I am one of a small group that is considering and signing off applications to ISWAN’s (International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network) emergency Ukraine fund.
There have been huge numbers of such requests, and it has been deeply moving and often distressing to read the stories that accompany them. Many have come from the places where the conflict has hit hardest, including Mariupol. Some involve the tragic loss of family members in the direst of circumstances (and sadly include requests for help with funerals). Many report severe injury within the family, the destruction of homes, the loss of ability to work and the harsh realities of life as a refugee. They have been acute reminders to me not only of the unthinkable human cost of the current war but also of the sheer scale of need. Individual charities such as ours, or even all the maritime charities working together, can only touch the surface. Nevertheless, discussions continue across our welfare sector and across the wider shipping industry as to further responses that may be viable or possible.
As part of my continuing priority to interact regularly with MtS regions, I was privileged to spend time with our Latin America colleagues this week. They were focused on the Ukraine issue and indeed were joined by an excellent speaker, an expert in Eastern Europe and the Orthodox Churches. He gave us lucid and inspired insights into the background and history of current events, together with some very helpful analysis. Frighteningly, he expects things to get worse, possibly much worse, before they get better. Quoting from a book title, he feared he could tell us “naught for our comfort”. We then heard from individual teams around Latin America with their own stories of recent work with both Ukrainian and Russian seafarers. I am very proud of the quality of MtS pastoral care being offered to those in the worst of situations right across the world. I am also delighted that we have been able to support so extensively with free communication for those who especially need to be in touch with their families. Our new Ukrainian/Russian “own language” mental health resources have also been well received. Most recently, our Trustees have committed a significant additional sum of money for specific seafaring families in need in Ukraine – and we are working with the maritime union there to ensure this money gets to the right people. We continue to be open to other ways in which we might help.
All this continues to take place at a time when the pandemic is still greatly impacting on both seafarer need and the ways in which we can best respond. I have been delighted with our new ship visitation expansion programme, to which we have committed £750,000 over three years. Every one of our nine regions will benefit, and we hope to have many of the new roles in place by later this year.
I finish with some goodbyes. There are always comings and goings across the Mission, although our teams are often remarkable for their stability. It would be dangerous to start mentioning individuals as we would be bound to make mistakes. However, this month, I do want to mention two people who we are going to miss greatly. Andy Bowerman, Senior Chaplain UAE and Regional Director for our Middle East & South Asia Region, leaves to become Dean of Bradford. He has done a remarkable job. A true entrepreneur, he has developed the region significantly while maintaining the best in support for the team. He has also become known globally for his superb advocacy and justice work, especially in regard to abandoned shipping. His impact on us all has been inspiring. Equally we pay tribute to Garry Dodd, Regional Director for Australia & PNG, and Senior Chaplain in Newcastle, New South Wales. Famous for his enthusiasm, his reconciliatory powers, and his sheer love of people, he too has done remarkable and inspiring work across a vast and challenging area. Thankfully, he will remain in his Newcastle post but feels it is the right time to make way for someone else at regional level. We thank them both. A friend of the famous writer C.S. Lewis once shouted goodbye to him across a busy thoroughfare in Oxford. C.S. Lewis shouted back “Christians never say goodbye”. I will leave you to figure out the full profundity of that statement, but I certainly hope and pray that we will continue to remain in close touch with both Andy and Garry.
Thanks again for taking time to read this and for all your continuing engagement with the work of The Mission to Seafarers.
Revd Canon Andrew Wright