Andrew’s January Blog

24th January 2022

There are plenty of people to congratulate in my article this month.

Our amazing Development Director, Jan Webber, received the BEM (British Empire Medal) in the UK’s New Year Honours. This is extremely distinguished, and a recognition of her long service within shipping, most recently for us at The Mission to Seafarers where she has performed with the greatest distinction, as many of our readers will have discovered.

Our Regional Director for the Middle East and South Asia Region, Andy Bowerman, has been made Dean of Bradford, a senior Church of England appointment for which he is ideally suited. Andy has been a visionary and dynamic leader of a Region which he will leave in good heart and with an exciting strategy in place. I will be giving very careful thought as to how we take this appointment forward when Andy leaves. This will be in May or June.

Just after Christmas the MESA Region also marked another special occasion. It is 25 years ago that Raeid Tashtoush joined the Mission. He has been the backbone of our work in Aqaba, Jordan, since that time, ably supporting a whole series of chaplains and latterly shouldering and leading the work himself. He has done an incredible job through many changes and many difficult times. Raeid, along with his local colleague Adel, is a devout Muslim but has always worked seamlessly, harmoniously and supportively with his Christian colleagues in delivering our shared mission. In addition to his work in Aqaba, he is also heavily engaged in supporting the extension of our MESA work into new ports, most recently in Egypt where he has been training our two new chaplains. I was glad to be able to join the MESA team in a virtual call of celebration, and sorry not to be able to eat the cake that sat next to Raeid on his screen – definitely not a virtual one!

So, congratulations go to Jan, Andy and Raeid.  However, I am very conscious that across the global Mission there will have been many more formal recognitions of merit as we start 2022. There will also this year be many anniversaries of Mission service, no doubt often of substantially more than 25 years. These three names are representative of a very much longer MtS Roll of Honour. Our thanks to all of you. Please let us know of anything of which we ought to be aware!

As we recognise past service, so we also look to future challenges. With the pandemic now completing its first two years (!) , an anniversary we would rather forget I fear, we find ourselves along with many others in a state of considerable uncertainty. Our COVID work has been astounding in so many ways, both through our port response and through our wider programme. It has been creative, enormously energetic and transformational – and it continues! However, much of our “normal” work, including full scale ship visitation, centre hospitality and transport, remains largely suspended. Shore leave remains minimal, because of company policy, captain’s orders or seafarer choice. The arrival of Omicron has hardened that position, at least for the moment. How long will this remain the case? What will things look like in a year, two years , three years….? This uncertainty is making some decisions very difficult at international, regional and local level and is dominating a good deal of our thinking and planning. We are not alone in this. I am having numbers of conversations across shipping and particularly across the maritime welfare sector. The concerns of others very much echo our own.

As ever, at the heart of our thinking remain crew and their families. They continue to be amongst those worst impacted by the never-ending twists and turns of the COVID story. It is their changing needs which will continue to be the focus of all our compassion and all our action. It is they above all who deserve to be on any Roll of Honour.


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