My name is Will Bryant and I am a young adult volunteer currently serving with the Mission to Seafarers here in Hong Kong. The mission here does a lot of good work but before I get into that I want to ask you a very, very important question:
What are you wearing?
Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of radio show is this? Isn’t that a very personal question to be asking a complete stranger? You’re right, so let me ask you another question.
How are you listening to this broadcast? Are you with us on your computer? On your phone? Perhaps you’re driving in the car on your way to a meeting.
Well I’ve got some news for you: All of the items I just mentioned - your clothes, your computer, your phone, your car - have made it into your possession because of the crucial work of seafarers around the world.
Today, human beings are blessed with a standard of living that has never before been achieved by mankind.
Grocery stores in the arctic regions of the world stock shelves with fresh bananas and oranges.
Red wine from Italy can be tasted in every corner of the globe.
Japanese-made cars rule the roads in the countries around the world.
How is this quality of life possible? The answer is simple: shipping.
According to the International Maritime Organization, 90 percent of the the world’s trade is carried out at sea. Think about the things we use in everyday life that is shipped!
It extends far beyond food, clothes and technology. It is the raw materials for roads and houses; the minerals for microchips and processors; the fuel for our cars and airplanes.
Can you imagine your life without these things? Shipping makes it all possible.
This modern phenomenon isn’t just a matter of coincidence. This way of life didn’t just happen by chance.
There are over 1.5 million seafarers in the world that work months on end to make this way of life a reality. They are easily the most important work force in our world today, yet we rarely ever think of them. And we rarely ever see them. Why? Because this shadow workforce is always at sea.
I love telling people about seafarers. Quite simply because their way of life is so different from every other person that you or I know. What do I mean? Let me tell you about the life of a seafarer.
Most seafarers sign on to a ship by contract, and these contracts are often 10 to 12 months long. Imagine that! Imagine living on a massive container ship with a group of 20 guys, going from port to port, country to country without seeing your family or friends. There are no days off. There are no holidays - not even for Christmas. It is non-stop work for 10 to 12 months.
Think about where you have been for the past 10 to 12 months. Where have you travelled? What have you done? For most of us, the answer is meeting new people, getting new jobs, living new experiences. For seafarers, the answer is much more simple: they have been on a ship, doing the same thing over and over again.
Most people think that seafarers get to see the world in their time at sea. This may have been true 20 years ago, but the days of the seafarers sightseeing at cities around the globe are gone.
Container ships now spend as little as six hours in a port of call. Technology and efficiency have radically sped up the pace at which global shipping moves.
Because of their hectic schedules and isolating positions, seafarers are struggling with loneliness and depression. With contracts lasting 10 to 12 months, many seafarers only see their wives and children a month or two out of each year.
They miss birthdays and anniversaries. They miss first steps and first words.
Yet because of their hard work and sacrifice, they are able to provide for their families and send their children to school.
The worst time for seafarers is when tragedy strikes at home. In November of 2013, super-typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. Hundreds of thousands were hurt or killed.
Communications for most of the country came crashing down. Filipino seafarers - stuck at sea - were left to sit in their ship cabins, unable to contact home.
Many would find out after days of worrying that their loved ones had been hurt or killed. Many would find out that their house had been destroyed. It could be weeks before they are able to sign off their ships and head back home. These are the worst times at sea.
Yet there is a bright spot in the midst of this massive and exhausting industry. Seaman’s missions around the world do their best to care for seafarers when few others do.
Here at the Mariners’ Club in Hong Kong, our chaplains visit over 30 ships a day, bringing news, recent sporting events and telephone cards to crews on board. Often times we do much more than that.
We enable them to wire money to their families back home.
We visit them in the hospital if they become sick and need to leave their post in an emergency.
We contact the proper authorities if we find that they are not getting paid what is owed to them.
Why do we do this? We are merely trying to support them as much as they support all of us.
Today, July Thirteenth, we celebrate seafarers on this Sea Sunday. We celebrate and give thanks for those that sacrifice so much so that we may enjoy a more full way of life.
So please - as you bow your heads and give thanks to God for all the blessings you receive. Remember the seafarers, that shadow workforce, working hard to deliver some of those blessings to you each and everyday.
(Sea Sunday 13.07.2014)