Thursday, 27 June 2013

Transforming Discipleship

Notes from 'Transforming Discipleship' by Greg Ogden

There has been a real emphasis on church growth, but not enough emphasis on discipleship.  Chuck Colson said the church is 3,000 miles wide and an inch deep.  Discipleship is the churches key priority.  The superficiality in discipleship comes into startling focus when we observe the incongruity between the numbers of people who profess faith in Jesus, and the lack of impact on the moral and spiritual climate of our times.  

Cal Thomas writes, "The problem in our culture... isn't the abortionists.  It isn't the pornographers or drug dealers or criminals.   It is the undisciplined, undiscipled, disobedient, and Biblically ignorant Church of Jesus Christ." (Christianity Today, April 25 1994).

There are seven marks of discipleship in the Bible:

1 Proactive ministers
The Scriptures picture the church as full of proactive ministers, but the reality is that the majority of church members are passive recipients.  The NT picture of the church is an every-member ministry, yet in most churches a 80/20 rule applies, e.g. in a typical church 20% of the congregation do the work, whilst 80% are consumers of their efforts.

We often attend worship with a reviewers mentality - worshippers see it as the responsibility of those 'on stage' to provide an engaging, meaningful and entertaining show. We come as passive recipients not active participants.  

2 A disciplined way of life
The Scriptures portray the followers of Jesus as engaged in a disciplined way of life.  

Athletes put countless hours of practice into honing their skills, and the NT uses this imagine in relation to the Christian life.  "Athletes exercise self control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one." (1 Corinthians 9:25)

Studies show that only one in six adults who attend Christian worship services is involved in a group or relational process designed to help them grow spiritually.  

3 Discipleship affects all of life
The Scriptures picture discipleship as affecting all spheres of life; the reality is that many believers have relegated faith to the personal, private realm.  

Greg Ogden writes that for the Christian all life should comes under the authority of Jesus Christ.  "We are a kingdom people, which means that Jesus is Lord in our hearts, homes and workplaces; our attitudes, thoughts and desires; our relationships and moral decisions; our political convictions and social conscience.  In every area of our interior life, personal relationships or social involvement, we seek to know and live the mind and will of God."

However for many Christians there is a disconnect between seeing ourselves as representatives of the kingdom of God, and in what we spend most of our time doing - our jobs.  

4 A countercultural force
The Scriptures picture the Christian community as a countercultural force; the reality is that we see isolated individuals whose lifestyle and values are not much different from those of the unchurched.  

5 An essential chosen organism
The Scriptures picture the church as an essential, chosen organism in whom Christ dwells; the reality is that people view the church as an optional institution unnecessary for discipleship.

The church of Jesus Christ is nothing less than his corporate replacement on earth.  Jesus continues his incarnation by dwelling in his people. Ray Stedman writes "The life of Jesus is still being manifest among people, but now no longer through an individual physical body, limited to one place on earth, but through a complex, corporate body called the church."  The church IS the body of Christ, there place where Christ dwells.  Therefore the church is central to God's plan of salvation.  To be a follower of Christ is to understand that there is no such thing as solo discipleship.

6 Biblically informed people
The Scriptures picture believers as biblically informed people whose lives are founded on revealed truth; the reality is that most believers are biblically ignorant people whose lives are a syncretistic compromise.  

Many Christians are ignorant about the content and central teaching of Scripture.  

7 People who share their faith
The Scriptures picture all believers as those who share the story of their faith in Christ with others; the reality is we are an intimidated people who shrink from personal witness.  The question we need to ask ourselves is: is our experience of the love and joy of Jesus worth transmitting to others?

The Challenge

Barna writes: "Christianity would be incredibly influential in our culture if Christians consistently lived their faith.  Most non Christians don't read the Bible, so they judge Christianity by the lives of the Christians they see.  The problem is that millions of Christians don't live like Christians - and that's partially because they don't know what they believe and therefore cannot apply appropriate scriptural values to their lives." (Barna Research Online, Setpember 25, 2000, 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Worship in Klang I experienced my first Sunday worship in Malaysia.  In the morning I attending the main service at St Barnabas which is in English and starts at 8am.  The church was very well attended with all ages.  The congregation are almost all entirely of Indian descent.  

