Facilitating family reunions is a big part of MTS Baltimore Chaplain the Rev Mary Davisson’s ministry.
She and her team at the Baltimore International Seafarers’ Centre, help to reconnect overseas workers in the United States and their seafaring family members after long periods of separation. Immigrants from many lands–India, Eastern Europe, and especially the Philippines–frequently call on BISC to help them facilitate family reunions when their loved ones’ vessels are docking in Baltimore.
In the Philippines, it is quite common for people to work overseas and send a percentage of their earnings back to their families at home. This means that there are thousands of Filipinos living apart from their families all over the western world, many of them in North America. They usually can’t afford to travel back to the Philippines very often, so it’s quite common for them to go years without seeing their family members. Filipino seafarers have a similar experience, they live away from home and send wages to the Philippines to support their loved ones. For this reason, it can be very exciting for a seafarer whose ship will be stopping near some his OFW family members.
Rules about seafarers leaving their ships in the US are strict, seafarers must have a US Visa and usually need an escort to travel between the ship and the terminal gate. Many US ports provide a free escort service, but Baltimore does not, meaning arranging a private escort can be expensive and complicated for seafarers. Mary and her team of volunteers have stepped in to provide this service for free, allowing many more seafarers to enjoy some time away from the port.
MTS Baltimore has helped parents re-unite with children, aunts and uncles see their nieces and nephews, and brothers and sisters wrap each other in big hugs. One instance of this kind was a young seafarer who was desperate to see his aunt and uncle. MtS volunteer Lee Van Koten, was able to bring him to the train station to re-unite them and he was almost in tears when he explained that his father has passed away and his aunt and uncle had paid for his maritime school. This was the first time he would be seeing them since he became a seafarer and knew they would be so proud of him. The seafarer wanted to tell his aunt and uncle that he learned from their generosity and was now using his salary to pay for his sister to go to nursing school.
Chaplains and volunteers alike talk about how special it is to be able to do this work and how uplifting it is to see a seafarer’s total joy upon being reunited with their family.