Mission To The Seafarers

(A Reflection on Rev Andreas’ Sermon)


On 22 Oct 2023, we were on the third Sunday of our Mission Month. We are glad to have Rev Andreas from the International Lutheran Seafarers’ Mission (ILSM) bring to us God’s word based on the Gospel passage of Mt 22:15-22 and share with us his outreach work to the seafarers who call on Singapore’s port. The ILSM is an affiliate of LCS.

Church-State Relationship

Rev Andreas begins his sermon with an illustration, using the story about a mother-in-law’s question. On Christmas Eve, the mother-in-law gives her son-in-law two exquisitely beautiful and very expensive ties. When the young couple comes to her the following evening, the son-in-law puts on one of the ties. The mother-in-law looks at him disapprovingly and says, “Oh, you didn’t like the other one?”

Rev Andreas compares this to the Pharisees’ attempt to trap Jesus with a question. The Pharisees came to Jesus, pretending to be benevolent, and asked him a seemingly innocent question about paying taxes to the Roman emperor. They hoped to get him to speak out against the Roman government, so that they could have him arrested.

What is the son-in-law’s answer to the mother-in-law’s tricky question? Rev Andreas does not say. But Jesus did answer the Pharisees very wisely. Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” This answer would not do wrong to both the Pharisees and the Roman authorities.

Jesus’ answer to the question of whether to pay taxes to Caesar is a complex one, and it has been interpreted in many ways. Some people see it as a call to obey the secular authorities, while others see it as a more nuanced statement about the relationship between the individual and the state.

This relationship between church and state is relevant to the Christian mission to seafarers. Jesus’ answer indicates that it is possible to obey the laws of the government without conflicting with our obedience to God.

While seafarers are often subject to the laws and regulations of the countries they visit, it is possible to have a favourable environment for our work when we have the right relationships with the government and other stakeholders. This is demonstrated by the Christian mission to seafarers in Singapore, where we receive encouragement from the maritime people and the government for our work.

The Diaconal Work

LCS and all stakeholders work together to help the fishermen arriving at the port. They provide the seafarers with new clothes, food and drinks, and hold church services for them.

Rev Andreas voices the theological basis of this work, stating that the concrete diakonia by which we bring comfort to the fishermen and sailors is love in action. He recalls a time two months ago when a crew of a Vietnamese fishing boat came to the mission centre. The crew members were emaciated and couldn’t believe they were receiving new clothes, food, and drinks for free.

Dealing with the question of whether this work is expressed in verifiable numbers and in baptisms, Rev Andreas answers that it is not, but that they now conduct church services with the Filipino fishermen. A group of volunteers has also been formed with the help of JCC, led by Bryan Tay who turns up at the Jurong Fishery Port regularly every week.

The mission centre at Jurong Fishery Port is open from 4:00 to 8:00 p.m. daily from Monday to Friday, and on Sunday. Rev Andreas knows many of the fishermen by name. He expresses hope and prayer that this work will continue throughout 2024, with continuing support from the Christian community, including helpers and donors from JCC.

A Personal Reminiscence Of Smiling Faces

Here, I attach a photo of myself (in red T-shirt) on board a ship with the seafarers in Feb 2010 during the Chinese New Year season; i.e., more than 13 years ago. Despite the passage of over a decade, the smiles on the faces of the humble seafarers still appear in my mind as I look at the old photo from time to time.

Now, as I reflect on the message from Rev Andreas, I give thanks to God for the dedicated mission workers on the ground who take up the call of the Lord in bringing warmth and the love of Christ to the people who often spend many lonely months away from home to sail on the high seas.

In sharing my thoughts arising from Rev Andrea’s message, I also encourage JCCians to continue their support for the work of the ILSM (i.e., LCS mission to the seafarers).

John Lee

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