“I think she'll go back to Mercy Ships and she'll find her purpose and God’s plan for her life.”
That was the prophecy 25-year-old California native Tori Hobson’s mother spoke over Tori’s life just months before passing away from a brief illness. When Tori was just fourteen, her mother had taken her on a six-week Christian mission trip aboard the Mercy Ships vessel Anastasis, part of a fleet of non-profit floating hospitals that have been traveling around the western coast of Africa providing free health care and free surgeries for the poor for the past 35 years.
When Tori began college, she had been uncertain about her goals, switching her major five times and dropping classes when her mother became ill. In those final months, Tori’s mother prayed with her prayer partner about Tori’s future and just knew that a return to Mercy Ships was exactly what her daughter needed in order for Tori to find God's purpose for her life. But she never shared this with Tori.
“[My mother] was always good about encouraging me, but she never pressured me to choose any path. She let me figure it out for myself,” Tori told EBONY.com. It would be two more years before Tori would decide that rejoining the Mercy Ships mission was her destiny and nearly ten years after her first trip as a child.
“After my mom passed away, her best friend [who has now been aboard a Mercy Ships vessel for 26 years] was in the States visiting and I was talking with her about my future and didn’t feel like school was the right thing for me. She said, ‘Well why not try Mercy Ships again?’ So I just prayed about it for about two or three weeks. It was when I was trying to get funding to go back that my mother’s prayer partner shared with me what my mom had said about me going back to Mercy Ships. That was the confirmation I needed to do it.”
That was November 2010 and in June 2011 Tori started her four-week training at Mercy Ships facilities and then signed a contract to serve the organization for two years. Currently docked in the Congo, Tori has been serving for more than two years now, extending her stay and volunteering her time aboard the world’s largest charity hospital ship, Africa Mercy, which houses more than 400 volunteers from 40 different nations, and on land at the outpatient treatment facility, The Hope Center, in Guinea.
“The Hope Center is like a hospitality, outpatient center where patients stay after their surgeries. We escort them to their outpatient appointments and make sure that they are getting the care that they need and that they’re loved on and cared for,” Tori explained. “[As the assistant coordinator] I help run the center.”
Many of the patients aboard Mercy Ships cannot afford health care and suffer from physical deformities due to benign tumors and as a result, many have been exiled from their communities. The opportunity to not only help heal people’s bodies but also their broken hearts drew Tori back to this mission.
“What I really loved most about what Mercy Ships does is that these patients haven't really experienced much love before. They're usually rejected by their family members and communities and so I love that we get to genuinely just love on them and that they can learn about Jesus through the love that we give them [through free health care and emotional support].
“I also like that and we don't really preach at people because I don’t think you can get through to people that way. The patients just see the love of Jesus through us and I’ve seen a lot of them converted [to Christianity] and say ‘I want what you guys have. I want to be a Christian.’”
Witnessing what the love of God can do for people confirmed for Tori that her mother was right: she had found her purpose.
“One little boy that we had at the Hope Center in Guinea had a flesh-eating bacteria on his face and he would just sit in the corner by himself and hide. He wouldn’t budge or react at all. His uncle brought him to us and you could tell that his uncle didn’t want to be there and was really disconnected from the boy.
“But over time and after a few surgeries, you could just see the transformation with the boy. He just blossomed and grew to be this hilarious child with such a zest for life, dancing and singing. He and his uncle have grown to love each other and I got to play a part in that. Seeing [the boy] laugh that first time, I knew: This is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is exactly where I’m supposed to be.”
Tori’s time with Mercy Ships will be up in December but she’s said that these past years have been “really a healing process,” for her, as well as the patients she helps.
“I am learning just that God is in control, even when we don’t understand everything or get everything He’s doing. I can trust that He’s got under control because I’ve experienced it. I still have my struggles trusting Jesus, but I do feel like I’ve grown immensely. [Mercy Ships] has tremendously changed my life and I’m so grateful."
Brooke Obie is a contributing editor for EBONY.com and writes the column "The Spiritual Life." Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.