Anchored to Family
For the most part, the seafarers I have met in my ship visiting seem to enjoy comradeship with their crew mates. Even so, I find that there is no question that they answer more willingly than, “Do you have family back home?” Men (mostly they are men) who spend eight to ten months of each year away from their families will generally light up to talk about wives and children. One young man told me of his only child, an 11-month-old daughter whom he had left four months ago to return to sea. With longing in his eyes he anticipated that he would see her again after the winter months had passed, admitting with a chuckle that she would not know him. Another, the chief cook, showed me how tall and rapidly his 13-year-old son had grown; his hand moved up and down uncertainly as he realized that, having not seen him for the last eight months, he actually didn’t know how tall that son might be today.
It is touching to see these expressions of love and connection, a connection maintained far more easily nowadays with the wide availability of cell phones and wi-if links. The love is real and yet, despite the helpful technology, the deprivation is also real. By leaving their families the seafarers can support them far better financially than they could do by taking employment at home, assuming they could find a job at all. It is for the sake of their families, in most every case, that the men take on the risks and isolation of life on a merchant ship. For the sake of families that, for most of every year, they do not enjoy life with, do not embrace or share a meal with, do not greet coming through the door of home.
Knowing this about the crews that I visit has given me an abiding respect for the work that they undertake. And it makes me grateful for the welcome that they give me when I interrupt their meals or their work to come on board to greet them on behalf of the Mission to Seafarers. I greet them cheerfully and they typically respond with equal good cheer. They do critical work to make the connections that our global commerce demands, and at the same time they are sacrificing the family connections that most of us take for granted. For that I thank them and pray for them. “Have a safe voyage!” I say each time I shuffle down the gangway after a visit; watching the faces of the crew on deck, I can see that it is a bidding that they fully understand and appreciate. They long for a safe passage from port to port, and above all for a safe return to the families they love and support.