A New Chapter

Where have we been? Where are we now? Where are we headed?

Good questions! Let us do our best to answer them.

Where we’ve been

After we left the ship in September we traveled to Antwerp to help launch a Mercy Ships Exhibition.

Mercy Ships Belgium collaborated with Stephan Van Fleteren, a famous Belgian photographer, to set up a pair of exhibitions in the city of Antwerp.

One exhibition featured Van Fleteren’s portraits of Mercy Ships patients inside a restored ship in the maritime museum.

The other exhibition was based inside the Port of Antwerp, which is a pretty unique building.


After months of work of planning and designing the exhibition with our friend Ruben it was a huge joy to finally see it launched. The exhibition featured banners, panels, posters, and videos introducing visitors to the the volunteers, patients, medical trainings, and ships of Mercy Ships. Josh provided video and technical support and Katie designed most of the printed pieces.

We spent about a month after the exhibition launch in Antwerp, working in the Mercy Ships Belgium office to support their marketing and communications efforts.

One of the perks of being back in Europe was getting to connect with friends! We traveled up to Utrecht, Netherlands to spend a weekend with Ruben & Mirjam. Really this meant great friend time combined with good beers, cheeses, stroopwaffles & windmills!

Another treat was the opportunity to spend Katie’s birthday in Ireland with friends & family – her dad even flew over from the States for the celebrations!


Where are we headed next?

Overall this past year has been full of adventure, exploring new places, connecting with friends and a whole lot of growing. We’ve lived in 6 different countries, 7 different cities, crossed borders by plane, train, car & ship.  We’ve stayed in houses, apartments, manor homes, guest bedrooms, ship cabins, hotel rooms and more. The answer to the question, “Where do you live?” is “Out of our suitcases.” We’ve been constantly on the move. It has been amazing to see so many places and get to travel for work, but we are ready for a change.


So with the desire for more permanence, a place to call home, and a community around us, we have made the decision to leave Mercy Ships and move back to the US. We have been incredibly blessed by our time with Mercy Ships; we have experienced things we never could have dreamed of; and we wouldn’t have met each other if we hadn’t made the leap to go serve on a hospital ship overseas. But that season has come to a close.

After about 6 years of nonprofit work for each of us – constant busyness, extra stressors, always traveling, never settling, making new friends and saying unending goodbyes, we are tired and worn down. So we are making a change. Beginning a new chapter. Starting something new together.

What is that thing? We have no clue. Not yet.  We have to make some major life decisions like where to live and what jobs to pursue next in our careers. For that we need time.

Now you’re wondering what the answer is to that second question…

Where are we now?

This blog post has been drafted over the course of a cross-country road trip from California to Tennessee. By the time we have finished our travels we will have journeyed nearly from coast to coast.

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After spending a few weeks with Josh’s family in Auburn, California, we packed up all of our belongings into a car and embarked eastwards. Along the way, we visited family in Flagstaff, a Mercy Shipper in Albuquerque, explored National Parks, saw friends in Dallas and slept at a couple hotels in between. We will soon arrive (and possible already have as you are reading this) in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, to spend the Christmas season with Katie’s family.

In January we will fly to Colorado Springs for a week and a half to participate in a debrief for overseas workers & missionaries. From there we will briefly return to Tennessee and then drive to Columbus, Georgia to stay for a month or three in a cottage in the backyard of some of our good friends.

There we will wrap up our gradual re-entry and take some time to begin to develop the  picture of what this new chapter will look like.

Stay tuned here for more on what is next for the Callows … once we know what it is!


Come on Board!

Your tour guides for the following post are our nephews–Jack, Ben & Noah. Or rather, their smaller versions. Inspired by Flat Stanley, our Not-So-Flat Nephews (also referred to as “the boys”) are our favorite travel companions. This post is geared towards their real-life counterparts, but we thought you might enjoy it too. And a special thanks to our friendly participants!

We were pretty sure when we left the Africa Mercy back in November that we wouldn’t step onboard again for a while…but when you work for Mercy Ships, you never know when you might find yourself on the ship.

So this summer we were asked to go meet the ship in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, for her annual maintenance period in shipyard. We filled in for the Communications department and helped over 100 donors from around Europe get a taste of life on board our hospital ship, as well as trained the new Communications team.

