Rising from the Rubble

In February 2011, a severe earthquake shook the city of Christchurch, New Zealand and the nearby port town of Lyttelton was the epicentre of the quake, resulting in the loss of many lives and the destruction of most of the town’s historic buildings, along with the old seafarers’ centre.

At the time of the earthquake, there was no seafarers’ welfare society working in the port and, after the huge devastation, it was a common sight to see seafarers outside the local library on freezing evenings, trying to connect to the free Wi-Fi to contact families back home. The earthquake also destroyed the Bank of New Zealand where seafarers could exchange currency. With no buildings or welfare provided, seafarers were forced onto the street.

The Mission to Seafarers instantly recognised the need to provide care and support and acted quickly, forming the Lyttelton Seafarers’ Centre Charitable Trust. The Trust’s first task was to provide a place where seafarers could go when in port. With some generous donations, the Trust was able to buy a portacabin and provide shelter, warmth, Wi-Fi and currency exchange services.

Revd John McLister, the newly appointed Mission to Seafarers’ chaplain at Lyttelton said:

“The first night we opened, it was a particularly bitter winter’s evening. I went to the library and found a Filipino seafarer shivering in the dark. I told him we had just opened a new centre, and in a few minutes later he was inside and texting his fellow crew members about us.

“Word quickly spread and sometimes we have a line down the street. Filipino seafarers, by Philippines’ law, have to remit 80 percent of their salary to a bank in the Philippines, which means at the end to the month they don’t have much pocket money. They are very appreciative of the service we offer.”

Earlier this year, Christchurch suffered another tragedy – a mass shooting at the Al Noor Mosque.

“You would think this shocking event would have no relationship to us,” said John. “But we now have Muslim crew members asking how they can go to the mosque to show their respects and pray. Given the short turn-around time of vessels in port, taking the bus is impractical, so we call them an Uber and ask the driver to wait while they pray. With the help of The Mission to Seafarers, we have quite literally risen from the rubble.”

This Christmas will be the first time since the Christchurch earthquake that the seafarers’ centre in Lyttelton will be open, providing support as well as a few Christmas delicacies from their home counties, like ‘bibingka’ rice cakes from the Philippines. Without the kindness of volunteers and financial donations to The Mission, this care for seafarers would not be possible – and it is essential for the welfare of seafarers around the world that this work continues. Being far away from home, and in unpredictable circumstances, seafarers are reliant on the facilities in port and The Mission is committed to making seafarers welcome and supported wherever they are in the world.

The vital work of our ship visitors, port chaplains and volunteers in our seafarers’ centres around the globe is only possible thanks to the generous support of our donors. Every donation helps us to do more to support over 1.5 million seafarers and their families.

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