"How are you?" Chris asks the young face he encounters as he signs in at the top of the ladder to board the African-Tern.  It seems like a simple key – one that changes the sombre cynicism of the face meeting every new arrival, into a smile that reaches the laughter lines around the eyes. Funny what a simple question can do.  

"What do you need here, today?" is the question that causes a young Turkish seaman in Port Elizabeth to stop in his tracks and turn around. It is a question that he had not heard in a long time. It is a question that shows interest in him, a question that exposes something of an interest in him and his wellbeing... and perhaps, maybe, the simple question touches something in the landscape of his heart. It inspires Yuri to talk about his family in Istanbul with love and longing. It makes him talk about his big plans for the future and eventually also about the tempestuous feelings and struggles with his faith. All the answer to the right question.   

"How is your family?", a simple question in Cape Town, opens the flood gates of the heart of a seaman from the Philippines. "What do you fear so much?" turns the key to a discussion in Richards Bay.  "Why are you crying?" does the same on another day in Koega.  Asking is often the key to longer discussions that would otherwise have warranted a single word answer. A mere question is the key to longer, meaningful discussion.  

"Why do you cry?" Jesus asks Maria. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" after Jesus washed feet... It is unbelievable what the right question can do.  

Here at the CSO, we ask men working at sea questions every day. Sometimes the question is as simple as ‘How are you?'. On face value it is simple but, in reality, it is a complex question. In the lives of men working at sea it is particularly valuable, because so few ask the question. People seldom care enough, people seldom have enough time to spare, people seldom have time to listen to their hearts... 

Together with the questions that we ask, we have a strong conviction about the answer and where it is anchored. It is intricately based on Him that tells the paralysed man to get up and walk. It lies in the hope built on an empty grave. 

Don't you want to support us financially in support of asking these truly important questions. Your contribution will help so much to remind those that sail the seas of the age-old question: ‘Who is this Man then, even the wind and the waves obey him?' 

 

'Thank you' is sometimes merely a way to be polite. It used in all languages and cultures every day. But very important – this “thank you” message is not just to be polite. We have had many challenges this year, yet, thanking you is still at the top of our list.

The message today from all of us to you is this: Thank you so much for the support over the past year. Whether it was donations, beanies, scarves or blessed bags it does not matter. We could reach out to many seafarers. For that we are grateful to the Lord and also to you our donor.

This word of thanks comes from everybody that works at CSO!

May you have a blessed Christmas. And stay safe!

BUT, God sent His Son! Humble crib, donkey, stable, shepherd, star gazer... all to allow us to bring this glorious Message that is in radical contrast to the chaotic world in which we find ourselves at the moment. BUT, God sent His Son!

This is true for Mario too. He tells, dejectedly, of his contract of four months that now drags on to almost fifteen months. As an engineer, he works deep in the bows of the monster. Blue skies are a luxury view. His life on board now consists of a very musty, nightmarish captive existence without hope. BUT, God sent His Son, wrapped in cloth, for Mario too... This is the message we take to them and in that, Mario found hope.

This is also true for the Russian officer that told, emotionally, that he had never experienced anything like this pandemic before. The last time he felt solid ground under his feet was twelve months ago. There is no hope that this will change in the foreseeable future. His soul was being destroyed by waves of bad news that washed over him, endlessly, as if in a never-ending storm. BUT, God sent His Son in a humble crib, for the Russian officer too. That is the message we take to them. That message and a new Russian Bible in his hand, offered a moment’s rest and cover from the storm.

Then there is Jasper from the Philippines. It applies to him too. He explained that his life was in a fixed orb. He was in control, everything sorted out, clearly on his way... until COVID-19 plucked him cruelly from the security. His punch-drunk body language speaks of giving up hope. BUT, God sent His Son with angel voices singing ‘Peace on Earth’ for Jasper too. That is the message we take. We place a hand on a shoulder when a tear runs down a cheek; we pray and plead with them so that Jasper too could experience something of BUT, ... BUT, the Child...

The sobering truth is that a shocking estimated 400 000 men are still trapped on ships, after expiry of their contracts. Our work at the CSO is essential; it is non-negotiable. It seems simple, yes, visiting ship after ship, day after day, but with care and empathy, to take the message to a world that is in tatters. BUT, the Child...

