For 54 years, the Ministry to Seafarers (M2S) in Montreal, Que., has been reaching out to mariners docking at the Old Port of Montreal. M2S is one of two ministries to seafarers supported largely by Christian Reformed churches in Canada; the other is in Vancouver, B.C.
In Montreal, the crew members of ocean-going cargo ships can come to M2S and find fellowship, encouragement, and hospitality during their brief time on shore. Two chaplains make visits to ships docked in the port every day to spend time with those not able to obtain shore leave.
To make it easier for mariners to get to the ministry from anywhere along the 25 kilometer port, M2S keeps vehicles and arranges pick-up and drop-off times from the ships to their ministry base in Mariners’ House, an organization with whom M2S partners.
“M2S reflects the love of Jesus to seafarers in the Port of Montreal,” says administrator Patricia Sarazen. They do that by offering a place of community, a listening ear, devotions geared especially to mariners, monthly events, chapel services, prayer, spiritual counsel, free Bibles in a wide variety of languages, and day-to-day needs such as food, clothing, and toiletries.
The ministry has become a home away from home for many seafarers, who come in during their shore leave to relax, phone home, wire money, buy souvenirs, play some pool, or have a snack. M2S provides opportunities to spend time with people other than the 20 or so fellow crew members with whom they work each day.
Seafarers live transient lives, often cut off from the public, spending an average of six to nine months at sea away from their families, says Sarazen. “The biggest challenge a seafarer faces is isolation and loneliness.”
Volunteers are a vital part of M2S, offering a ministry of presence and partnership with M2S’s three staff members. A number of local people volunteer regularly, while some come from farther away to volunteer for a block of time before returning home.
Regular volunteer Hans Vink described an interaction with a Hindu seafarer from India. A group of Christian high school students were painting eggs at M2S in the week leading up to Easter. Vink asked the mariner if he knew why the students were doing this, and the man responded that he thought it had something to do with Easter. The two men spoke for half an hour about Easter and Jesus and questions about Christianity. The mariner was excited to find a Hindi Bible among the available free literature. Vink offered to stay in touch by email and to pray for him. “I must admit that I have not heard from him since, but I trust that God has,” said Vink.
Another favorite connecting point between M2S and Christian Reformed congregations in Canada is the ministry’s Christmas parcel program. CRC members and other ministry supporters from across the country fill shoeboxes or gift bags each fall with hats, socks, gloves, scarves, toiletries, playing cards, soap, small souvenirs of Canada, etc., and send them to M2S from late November through December. M2S then distributes them to mariners throughout the Christmas season.
“Thanks to the generosity of CRC churches,” said Sarazen, “we are able to give out gifts to all available seafarers docking in the Port of Montreal over December. Last year, that amounted to 1,600 parcels.”
The hospitality and gifts mean a lot to the seafarers who connect with M2S. Ten mariners signed a letter one January thanking M2S staff and volunteers for their visits and for the Christmas gifts they brought to the ship. The letter noted that it’s difficult to be away from home at festive times, then continued, “But the Seafarers’ Centre is our home.” Another seafarer noted, “It is obvious that you do your work for us from a different perspective than what I have found in other seafarers clubs.”
Some seafarers are on ships that dock regularly in Montreal, about once every month. It’s easier to build relationships with them, said Sarazen. “We know their names, see pictures of their families, get caught up on life. . . . But that connection is harder to build with seafarers whose ships come here only once in a while.”
Realizing a need for connection, M2S launched an app earlier this year to help foster deeper relationships with seafarers through an online community. The app allows M2S to keep in touch with mariners at sea, provide regular devotional materials, equip Christian seafarers to share the gospel with crewmates, and work out logistics for transporting seafarers to the Mariners’ House when their ship docks in Montreal.
In 2018, chaplains Michelle DePooter and David Rozeboom made 1,583 visits to ships, volunteers or M2S staff transported over 11,000 seafarers, and the ministry served 14,536 mariners. Please pray for the Ministry to Seafarers as they continue to reach out with the love of Christ to shipping crews from around the world.
For more information about Christmas parcels, volunteering, and the day-to-day life of this ministry, visit ministrytoseafarers.org.