Occasionally we get to reconnect with someone that Mercy Ships has helped in the past. It is often encouraging when that happens. This is a brief story about one of those occurrences. –N&S
Patrick Coker hid in the house in his village for sixteen years. The huge tumor on his chin had made him the target of hateful abuse. In 1992, his aunt gave him the exciting news that Mercy Ships volunteer surgeons could remove the tumor. Their hospital ship, the Anastasis, was docked in Freetown, Sierra Leone. But when he arrived, the field service was over. “Everything’s finished!” he was told.
“If I don’t have the opportunity, I will go back to the province ready to die,” Patrick responded.
He was given an appointment to be examined by Dr. Gary Parker, the Chief Medical Officer. “This is a minor job for Christ, but it’s a major job for me,” said Dr. Gary. Because the ship was ready to sail, Patrick was given the first surgical appointment in Senegal, the location of the next field service, and he was given money to cover the cost of his travel.
But when the ship’s engines were started, it was discovered that the boiler was broken, thus delaying the ship’s departure. The replacement boiler was the wrong size, which meant there would be an additional wait for the right one.
All of these problems worked for Patrick’s benefit. He had his surgery onboard the ship in Freetown. It took Dr. Gary nine hours to complete the surgery. Two weeks later, a second surgery replaced Patrick’s jaw with a titanium implant.
Patrick also found a way to help other patients. After his recovery, he served as a translator for two field services on the Anastasis.
Patrick had wanted to be a doctor long before his surgeries. But, as a youth, while studying a friend’s Bible, he dedicated his life to Christ. “The Lord called me to do His work,” he said. He became a teacher, instructing third-grade and fourth-grade students in math. During those years as a teacher, he met his future wife, Theresa, who sold snacks to the students during breaks. Today they are the parents of Mary, Emanuel, and John.
After Patrick left his teaching position, he took training as a pastor and served as a part-time assistant pastor for many years. But he was recently ordained as a minister in his church. “God called me, finally, to be full-time in ministry,” he said with a gracious smile. “But there are a lot of people in the provinces who are not saved and don’t know about Jesus Christ.” For this reason, he was urged to be in a mission church also. Every month, he spends two weeks in each church, and he is training people in both churches to fill in when he is absent. Before his surgeries, he worked for survival. Now, his work is a labor of love.
Speaking of his Mercy Ships care, he said, “I’m so grateful that I have been made a more perfect man than before, and I thank God and Don Stephens. I pray that God will continue to bless all the crew members.”
Story by Elaine B. Winn
Edited by Nancy Predaina
Photos by David Peterson