Ship visiting is at the heart of this ministry – the most effective way to serve seafarers with word and deed Gospel is visiting ships (with an average of about 40 visits being done per month). The MTS is primarily a ministry of presence. Entering the world of the seafarer by climbing on board is the most appreciated act of charity. Nothing quite takes the place of being there for the seafarers, listening to their stories and treating them like valued human beings – men and women who suffer from social isolation, who carry personal concerns and who miss their families.
The condition of seafarers on ships can potentially be more risky than within prisons (where people are protected by guards and guaranteed their rights). Who is to care for the needs of the seafarers? With port times being reduced, making it harder to get off the ship, meeting mariners on their turf becomes an act of ‘unusual kindness’, and the more it is done the more trust is built with seafarers and within the shipping community. As one seafarer stated recently – “Seafarers chaplains are the visitors we really appreciate and look forward to meeting. Everyone else has an agenda and demands our time and energy. You guys come to serve and give.”
We go to them, but they also come to us. Offering hospitality at the Flying Angel Club – providing a place where coffee is on, Internet is provided and a few basic items or condiments are supplied – is much appreciated. The Flying Angel Club operates two centers – one downtown, the other at Roberts Bank. The Delta Port facility is strategically located (a very short walk from the ships), and continues to be a very popular place to visit. The Flying Angel Club in Vancouver is some distance from the ships and nearer the convenience of downtown Vancouver. At both centres vans are available to transport seafarers to and from the centre, and to help with transporting them to some other locations as well.
Ministry at the Seafarers’ Centres remains important. Even with smaller numbers and shorter visits, those who come continue to express their appreciation for the services provided. Free wifi is always much appreciated, and there is increasing demand for services like SIM cards and top-ups. Seafarers do still come. Some of them just want some quiet time alone off the ship, others enjoy the fellowship of the centre, while some are looking for someone to talk with in order to share their worries, concerns, stresses, and the like. We are working to re-institute occasional worship services at the centres, and also striving to capitalize on opportunities to lead worship services and Bible studies on board the ships. The downtown seafarers centre has also undergone substantial renovations this year in order to give it an even more inviting and appealing atmosphere.
Christmas At Sea
Every year we prepare and distribute Christmas gifts for seafarers who pass though the Port of Vancouver at that time of year. In past years individuals and churches would prepare and wrap gifts that our chaplains would distribute. More recently, in order to have more uniform gifts, we accept donations toward this programme and then purchase the various gifts our selves. Groups then come to help with the packing and wrapping. We distribute many of the gifts to ships at anchor in the harbour on Christmas Eve. The rest we carry onto ships as they come into the various terminals.
These gifts a hugely appreciated by the seafarers. Every year they begin asking months in advance, “Will you be giving gifts again this year?” And they always hope that the timing of their next visit will be during the Christmas gift season.
A typical gift will include things like: toothbrush and toothpaste, and other toiletries; a pair of warm socks and a toque; some snacks like cookies and chocolates; possibly a small souvenir, a piece of Christian literature and Gospel message; etc. It helps to make this time of year a bit more special for those who are far from home.
Literature distribution has always been a key component of this ministry. We still aim to provide ready access to Gospel oriented reading materials including New Testaments and full Bibles, devotionals, quality pamphlets and tracts, and some Bible study materials. These come in a variety of languages. Additionally we give out many copies of the Jesus video that are available in many languages.
We also provide access to good books and many magazines – all of which are donated by individuals and organizations. All literature is given out free of charge.