If you told me a year ago that I’d be in sitting in a diner in New Orleans discussing ship ministry over beers with two deacons and a Catholic priest I’d have told you to take a hike. This was, however, an actual thing that happened to me last week. And that’s not the only strange thing that has occurred over the past few months, I also: moved across the country, learned a bunch of Tagalog, saw my first lifeboat dedication ceremony, spent the majority of my days with non-Canadians, ate a fish that was served to me with the head still on (!), and learned an awful lot about love and service. All of these situations came about because of my job as the summer intern with Mission to Seafarers at the Port of Vancouver.
As part of my internship I spent this past week in New Orleans, Louisiana attending the North American Maritime Ministries Association Conference where I met seafarers’ welfare professionals from all over North (and South) America. This was a unique opportunity because port chaplains tend to be fairly isolated (usually each port only has one or two chaplains and minimal staff), so an opportunity to meet others who work in this field was a real morale booster.
I heard dozens of stories of ways in which seafarers’ welfare professionals are serving in innovative and exciting ways. We heard from Brazilian chaplains who have spent the past two weeks caring for a seafarer who got malaria and was left behind by his ship. We heard about a team in the Philippines who cares for seafarers’ families by teaching English to seafarers’ wives and providing them with support while their husbands are at sea. We heard from a Coast Guard chaplain who has counselled seafarers during life or death situations. We even heard about a team from the International Transport Federation who helped a seafarer from Myanmar get citizenship in the USA after being blacklisted from his country for reporting unsafe conditions on board his vessel.
At first when I heard all of these stories of the incredible work being done across the globe I thought about how my work driving the mission van, handing out Bibles, and selling chocolate bars kind of pales in comparison. Could a ride to the mall really be as valuable as the work done in these incredible stories? Well, I’ll spare you the hours fraught with uncertainty and doubt and leave you with my answer: yes. This conference helped me to find true and immense value in all the work that we do in ship ministry.
At the heart of all the things we do for seafarers, be they big or small, is a desire to serve and be like Christ. Actions done with a motivation of love and a desire to serve Christ all hold importance in the eyes of God. There is immense value in the day-to-day work of port chaplains and mission volunteers: the time spent building relationships with seafarers, laughing and joking with them, talking with them about their families, helping them get out of their isolated bubble aboard the ship, and making them feel valued and respected for the difficult work they do. Simply being a presence on board and a new face can make a huge difference in a seafarer’s outlook and mood.
With this perspective, I was able to recognize the amazing in these seemingly simple things NAMMA members are doing: Some are catering to the physical and social needs of seafarers, like the team in Tampa who set up a basketball court for seafarers to blow off steam. Other ministries put a focus on spiritual needs, like a team from California who recruits priests to care for passengers and crews on cruise ship voyages. Others still are helping with practical and financial needs, like the Hamilton chaplains who set up a Marine Career Awareness Day at their centre. I’ve also seen great love and compassion shown by our chaplain here in Vancouver who searches out cadets on board each ship he visits and makes sure they feel safe and welcomed in their new job.
So thank you, NAMMA, for showing me that we need to hear the stories of volunteers who spend afternoons playing pool with the chief cook just as much as we need to hear the stories of abandoned crews without food being brought to safety.
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