The big difference this time is that the first thing to happen when the ship arrived was to take it out of the water! Watch this video to see how they use a giant elevator and train tracks to get it onto dry land (in fast forward because the whole process took over 8 hours)!

We had to wear hard hats and climb that crazy scaffolding just to get in and out of the ship while it was on land. This included the boys–safety first!


Ok, real talk. Shipyard–especially dry dock–isn’t our favorite. Even in the Canary Islands (which Katie was promised was the “Hawaii of Europe.” She finds the term debatable.)


See? Not Hawaii.

You see, when the ship is out of the water it means no air conditioning…inside a big metal box baking in the sun with no way to open the windows. So it’s so. very. hot. The flip side is the crew is much smaller, so there’s a great sense of camaraderie during ship yard.

Which brings me to the best part of being back on the ship–seeing our Mercy Ships friends.

Meet our friend, Laurin, who is a mechanic/fitter in the Engineering Department. His job is to fix things when they break.


We talk a lot about the hospital in our ship, but the ship part is really important, too! Laurin, along with the rest of our engineering crew, make sure the ship can sail to Africa, that the lights stay on, and that we can have running water and flushing toilets. They work hard all year long, but especially during ship yard.

Once all the important dry-dock work was complete on the ship, they put her back into the water and started preparing for the sail to Cameroon.


We picked up the awesome new comms team (more on them later) from the airport, got some tasty ice cream with them, hosted all the donors and then set sail to Cameroon.

This was actually the first time we sailed together on the ship at the same time! The weather was beautiful and we loved spending time on the bow. We even sailed through 0°, 0°, which is where the Equator and the Prime Meridian meet. Since this was Katie’s first time sailing through 0°, 0°, she went through a ceremony to go from a pollywog to a Royal Diamond Shellback.


The boys also got to meet our friend, Captain John. He gave them a tour of the bridge and even let them sit in his chair.


Another part of sailing are the drills to make sure everyone knows what to do in an emergency. That includes our friend Ruben, the ship security officer who, along with other crew members, doubles as a firefighter. During “At Sea” drills we all have to wear life jackets and they test the life boats.

We also get some pretty amazing sunsets in the middle of the ocean and you can see how much the ship rocks and rolls!

Then, after two weeks at sea, we arrived in Douala, Cameroon. Katie climbed all over the ship to take awesome photos like this one with Saul, one of the new photographers.

The AFM arrives in Douala, Cameroon.
The AFM arrives in Douala, Cameroon.

Josh got to jump on a small boat called the Pilot Boat and then jump onto a Cameroonian Navy ship with Shawn, the other new photographer, that was escorting the Africa Mercy into port so he could film the arrival of the ship.

Local Cameroonians celebrate as the Africa Mercy prepares to dock in the Douala port. Photo Credit Shawn Thompson

The people of Cameroon were very happy to welcome the ship with a big party on the dock.

After the ship arrived, the crew sprung into action to settle the ship into her berth and set up the hospital.

After everything was all set up, the hospital opened.

Meet our friend, Dr. Brian. He’s the Anesthesia Supervisor, which means he helps the patients fall asleep for surgery. He lives on board with his family, who are all really fun. His daughters Maya and Hannah are the same age as Jack & Ben!


Meet Esther. She’s the ward nurse in charge of patients who have surgeries on their face. She met her husband, Laurin the mechanic, on the ship, too. We do call it the Love Boat for a reason…


We spent our time getting the awesome new Communications Team trained and ready to take photos, film videos and tell great stories. They are already rocking it!

We taught the team everything we know from our years working on board, from how to get to know patients to how to coordinate 600 people for a photo (a bullhorn, lots of hand motions, and a willing crew all help).

The Communications Team
The Communications Team

Our work onboard was done, but before we left we had to make sure we made it to Waffle Friday for one last tasty waffle made by our friend, Josue.

Thanks Africa Mercy! We had a great time!





Where in the world are the Callows?

That’s an excellent question–I’m so glad you asked.

Currently, we’re in Dungarvan, a small town in Sunny Southeast Ireland. But we’ve been a few places in the last few months, so let me back up a bit.

