My brother has just had his DNA tested for ancestry. The results demonstrate the diversity of our family background. According to the analysis we are 33% West European (France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria), 30% Irish, 18% Scandinavian, 2% Greek/Italian, 1% Finnish/Northern Russian, 1% Iberian peninsula and 1% European Jewish – and only 14 % British! I have no idea how accurate such tests are but surely I must have a case for a new passport from somewhere post-Brexit if I need one!
At The Mission to Seafarers we often speak of the importance of welcoming strangers, of showing special kindness to those far from home. Such hospitality is rooted in the traditions and stories of the Bible and is surely at the heart of Christian faith. I guess that if we looked deeply into our backgrounds, or perhaps not so deeply, most of us would discover that our families have been strangers and outsiders at some point in time – and have no doubt been dependent on unexpected and transformational kindness. It is a sobering and illuminating thought.
At The Mission to Seafarers there are often meetings, conferences and planning sessions. We talk about future strategy and operational aspirations. So we should. Sometimes however it is easy to have discussions which fail to mention the very people at the heart of all that we do – the seafarers themselves. We should never cease to be driven by that passion for welcoming this particular group of “outsiders” – of course in ways that are dynamic and modern and creative and, perhaps, new, but absolutely in line with our underpinning purpose.
We tried to keep all this very much in mind as our London Trustees held their first extended two-day meeting earlier this month. It was a meeting designed to coincide with the annual conference of our eight Regional Directors – photo from left to right: Lance Lukin Oceania, Ed Swayze (Acting RD) Canada, Cedric Rautenbach Africa, Stephen Miller East Asia, Ken Hawkins USA, Ije Ajibade Europe and UK, Garry Dodd Australia and Papua New Guinea; and Paul Burt The Gulf and South Asia. We were also join by Brian Marajh, our Liaison Bishop for Africa.
It was the first time such a meeting had taken place with regions and Trustees and it certainly made a big impact. There was abundant passion and energy in the room and a good deal of plain speaking. Each Regional Director ensured that their Region was vigorously represented and Trustees learnt an enormous amount through these face to face encounters. The meeting also explored some potentially exciting new projects and programmes, some of which we hope will emerge in the coming months.
The outcome of the meeting was a commitment both to further explore further ways of strengthening the regions and to undertake more detailed work on aspects of programme planning – and some proposals have already been made. This column is not the place for a full account of the many outcomes from the conference, although these will be detailed in due course. What must be clear, however, is that all the decisions we take must always keep seafarers and their families firmly in our sights.
In the New Testament Acts of the Apostles, after St Paul’s shipwreck on Malta, all passengers and crew made it safely to shore. They must have been cold, shocked, hungry and traumatised – and this was a strange country where they were unsure of their reception. As the story comes to an end we are told that the natives showed unusual kindness. “Since it had begun to rain and was cold, they kindled a fire and welcomed all of us around it”. What a great thing.
At The Mission to Seafarers we are in the business of unusual kindness, of kindling fires and welcoming strangers. We must never forget it.