Maritime transport and the international shipping industry are essential to the world’s economy. Over 90% of world trade is carried by sea and it is, by far, the most cost-effective way to move large quantities of goods and raw materials around the world. Without shipping, the import/export of affordable food and goods would not be possible – half the world would starve and the other half would freeze!
There are over 50,000 merchant ships trading internationally, transporting every kind of cargo. The world fleet is registered in over 150 nations, and manned by over a million seafarers of virtually every nationality.
The majority of seafarers (men as well as women work at sea) come from poor countries, and they work at sea to provide for their extended families back home. In the past, 1 or 2 year long contracts at sea were common. Nowadays many still spend 9 months at sea without any holidays and then they go home for 3, and back for another 9 months. In 30 years of life at sea, many may only have been able to spend a total of 5 years at home with their families. Just think of the loneliness, struggles, temptations and sacrifice involved. Not to mention the unforeseen dangers of accident, fatigue, malnutrition, storms, pirates etc etc
Seafarers are indeed a forgotten people group, unseen by most of the world’s population, but without whom cruise liners couldn’t sail, oil tankers would be empty, car carriers would stop sailing, bananas would remain in their country of origin and everything made in China would stay in China! They are the taxi-men and women of the sea, and the postal delivery before it reaches your postman. Seafarers and awareness of them is a strategic missionary vision. The hearts of seafarers are open to the Good News of the Gospel, and no matter which religious background they come from we are able to befriend and help them in many ways.
In Cork we have met seafarers from over 100 countries, and some of these are ones where missionaries struggle to visit. It has been amazing to become a friend to so many and speak into their lives since 2006. The Seamen’s Christian Friend Society (SCFS) is an international, non-denominational and evangelical Seamen’s Mission. It is a UK registered charity and was founded in 1846. My colleague in Hamburg, Martin Otto, has written a few books, but two I would recommend to anyone who is interested are: ‘Seafarers! A Strategic Missionary Vision’ and ‘Church on the Oceans’.
Here are a few extracts from ‘Seafarers’ to whet your appetite:
“The ocean rages and roars, unlike anything the seafarers have experienced before. Huge waves roll over the ship. A seaman sent to check the security of the containers on deck is seized by a great wave and thrown into the sea. How terrifying! But the next wave throws him back on board. This African understands God’s message . . .
Moses, the radio officer of his ship, is looking forward to being back home with his family. He is on his last journey which takes him through the perilous and dreaded Biscaya. Suddenly horror is written on the faces of the crew – the engines have broken down! And right in the midst of a wind-force of 12! The ship becomes a plaything for the waves. Twenty seafarers, among them Moses, lose their lives when the River Guara sinks
. . . Tables, chairs and dishes go flying through the air. The lifeboat is torn from its anchoring. Loud shouts are heard everywhere. The River Adada struggles in a desperate fight for survival. There’s only one hope – prayer! Muslims as well as Christians plead to God for their lives. Everyone is saved and three Muslims convert to Christianity when they see how clearly God answers prayer . . .”
To give a feeling for what it is like on board here is a short (just over 1 min long) video clip taken recently on board a bulk carrier. The crew were Indians and Filipinos. Thanks for praying for us and all your wonderful support!
God bless you! With much love, Colin, Sunhwa, Aidan and Jenai.