From Paul Cave, Chaplain, Lighthouse Seafarers Mission
When I tell people about my work with London City Mission as chaplain to seafarers, they are sometimes surprised. But London is still a major port, and LCM has been involved in mission to seafarers since our earliest days. The Port of London lies outside London these days, thanks to containerisation, and so I am based at Tilbury.
A few years ago there was a documentary celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the container, which has transformed shipping. It talked all about the invention of the container, the ships, globalisation, getting goods from far countries in a short time, but not once about the actual people that worked on these ships – the crews. It is the crew members who I am there for, during their time in London’s port.
I link up with other chaplains in different ports – all over the world, literally. The ships I visit are often coming from South America or the Far East, and calling at all the north European ports, so we chaplains in the different ports link up and pass on needs and contact details of crew members.
Last week I was involved in taking a service on a ship with an all-Filipino crew. That ship went on to Hamburg; I was able to contact the chaplain there, and he did a Bible study for them; and when it got to Antwerp, the chaplain there would be visiting. A ship (with a mostly Filipino crew) I was on board this week, taking another service, was on its way to South Shields and then to Charleston, South Carolina; I contacted chaplains in both those places in advance of the ship’s arrival. I believe very much in being part of that network, being part of an ongoing process of discipling – I am not just going in to work with the crew members as a one-off, but as part of a chain, a continuation of contact through port chaplains around the world.
One in four of all the world’s seafarers are Filipinos. Crew members are predominantly from countries like the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Cape Verde, China, and Eastern European countries. There are very few Western Europeans. As far as shipping companies are concerned, it’s sheer economics: a Russian captain, for example, is half the price of a Western European captain.
The day-to-day routine of my ministry is visiting ships and helping in practical and pastoral ways. Helping with supermarket shopping, or with phone/mobile/internet communication with family at home, are two of the most common ways to help. Loneliness and isolation are big problems: crew members are on that ship for six or nine months, or more, and because these days turnaround in port is so short – often twenty-four hours or less – they have very little shore leave. To have someone different come on board ship to talk and listen to them is very valuable: I know that they anticipate my visit, and are thankful for it.
Apart from my regular ship-visiting duties, I have conducted services on ships for many years, with the help of local church ministers, and now recently I’ve been very grateful for the involvement of the Filipino church in Paddington and the Chinese Church in London (CCiL – where Keri Lim is based) which has meant we have been able to hold ship services in Tagalog and Mandarin; groups of church members, led by Nordy Loctugan and Virginia Meng respectively, have come along to help. We put on simple services, with worship songs, prayers and a meditation. The crews really appreciate the ministry in word and song conducted in their own language. On some occasions we have distributed Bibles, donated by the Bible Society, together with a Bible correspondence course.
The support of the churches involved in these services has been invaluable. Recently, the Filipino church has been asking crew members if they’d like someone to visit the family back home, as their denomination, Word International, has congregations in the Philippines, creating links with and a support base for their families. Many of the young people who come to help from CCiL came to London as university students, and have been won to Christ through the outreach of CCiL, and they immediately want to witness themselves; they’re very enthusiastic. It is a great advantage to have assistance from these different ethnic groups who can minister to their fellow countrymen in their own language with full cultural understanding.