“They are often alone as believers onboard" Paul's story
Pictured: seafarer Elma with Christianity Explored: Universal Edition
Feeling uninspired after months of lockdown? This September we’re sharing some stories of CEM resources in action, collected pre-pandemic. As we tentatively start to make plans for the new academic year, we hope these stories will spark some ideas for your evangelism this season.
Lighthouse Harbour Ministries was established in 1981 to reach sailors (also known as ‘seafarers’) on board cargo ships with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Located in Vancouver, Canada, the Ministry began when a Gideon businessman looked out over the local harbour and wondered if anyone was sharing God’s Word with the seafarers.
What do Lighthouse Harbour Ministries do?
At any point in time, there are 8-10 cargo ships at berth within easy access to the ministry in North Vancouver (one of the busier parts of the Port of Vancouver).
Paul Ratsoy has been involved with Lighthouse for about 20 years. When a ship comes into port, Paul and his colleagues board it and explain they have come from a seafarers mission. Normally they’re welcomed aboard. They sit down with the fellows in their mess room, find out about their lives, distribute Biblical literature in the languages of the crew members and invite them to attend one of the ministry’s two seafarers centres.
What's it like being a seafarer?
Paul explains that the vast majority of sailors do not like their occupation:
"They find it very isolating being away from home for what are, often, nine month contracts. Most are married with children and they miss out on celebrations and even funerals because if they break their contracts they may not be employed again. Some of the work involves hard physical labour and the seafarers often encounter severe weather which can have enormous physical and mental effects. And yet a life at sea provides them with a better income than staying in their native lands."
Approximately two out of three of these cargo ship workers are Filipino, followed by large numbers of Chinese and Indian workers. However, over 120 different nationalities of seafarers have signed the guest book at the seafarers centre in North Vancouver.
What's it like being a Christian on a ship?
With an average of 20 crew members aboard each ship, most often there are no born-again believers aboard and if there are, they are few in number.
“The Christians I have met face many challenges,” says Paul. “They are often alone as believers onboard and experience everything from persecution to apathy. The ones that are really moving forward and hoping to make disciples of all nations seem to have the best success at resisting the opposition and living godly lives.”
Paul goes on: “Some are leading Bible studies aboard and these fellows are key people for us to meet. If we are able to encourage them in their Christian lives, they will, in turn, be able to reach out to their crew mates in ways that we are not able to. We have distributed many sets of Christianity Explored courses (Universal edition). We feel that if these Bible study leaders are well equipped to introduce Jesus to their crew, via the Gospel of Mark, they will be accomplishing something very significant for the Kingdom of God.”
Pictured: A Filipino crew re being led in regular fellowship/Bible study by the chief officer (centre). They are holding Tagalog (national language of Philippines) New Testaments supplied by Lighthouse Harbour Ministries.
Just recently Paul met a very godly Filipino Captain named Conrado. He is currently holding a Bible study for his crew on board their ship. Conrado has been doing this type of outreach for about 20 years and has a real heart to share the good news of Jesus with those who are outside the Kingdom! He took a set of Christianity Explored materials.
Paul added, "another sailor we met from the Philippines, Elmer, is a faithful witness for the Lord and holds a Bible study every Sunday. In order to facilitate Elmer’s ministry aboard his ship, my colleague Allen Jones gave him a Christianity Explored kit for him to use with his crew."
Pray for Christian seamen like Conrado and Elmer who will be leading others to know Jesus through the Gospel of Mark.
Since the ships most likely will not return to Vancouver, we may need to wait until eternity to hear the stories of how God used this ministry to reach the world for Jesus.
How has lockdown effected ministry?
The two ministry centres were closed in March.
However, the ship ministry continued. Seafarers were visited by chaplains but only on the deck areas of ships. Chaplains donned masks and gloves and tried to keep a safe distance away from the crew members. Evangelism continued and many seafarers heard the good news of Jesus, even in the midst of a difficult time.
Paul said, "Just last month I met an officer who told me that he is leading Bible study aboard his ship. This is very uncommon but, at times, does occur. It was a real blessing to meet this young fellow. During our meeting, this officer requested resources to help him lead a Bible study. So, I gave him a set of Christianity Explored
courses to help him with his ministry. I hope and pray that the Lord will use him in the future for His glory."
The seafarer centres were re-opened in the latter part of July, although under strict protocols.
What happens in the next few months will, of course, be up to the Lord. However, as the Lord permits, the Gospel will continue to go forth among seafarers.
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