Angels unaware – Andrew’s monthly message shows why the Mission’s frontline teams are regarded as “angels”

9th November 2020
You probably do not think of yourself as an angel.  Perhaps you are …?

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the situation for seafarers continues to be very difficult.  While the crew change crisis has improved somewhat, it is far from resolved, with many stressful implications for crew.

Shore leave remains limited – and that is causing additional hardship. We remain focused on ship visiting and supply delivery at the gangway, along with the digital and family support work with which our readers will have become familiar.

Shore leave restrictions are sometimes imposed by companies, captains or ports, but some are self-imposed by seafarers who are understandably worried about coming ashore. Not being able to spend time ashore is undermining seafarer well-being. It is also making life difficult for many Centres who are dependent on this income stream. This is frustrating, especially as so much has been done, and so much money spent, on making our Centres and vehicles COVID-safe.

That said, it is not just shore leave creating an issue. New waves of the pandemic make for an environment of constant change and regulation, which can make the reopening of Centres impossible.  We remain in very challenging times. As was underlined at a major shipping industry meeting I was part of recently, this may yet go on for a further 6-12 months.  Nevertheless, in the midst of it all, The Mission to Seafarers continues to operate in every way it can, often in new and creative ways that we could not have imagined seven months ago.

I remain very proud of so much and very grateful to teams across the world and at IHQ.  I am also deeply grateful for the incredible help from supporters far and wide. The stories we receive, and indeed some of the thank you notes from seafarers, tell a powerful story. I share a few lines from a much longer letter sent a few weeks ago from one seafarer to the team in Hong Kong, who had intervened in his support. However, it reflects on our wider work, describing our frontline teams as “angels”.  I share the words just as they came to us.

“They help people like us, who are deprived from going outside these metal structures. They offer assistance from small favors like buying personal items such as toothpastes to bridging the gap of sending money to our homes. Angels sure are amazing. All these kindnesses, are done voluntarily.  Not expecting things in return. And yet they will pour out their best efforts to help. For us. With them, this pandemic is not as tragic as it should be. Seafaring is not a lonely as it used to. And being extended in contract is not as sad as it was. This letter is made to appreciate all the Seaman’s Mission Volunteers in each port around the world. They left the safety of their homes to serve people whom they barely know. Living a life with people who speaks different from them. And enduring all the foreign cultural barriers with it.  I am forever grateful for all the favors that you did for me and my crewmates.”

I briefly want to mention another, often unsung, group of angels.  In the UK, 2-6 November is “Trustees Week”.  It is an apt moment to pay tribute to all our Trustees. To our Chairman – Tom Boardley – and the Board in London, for sure.  They are an extraordinary and high profile group of people with a very diverse range of skills, giving their time voluntarily in service to the global Mission.  One of them – Claire Sneddon – reflects in her own article, published on our website and also available to read via the monthly MtS e-newsletter.

However, we have Trustees all over the world: overseeing regions, running local ports, and organising supporter groups. Being a Trustee is demanding, and is a vital and heavy responsibility.  Trustees need to ensure good governance, financial stability, strategic direction and effective team support. We hope that our agreed Common Standards document provides a framework to help with that.

As with every other Mission team, especially in these challenging times, they need to be responsive to a changing world, and entrepreneurial, while holding fast to our shared core purposes.  It is important that Boards are renewed with fresh eyes, and made up of diverse people offering a range of skills. It is challenging to create a good Board and challenging to be a Board member. It is easy to overlook how vital Trustees are and how essential to the effective running of our Mission.  It has been my privilege to meet many of them over the years, often offering sacrificial service in difficult circumstances.  We salute them all and thank them for their work and commitment.  They are an indispensable part of all that we are – “angels” indeed!

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