January 14 – May 31, 2019
The assumed purpose of the Seafarers Ministry of the Golden Gate is to provide a ministry of hospitality to workers on container ships docking at the Port of Oakland. But after more than a decade of volunteering at the Seafarers Center, I've come to believe the greater ministry may be to those of us who serve.
The presence of the Seafarers in the Center has opened my life to the world in a way I couldn't have anticipated: people–for the most part, young men–arrive from the Philippines, India, Russia, Romania, China, Poland, Malaysia, Germany, indeed, country after country. Christians, certainly–but also Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus.
Although English is the required language of international shipping, speech at the Center is a cacophony of languages. But what I observe isn't a confused babble, but a microcosm. A microcosm not only of the world's differences, but of its shared humanity.
Men are sitting with their laptops talking on Skype with families half a world away. It may have been months since they've been home. How gentle and sensitive I find these men to be! Now and then, they call us over to the little screens to point to their wives and children and invite them to wave to us. However unfamiliar the language sounds, it's amazing how universal "Daddy" is.
I drive a van and pick up crew members from the ships, taking them to the center or to the shops. On the van one-on-one conversation opens my world even more. A chief engineer from the Ukraine shares his anxiety about the conflict in the eastern part of his country. A man from Manila hasn't gotten any word from his family since a typhoon hit two days ago.
Another tells me he knows of Central Philippine University (where Alice and I taught for a short time after we retired) because his sister got her nursing degree there. A man from Northern India describes his homeland as the most beautiful place in the world with its green terrain and lovely trees. A cook from Vladivostok–this time a woman–speaks of the poverty of her home area. A boatswain, showing significant trust in a representative of the church, talks in confidence about his captain's withholding hazard pay from their salaries, hoping we can advocate for them (which we can and do).
Another man, very quiet, walks from the van without speaking and goes to the chapel and kneels for a while.
Sometimes seafarers ask why we do what we do. People through many ages have understood the need to "welcome the stranger." In welcoming others, I find I'm being "welcomed" too–into the others' lives. I'm reminded in this that angels are defined as messengers (sometimes of God) and also of a word from the First Letter to Peter: "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it."
This article was originally published in Ridge Runner, the e-newsletter of Shell Ridge Community Church in Walnut Creek, CA. Dale Edmonson is a member of Shell Ridge and a member of BPFNA ~ Bautistas por la Paz.