Justin Brunenkant comes from a long line of electricians; his father, grandfather, brother and two uncles have all been in the business. So perhaps it was no surprise that Brunenkant would enter the family business (so to speak) and follow in the well-trodden path of his family members. It was decidedly less predictable when earlier this year Brunenkant left his work at Rosendin Electric to lend his electrical expertise to the Africa Mercy, a state-of-the-art-hospital ship run by the charity Mercy Ships, which provides free surgeries and medical services to regions where clean water, electricity, medical facilities and skilled personnel are limited.
In April 2018, Brunenkant left his position as an assistant project manager and moved with his wife and four young children (9, 6, 4 and 2 years old) to the Africa Mercy for a two-year stint as the ship’s chief electrician. His children are enrolled in the Academy, the international school on the ship. His wife works with the Academy and as part of the dive team, clearing debris from seawater suction grates.
Brunenkant said the decision to join the crew was an easy one for his family.
“[I had] started to look for a way to serve God and serve others," he said. "When I saw an opportunity to use my skills to do both and volunteer with Mercy Ships, it was a match made in heaven.”
The family joined the ship in Cameroon, sailed to the Canary Islands and are now in Guinea, where the ship will remain docked for the next few months to provide over 2,000 free surgeries.
Brunenkant's days look a lot like any lead electrician’s. He spends his time handing out work assignments, responding to emails, ordering new materials, planning for upcoming projects and attending meetings. (Though his involve ship captains and officers.) If there is any time left in the day, Brunenkant grabs a tool bag and begins to clear work tickets himself.
Working on a ship does pose unique challenges. Because the ship is staffed by volunteers, most workers are only onboard for a few weeks or months. To list the nationalities of electricians that have worked on Brunenkant’s team is like the start of a joke. What do you get when two Canadians, two Brits, a Peruvian, an Australian, two Dutchmen, a Cameroonian and a New Zealander work in an electrical department?
Though a challenge, Brunenkant said this is a benefit of working on the ship.
“The diversity and the chance to learn skills developed in other countries has been an amazing experience,” he said.
Brunenkant must also adhere to several sets of unique codes and standards, including international maritime codes, codes from Malta where the ship is registered, and the codes and standards for the insurance agency who inspect and certify the ship.
Another challenge comes from the fact the ship primarily provides services in developing nations, where reliable electrical service is not guaranteed. The electrical crew is responsible for ensuring the ship generates its own power 24/7, in addition to maintaining two backup generators, an emergency generator and a battery backup, all without interfering with the work of the doctors onboard.
“We have had to pay special attention to the mounting of our generators since the surgeons said they could feel the vibrations in the operating room,” Brunenkant said.
Despite the challenges, Brunenkant said the experience has been overwhelmingly rewarding.
“I always thought that I needed to be a doctor or a pastor to be a missionary and share the love of God with people, but it turns out there is a great need for someone who has spent years in the trade and has technical skills to offer," he said. "I love that I can use a trade that has given my family so much to give back and help the lives of people in other countries.”