I am taking as a text today, two verses from Acts 28
Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.
Mission to Seafarers Scotland at this time of year would normally be in the middle of visiting the cruise ships as they come into the port at Rosyth and the anchorage at South Queensferry. All our other work like coming to preach in the churches and the regular ship visits would be dovetailed around them. On a typical morning at Rosyth we would expect to have contact with many cruise ship crew members.
At South Queensferry we hire the large back room of the pub and there we host the crew from the cruise ships as they come ashore by tender. On average we would expect to see fifty or so crew. Although we did see well over a hundred at one visit last year. We have many conversations with crew who are a long way from home and who are earning small wages in return for long hours.
We often find seafarers who are suffering from anxiety about there families at home. Sometimes things may not be going well on board. We offer a listening ear and a helping hand.
In South Queensferry we offer free wifi and tea and coffee a listening ear and we assist as much as we can with the equipment that seafarers need to be able to contact home. Of course, every seafarer who comes through the door is given at least one wholly hat. Last year we gave out over 5000 wholly hats to those on cruise ships. It can be very touching when a seafarer picks up a hat and says “How much is this” we always give the same answer “free It is a gift of love, from the people of Scotland”.
I have been thinking a lot about those hats while we have been in lockdown. The knitted pattern reminds us of how interconnected our whole world has become. As a nation we buy and sell goods across the world. 95% of all we consume is imported by sea our exports from Scotland not least our whiskey goes right across the planet.
The hats also remind us of the interconnected nature of our family lives. The ties and bond that connect us one to another. Seafarers go to sea for the families they love and rarely see. Contracts at sea range from a few months to a whole year. Now we are seeing seafarers who can not return home as there are either very few flights or countries are in lockdown.
I have been dealing with a seafarer who has been involved in an accident and is stuck in a hotel in Edinburgh waiting for a flight home to India. We are in contact online with Ghanaian seafarers who can not go home as Ghana has shut its borders. There is also a rise in the kind of accidents that happen when seafarers get tired. These accidents range from the small to the life threatening and life changing.
Now in the midst of Covid 19 the vision of Mission to Seafarers Scotland remains the same. Which brings us to the reading from acts. “Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2 The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold”. It is the calling of Mission to Seafarers Scotland to offer “unusual kindness” to those who do not find themselves shipwrecked by a storm, but who find themselves in the storms of life in the rain and cold, left on the beach.
We express the vision by keeping in touch with seafarers on Facebook messenger. We send the top up vouchers so seafarers can get internet access, so they can keep in touch with there families. We are keeping in touch with those who are waiting for flights home. I am shopping for seafarers and sending the goods to the ships via the shipping agents. We are keeping in touch with our volunteers so that when we can get back to work, we have a team to go back to supporting seafarers.
We are also working on improving the centre in which I am sitting in now. This is the Seafarers centre down in Grangemouth docks. In usual times when we are open, we offer free wifi and tea and coffee. The centre is open 24/7 and has either myself the Chaplain or some volunteers here some of the time. Our plans are to improve the inside and outside so that the whole place is much more inviting. What is most valued about the centre is that it is an easy to get to safe space for seafarers to use.
At the heart of all that we do is a question. That question is how we share the love of God with seafarers from all over the world. Those with some faith and those with none. Every hat you knit and every pound you so generously give brings us one step nearer. Nearer not to answering the question but living the answer.