Andrew’s March Blog

30th March 2022
Ukraine is foremost in all our minds. Words fail us in reflecting on the horror of this, a horror which seems to have come from nowhere. There are 65,000 Ukrainian and 200,000 Russian seafarers, making up overall around 15% of the global workforce.

My time in recent days, like that of many others, has been dominated by the acute needs the war has brought on both groups. For Ukrainians, there is desperate and debilitating worry about the family back home, made especially so by the helplessness they feel from far out at sea. Many of their families are in the war zone and many others have fled and are somewhere on the road. For Ukrainians and Russians, there is the huge issue of how you get home after a contract or if you want to leave early to help your family. This on top of big issues around sending money home. And there are the acute pastoral issues that come with all this. Anxiety and stress are at record levels for so many. Many ships have both Russians and Ukrainians on board. I am glad to have had many encouraging and hopeful reports of continued good relationships, but we have also heard of tension. Then there are all the vessels, with crews of many nations, trapped in Ukrainian ports. Some of those crews have left their ships and are trying to make their way to safety overland. Some ships traumatically got caught up in the fighting, and we have been closely involved with at least one of those crews. Many Russian crew, victims of a war not of their making, have become overnight pariahs. The pain felt by seafarers is a microcosm of much wider pain.

Mission to Seafarers teams all over the world are encountering those impacted every day. Already, I have read many reports of pastoral need and of practical support given, especially in relation to facilitating the free communication that is so vital. We have made emergency funds available through our Samaritan’s Fund to support teams with this and with any other costs in meeting urgent need. We are adding to our WeCare programmes with further Ukrainian/Russian “own-language” material. We are working very closely with our friends and partners across the industry as we look together at the next steps we need to take. I have spent much of the last few days in such meetings, and it has been a deep encouragement to see high levels of partnership and sharing.

We are also looking at additional spiritual resources. One chaplain told me that he had had a very heavy demand for icons of St Nicholas, patron saint of seafarers – a sign of the deep despair felt by many as they reach out in one way or another for God.

Nicholas is a saint in much demand, so much so that conducting his annual appraisal must be challenging! In addition to seafarers, he is the patron saint of merchants, archers, repentant thieves, children, brewers, pawnbrokers, unmarried people, and students of various kinds. That in addition to all his supposed Christmas Eve responsibilities!

As far as the seafarer bit goes, it is said that a ship in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, caught by a storm, was forced into shallow waters where it became grounded. The sailors were unable to manoeuvre it back into deeper water. Accounts of Bishop Nicholas’ help to distressed sailors had already spread far and wide. The sailors called on Nicholas for aid, even though they were distant from him, as they believed they might be saved by his prayer and intervention. Nicholas, it is said,  actually appeared on the ship and gave the sailors a helping hand. Together, they retied and strengthened the ropes holding the masts and worked with poles to pry the ship away from the threatening rocks into deeper water. As soon as the boat was freed and able to again set sail, the image of Nicholas vanished.

The ship took refuge in the harbour and the sailors went looking for a church where they could thank God for their rescue. It so happened that they had taken shelter in Myra and made their way to the cathedral. There, they were suddenly startled to see Bishop Nicholas himself, whom they recognised from the image they had seen on the ship. They asked Nicholas how he had heard them and been able to come to their rescue. Nicholas replied that a life devoted to God allows a person to be so clear-sighted as to be able to actually see others in danger and hear their calls for help. The bishop urged the sailors to devote their lives to God and to help people in need.

Whatever we make of that story, we can all surely gather around that longing to be able to see need clearly and to respond compassionately, however and wherever we can. We will be doing that in The Mission to Seafarers as we continue to wrestle with the ongoing issues of the pandemic while ensuring we are absolutely focused on the needs of this latest unexpected crisis.


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