In my role as Missions Coordinator at Operation Mobilisation (OM), one of the things I enjoy most is giving orientation to the new recruits joining OM’s ship ministry. Since 1970, OM’s four ships have visited over 150 countries, welcoming over 47 million visitors onboard their floating book fairs which offer quality educational and Christian literature. The crew members, all of whom are Jesus followers, come from over 50 countries and commit months or years to work without a salary. Their desire is to share knowledge, help, and hope with the nations.
As I had spent some years serving on OM’s second ship Doulos, there are many stories to share with those joining the ship ministry, so that they can be better prepared. I tell them about the different work departments onboard, cross-cultural do’s and don’ts, how to survive seasickness (and homesickness), the variety of onshore programmes in partnership with churches, and the joy of witnessing people receive Christ in the various ports we visit.
But after the light-hearted chats about ship life and ministry, I remind them that in deciding to join God’s mission, they need to count the cost as there are risks involved. Serving onboard a ship means exposure to hurricanes, storms, and pirate-infested waters. Also, one does not choose which ports of call to visit, but will have to follow wherever the ship sails to.
“But is it safe?” a missions participant once asked. I thought about the tragic incident that happened to Doulos in August 1991.
Doulos was docked in Zamboanga, Philippines. The crew members organised a big event at the ferry terminal where over 1,000 locals gathered for an evening of songs and dances, followed by a message about Christ. Backstage, crew members were praying as the speaker gave the closing invitation, when suddenly a grenade was thrown backstage and exploded. Two 19-year-old crew members Sofia (Sweden) and Karen (New Zealand) died on the spot, with many others injured. At the hospital, the injured crew members sang, and took turns to read their favourite Bible passages aloud to encourage one another. Even though the attackers were plotting evil, they could not stop God’s work. A number of locals gave their lives to Jesus. Doulos continued to sail. Karen’s sister joined the ship to complete the remainder of Karen’s commitment.
The call to follow Jesus isn’t safe, but it is the way, the truth and the life. In Paul and Timothy’s letter to the church in Corinth, they shared about the hardships they endured for the sake of Christ. They were “hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down; but not destroyed” (2 Cor 4:8–9). Even though they suffered much, they remained steadfast to place their hope in God’s promise, “Therefore we do not lose heart … For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor 4:17–18).
This is the same hope that we can hold on to. No matter how hard things may get because of our commitment to follow Jesus, it is worth it because just as we share in Jesus’ suffering, we also share in His resurrection and glory. If you are facing difficulties at home, school or work because of your belief in Jesus, take heart and don’t give up on your faith. May the Lord give you the courage and strength to be a shining light wherever you are, that He will draw people into His kingdom through your witness.