Leaders of "Mercy Ships" are praising Southern hospitality following a three week visit to Mississippi.
A ship from that Christian mission group is about to wrap up a recruiting stop at the State Port of Gulfport.
"Mercy Ships" emphasizes its evangelism outreach by offering free medical care to needy families in third world countries.
The successful stop in Gulfport may be the start of a long term relationship.
Volunteers spent Monday afternoon fastening down equipment in the operating room aboard the Mercy Ship. They're packing and securing medical gear as the ship prepares to weigh anchor.
"We have to put all the equipment together, lash it together so it doesn't move during the sail. And then we lash it to the floor as well," explained Dr. Andrew Clark.
The team is used to frequent moves. This mobile medical group rarely spends more than a few weeks in the same spot.
After a three week visit to Gulfport, the ship will undergo dry dock repairs in Mobile before heading out for more mission work.
"We use the ship as a tool for us to do mission work so we have to have some time for technical repairs. But we'd like to get down there as soon as possible and get back to work. And we're planning on having an outreach in Honduras and Belize straight after the dry dock," said Dr. Clark.
The operating room, which was so hectic with moving preparations on Monday, is usually busy with eye surgeries during stopovers in Central America. Time spent in Mississippi was used to attract volunteers, donations and business backing.
Mercy Ships wants to expand on Gulfport's economic ties to Central America.
Craig Snow is an assistant to the vice president of Mercy Ships.
"Make something of a lasting difference. Something that you can say, hey, we're not only doing an economic trade, but we're investing into the people's lives to make a difference in Central America," said Snow.
Leaders of the mission team are so excited about their first visit to Gulfport, they are considering making Mississippi a regular port of call for the Mercy Ship.
Dr. Clark says the Gulfport visit exceeded his expectations for attracting volunteers and financial support.
"You can tell how interested people are. And we had lots of very meaningful conversations with people who are interested in supporting us in the future."
Mercy Ship leaders recruited more than 70 volunteers during the three week stopover in Gulfport.