On 14 July we celebrated Sea Sunday on Epiphany Island. This is an international celebration which it seemed appropriate for us to celebrate as we are an international community and reside on an island. The cathedral was well decorated with lifebelts and lamps to represent a ship. After the service we left the cathedral to find water lapping at the steps as Ana had flooded the sim. Several boats were moored around the island. We had great fun floating on the water and taking trips around our watery island. Freezing Sorbet made a short video to give a flavour of the event.
Although as a group of people from many different parts of the world our answers might vary, I wonder as you consider what you own, which items did not originate in your own country. Perhaps the laptop, the PC, the monitor, the keyboard, the mouse, the headset that you are using came from somewhere else. If the item itself was made in your country, were all the parts manufactured in your country also? What about your mobile phone: where did that come from? Your car: was it wholly or partially manufactured abroad? Where did your bike, you washing machine, the wood for your fence, the copper for your cables, the wheat for your flour, the clothes you are wearing come from?
I would struggle to find out the answer to those questions but I know that many of the items I own or use were not made or grown in the UK. I was shocked to read recently that the UK is usually only 3 days from suffering shortages as we are so dependent on imported items. As I speak somewhere between 1.2 and 1.5 million seafarers are on board around 100,000 ships which facilitate 90% of world trade. Cargo ships carry coal, iron and other minerals in bulk to keep industries working. Cereal, sugar and fertilizer also travel this way. Items demanding more protection are loaded into containers which are piled up on ships. Of course we tend to hear about the huge oil tankers when one comes to grief and there is a major environmental impact. The seafarers who form the crews of these ships are often away from home for months at a time, even for up to two years in some cases.
In addition to these people there are fishermen who earn their living from the sea. Around 41 million people worldwide have fishing as their occupation. Cruises are becoming more and more popular. The number of berths in cruise ships doubled in the ten years from 1995 to 2005 which has increased the number of people who are needed as crew on the ships. Many of these are women who act as chambermaids, waitresses, hairdressers and so on. They may not be recognised as in the same category as seafarers who run the ships but they suffer the same problems. They leave their children behind to be cared for by grandparents and don’t see them growing up. They are often poorly paid and work long hours in bad conditions. Often it is sheer economic necessity which compels people to take work of this sort as they try to support their families. I remember on the one cruise I took, our chambermaid was a qualified nurse with children. However, she could earn more on the ship than at home, hence her choice to work at sea.
The Mission to Seafarers (MtS) which is an Anglican organisation, and the Apostleship of the Sea (AOS) which is the Roman Catholic equivalent, take the parable of the Good Samaritan seriously in their work to provide for those who work at sea. Jesus told the parable to illustrate just what it means to be a good neighbour. As we know, it was not the injured man’s fellow Jews who helped him but a foreigner. Samaritan and Jewish people did not get on with one another. However, the Samaritan saw the need and acted with compassion to fulfil it. He set aside racial and religious differences, instead concentrating on the shared humanity he had with the injured traveller. The priest and the Levite allowed religious rules to get in the way of loving service.
Seafarers are just as vulnerable as the injured traveller was. They are far from home, away from familiar faces and surroundings when they do have the brief occasion to be ashore. Container ships can be unloaded and loaded in a matter of hours. MtS and AOS work in 260 ports, with 100 of them providing a home from home. These may be in permanent buildings some distance from the port or in abandoned containers or caravans on the dockside. Wherever these centres are, they provide a familiar environment in a foreign culture. There is a chance to use a phone or the internet to contact family. There are leisure activities such as pool and a chance to sit and chat to people who care. Transport may be provided to shops or a shop may be provided in the centre. There may be a bar or restaurant to relax in. There is often a chapel or prayer room provided. Sometimes a seafarer needs someone to talk to about a problem with their family back at home or some difficulty they themselves are facing such as homesickness. If seafarers are not able to come ashore, chaplains and volunteers often go on board to offer friendship and encouragement and to provide a mobile phone to ring home. This is all offered regardless of the nationality or faith of the seafarers, just as the Samaritan took no notice of the fact that the injured traveller was Jewish.
Seafarers face many dangers, sometimes uncannily similar to that faced by the traveller in the parable. Piracy is an increasing problem worldwide. Hundreds of attacks take place each year with many seafarers finding themselves help hostage, not knowing when they will be released. The seafarer’s centres often support anxious families at such times. Counselling is also provided for post-traumatic stress in survivors of attacks.
Much of the work on board ship can be dangerous. If a person is injured and needs to stay in hospital, the ship will sail on without them. Then chaplains and volunteers will visit the patient. They will make sure he or she has what they need and will help make arrangements to get them safely home when the time comes.
Seafarers can find themselves stranded if a ship is unable to leave port for some reason or if something happens to the company which owns the ship. Then seafarers’ centres seek justice for those affected, finding ways to get them paid and making sure they reach home safely. Occasionally seafarers may suffer wrongful arrest and need help in the local language to secure their freedom.
All these dangers are part of the everyday life of seafarers around the world as they transport so many items. It is so easy to take it for granted that we can have the food and the goods that we want when we want them without thinking how they arrive in our country, who works to make it happen.
We on Epiphany Island in particular, as a global community, should understand that our neighbour is not just the person we meet in the local shop or who lives next door. We already act as caring neighbours to people we meet here or elsewhere in SL who are from all over the world. As we probably all use items which have been brought to us by sea, we all are connected directly with the seafarers who work every day to bring them to us. It may be possible to live out our neighbourliness by helping as a volunteer with the organisations I have mentioned. If not, the least we can do is to pray for those who face danger every day in order to serve our needs.
We can be in no doubt about what Jesus expects of us.
‘Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’
He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’
Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’