His nerves are just beyond no repair. The nerves are shattered... Everything is tumbling out of control. Far from the comfort of threatening orange lights, the red lights are flashing critically, accompanied by the sounds of shrill sirens that cut into the bone. All he knows is hanging from a very thin single thread. He worries about the seeming strength of that thin thread...

It is like a perfect storm. Most of the Russian Captain’s crew should have left for home four months ago, but they are still here and no one knows when they will ever see home again. Six of the crew are ill. In other harbours visited earlier, all requests that they leave the ship to obtain medical care were denied. If one of the men were to leave the ship to obtain medical care, it would mean that they cannot sail. It would mean that they have fewer than the prescribed and allowed minimum number of men required to operate such a majestic coal carrier on board. 

But, there is more. His crew received their last salaries three months ago. And, as the current situation dictates, they think that he, the Captain, has something to do with that. The situation on board is so desperate that one of the men tried to take his own life to escape the dire situation... 

Then, that is only his life on board. No mention yet of his family at home. What about the worries about the chaos at home...? 

However, Loffie and one of his co-workers are there. They immediately talk to the authorities to try and alleviate the feeling of hopelessness on board. They arrange for a doctor to visit and treat the ill, while they take care of hearts and nerves that have been shattered. They do their best and what they can...

Every small act and every discussion enhance understanding. The discussion Loffie has with one of the seamen from Indonesia, the doctor’s care, the SIM card each receives to call their families, the listening to the Captain’s dilemma – every act and discussion makes the message clearer. BUT God!... Ill and abandoned – BUT God! Lonely... BUT God! Hopeless... BUT God! After all, what is left once you are stripped from all. What do you have when all hangs on a thin, thin thread? What hope does one have then? 

How valuable to have someone visit you on board to remind you of the contradictory message after the comma – BUT God… That is Hope. 

 

A language lesson then: BUT. 

It is a conjunction, could be a preposition or may be an adverb or even a noun. It is used to combine sentences, to present two opposing concepts, or to explain something, or do expand on a concept or present a confrontation. 

Purely at 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... 

Perhaps this seemingly insignificant conjunctive word offers us hope in the current surrealistic reality. To say BUT in all encompassing darkness, or remember BUT in an absolute hopeless situation, to whisper BUT in fear of death, BUT – perhaps it means hope? 

BUT, seems to convey something about God's nature. Stating a fact, the status quo is often followed by BUT... That BUT could transform everything dark and lost through mercy and compassion. BUT can explain, expand, confront and transform... 

It was so for Noah… drifting on the dark, deep waters, anxious, hopeless, without vision, full of fear and afraid. These are adjectives that probably summarise the feelings of those on board the ark in a nutshell. BUT, God remembered Noah … and He sent a wind over the earth and the waters receded.' 

When Joseph was reunited with his brothers, he could have reacted with anger and hatred, BUT he said 'You intended to harm me, but God intended to it for good to accomplish what is now being done...'

For the lost Christians of Rome that taught about the wages of sin – 'BUT the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.'  For the lost Ephesians, 'BUT because of His great love for us, God who is rich in mercy made us alive…'

We truly need to hear this! BUT God... 

Covid 19 – BUT God…; Despair – BUT God; Sadness – BUT God… Where you are sitting, reading this letter, it is meant for you too: 'BUT God...'

The shipping industry is locked in what is described as the worst humanitarian crisis it ever had to survive. Although estimates differ, it is said that the contracts of about 400 000 to 600 000 seafaring men and women expired and that they have no way to return home. They are the captives within a surreal reality. The stories we hear every day are not just sad, they break your heart...

At the moment, our work at the CSO is more important than ever. It is urgent for seafarers stranded on ships, floating on the dark, deep waters, full of fear, filled with hopelessness, fearing a loss of vision, anxious and afraid – or you may use any other adjectives you wish to summarise those scrambled emotions in a nutshell, to hear: BUT God...

Over the next weeks, we want to share stories about these men with you. They are captive in the grip of the crisis. They find hope in the small word following a comma, BUT God... 

We hope that this will give you hope too.  

The cell phone in your hand-how did it get here? Please listen to a seafarer's story and make a difference. It will take 2 minutes of your time but it will mean an eternity to a seafarer.

Desperate – the hopeless morale on of all on board in nine letters. It is late June and Loffie is on board a coal carrier in Richards Bay. Even though the skies above the city are a deep, fresh winter blue, the storm clouds hang grey and threateningly over the bow of the carrier. 

A message from CSO missionary worker Danie Taljard.