It may sound simple, but without your financial support it is impossible to do this. Your donation could, within this crisis, convey the message of the crib, of the manger, to those that need it most. May you experience it in this Festive time too: BUT, the Child...

A language lesson then: BUT - a conjunction, used to combine sentences, to present two opposing concepts, or to explain or to expand something, or to confront something.

On sight value, BUT seems to be an insignificant, small word. In essence however, it can change meaning irrevocably. It states something and then transforms it. It explains, expands, confronts... 

With this seemingly insignificant conjunctive word, seafaring men could find hope within their surrealistic realities. They could, held captive in the constrictive darkness of absolute helplessness, be reminded of BUT...

Do you remember the punch-drunk men of the DALI? Can you remember how they, thanks Chris' small gesture, could experience something of 'BUT God...'?

Can you remember the tragedy in Richards Bay? Can you remember the fifteen strong crew that waited, confused, distraught, shocked and longing for normality after one of the men took his own life? Can you remember how they, in spite of one of the worst times of their lives, could receive the Bread and Wine that Loffie offered days later and experience something of 'BUT God…'? 

Do you remember the melancholic refrain of each of the stories from Durban, the Cape and Port Elizabeth? Those were the stories if seamen, written in minor chords, combined with the dark notes of hopelessness and giving up hope?

BUT, do you remember that there is a golden thread in each of the stories? 

Do you remember that each visit reminded us again of a truth that changes reality irrevocably, transformed it and confronted it? Intertwined in each story is the story of the Man on the Cross, the story of life after the Cross, a story of hope. It is the story of 'BUT God...'

We remain mere instruments. Instruments that can remind us and others each day, that can help to transform and even confront at times. This radical difference that we are confronted with, that allows us to understand 'BUT God…' and see things in a different light. Donations received from our donors helped make our hands strong over the past months. These donations helped us to take care of the hearts of seamen by reminding them again of this often forgotten truth. 

That leaves two aspects – first, please consider supporting us financially. In a world where these men working at sea are held captive in a critical and often fatal situation, our work is very important and urgently necessary to give these men hope – because there is a 'BUT ...' in every story. Your donation could be the instrument that allows us to do this. 

Secondly: I do not know where you find yourself at the moment. Perhaps you are held captive in constrictive darkness, in absolute hopelessness. 'BUT God...' is also available in your life. We hope that 'BUT God...' will be a reality for you as it is each day for so many men working at sea. 

With dragging feet, as if they are controlled mechanically, without much control, they move across the deck.  Their feet move automatically, as if they have been captured in the repetitive scenes of a Greek tragedy. 

Their body language shouts punch drunk. Their hair, thick, not cared for or cut for a long time, bear witness of the extent of the situation. It is becoming too long. It is more than their already broad shoulders can bear. For most it has been eleven months. For one man from the Philippines, it has been sixteen months... 

Chris, visiting their ship, tells of the despair and broken morale on board the Dali, a container cargo vessel. It is different from anything he had ever seen. An all encompassing dark mood hangs over the ship, like an angry black cloud. In their heads remain the most important thought – that they have no way of getting home. It is an overwhelming thought.

Chris is there for one reason – to remind them of one truth. That there is a common juxtaposition that sets two concepts against each other, to explain, expand or confront the other...

– BUT God... 

Punch drunk? - BUT God; In despair? – BUT God... There are a multitude of ways to share this message. One can issue Bibles, share a prayer, listen attentively, or one could just be there. But, today it lies in an insignificant small act that communicates something about hope. It is a small gesture that disturbs the monotony unexpectedly for a moment, to bring new perspective. 

The chief officer with his days-old beard remarks that even shaving becomes a chore and challenge. Cut off from the outside world, something as basic as a shaving blade becomes a luxury item. Touching his unshaven face, he explains that his blunt and old razor has become nothing more than a useless ornament. 

Chris leaves, but returns with a prize in his backpack – a razor. In this seemingly unimportant act, the chief officer discovers something about BUT God… He discovers something about caring, while being reminded by such a small act that he matters too. 

Very often a story must be exaggerated to impress others. Perhaps that is why we often expect that BUT God... must be accompanied by expansive and wonderful miracles or spectacular interventions. BUT God… is also in the small, often considered unimportant acts. It is true for me, for you and for each seaman. It also lies in the small and seemingly insignificant...