By Jessica Able, Record Staff Writer
Jeff King, a 1995 graduate of Trinity High School, has spent the last decade or so serving the poorest of the poor as a “technical missionary” for Mercy Ships, a nonprofit organization that provides critical medical care to people all over the world.
King was one of several Catholic high school alumni to receive alumnus of the year honors this spring. He was awarded the 2013 Honor Alumnus Award at Trinity’s graduation ceremony May 19.
The award is given to a graduate of Trinity high school “who has distinguished himself in his professional life; demonstrated the qualities, values and ideals taught at Trinity; and maintained strong loyalty to his alma mater,” a news release from the school said.
Mercy Ships provides medical care, development projects and health education to individuals in impoverished countries from the deck of a converted cruise liner. Volunteers sail to countries that have little or no access to proper medical care, King said in a phone interview May 23.
“People come on board for free surgeries. We do thousands of surgeries each year,” including maxillofacial, reconstructive
and orthopedic operations he said.
The ship has eight floors and six operating rooms. More than 400 crew members from 30 nations staff the ship, King said.
The organization has served in more than 70 countries and is currently focusing its efforts in West Africa.
In addition to surgeries and medical care, volunteers go into countries and complete development projects such as water purification systems and various building construction.
King attended the University of Evansville and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. Following graduation, he began work with the Hunt Construction Group, where his first assignment was the UPS airport expansion.
In 2001, King said he felt a calling to become involved in mission work.
“I prayed a lot about it. The more I prayed the more Sierra Leone just kept popping up in news articles and on TV. I felt a desire to get there and help out,” he said.
King recalled that the country had just ended a civil war and the people were suffering.
“I wanted to get there and serve the Lord there,” he said.
King became a technical missionary for Mercy Ships. He has used his engineering skills by constructing a well-drilling site in Honduras. He also has worked to provide clean drinking water in Togo and Sierra Leone.
While in Sierra Leone, King met his future wife Rhiannon, originally from England, who was volunteering in the war-torn land as a physical therapist.
Giving up a lucrative engineering career, King joined Mercy Ships and began volunteering full time with the nonprofit organization. King receives no salary and must raise money to travel to and from destinations.
“The only thing I can say is that it was just a strong calling. It was stronger than the pull of money or the thoughts of a successful career,” he said. “I think when God calls you somewhere it puts a burning desire to do it in you.”
King said his time at Trinity played a major role in his call to service.
“At Trinity, God and faith were a part of everyday life, just as much as sports and academics. I think I have carried this throughout my life — God being a natural and important part of my life, who I am and what I do,” he said.
King also noted that his parents, Ed and Sharon King, who are members of Immaculate Conception Church in La Grange, Ky., were instrumental in his faith formation.
“They really modeled a life based on faith in action,” he said.
King and his wife are currently working at the Mercy Ships’ International Operations Center near Dallas, Texas. The couple have two children, Lucy, 3, and Nathan, 1.
Other 2013 alumnus of the year award recipients that have been reported to The Record include the following:
- Sharon Mettling Elsesser, a 1964 graduate of Mercy Academy, received the 2013 Outstanding Alumna of the Year Award. Elsesser has worked for Norton Healthcare for 42 years.
The award, presented by the Mercy Academy Alumnae Association, honors an alumna “for her compassion, generosity and her ability to lead,” a news release from the school said.
- St. Xavier High School presented its 2013 Outstanding Alumnus Award to Robert L. Jones Jr., a member of the class of 1976, at the school’s commencement exercises May 19. Jones is the associate dean for experiential programs at the University of Notre Dame Law School and led its legal aid clinic from 2002 to 2012.
In his current role, he provides law students hands-on experiences to learn about real-life legal problems, including those of the urban poor.
The purpose of the Outstanding Alumnus Award is to honor a graduate who has made a significant contribution “to the betterment of his fellow man,” according to a press release from St. Xavier.