Thursday, July 3, 2008

Here's a Different Volunteer Ministry

Seafarers ministry provides hospitality, support

Seafarers ministry provides hospitality, supportFour people from the Twin Ports Ministry to Seafarers strode up the gangway of the BBC Rosario as it rested in its berth at the Duluth port terminal.

They came Monday bearing smiles and offers to help the international crew, many of whom are away from their families for long stretches.

The captain and crew of the Antigua-flagged ship, which was unloading a cargo of mammoth wind turbine parts, warmly welcomed the visitors. Capt. Adrian Muflic, who is from Romania, said nearly every port has a seamen’s center and they are important to the crews.

“It gets in your heart and soul,” he said.

The local seafarers ministry was founded in 1969 and thrived for many years. After the original director retired in 1999, the ministry struggled to find volunteers. In the past few years, the ministry has revived, drawing more people willing to host seafarers at the center and make ship visits.

The Rev. Tom Anderson, director of the seafarers ministry and a Lutheran pastor, said the seafarers ministry doesn’t evangelize but focuses on hospitality. Sometimes he offers to pray for crew members and their families and asks if he can leave a Bible or book of devotions on the ship.

“We’re there to share the love of Christ,” he said.

Some of the crew had spent the previous evening at the Seafarers Center at 2024 W. Third St., using the phones to call home and the computers to check their e-mail. During the ship’s stay in Duluth, some crew members also got rides in the ministry’s vans to go shopping.

On board the ship Monday, the captain visited with the group, gave them a tour of the ship’s bridge and allowed them to visit with his crew as the men ate dinner.

Anderson visited the ship along with volunteers Andrea Sather Dommer of Duluth; the Rev. Bob Sipe, a retired Catholic priest from Grand Rapids; and Jerry Sime of Duluth. Mike Jaros of Duluth had been at the ship the previous night.

The ministry mainly visits foreign vessels because that’s where the greatest needs are. While the Twin Ports Ministry to Seafarers is the largest such ministry in town, Duluth Gospel Tabernacle and Jehovah’s Witnesses also have volunteers who visit ships.

In his 14 years at sea, Rosario captain Muflic said he has been all over the planet, including all along the coastal areas of the United States. This is the first time he has been so far inland in the U.S., and he was impressed by Duluth’s green hillside. “Here is a beautiful part of the planet,” he said. “It’s a quiet place, a beautiful place.”

Officers typically are away from home for four to six months, while crew members frequently are gone for 10 to 12 months, he said.

“I have four months separated from my family and I have a pain,” Muflic said, touching his chest.

When he started working at sea, it was easier for people to come and go on the ships, he said, but now security concerns worldwide prevent that. “There’s more of a pressure,” he said.

The crew on the BBC Rosario includes Ukrainians, Filipinos and one Russian.

Andriy Mayboroda, the chief officer who is from Ukraine, said it’s been three months since he’s been home to see his wife and 15-year-old daughter.

“Right now I just received a message from my wife that she is tired and wants me to come home,” he said.

The first month at sea you are full of energy, Mayboroda said, the second month it’s work as usual, the third month you start thinking of going home and the fourth month is a little bit harder. The longest stretch he was gone was 10½ months, he said.

“Life at sea is life at sea,” he said with a shrug.

In the mess — the crew’s dining room — Richard Spanley, who is from the Philippines, was eating a stir-fry dinner as the evening news played on a small television. He’s an oiler who works in the engine room.

He visited the Seafarers Center the night before to phone his wife and 2-year-old daughter. He has been gone for eight months and hopes to be home in two months.

That night he planned to get a ride with the volunteers to go shopping at Wal-Mart. He said he appreciates the ministry. “They have easy access for the calls. They are very accommodating,” he said.

Junel Cajurao, a deck cadet from the Philippines, also went to the Seafarers Center to call home. Going there gave him renewal because it was quiet, he said.

He has been gone four months and will be at sea for another eight months before going home, he said.

Cajurao enjoys his work and likes life aboard ship. He said he appreciates the ministry to seafarers, he said.

“Before, I didn’t think anyone cared about seafarers because they move in and move out of ports so quickly,” he said. “The Seafarers Center — they care for us.” Duluth News Tribune

What volunteers have to say

* Mike Jaros said he volunteers with the Twin Ports Ministry to Seafarers because he thinks what the ministry does is important. He often meets the ships and asks what’s needed, offers rides in one of the ministry’s two vans and takes people shopping, to the Seafarers Center or to see the city.

He speaks Spanish, Russian, Polish, Croatian and Serbo-Croatian and likes that he gets to use those languages in speaking with the crews. The officers on foreign vessels often are Polish, Russian or Ukrainian, while the crews often are Filipino, Indonesian or Chinese.

* Jerry Sime calls the seafarers ministry nearly every day to offer his help. He frequently visits the ships and provides transportation to the crews. “I enjoy it,” he said. “The individuals really appreciate your visits and taking them shopping.”

* Andrea Sather Dommer said she tries to be a listening ear and sometimes feels like she’s a mother or sister to the crews. She tries to draw them out and get them to talk about their lives and their families.

“I enjoy meeting people from other countries. It feels good to be welcoming, to try to help them,” she said, adding that she likes giving them a positive image of Americans.

People look at the ships passing in and out of Duluth and don’t stop to think that there are people on them, Dommer said. “We are interested and we do care and we do feel for them. We can tell they are lonesome and draw them out,” she said.

Most of the seamen understand that people from the seafarers ministry are there because they are Christians, Dommer said. “We show it through our actions and kindness,” she said.

* The Rev. Bob Sipe is the Catholic chaplain to the seafarers. In addition to visiting ships and taking crews on shopping trips, he offers to celebrate Mass with Catholics aboard ship. He also raises money for the ministry among Catholic parishes.“Many people have no idea of the life of seafarers,” he said. “That’s true even in the port cities of Duluth and Superior. People don’t think of what life is like aboard those ships.”

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