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Miami port ministry reaches beyond its shores
 
By Barbara Denman
December 10, 2013
 
 

With the majestic skyline of downtown Miami as a backdrop and the azure waters of Biscayne Bay surrounding its causeway, PortMiami’s impressive lineup of cruise ships beckon worldwide travelers to the massive vessels containing a city within its walls.  

Each year, more than four million cruise ship passengers travel through PortMiami’s terminals. And meeting the guests’ every need on board—while keeping the ships safely on course—are battalions of crew members.

Also known as the Cargo Gateway of Americas, PortMiami hosts more than a dozen of the world’s largest shipping lines, whose container ships head out to sea for months at a time before returning to the port.

Staffing these two varied ships are crew members from the world’s nations, including Philippines, India, Indonesia, Peru, Ukraine, Russia, Croatia and Serbia. The crews work 12-16 hour days week after week doing the same mundane job. They live in tight quarters with no personal space or privacy and are unable to communicate to families except for the few hours they are in port.

Now when they debark in PortMiami, many seafarers are discovering a place to go for a refuge during those few precious hours on land--a place where they can email and Skype with families in faraway homelands. A place where internet, games, televisions, lounging areas and snacks are available throughout the day. A place for worship and a friendly face with the servant spirit of Christ.

A year ago, Dan Bailey left a productive ministry as director/chaplain of the Space Coast Seafarer ministry after 13 years. He returned to his hometown and began a similar ministry at PortMiami, starting from scratch with only a few contacts and financial resources.

He came at the request of a businessman who made available a suite of offices for Bailey and the seafarer ministry, directly across from Terminal F. The building houses a crew store, restaurant and recreational facilities that cater to Port employees and seafarers.

From the location sprung a new “International Seafarers Ministry,” with the purpose of serving men and woman at sea with the love of Jesus Christ.

It’s in a convenient location, where crewmembers can simply walk across the street to find a comfortable place to spend the few hours they have on land.

Many of the seafarers endure the grueling and lonely lifestyle to send their wages home to their families, making far more than they would in their own countries. Their wages allow their children to attend schools and provide family member with their daily sustenance.

To seafarer Tony Gomes from Goa, India, the hardships of living at sea away from his family for months on end are worthwhile, “You live a sacrificial life for your family back home,” he said. And if living and working conditions are difficult, “it’s not something you share when you call back.” 

Gomes originally met Bailey in Port Canaveral. One day when he came to the ministry center to pray and worship in its chapel, to his delight he saw Chaplain Bailey.

Now every Saturday during his two hours off the ship, he stops by the center to pray and visit with his new friends.

Among those is Kathy Martin, the center’s ministry assistant, who with a vivacious personality, befriends and engages every seafarer who walks through the door. After years of serving in a similar ministry in Alaska, Martin felt God calling her to minister in South Florida. She moved to the city and took a job with Carnival Cruise lines even before Bailey began the ministry, believing God would be faithful. 

Each day at the Center brings a different need to meet. Martin makes purchases for some of the seamen, like a computer she bought for Gomes to give his daughter when he returned home. In a course of a day, she will counsel men and women who break their marriage vows or discover their spouse back home have left them. With her desk located in the office that houses a bank of six computers, she learns about their families and takes time to demonstrate a personal interest.

Ministry to injured seafarers is a new door of ministry for the Center. After a young woman from Poland suffered a serious back injury, Martin befriended her and visited her during surgery and rehab. She ultimately led the young woman to a personal relationship with Christ.

At foremost of their work, the team shares their Christian faith. When a church donated pews for a chapel, Bailey began worship services. A library of Bibles in 27 languages and evangelistic materials, including the “Jesus” video in multiple languages, line the bookcases on the walls.

Many of the seafarers are more open to the gospel away from home, the chaplain reported. “Muslims will take Bibles here when I doubt they would be as receptive when they are home.”

And those that receive Christ take their new found faith to their families back home, places where Christians can rarely go.

When a vessel is brought into port, Bailey takes his van to meet the ship. He is slowly developing personal relationships that allow him to go on board and greet crew members.

Once there, he requests permission to distribute Bibles and materials in the mess hall and tries to discover if prayer groups and Bible studies meet on board. “Not only is it our mission to plant churches on these ships, but also to strengthen those that are in place, equipping the church to obey the Lord’s call wherever they are.”

The ministry receives funding through the Miami Baptist Association and Florida Baptist Convention, which helps six port ministries in the state. But it has had a lifeline from the churches in the Brevard Association, and especially Bailey’s former church, First Baptist Church of Merritt Island.

Gary Johnson, Miami Association’s director of missions, regularly volunteers at the ministry center. “I see God moving in this ministry. When Dan moved here he did not have much to go on, except he felt God was in it. So the Lord drew him here and it has taken off,” he stressed.

“This ministry has the opportunity to step into these people lives and offer support, prayer and friendship. So whether it was my Navy experience or the enjoyment of being on a cruise my hearts goes out to the PortMiami ministry. They are doing something for the Gospel, attempting to reach people no one else is attempting to reach.”
 
 
 

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