Ship’s System Administrator

In the bible Paul tells us that everyone who is part of the church has a unique function.  Some people are really great at preaching, some are great at teaching, and some are great at greeting others or sharing their faith.

Merry Christmas I.S. (Information Services) from O.R. (operating room) Department

Until recently it wasn’t always clear to me where I fit into this puzzle. But here on board I am blessed to be able to practice my profession and serve God at the same time.

Here in Africa and on the ship (same as anywhere), people have technology problems.
Some of these problems could be solved by waiting hours until the timezone is right and calling a support center 1000 miles away for remote help.  But for other problems, you really want someone nearby who knows the systems and can fix things immediately.

That’s where I come in.

So what exactly does a System Administrator do?

For part of my job, I support the ships’ safety and security applications, helping the crew on board be safe in case of fires or intruders.  I also make sure that the servers and equipment which connect the ships’ internet are all maximized and set so that everyone can access the web to carry out their unique roles.  The doctors and nurses use a patient database that I support through keeping the file servers up and running, and they are synced and backed up due to the processes that I maintain.  Overall there are 59 systems (that I know of) that I support or help to function in some way.  This is a ton for just one person to learn and figure out, and thankfully there are 6 others in the IS team on board (and a whole department of 30+ wonderful folks in Texas) who help figure all this out.  But at the end of the day, if something needs immediate attention it’s up to our IS manager and myself to keep everything running, and support new things people want to use technology for.

I also get called on sometimes to fix things that I honestly have absolutely no clue how to fix.  Last week was one of those days…

To serve the crew, I carry a pager which can be dialed day-or-night by any crew experiencing work-stopping technical problems.  The other day, I got an alert on my pager that our Radome Satellite receiver was overheating.  When docked in a country, Mercy Ships pays for internet service from in-country.  But we also use a large satellite receiver to get internet to the ship, which is especially useful while sailing out in the ocean.  As it turns out, there is an air conditioning unit inside this Satellite dome which keeps the expensive electronics cool and humidity-free.  So I asked around and ended up climbing up on deck 8 (the top deck of the ship) and inside this giant white ball where we keep the satellite.  Inside the 40C (100F) spherical cave was a giant robotic arm/dish which moves around to track the satellite in space.  Once there, I found the malfunctioning AC Unit and realized I had absolutely no clue how to fix it.  I dug out the manual for the system and called upon the expertise of the ship’s awesome electricians and AC engineers to help fix and eventually replace the AC unit.  The AC Unit weights about 100 lbs and the dome is up off the deck about 6 feet up a ladder, so it is no easy task to get the unit out of there.  After a sweaty day in the hot African sun, our team was able to heave and ho the backup unit, get it cleaned out and back up in there, plugged in and functioning properly.

Doctors and nurses down in the hospital wards were able to check their email messages (beamed in from servers half way around the world, out into space, and back down to the ship) and the internet service aboard the ship never missed a beat.  Little did they know that 5 decks above them, we were scrambling – hot and sweaty – to get this thing replaced before the satellite melted down.  We thank God every day for the tools, equipment, funding, and wonderful people with expertise on the ship that keeps it up and running every single day.  It truly is a miracle sometimes each day aboard the Africa Mercy.

As a result of the internet being on, the captain and security officer was able to check on security alerts in the region, and check that the temporary visitors to the ship disembarked as planned.  The dining room staff was able to look up new recipes on the web and correspond with family, churches, and supporters back home.  The HR staff and transportation manager was able to collaborate with the base back in Texas to schedule airport pickups for the steady stream of volunteers which arrives and departs every week.  The operations manager was able to set up a meeting with a new director of Mercy Ships Africa office, and the advance team was able to make contact with and plan the upcoming trip to Cameroon.  The doctors and nurses were able to speak with their colleagues back home, upload and discuss x-ray scans, and the pharmacists were able to look up dosage information and information about rare diseases, prognosis, and treatments.  And because of this service (and every other department aboard working perfectly) – ultimately the patients were able to receive care and be healed in ways that will change their lives forever.

And underneath it all, these things are made possible by people at home working normal jobs and supporting us through monthly donations.

Thank you for being super heroes and gift givers.  You keep the internet and the lights on in the hospital and together we are spreading the light and love of Christ through the nations.