When we left Benin, we took two months to rest and spend time with family before making decisions about what to do next. When it came down to it, we didn’t feel like we were done working with Mercy Ships. The need for surgery is staggering–five billion people lack access to safe, affordable surgical care. Even though we were done serving on the ship, we knew we were still called to work with Mercy Ships to help transform lives and nations.

So, in February, we joined the Mercy Ships Global Association International Creative Team (MSGA ICT, or just ICT–we like abbreviations around these parts). In a nutshell, we get to work remotely with a talented group of creatives as internal freelancers/consultants for our 16 national offices around the world, supporting their fundraising and recruiting efforts.

International Creative Team (ICT)

For this season, as part of our jobs, we’re serving as “Special Teams” within the ICT, traveling from office to office to provide direct creative support to their fundraising efforts.

First, we spent two months at the main Mercy Ships base in East Texas, covering some marketing department needs. While we’d both visited before, we enjoyed having more time to interact in-person with people we’ve been collaborating with for years.

Personal highlights include:

  • Living in our first apartment together
  • Milking a cow (a life-long dream)
  • Making new friends at Mercy Ships
  • Exploring East Texas
Caddo Lake in Uncertain, Texas

Our next stop was Lausanne, Switzerland for our annual ICT retreat. Since we are all remote workers, this was a key time for us to connect face-to-face and plan for the year. The highlight of the week was hiking up to Lac de Taney for Easter.

While our teammates returned home, we stayed in Switzerland for six weeks to support the Geneva Cargo Day Ball, an event celebrating the efforts of the shipping & trading industry to raise funds for Mercy Ships. The event was a rousing success, kicking off the next edition with more participants than the first.

Personal highlights include:

  • A weekend trip to Paris to visit our friend, Jay
  • Enjoying the beauty of Lake Geneva
  • Living in a 195-year-old stone house

So finally–Ireland. We have about a month between in-person assignments (plus visa complications), so we’re working remotely from the “Home of my Soul.” I lived in Dungarvan after college and still have good friends here. One in particular is an American missionary who is spending the summer in the States, which opened up space in her apartment. This little interlude couldn’t have come at a better time. We’ve been running at a pretty hectic pace since January, and as much fun as it is to explore new places, the constant change can be draining. We’re enjoying being in a place that I at least know well, with built-in community from “my” church.

Personal highlights (so far) include:

  • Introducing Josh to people & places dear to my heart
  • Josh’s first Guinness in an Irish pub (it’s better here)
  • Evening walks through woods and by water
Colligan Woods with our friend, Gladys
  • Catching up with old friends
  • Quiet moments in Holly’s sweet, sun-drenched apartment

We’re in Ireland for a couple more weeks, before meeting the Africa Mercy in the Canary Islands. We’ll spend the summer covering for the Communications team, who will all be training at the base in Texas. And after that? As per usual for this season, TBD…

4,810 Miles Later

At the end of November, we walked down the gangway of the Africa Mercy. It was the second time for Josh to “leave,” but the first for me. I’d left before to go home for Christmas, for training, to get married. I’d left knowing I wouldn’t be back to the same dock, but would return to the same ship. But this was the first time I walked down the gangway not knowing if I’d walk up it again.

It was the end of a hard, stretching, fulfilling, beautiful 2-year season. It’s amazing what can happen in two short years; I feel I’ve only begun to process it all.


After years in the field and a particularly challenging fall, we decided to take two months to recover and rest before deciding what to pursue next. We started with a couple-day layover in Amsterdam before traveling on to Tennessee.



We spent three weeks in California catching up with the Callows. Highlights included a low-key Christmas, the second annual Star Wars family viewing (Rogue One in IMAX), plenty of Callie cuddles, multiple trips to the Bay Area for Mercy Ships and family reunions, and our favorite–a just-the-two-of-us trip to an Irish pub-style inn near Muir Woods.



For January, we headed back to the Keegan’s in Tennessee, where our days were full of nephew cuddles, bedtime stories, fire-building lessons, and sewing projects. Our highlight was meeting our newest nephew, Noah, born two weeks after we left for Benin.


We spent much of the two months in limbo, with ideas of what was coming next, but no concrete plans. Of course, God’s timing is better than ours, and while we were resting, He was working. The last week of January, we got our marching orders. The first week of February, we boarded a plane.