“Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him”
In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
Good morning. I am Sam Tudor, the intern this year with the Mariners’ HK. I have only really learn about the life of seafarers in the last couple of years. Before this I very ignorantly, and I am quite ashamed to admit this, wondered why seafarers should get whole organisations looking after them — surely it was just a job like any other?
However, the life of a seafarer is not like any other job. To illustrate this, I just want you to imagine for a second what a seafarer has to go through. Picture that today is your last day spent with your family, friends and loved ones for the next 9 months because tomorrow you will join a container ship. The ship will have a crew of around 20 others who you do not know. If you are lucky, there will be some others from your home country who speak your language, and if you are very lucky, the cook onboard may even be from your home country. But some of the time you may be the only person onboard from your country. You then set sail around Asia where there are many ports close together, so you may even be pulling into ports every single day. In ports life is busy and work is fast. But at least when you are in port you can use internet cards to call your family. You then begin the 2 week voyage to America. Although you can get more rest on this voyage, while you are sailing out at sea you have to rely on the ship’s WiFi which is often limited, and often too weak to make calls or Face Time, so for 2 weeks you can only message your family and loved ones.
I hope you are starting to get the sense that the life of a seafarer is one of isolation and one where they rely on the hospitality of strangers. This was only made worse during the Pandemic when seafarers were not allowed to come ashore anywhere, and so for the duration of their contracts, which can be up to 11 months, they were stuck on their ships which came to resemble ‘metal prisons’. And still today an alarming number of shipping companies continue to cite Covid as the reason that they do not allow shore leave for their crew.
So, why am I telling you all of this? How does this relate to you in any way? Well, over 90% of all transported commodities in the world are transported by sea. This means that when we order something online that has to come from a different country, and we’re usually complaining about the extra $50 shipping fee or the 2 weeks’ wait, it is actually the sacrifices of these seafarers that make it possible.
I think seafarers still have quite a bad reputation in some places, but in my experience it is thoroughly undeserved. I was talking just the other week to a seafarer from the Philippines who has been onboard his ship for 6 months and we were chatting about his family when he said he has a baby daughter at home who is 3 months old. Can you imagine not being able to hold your child for the first 3 months
of their life? He has not yet seen his daughter, but he works to provide for her.
Now, I want you to think about the phrase from our OT reading this morning, the Lord says to Israel, as He says to us, ‘Do not fear, for I am with you’. How easy is it for you to remember this? How easy is it for you to keep this in your mind through the difficulties of life?
The reality is that we all struggle to remember this sometimes. There are times when we lose sight of God. And yet, we are fortunate in many ways because most of us are able to join a Christian community at Church on a Sunday, or join with our friends and family to uplift each other. It becomes easier to remember that the Lord is with us when we have friends joining us on the way. At sea this is not so easy and if even we on land struggle to remember God’s guiding and supporting presence with us sometimes, how much harder is it for those at sea?
And if we look at our Gospel reading, Jesus and Peter are walking on the water when even Peter, while in the physical presence of Christ, forgets that the Lord is with him. The strong wind blows and he loses his faith. Peter begins to sink.
What does Christ do when the strong wind blows and Peter begins to sink? The Gospel says, “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him”. This is where the seafarers’ missions come in.
It is a fact of life that difficulties will arise. But what happens when the strong wind begins to blow at sea? What happens when the difficulties arise for seafarers and they still have 6 months of their contract left before they can see and hug their loved ones? It is all too easy for doubt and fear to set in at sea.
So we in the seafarers’ missions are here to reach out our hand and support all those at sea.
This can be practical support such as helping to send money back to their families; providing lifts between their ships and our centre where we have free WiFi; or providing snacks, sim cards, toiletries onboard ships as cheaply as we can so that even those who cannot go ashore still have access to these things.
It can also be spiritual support, such as leading worship onboard ships or praying with seafarers.
We are also able to help seafarers receive counseling or legal aid should they need it.
But I think for me the most important aspect of our work is in the seemingly insignificant conversations we have. We have the opportunity on our ship visits to try to break through the isolation of a seafarer’s life, to let them know that there is someone out there caring for them and here to help them. It’s safe to say that most of my conversations with seafarers aren’t about anything ground-breaking, but it’s just in having that conversation with a friendly face and someone who cares that we can all feel a bit more human. And you do not know what that seafarer is going through, what struggles or difficulties they may be facing. Sometimes they feel comfortable opening up about these things. Other times you can see it in their gratitude that they needed to have that chat.
So, on this Sea Sunday I ask you, when you see a storm raging outside, pray for the seafarers who are facing storms at sea, both literal and emotional. When you are ready to complain that your most recent online order can’t arrive for another 2 weeks, change that complaint into a prayer for the seafarers who will ship it for you. It is so unlikely that you will ever meet the people who will be on that ship, but by holding them before God, you are reaching out your hand and catching them.