I am writing this article on the day of my Uncle Alan’s one-hundredth birthday. 100 is an incredible milestone. Sadly, he is in a home up in Yorkshire and the only visitor allowed in these pandemic days is his daughter. Instead, we have just toasted him and sung “Happy Birthday” during a Zoom call. In return, he managed to show us his card from the Queen! Can you imagine if you had tried to explain what a Zoom call was in 1920? That alone shows how much the world has changed in one lifetime. I often reflect on “time” as the weeks come and go at a seemingly ever-increasing speed. The sands of time really do run very quickly through your fingers.
I have often been struck by Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s reflection as he looks back over ten years. “Time is the most precious gift in our possession, for it is the most irrevocable. Time lost is time when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment, and suffering. Time lost is time not filled, time left empty.” That was written from his prison cell after his arrest for being involved in a plot against Hitler, and prior to his ultimate death by hanging just hours before the end of the Second World War. It is a reflection undergirded by his profound Christian faith.
Time is precious for all of us. Time is precious for those 300,000 seafarers who it is believed are now working beyond their contracts because of the ongoing crew change issues. Detained by circumstance, long-awaited time with families can only now be seen through a fog of uncertainty and anxiety.
Time is precious for our MtS teams in London and around the world. The response required as we seek to address seafarer need is urgent indeed. Every minute counts as we work to support and advocate and care. A high level of engagement and commitment is required from all of us at every level. There is no time to waste and I remain so proud of what I see happening throughout the organisation day after day. COVID-19 has taken a terrible toll in so many ways but I am glad to report one recent comment that “The Mission has had a good pandemic!”.
Any reflection on time also reminds us that the world never stands still. My Uncle Alan could testify to that in the extraordinary changes he has seen over 100 years. We have seen them too, in the shipping industry and in our own developing circumstances. This is a moment in time when we need to be asking big questions of our long ministry – how do we keep it effective, relevant and sustainable while ensuring that we sustain the “soul” of what has made us who we are? My profound thanks to you all as we fill time creatively together – for the benefit of seafarers and their families.