In our world, the probability that no one has come across it, is really remote. Here it is commonplace. They are stacked on bedside tables, neatly on the corner of a desk, or on the sideboard in the living room. Perhaps they are made to stand in an honorary position on the shelf in the living room. They are available freely at the corner shop. It is so common to see them. Perhaps not for all.
Loffie is visiting the JOSCO HUIZHOU, a majestic coal carrier anchored in Richards Bay. A twenty strong Chinese crew manages the iron giant – guiding it en route. Two of the twenty men are on duty as security personnel and Loffie must report to them. They are responsible for visitors arriving and departing.
When you hear about a pure Chinese crew, you pray hopefully and trust that a Bigger Hand will guide and unexpectedly stir hearts. However, no one will blame you if you feel a little pessimistic before your visit. With history as a guideline, chances of a meaningful discussion about the Gospel are slim indeed. A lot of experience, visits to ships and closed doors temper optimism when you climb the ladder to board the vessel.
But, Loffie is brave, always hopeful, always praying, always believing in Him that remains so much stronger than the closed doors. So, he climbs dedicatedly, despite the historical disadvantages, to get to the deck. He made it his task to learn basic phrases in Mandarin, to open doors in often closed or even hostile situations.
'Nǐ hǎo', is the greeting. Loffie explains why he is there, as well as he can. His Mandarin is good enough to convince the two sceptics to give him a chance. They make small talk before Loffie takes off his backpack to open it. He takes out Chinese DVDs and two Chinese/English Bibles. The men take these carefully, clearly not sure what to expect.
'Ever seen a Bible?'
'Never!', they answer. They have never seen one, held one or heard about it.
Suddenly a situation that could be viewed from a pessimistic stance, becomes a situation where a Bigger Hand sows seed on a greenfield. Using the English translation of the Mandarin, Loffie can explain about the Man of the Cross. He can package the seeds carefully and give water as he spends time with the two men. Just before he leaves for the next ship, he gets broad smiles when he says 'miang fy' – it is a gift!
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God hears you. It is such a wonderful, positive statement. God listens and hears. From experience, you also know that it is not always that easy or how it works exactly.
You should take the time today to read Genesis 21. It is the story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar. Hagar bears Abraham’s son. Jealousy overcomes Sarah and she convinces Abraham to send Hagar and Ismael away. The two leave and start the journey through the desert. Conditions are so terrible that Hagar puts her son down under a bush, expecting him to die.
We then read: God heard the child. He gave them a way out, a godsend.
In the text and story about the three people, it is very clear. My God hears. God hears Abraham’s deepest wish, a longing for a child of his own. Abraham waited very long for him. God hears the pain of a father’s empty heart. God hears the pain of the child he has to sacrifice. He hears the father screaming against the heavens. My precious child!
God hears Sarah’s wish too. He knows about her barren womb.
God also hears Hagar’s pain as she is chased into the desert, having to flee from her owner. He hears her fear as she places her first born child under a bush to let him die of hunger and thirst.
God hears you. There is no trauma and despair that passes Him by. He hears your pain, worries, hurt and longing today. God hears and listens through all the turns and tribulations of life. Even through all your own made plans...
This is what the seafarers, must hear from the CSO and you. This is what you must hear: God hears you.
When you get the news, you want to believe that the ship is considered a medical unit, involving care for the ill. But rather, it is a floating iron giant that lies banned and unwanted at anchor. Everyone passes it with care, because the plague is contagious. The grim reaper seems to be on board. The sixteen men from the Philippines seems to have brought the deadly variant from India.
Now only fifteen remain. Grim reaper.
Where can you escape to? How do you protect yourself against the invisible and unwelcome intruder? What can you do if the intruder is trapped with you on a ship between India and Durban, with only water and more water in view? One by one you see the symptoms in those around you. It starts with a dry cough. It implies, smilingly, that it is going to get you too. Then fever develops. After that, breathing is difficult. Next, a group of medical workers, clothed in protective war gear against the virus, arrives to take one of your fellow crew members to a hospital somewhere in Durban. Then, you start to cough and you cannot breathe. You wonder whether you are being smothered or being drowned. The next sudden thought is the deep realisation that this life is indeed but a breath of life.
Our Evangelists may not visit the ship, but they work, untiringly for each on the vessel. They try their best to provide for the basic needs of every man on board. All purchases from shops are hoisted, like in the past, using a long rope to hoist the goods to the deck. The purchases include the basics, but also something special, to let them know they matter. Mobile Wi-Fi is provided for the ship, at the very least, to allow them to contact their families. In some cases, we call the families when the men request us to do so, providing comfort and trying to provide reassurance.
All our encouragement from shore must take place per internet connections. The conversations reveal real fear and anxiety. The feelings are as clear as day. Our message remains: You are important. The Son of God loved you so much, that He gave His life to save you.
Now, in our chaotic world, the work of the CSO is more important than ever. Do you not want to consider, urgently and in prayer, to support our work among those that are so often forgotten and cast away? It spreads the Word and makes a clear, real difference.
Click here for the different methods you can use to support us.
From a distance, the man in the dirt road seems to be at odds with the earth beneath his feet. It is as if he is performing some kind of ritual. It is a little strange and he catches the eye of each that passes him on the road in either direction.
It is pure theatre here in the new Ngqura harbour, in the friendly city. A number of roads in the harbour had not been surfaced yet, especially the parts where ore is loaded. In those areas the quays still display barren earth. There is no landscape architecture to soften the blows of hundreds of trucks carrying millions of tonnes of ore each day to fill the holds of the ships in the harbour.
Danie, true to character, talks to the man as he passes. The man on the dirt road is a seafaring man from Sri Lanka. Even while talking, the man walks barefoot in the dust. His shoes had been placed, next to each other, neatly, like theatre props ready for use. His eyes remain focussed on the earth, as if he is tracking something, perhaps hoping to find some treasure.
Then, with a smile, almost emotionally, he tells Danie: ‘I walk to feel ground under my feet again and to hear the earth’. Just like that it turns into a pastoral discussion. The man explains how the days turned in to weeks, the weeks into months and the months into more than a year. For more than a year he was not allowed to leave his ship.
The discussion turns from earth and soil to deeper longings, like stability, anchors, constants and things that remain the same. In the constant insecurity of the pandemic, one of the man’s deepest longings was to feel earth under his feet again. It does not matter that it is here in the harbour – raw and ugly, covered in oil and soot. It is earth.
Just like that Danie and the man walk together. Up and down, up and down on mother earth. In walking together, the earth is therapy for the man’s soul and in the Word of God, that Danie shares with him, he unexpectedly finds stability, an anchor and a constant.
With your donation we walk with these men. Often, in walking with them, we are the instruments that returns them to the one Constant, the one Anchor, the Man on the Cross. We are extremely grateful for your contribution. It makes walking together possible.
"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?'