The soul of the port

The International Lutheran Seafarers’ Mission (ILSM) has been an outreach program of the Lutheran Church in Singapore since 1991. The church took up the challenge and the call of our Lord when he said, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into the harvest field.” Yes, indeed, the harvest is ripe (Joel 3:13) and the vision God has entrusted to us to achieve the objective is “Think global, act local.” When we talk about seafarers’ mission, we think global, because each day thousands of seafarers from over 90 countries and different cultures and religions come to the ports of Singapore. When we work with them, we act local. The ports are a great mission field, but in the local context.

A journalist once wrote an article about our ministry with seafarers in Singapore and gave it the title: “Soul of the Port.” The title is a good way to describe what seafarers’ mission is about. The port, as a work place, is full of machines, symbolising a cold, dangerous, unforgiving, impersonal and busy atmosphere. Through our visits, we offer people a place where they can dock to find peace in Christ and comfort and can get away from all the stress of daily life on board ship.

Our visits are not just a matter of saying “Hello” or “Good day” in different languages – “Ni hao” (China), “Tere” (Estonia), “Jambo” (Swahili) or “Selamat pagi” (Indonesia) – they are about bringing God’s love on board the ship, meeting people who have been away from home for many months and are happy if they can talk to someone they can trust.

One seafarer wrote: “We are getting ready to sail but before we go I wanted to say thank you. I am so glad we had the opportunity to meet and talk. Indeed I feel as though I was led to you last night, and once again God smiled on me.”

Through our ministry, seafarers hear the message of Christ. Many get encouraged through our visit, and opportunities arise to share our common faith in Christ, while others hear for the first time that God loves them. The ministry offers many occasions for deep personal involvement, where we can pray together and can talk about the life on board ship and how faith can help in such a situation or what Christian faith is all about. During our visits we hand out Bibles, devotional books, Christmas cassettes, Jesus videos, Christian calendars, watch words, reading material and Bible correspondence courses.

The most important emphasis of our ministry is still the “ministering seafarer” (MS) project, where we train seafarers to serve as volunteer chaplains on board. They can reach out to the heart of seafarers with the gospel better than we can, because they travel with them and are very close to them. We support the ministering seafarers with our prayers and with material.

Through the practical (social) aspect of our ministry, we build up trust, relationships and friendship. It is a bridge-building activity to enable Christ and the gospel to come into the relationship. Examples of what we do include helping seafarers when they cannot leave the ship, taking their watch to be repaired, arranging flowers for a seafarer’s fiancee who works on another ship, helping them transfer money home or call their family.

We all have a different call to be a witness for Christ. But we should all remember that what is important is not what I have achieved but what God has accomplished through me, and to remember that, wherever I go, Christ is already there.

This story was also published in the July 2008 edition of Border Crossings, the magazine of LCA International Mission.

Many of our partner churches are working in new territory for the kingdom of God; therefore, spiritual attack is their everyday reality. As a member of a congregation, school, or family, or a couple or individual, you are invited to commit to praying for our partners in mission. For regular prayer point updates, go to

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