How It All Began

1978. The retired ocean liner Victoria loomed out of the misty waters of Venice, Italy – her glory past, her future uncertain. Yet to a group of ordinary young people, she symbolized a new destiny.


Don and Deyon Stephens and friends, then based in Switzerland, dreamed of a day the vessel would sail again – this time not as a luxury liner for the wealthy, but as a hospital ship bringing mercy to the poor. Some called the task impossible.

The deposit was made at the signing of the contract on July 7, 1978. The purchase for $1 million was completed on October 5 through loans, primarily through a Swiss bank. Ongoing efforts over four years resulted in the transformation of the passenger vessel into a hospital ship. In 1982, the vessel sailed as the newly christened Anastasis – the first Mercy Ship.

Today the Mercy Ships fleet has visited more than 50 different developing nations, bringing hope and healing to more than 1.7 million of the world’s poorest people. More than 1000 volunteers from over 40 nations work on the frontlines and behind the scenes to support the work of the ships.

The story of Mercy Ships is a story of trial and triumph, of failure and success, of weakness and strength – men and women who dared to step out of the ordinary to launch a current for good in an ocean of need. Mercy Ships was begun by a group of individuals who believe God loves the world enough to bring together ships and people, materials and money, time and effort – to bring hope and healing.