My brother has just had his DNA tested for ancestry. The results demonstrate the diversity of our family background. According to the analysis we are 33% West European (France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria), 30% Irish, 18% Scandinavian, 2% Greek/Italian, 1% Finnish/Northern Russian, 1% Iberian peninsula and 1% European Jewish – and only 14 % British! I have no idea how accurate such tests are but surely I must have a case for a new passport from somewhere post-Brexit if I need one! (Photo: Andrew speaks to Mission supporters at the Palace of Westminster, London UK 17 October.) At The Mission to Seafarers we often speak of the importance of welcoming strangers, of showing special kindness to those far from home. Such hospitality is rooted in the traditions and stories of the Bible and is surely at the heart of Christian faith. I guess that if we looked deeply into our backgrounds, or perhaps not so deeply, most of us would discover that our families have been strangers and outsiders at some point in time – and have no doubt been dependent on unexpected and transformational kindness. It is a sobering and illuminating thought. At The Mission to Seafarers there are often meetings, conferences and planning sessions. We talk about future strategy and operational aspirations. So we should. Sometimes however it is easy to have discussions which fail to mention the very people at the heart of all that we do – the seafarers themselves. We should never cease to be driven by that passion for welcoming this particular group of “outsiders” – of course in ways that are dynamic and modern and creative and, perhaps, new, but absolutely in line with our underpinning purpose. We tried to keep all this very much in mind as our London Trustees held their first extended two-day meeting earlier this month. It was a meeting designed to coincide with the annual conference of our eight Regional Directors - photo from left to right: Lance Lukin Oceania, Ed Swayze (Acting RD) Canada, Cedric Rautenbach Africa, Stephen Miller East Asia, Ken Hawkins USA, Ije Ajibade Europe and UK, Garry Dodd Australia and Papua New Guinea; and Paul Burt The Gulf and South Asia. We were also join by Brian Marajh, our Liaison Bishop for Africa. It was the first time such a meeting had taken place with regions and Trustees and it certainly made a big impact. There was abundant passion and energy in the room and a good deal of plain speaking. Each Regional Director ensured that their Region was vigorously represented and Trustees learnt an enormous amount through these face to face encounters. The meeting also explored some potentially exciting new projects and programmes, some of which we hope will emerge in the coming months. The outcome of the meeting was a commitment both to further explore further ways of strengthening the regions and to undertake more detailed work on aspects of programme planning – and some proposals have already been made. This column is not the place for a full account of the many outcomes from the conference, although these will be detailed in due course. What must be clear, however, is that all the decisions we take must always keep seafarers and their families firmly in our sights. In the New Testament Acts of the Apostles, after St Paul’s shipwreck on Malta, all passengers and crew made it safely to shore. They must have been cold, shocked, hungry and traumatised – and this was a strange country where they were unsure of their reception. As the story comes to an end we are told that the natives showed unusual kindness. “Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it”. What a great thing. (Photo: St Paul's shipwreck by Laurent de la Hyre.) At The Mission to Seafarers we are in the business of unusual kindness, of kindling fires and welcoming strangers. We must never forget it. Best wishes,
Last month I was fortunate enough to have been invited to The Mission in Belfast, to honour the remarkable service of some of their longest-serving volunteers, in the presence of the Northern Irish Branch Patron and legendary Olympian, Dame Mary Peters. The volunteers who received awards are, quite simply the men and women who keep the Guinness flowing in the centre, visit ships in the Port and raise funds to make it all possible. I was not only impressed with the dedication and passion of the volunteers but, as they came up to accept their richly deserved awards, it reminded me just what a unique organisation The Mission to Seafarers is. While vital, the work our port volunteers carry out is not glamorous, often working within high rise container stacks or nestled in-between chemical refineries. Yet, all around the world, every day, volunteers are carrying out similar duties without fuss or expectation. They give up their time because they believe in the Mission, the idea of service and the thought that community extends further than the immediate family unit. In our fast-paced and increasingly individualistic society, I am humbled to work for an organisation that has such a dedicated core of supporters at its very heart.
During my time in Belfast, I went ship visiting with a volunteer and witnessed a seafarer on board a very well appointed ship explaining that he had left his wife and one-week-old son at home. He had not seen his family for six months and, as you would expect, was finding the long period of separation hard. The volunteer I was with did not interrupt, did not try to offer a superficial solution but just listened, diligently and compassionately. A seafarer missing their family is of course not a rare occurrence and is no one’s fault but, rather, is an endemic and age old fact of life at sea. Saying this, without someone willing to give up their morning and go out on a very soggy Thursday and climb aboard that particular ship, the seafarer we met would not have had that opportunity to talk honestly and openly to an independent and understanding ear about how sorely he missed his family. The encounter was not going to grab any headlines, but similar conversations are had on board ships and in centres all around the world, 365 days a year. For me, that alone is a heart-warming thought.
It is easy to become detached, as I (literally) sit at the top of the tower at IHQ getting wrapped up in deadlines and targets. Inevitably, there are times when work is not easy when things don’t go quite to plan. When they don’t, I will remember the outstanding service our volunteers give to the Mission and that single encounter that may be perceived as unremarkable but, in my eyes, was remarkable for so many reasons.
The work of our chaplains and volunteers around the world is my inspiration to fulfil my mission to develop and build sustainable financial underpinnings to ensure they can continue their amazing work on the frontline. As I travel around more stations and get to know our chaplains and volunteers, I look forward to discovering even more nuggets of inspiration!