Last month I was fortunate enough to have been invited to The Mission in Belfast, to honour the remarkable service of some of their longest-serving volunteers, in the presence of the Northern Irish Branch Patron and legendary Olympian, Dame Mary Peters. The volunteers who received awards are, quite simply the men and women who keep the Guinness flowing in the centre, visit ships in the Port and raise funds to make it all possible. I was not only impressed with the dedication and passion of the volunteers but, as they came up to accept their richly deserved awards, it reminded me just what a unique organisation The Mission to Seafarers is. While vital, the work our port volunteers carry out is not glamorous, often working within high rise container stacks or nestled in-between chemical refineries. Yet, all around the world, every day, volunteers are carrying out similar duties without fuss or expectation. They give up their time because they believe in the Mission, the idea of service and the thought that community extends further than the immediate family unit. In our fast-paced and increasingly individualistic society, I am humbled to work for an organisation that has such a dedicated core of supporters at its very heart.
During my time in Belfast, I went ship visiting with a volunteer and witnessed a seafarer on board a very well appointed ship explaining that he had left his wife and one-week-old son at home. He had not seen his family for six months and, as you would expect, was finding the long period of separation hard. The volunteer I was with did not interrupt, did not try to offer a superficial solution but just listened, diligently and compassionately. A seafarer missing their family is of course not a rare occurrence and is no one’s fault but, rather, is an endemic and age old fact of life at sea. Saying this, without someone willing to give up their morning and go out on a very soggy Thursday and climb aboard that particular ship, the seafarer we met would not have had that opportunity to talk honestly and openly to an independent and understanding ear about how sorely he missed his family. The encounter was not going to grab any headlines, but similar conversations are had on board ships and in centres all around the world, 365 days a year. For me, that alone is a heart-warming thought.
It is easy to become detached, as I (literally) sit at the top of the tower at IHQ getting wrapped up in deadlines and targets. Inevitably, there are times when work is not easy when things don’t go quite to plan. When they don’t, I will remember the outstanding service our volunteers give to the Mission and that single encounter that may be perceived as unremarkable but, in my eyes, was remarkable for so many reasons.
The work of our chaplains and volunteers around the world is my inspiration to fulfil my mission to develop and build sustainable financial underpinnings to ensure they can continue their amazing work on the frontline. As I travel around more stations and get to know our chaplains and volunteers, I look forward to discovering even more nuggets of inspiration!