During my recent holiday, I came across this picture, by the side of a swimming pool. Presumably, it is warning parents not to take their eyes off their children. Always on the lookout for sermon ideas, it struck me as an image that could be seen as having some deeper theological significance –a great picture of the God whose watchful and caring eyes are always on us and who never turns his back on us. For the Mission community, it serves as a reminder of our responsibility to keep our eyes firmly on the seafarers we serve and their families, and never to walk away from them. I am always deeply impressed by the myriad ways in which our teams keep their eyes so firmly fixed on the seafarers.

This month I want to pay tribute to one particular project, now reaching its end. In the last few weeks that little Mission ship, of which we have been so proud, The Flying Angel, has ceased its service with us. It had served for ten years. In the light of fast changing local circumstances, as well as the need for a major overhaul,  it became clear that it was the right time to bring this project to an end. There was inevitable sadness in this but there is so much to celebrate. The ship was the result of deeply creative thinking and a courageously entrepreneurial approach – and particular tribute goes to Canon Stephen Miller, now Regional Director East Asia, who was the chief driving force and inspiration behind it. It has served with distinction and honour off Fujairah, bringing Mission support throughout what is one of the world’s largest anchorages.

Through the Flying Angel, many kinds of welfare support -  spiritual, pastoral and practical -  have come to seafarers.  In effect, a Centre facility has come to the foot of the gangway, way out at sea.  The project has had a transformative impact on the lives of seafarers. I would like to take this opportunity to offer profound thanks to all involved in conception and creation, to all the crews and chaplains who have operated and served on board the ship, to so many individuals, organisations and companies who have been so generous in their financial support and to the committee which has overseen its management. I would also like to thank Rev Dr Paul Burt who has been key to the project in recent years and who has had the unenviable task of supervising and ensuring a good ending. The ship will continue to be used in the anchorage but now in a slightly different capacity.

Endings are always difficult but this has been a fantastic project. It should inspire us in continuing to think creatively, to be entrepreneurial and to be bold in taking forward new initiatives.

While The Flying Angel is no longer in MtS operation, our wider work in the UAE goes from strength to strength, with new members being added to the team as we respond to many and growing demands, particularly in relation to cases of abandonment and other justice-related issues. Some of these cases involve ships at anchor out at sea. We have a range of flexible options when it comes to accessing these vessels.

In honouring the work of the Flying Angel, and all those who have been involved with it, I am reminded of that swimming pool picture.  This has been a cutting edge way in which we at MtS have been able to keep our eyes on seafarers. I look forward to seeing many more.