Some of aspects of the service would be described in the UK as high church, for example the robes the vicar wears, and singing many of the responses, having robed servers, etc.  I was also surprised that they use Ancient and Modern for their hymns - which I've not seen for a very long time!  The preaching however was undoubtedly evangelical, and the vicar Revd Viji gave an excellent, and very powerful and uplifting sermon on Romans 8.  The liturgy is basically identical to what we use in the UK. 

Food is very important in Malaysia (my hopes of losing weight are clearly futile!), and so after the service everyone retired to the church hall for breakfast which was rice noodles and curry - something I'd love to have every Sunday!

Then at 10.15am I attended the Tamil service which also meets in the church.  I had the privilege of being able to preach, and have someone translate for me.  One of the things I find interesting about St Barnabas is that the vicar Viji doesn't speak much Tamil, and so when he preaches at this service it needs to be translated into Tamil.  I find the concept of having a church where one of your congregations speaks an entirely different language to you fascinating.  After this service was finished I was invited back for my second breakfast, which I felt I couldn't refuse!

One of the things I have noticed about churches in Klang is that they are very much based around ethnic groups, so for example the congregation of St Barnabas is almost entirely of Indian descent.  There are three Methodist Churches next to St Barnabas, each one different.  There is a very large Chinese Methodist Church, a Wesley Methodist Church (where the congregation are mainly Indian) and a Tamil speaking Methodist Church.

In the afternoon each of these churches hosts migrant congregations, in partnership with Migrant Ministries Klang (please see this earlier blog entry).  It was fascinating to walk to the four churches and see worship taking place in four completely different languages.  The Chinese Methodist Church hosts the Vietnamese service, the Wesley Methodist Church Telegu speakers from India, the Tamil Methodist Church was hosting a Nepalese service and St Barnabas hosts a service from people from Myanmar.  Going to these four churches really gave an insight into the global nature of the church, and I felt was like a foretaste of heaven, with people from every nation in heaven worshipping God together.  What is interesting about these migrant congregations is that many of the people who attend these services are not Christians, but through the ministry and witness of these churches many people are coming to faith.  For example the pastor of the Telegu migrant congregation told me that many of his congregation are Hindu's, but he has seen many people come to faith in Jesus as a result of the witness of the church.  These migrant congregations are pastored by people who are themselves migrants from the same country.  One upshot of this is because migrants tend not to stay long in Malaysia, there is quite a rapid turn over of both the congregations and also church leaders.  

Nepalese congregation at the Tamil Methodist Church in Klang

The effect of this ministry is that although many migrants are not Christians when they arrive in Malaysia, by the time they leave (because they're only allowed to stay in Malaysia for a few years), they are returning to their home countries as Christians, often trained and equipped to help plant churches, or be linked with existing churches.  

Myanmar congregation at St Barnabas, Klang

It's very exiting to see how through MMK people, some of whom have never heard the Gospel before, are coming to faith in Jesus, and lives being transformed.  

Sermon Luke 8.26-39, Mission & Love

Sermon preached to the Tamil congregation at St Barnabas, Klang, Malaysia

I would like to thank Pastor Viji for giving me this great honour of being able to speak to you this morning.  I bring greetings from the Diocese of Lichfield, and my own church of St Martin's in Walsall.

If I was asked to sum up the message of the Christian Gospel in one word, that word would be love.  God's love for us, and our love for him.  Jesus' mission, and therefore OUR mission as well, is to carry this love into the world.  

From our Gospel reading today we see that:

1 God's love reaches out to all
2 God's love transforms
3 God's love sends out

1 God's Love Reaches Out

God's love reaches out to all, no one is excluded from it, it crosses the boundaries of culture, religion, race, ethnicity, gender and age.  We see this again and again in Jesus' encounters with people in the Gospel stories, such as our reading today.  

As Jesus travelled to the region of the Gerasenes, he was not only crossing the Sea of Galilee, but also crossing cultural and religious boundaries, travelling to the land of the Gentiles. 

