Port Chaplains Adapt to COVID-19 Pandemic

Bill Wong
October 22 2020

Image: Holding a Time of Worship Onboard.         

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted our lives both from a health and an economic perspective.  The pandemic has also impacted the Lighthouse Harbour Ministries (LHM) in terms of its ministry work at the Port of Vancouver. 

The LHM has two drop-in centres for the seafarers – one located on the North Vancouver waterfront and the other along the Fraser River in Surrey.  Prior to COVID-19, about 30-40 seafarers would visit each of the centres every evening.

They would come to use the free Wi-Fi, computers, and phones at the centres to contact their families back home. They also come to play ping pong, foosball soccer, billiards, or just to relax. 

The port chaplains also have opportunities to hold worship services at the centres and share the Good News with the seafarers.

COVID Changes

Even though Transport Canada has allowed crew members to disembark from their ships for up to four hours during the pandemic, many have chosen to just stay on board their ships.

Also, many of the captains and ship owners have not been granting shore leave to their crews.  (Keeping the crews on the ships is more to protect them from contracting COVID-19 because the crews have essentially been in quarantine, since all of their voyages from Asia to North America are over long distances, lasting 14 days or longer.)  Because very few seafarers have been coming to the centres, the LHM made the decision to temporarily close the centres during the initial lock-down period.

In terms of ship visitations, prior to COVID-19, the chaplains were able to go onboard the ships and into the mess halls to meet face to face with the seafarers.  However, with the pandemic, many ship captains have not been granting permission for the chaplains to come on board. 

As a result, they can only go partly up the gangway, speak to the seafarers from there, and leave behind Bibles, Christian literatures and tracts, and “care” packages.

Image: Going to Share the Good News from the Gangway.          

Since the beginning of July, when health authorities have been allowing gathering of groups up to 50 people, the LHM has reopened the two drop-in centres.  More seafarers have been coming to the centres as well. 

The chaplains have also been able to go on board more ships, but with face masks and social distancing.  

The pandemic has provided opportunities for the chaplains to offer words of comfort and peace to the seafarers, but more importantly, to share the source of our peace with them.

Pivoting to a Virtual Event

Another event affected by the pandemic was the Spring Lunch that is held annually in May.  It had to be cancelled this year, which was a disappointment, because this is one of the three major fund-raising events for the year. 

However, after much prayer and some brainstorming by the LHM staff, a virtual lunch was held instead, where supporters were able to watch the pre-recorded proceedings on-line and have a meal together in the comfort of their homes. 

We praise the Lord that this turned out to be a huge success as the event was attended virtually by over 250 supporters, about the same number that would the live function.

One of the great joys of being involved in the Lord’s work at the LHM as both a chaplain and a director on the board is receiving support and encouragement from people.

When I hear stories from other chaplains’ of divine encounters with the seafarers; when I read emails of appreciation, along with ongoing prayers for the work being done, they’re like gold nuggets – precious!

Sometimes the Lord uses these words for the right time. As we go through difficult times such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, these words of encouragement really help to revitalize the commitment, effort, and passion that’s required to carry out the ministry of reaching out to seafarers.

It’s both humbling and gratifying to know that there are fellow Christians who are prompted by the Lord to provide the necessary resources for us to carry out what the Lord has laid upon our hearts to do.

And you can’t imagine the joy and encouragement we receive, when gifts of financial support arrive through the mail or on-line. It’s amazing how these gifts seem to come at just the right time – COVID-19 or not.

I do believe the Lord uses these times to answer our prayers and complete our trust in Him.

It doesn’t appear that COVID-19 will be going away anytime soon.  In that case, the chaplains serving with the LHM will need to adapt to the new “normal” of ministering to the seafarers.

Thank you, Lord, for keeping the door open for us to bring the Word of God to the seafarers coming to our port.  Please keep us all safe as we practice the COVID-19 protocols when we visit the ships and when the seafarers come to the centres.  All honour, glory and praise to You as we make disciples of all nations right here in Vancouver!

Prior to serving as a chaplain with Outreach Canada, Bill was a professional engineer, working 10 years as superintendent at a large manufacturing plant with over 500 employees, and then 20 years as an engineering consultant managing projects at marine terminals all over the world. He enjoyed the travels and meeting people in different countries. It’s amazing how God is now using Bill in his current chaplaincy ministry, having gone full circle to now serving in the marketplace and at the Port of Vancouver, where he had previously worked as a consultant.

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