Salt Lake City family of five ready to board the Africa Mercy for 2 years of service at sea

Published: Monday, June 11 2012 9:00 p.m. MDT

After two years has come and gone, Runnels said they'll return to their "lucky" positions in life and will likely be better for their experience in Africa. But that experience will be considered an extra prize for him and his wife, who entered the medical professions merely to help people.

"That is the way the world goes round, and people who give are the only reason that something good like Mercy Ships exists," Runnels wrote. From the moment last spring, when he decided he wanted his family to be a part of the "giving chain," he said, "I realized that it's not the ship or the organization that makes Mercy Ships go, it's individuals making a leap of faith and committing to give that makes it go."

And for his children, Runnels said Monday that he wants them to understand "what a privilege it is to be an American," and to learn that serving their fellow man "is a valid way of life."

"It gives them an idea that they can do something like that," he said.

Mission of mercy:

• The Africa Mercy is a 499-foot steel ship, weighing more than 16,500 tons, that deployed in 2007.

• It is the world's largest non-governmental hospital ship, housing six operating theaters and a 78-bed patient ward, doubling the capacity of her two Mercy Ships predecessors.

• Mercy Ships provides faith-based charity work that is sponsored by corporate and individual donors, who have supplied more than $834 million in health care to more than 70 countries since 1978.

• An all-volunteer crew and staff of about 450, including everything from surgeons, dentists and other physician specialists, to hair stylists, chefs, engineers and welders, keeps the ship afloat and in operation. Participants can offer short- or long-term service and must apply for available positions and pay monthly crew fees once aboard.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com Twitter: wendyleonards

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