When Jesus met people, he saw them for who they truly were, people made in the image of God, of infinite beauty and worth, precious in God's sight.  So when Jesus met the demon possessed man as he stepped off the boat, he loved him and had compassion on him.    

Just as Jesus excluded no one, and reached out to all in love and compassion, so we too are called to do the same.  To see them as God sees them.  

Mother Theresa was once asked “How can you keep serving the poor, the sick, and the dying with such vigor? What's the secret? How do you do it?”  To which she answered, "Whenever I meet someone in need, it’s really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.”

Jesus in the child abandoned by the road.
Jesus in the beggar hoping for a meal.
Jesus in the leper whose limbs have turned to dust.
"It’s him I help—him alone."

When we reach out in love, it is Christ we are serving.

2 God's Love Transforms

When Jesus met the demon possessed man, he found a man who was naked, alone, cut off and abandoned by his community.  Living among the tombs, in a place of utter desolation.  This man had no name or identity, except for what was afflicting him, the 'Legion' of demons that had invaded him.

But at the word of Jesus, this man's life was transformed.  He was restored, not just to his right mind, but to his family and community.  His life had been given back to him, he had been brought back from the dead.

Just as Jesus had power to transform this man's life, so he has power to transform our lives.  To free us from the things that enslave us, that prevent us from living the life God wants us to have, the things that rob us of our true identity as sons and daughters of God.  It is God's love at work in our lives, that achieves this transformation.  

By carrying God's love into the world, we play are part in transforming lives, transforming our community, our country and ultimately our world.  But when we consider the task facing us, we may feel daunted, can we really make a difference.  The answer is yes, one person at a time.  Again Mother Theresa said "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love." 

An old man was watching as a boy picked up a starfish which had been washed up on the beach after a powerful storm, and return the starfish to the sea.  The old man  asked the boy what he was doing, and the boy replied, "if I don't return this starfish to the sea it will die." The old man replied, "But there are thousands of starfish on this beach. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.”  The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and put it back into the ocean.  Then he turned, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!”

We may not feel we can make much difference, but one person at a time, we slowly transform this world.  We may never know the impact our actions will have one others.  

For example, the name Albert McMakin may not mean much to anyone.  But because of him hundreds of thousands of people have been led to Christ.  Because Albert McMakin was the person who persuaded a reluctant Billy Graham to attend an evangelistic meeting in 1934, where he gave his life to Christ. Billy Graham went onto become one of the greatest evangelists this world has ever seen. 

3 God's love sends out

After healing the Geneserat man Jesus instructed him to, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” 

As Jesus sent this man to proclaim what God had done for him, so Jesus sends us out into the world to proclaim his great deeds, and to carry his message of love to all people in both word and action.  Our mission field lies outside those doors, amongst our friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues, and the people we meet as we go about our business day by day.  

As we come to the Lord's table, and receive bread and wine, the symbols of God's love for us, let us rededicate ourselves to Christ's service, and to his mission in the world, a mission rooted in love.  Amen.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Orang Asli

Today I visited an Orang Asli village on Pulau Lumut, an island not far from Klang.  The Orang Asli are the indigenous people of Malaysia.  There are 18 Orang Asli tribes in Malaysia, each with their own different language and customs.  

Many of the Orang Asli have been displaced from their traditional settlements.  The villagers on Pulau Lumut have had much of their land confiscated from them to allow for redevelopment.  The Orang Asli are a very much marginalised in Malaysia.  

The Orang Asli fishing boats

The Orang Asli on Pulau Lumut earn their livelihood from fishing, although I get the impression it is a fairly subsistence way of life, living hand to mouth.  The village itself is very poor, with people living in extremely basic dwellings.  

Two of the very basic dwellings in the village

A small group of people from St Barnabas visit this village each week to provide extra maths and English tuition to the children, at the request from the village elders.  Although the children do attend school, this extra support they get is really important, as it gives them a better chance to succeed in life, and build a better life for themselves.  It also gives the children much needed hope.  The villagers have also turned to the church to help them with some of the land issues they are facing - and how the development of the island is impacting on their traditional way of life.

