A Day in the Life of a Chaplain by Jesse John

I’m awake at 5.30 am and after a cup of tea, have my daily devotion.

By 8.15 I’m dressed in uniform and drive to the Durban Container Terminal car park where I meet my fellow chaplain, Rev Paul Richardson. With his trolley which contains literature, some relating to the shipping industry and others Evangelical, and my rucksack which has the ‘wives’ presents and the children’s presents –we commit to God our day in prayer.

After a visit to the car park office where we sign the register and hand in our letter of authorisation from the Sailors’ Society which is required by the port authorities, we are ready for our visit.

By 09h00 we’re on on board the shuttle bus which takes us to our first ship.

Since our sole interest is the wellbeing of the crew, we always enquire if anybody is sick on board or in hospital and offer to visit and pray with them. We also enquire if anyone has had sad news from home and offer to chat and pray with them too.

Boarding the ship is sometimes quite a challenge for me because I have to climb some 40 – 71 steps, and if the ship has offloaded most of its containers the incline is very steep and I sometimes feel breathless when I’ve reached the top!

The first person we meet is usually the sailor on security duty. After he informs the ship’s office of our presence we are permitted to go either to the office or the crew mess, accompanied by an officer.

We usually meet the Captain or Chief Officer in the office. You can either get a warm, friendly reception or a cold, disinterested one.
We always ask for permission leave our literature. When sailors come in for tea or lunch we get an opportunity to chat, encourage and sometimes pray with them. I’ve had a few pleasant opportunities of meeting female crew members and wives of officers on board. We have really good long conversations and I always give them a ‘wives’ present, which is so well received.

If we have a meaningful conversation with the Captain, Chief Officer or crew member, we usually give him a present for his wife, and if they have children they receive presents too.

The ‘wives’ present is a gift bag with toiletries [donated by ladies of local churches], a salvation message pamphlet and a note saying that we’ve met her husband in the Port of Durban. When we pray for him we also remember her and the family. The children’s present can be a book, DVD or a small toy, all age appropriate.

Whenever we give these presents, this gesture is met with surprise and the sailors are always touched and so thankful.

We can visit between 3 to 6 ships in a day depending on how busy the harbour is. We sometimes disembark from our last ship as early as 11h30 or as late as 14h45. The shuttle bus then takes us back to the car park where we pray, committing the ships’ crews and literature to God.

When I get home I still have one task to do which is to send the data from my ship visits to the Sailors’ Society in Southampton on my Sailors’ Society app.

Although chaplaincy can be demanding at times, not only physically but emotionally as well – I really enjoy being a chaplain – it gives me an opportunity to serve my fellow man in an unusual and fulfilling way. It’s absolutely wonderful when a sailor ‘opens up’ to you about his problems and you can listen, encourage and pray with him.

I praise and thank God for using me in this way.

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