Andrew’s July blog 2023

20th July 2023
An email has just popped up. It is from Penny Phillips, our long-standing Centre Manager in Falmouth (UK). A strategically sited port on the Atlantic’s western approaches, our Falmouth team regularly deals with emergencies. 

Crews of damaged ships arrive in port and injured or sick seafarers are flown into the local hospital by helicopter. All are cared for. As I write, last week a large car-carrying ship, Mazarine, lost power near the Scilly Isles and dramatically drifted onto rocks very close to the Wolf Rock Lighthouse. Thankfully, and perhaps miraculously, Mazarine did not capsize or sink. No one was hurt. A large rescue operation was launched, and the ship was towed into Falmouth.

It was another reminder of how dangerous seafaring remains. We can only imagine how terrifying it must have been for the crew. Our team was waiting and was allowed on board late in the evening. They were able to spend time with a crew from several nations – the Philippines, Poland, and Ukraine. Penny writes that “we were very well-received, and the free Sim Cards were extremely welcome as there was no Wi-Fi on-board, or available alongside the wharf. We also had a good selection of sweets and chocolates. We left some Falmouth maps, and Mission brochures, explaining that the Mission was inside the port and just a short walk away. The captain said that we could be 300% sure that the Mission would be visited by the crew as soon as they were able to do so.” Penny promised to return the next day. Another reminder of the dangers faced by seafarers and the importance of our work.

“Wow!” I seem to have used that word far too often over these last weeks. However, there have been quite a few “wow” moments in these last weeks. We seem to have been through a particular “wow” period. The stunning success of the Adventure Race Japan event and its aftermath, of course, together with the sudden and extraordinary generosity of so many of our donors, individual and corporate. Discovering that under the leadership of Chaplain Ruth Campbell, over 42,000 visiting seafarers to Tilbury and London Gateway ports have now been vaccinated.

Being present for the launch of the new and exciting partnership between The Mission to Seafarers and the Deutsche Seemannsmission in Panama. Learning that the final recorded tally for personal shopping done for seafarers by Mission teams around the world in 2022 amounted once again to over $US 3 million – with, I suspect, the real figure being much higher. Reading a heartfelt thank you from a captain to Chaplain Perry Bohier in Colombo, Sri Lanka after he and his team had given fantastic support during a period of abandonment and arrest.

I could go on and on with the “wow” list. Thanks to so many of you whose work leads to countless “wow” moments, many of which might never be known beyond one seafarer, one ship or one local MtS operation. But for all the “wows”, my feet remain firmly on the ground. There is plenty of failure and disappointment to recognise. One or two have accused me of being a “glass half empty” sort of person. I hope I am not. I am never slow to recognise the things to celebrate. However, I do always recognise the need for us all to show humility and respect for the size of the challenges we all face, especially in this uncertain post-COVID period in our complex and fast-changing world. There can be no complacency, and there is plenty at which we have failed if we are to build the “wow” future for the Mission which we all want.

Over the course of five weeks, I have preached Sea Sunday sermons in the United Arab Emirates and – back in the UK – in Southampton, Leamington Spa, Didcot, and Norton St Philip. It has been wonderful to meet so many different people and to be able to thank so many for their prayers, engagement, friendship, and generosity. Rather wonderfully, the vicar of one of those churches was on holiday in Sri Lanka but took the trouble to visit our Centre in Columbo on the day before Sea Sunday – and attended their service on the day itself. That was brilliant. While we have much work to do in spreading the seafarer story (as well as the Mission’s) around churches, Sea Sunday remains a key vehicle for connecting people with crew.

I saw plenty of woolly hats on display and one church had made a marvellous cake. While the second Sunday of July remains the official “day”, Sea Sundays are now held right through the year at the convenience of congregations. This makes very good sense. I thank all who have participated and all who have helped speak and lead – as well as our hard-working team back at IHQ who provide all the material and make so many arrangements. I have taken the Garden of Gethsemane as my theme this year. Jesus asks his disciples to “watch with him” on that dark and anxious night. And yet twice he finds them sleeping. Seafarers cannot afford to fail in their “watch”. Neither should we fail in “watching with seafarers”. It is a good way of thinking about what MtS has been doing for the last 167 years.

The Revd Canon Ian Hutchinson Cervantes, our Regional Director for Latin América and Port Chaplain in Panamá, is currently walking a good section of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route with his family in aid of The Mission to Seafarers. It is one of so many in-house fundraising efforts which show so much love for our work and for those we serve.  If you want to support their efforts, you can donate on Thankfully, he is not being impacted by the current unthinkable heatwave of much of Europe – in fact, his pictures suggest a great deal of rain. He shared a prayer for pilgrims which is a good one to use as we pray both for seafarers and indeed for our own pilgrimages, whatever form they take:

“All-powerful God, you always show mercy toward those whom you love, and you are never far away for those who seek you. Be with your servants on this pilgrimage and guide their way in accordance with your will. Be their companion on their journey, their guide at the crossroads, and their defence before dangers: Provide them with shelter on the way, with shade against the heat, and be their light in the darkness. Strengthen them in their weariness, comfort them in their discouragements, and help them to stand firm in their intentions, in order that, through your guidance, they might arrive unscathed at the end of their journey and, enriched with grace and virtue, they might return safely home; through Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen”

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