Seafarers often spend important holiday times away from their families. For Christians this would include Christmas. Others can miss their own significant holidays – such as Lunar New Year, Idul Fitri, Deepavali, etc. Whatever the case may be, these can be some of the hardest times to be at sea and far from home.
For decades now the Ministry to Seafarers has sought to make Christmas a special time for seafarers by bringing gifts to them on board. Our hope, of course, is to share the greatest gift of all, Jesus Christ, with them. But we also want to help them in small, practical ways by providing things like stocking caps, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, maybe a calendar, a candy cane and some chocolate, a Canadian souvenir – or any other sort of practical item that will hopefully make their day a bit more special.
In the past many people packed their own gifts to send to the Ministry and we distributed whatever came in to the ships. More recently, in the interest of uniformity of gifts and for port security reasons, we have mostly been asking for donations so we can go out and purchase in bulk the best items to include in the gift packs.
Christmas gifts for seafarers are something that many centres around the world take part in. Seafarers definitely look forward to the gifts – many begin asking even a month or 2 before Christmas when they pass through the port: “Will you be giving gifts again this year?” Their hope is that they will be in port over Christmas to receive the gifts.
Ways to Help
You can still be involved in this meaningful programme. Donations for the gifts should be designated for “Christmas at Sea”. Cheques should be made out to “Ministry to Seafarers” and can be sent to:
Ministry to Seafarers
401 E. Waterfront Road
Vancouver, BC V6A 4G9
Or donations can be made through the online donation link.
We also still very much appreciate receiving those wonderful home knitted toques (stocking caps) from people. We include those in the gift packages, but also give them out regularly all through the year – especially in the colder months. Remember, many of these seafarers come from much warmer climates and are not accustomed to the cold. They so appreciate the gifts!
Finally, every year we spend a couple of days packing up the gifts. If you would like to be involved in packing (and live in the Vancouver area), please be in touch with the chaplain by email or phone. We generally pack the gifts around 2 weeks to 10 days prior to Christmas.
Speaking of Christmas
During one ship visit I spent some time in the mess room chatting with one of the more seasoned crew members. The conversation began with the usual banter – about where he was from, last port, next port, cargo, etc. Then I asked him about his family and the situation back home. He shared about his wife and their only child, a 14 year old daughter.
I asked him about his current contract – it was February when we me and he’d already been on the ship for nearly 8 months, with one month to go before heading home for a well-deserved 3 month break. He was very excited to be going home again soon, and I was excited with and for him
He smiled and agreed, but then his face turned somber. “Yes, it will be nice to be home again,” he commented. “But you know what? In the 14 years of my daughter’s life, I have not once been able to spend a Christmas with her.”
Not one Christmas with his family! As a Filipino Christian, this absence was especially painful for him. Once again I was reminded of the sacrifices these sailors make in order to support their families. What’s more, they provide essential services to the rest of us around the world who benefit from their sacrifice.
Our aim at the Seafarers’ Centres is to provide the kind of support and assistance that will help many sailors find some joy and hope, and even connect with their families, at least remotely and no matter what time of year.