than I can personally document, and her story has gone from pain and struggle to absolutely inspirational.  She has become one of my dearest friends of all-time.

The following is in Michelle's own words...

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Today, standing near the summit of a mountaintop on the island of Tenerife, I said to a friend, "I love my life. I can't believe I'm actually here." With a camera in hand and excitement in my steps, I wandered around taking photographs of the beauty of creation surrounding me: aqua blue ocean water, volcanic rock on the mountainside, houses built into the natural crevices of the land, and fishing boats in a small harbor at the beach.

My amazement over standing at that point was not just about the beauty surrounding me but also recognizing the incredible tapestry the Lord has been weaving through my life for thirty-five years. My explorations in photography began when I was about eight years old and my grandparents gave me my first camera. It was a simple camera but was sufficient for capturing fun adventures with friends. Over the years, my camera equipment changed but the interest remained, or rather intensified.

During the fall of 2000 and the summer of 2001, I had the opportunity to work in Romanian orphanages for infants and children and camps for children and teens. It was a turning point for me, in my walk with the Lord, in my photography skills and in my heart for missions to distant nations. Although I had participated in construction projects in Mexico during college, my experiences in Romania impacted me on a deeper level. It changed me. Changed the course of my life.

Even with the best laid plans to work in Romanian orphanages over a period of several years, life circumstances interrupted my strategy. I became ill and was forced to return to the United States to discover the root of my health issues. After years of tests and many misdiagnosed conditions, the root cause was finally discovered and my health improved. In the midst of it all, I had a choice... to succumb to the doctor's predictions of paralysis or severe illness or to continue living life to the fullest through each day the Lord gifted to me. And I chose the latter.

Since 1996, I've had the privilege of traveling to Mexico, Cuba, Romania, Hungary, Russia, England, Spain, Canary Islands, Uganda, Malawi, Ghana, and now Guinea. I have prayed over children who were dying, danced with children who were homeless, walked the streets of oppressed Communist nations and stood before the capital in D.C. with thousands of people to protest the genocide in Darfur. In the midst of illness or loss, the Lord continued to open doors for me to serve Him around the world.

Today, I am living on the Africa Mercy, a hospital ship docked in the Atlantic Ocean that provides medical services to some of the world's poorest people in West Africa. I have the amazing opportunity to be the eyes and ears of the ministry through photography to share the stories of those we meet and those we are able to serve through the medical programs. When I sit down to a meal, I might be surrounded by people from Sierre Leone, Holland, Sweden, Russia, Ghana, Canada, Togo and South Africa, all at the same table. It makes my heart sing.

From the time I was a child, I loved to take pictures and go on adventures, even in my own backyard. Today, the world is my playground. I am here to give the Lord 100% of myself, never taking for granted that this day could have looked very different if the doctor's assessments in 2003 had become reality. I have learned to treasure every moment, taking nothing for granted, and celebrating the gift of life with my brothers and sisters around the globe. "Here I am, Lord. Send me."

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If you've been inspired by Michelle's story and wish to support her journey on the Africa Mercy Ship, please go to this page.  Any donation, however small, will help!