Reaching 1.7 Million Forgotten Men & Women

Seamen's Christian Friend Society estimates there are about 1.7 million who work onboard some 85,000 merchant ships around the world.
Photo by Seamen's Christian Friend Society, Facebook

DONDONALD, NORTHERN IRELAND – Seamen’s Christian Friend Society estimates that there are about 1.7 million men and women who work onboard some 85,000 merchant ships around the world. If that’s not a mission field, I don’t know what is.

Photo by Seamen’s Christian Friend Society, Facebook

Seamen typically work 12-hour days, six or seven days a week. They don’t get to go home to their families at the end of a day’s work. When they do have a day off, their world is the space between port, starboard, bow, and stern.

They work on a contract basis for periods of nine months or more. The work is both hard and hazardous. More than 500 seamen die while at sea each year.

It’s not difficult to see that a seaman’s life is often lonely and depressing. If there is one thing they need at all times, it is a friend – one who will be with them to comfort and encourage in every situation.

Jesus is the friend they need most. But, who is navigating them toward Jesus? Who is reaching out to them in Jesus’ name? Who is ministering to a group of people about the same size as the population of Phoenix, Arizona, the fifth-largest city in America?

The answer is Seamen’s Christian Friend Society (SCFS).

The SCFS was organized over 170 years ago to “offer the hand of friendship to the seafaring community and to all those involved in maritime industries, trades, and activities.

Where allowed to do so, SCFS missionaries go onboard ships that have been put into harbor. In ports where visits onboard are not permitted, the society maintains meeting places nearby the shipyards where seamen can find rest, relaxation, and friendly people who are ready to give a listening ear to those who are lonely, those who need wise advice and counseling, and those who are seeking comfort for their troubled souls.

There are Christian seaman who make visiting SCFS port facilities a routine dockside activity. They know they are able to find Christian fellowship and opportunities for worship, prayer, and studying the Scriptures together. They often bring unsaved co-workers with whom they have been sharing the Gospel.

The Seamen’s Christian Friend Society tries to offer holistic care that meets the seamen’s spiritual, emotional, and physical welfare while they are in port. The SCFS website notes that “During a span of almost 200 years, the seaman’s need for spiritual challenge and encouragement has changed little.”

The pressure to meet the growing demands of shipping commercial goods across the high seas can put additional stress on the men and women who work on these fleets. The disruption to the economy resulting from the fear of the COVID virus has made life even more difficult for seamen.

According to American Shipper, “Everybody’s getting slammed and overwhelmed with cargo. It’s incredible and something we didn’t see coming.” CNBC carried a report on February 11, 2021, with the headline, “Container shipping locked in a ‘significant bottleneck’ as demand surges back.”

The world is resting on the backs of able-bodied seamen. Without them, global commerce and trade grind to a halt. Those men and women need our prayers as much as any tribe in any village or people surviving in the slums of urban areas. When we wrap our spiritual arms around these folks, let’s remember to pray for the missionaries of the Seamens Christian Friend Society who are representing Jesus Christ to them.


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