Incredibly it’s Christmas again. May I wish every single one of you the very happiest of Christmases and a deeply fulfilling 2018. The acquittal of the 35 crew of the Seaman Guard Ohio in December has made for an unexpectedly happy Christmas for those men and families – Ukrainian, Indian, Estonian and British. For over four long and difficult years, this crew has been under arrest in India, and mainly in prison, while a seemingly interminable legal process has dragged on. Despite all the technical arguments, surely it had long been clear that this vessel was a genuine anti-piracy ship, playing its part in the protection of international shipping and of the men and women who live and work on board.
The Mission to Seafarers has been heavily engaged from the beginning. Its teams have provided pastoral support, financial assistance and help with advocacy. Many are deserving of special thanks. One of the British wives wrote, “… of the rollercoaster ride that has been our story over the last four years”. She went on to say “The MtS lived it with the men and the families every step of the way”. “As we sit together at Christmas lunch”, she wrote, “we will be saying our prayers of thanks … for our wonderful family, friends, supporters but especially the body of men and women that are The Mission to Seafarers”. It is indeed a generous tribute, but one which reflects so much of what we seek to be. I am so proud of our teams across the world who in their daily work “live with” seafarers and their families every step of the way. On the Christmas Day she mentions, we will celebrate Jesus coming into the world. In him God came amongst us. We call it the incarnation. As our teams seek to make God’s love real amongst seafarers, surely their work too is “incarnational”.
In wishing you all a Happy Christmas, I am deeply conscious of all those amongst our MtS family for whom it will not be so, for one reason or another. Like us all, I am also deeply aware of those hundreds of thousands of seafarers and their families who will be very far from each other at this time. Amongst the many Carol Services I have attended in the last few days, including our own at St Michael Paternoster Royal, I was present for one at the Immingham Seafarers Centre. This was a very striking occasion, held in a packed room with fifty or so seafarers present as well as many from the local community. Each of the crew was given a carefully wrapped gift parcel – they have over 700 to give away at Immingham. It was a deeply impressive and moving reminder of the love and care shown by MtS and its fellow seafaring missions, not just at Christmas but throughout the year. However, seafarers also took part movingly in the service, reminding us that our work is not a one-way process. We, in turn, are given so much by those we serve.
May the God of love and peace revealed in Jesus Christ richly bless you all.