Some of the children who attend the tuition classes

One of the boys who attends this study group is physically disabled - because of this he has not been given the opportunities the other children have, although there is absolutely nothing with his brain, in fact he's a very bright boy.  

Aunty, one of the volunteers from St Barnabas, helping one of the children read

It was genuinely moving to see the care and compassion the people from St Barnabas have for these children.  They not only help with tuition, but also provide clothes and toys for the children, and really care for them.  It was very moving to see, and lovely to be able to spend time with the children in the village, who despite the poverty were so full of life.

Five Habits of Life Changing Groups

Last night I attended one of St Barnabas' cell groups, which was looking at what makes a good cell group, based on the course 'Making Your Small Group Work'.  

Five habits that create a grace-filled, truth telling group were mentioned:


  • Being 'for' each other
  • Encouraging each other
  • Coming alongside one another
  • Having a 'come as you are' culture
  • Feeling safe enough to be yourself
  • Accepting each other unconditionally
  • Being 'real' with each other
  • Taking relational risks with one another
  • Hebrew 10:24 - spurring one another one
  • Pushing each other to take growth steps
  • Naming areas where growth needs to happen
  • Providing resources others may need
  • Can be practical: helping move, offering child care, etc.
  • It's also about asking for help when it's needed
It was a privilege to be able to attend this group, and to share in the discussions, and to enjoy the fantastic meal at the end of the session!

Thursday, 20 June 2013

St Barnabas Church Klang

I am very impressed with the high level of community engagement and outreach that St Barnabas Anglican Church in Klang is involved in.  

The vision statement of St Barnabas was launched by the Diocesan Bishop, the Rt Revd Datuk Ng Moon Hing on the 1st January 2013.  It was the accumulation of over three years of brainstorming, information gathering and planning, as well as much prayer and hard work.

Their mission statement is:

To be a dynamic, cosmopolitan, Christ centred church caring for the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of our community and beyond.

As part of this vision statement, the church has a number of aims/objectives, which are clearly displayed on large signs within the church, so the congregation are constantly reminded of the churches vision and mission.

There are six statements in total:

St Barnabas SEEKS TO:

  • Communicate God's word through evangelism
    • Therefore we reach out beyond our congregation, inviting into communion people of different races and generations and to share the Good News of the gospel with all our neighbours. 
  • Accomplish God's vision through families
    • Therefore we equip and strengthen families to create a biblical family culture that promotes strong marriages, healthy parenting and impresses hearts of children with a love for God.
  • Demonstrate God's love through service
    • Therefore we go forth to offer Christ's compassionate love as individuals and as a congregation to serve the orphaned, the homeless, the migrant, the sick, the abused, the poor and the broken in spirit through the responsible use of our time, talents and resources.
  • Obey God's commission through mission
    • Therefore we promote and support world-wide Christian missions and endeavour to mobilise members of our own congregation for part or full-time cross-cultural mission.
  • Magnify God's name through worship
    • Therefore we come together to sing praises, hear and proclaim God's word, offer our prayers, receive Christ's forgiveness and celebrate the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion.
  • To edify God's people through discipleship
    • Therefore we nurture the body of believers to intentionally grow in their love of God and love for others through the development of personal faith, spiritual formation and Biblical understanding.
Vision/mission statements are great, but they don't mean much if it doesn't lead to action.  From the short time I've been at St Barnabas I can tell that it is a church seeking to fulfil its mandate to build God's kingdom through their various ministries.  


St Barnabas have planted four churches:
  • Kuala Selangor Anglican Centre
  • St Jude's Church, Sungei Way
  • Good Samaritan Church, Shah Alam
  • St Peter's Church, Kapar
These churches have their own ministers, who come under the authority of the Revd Vijendra Daniel at St Barnabas.  


The objective of this ministry is to reach out to the poor and needy, the marginalised, and hurting people irrespective of race and religion, assisting them not only materially but also helping them acquire benefits from the Government, NGOs and other charitable bodies.  This is clearly very important for the church, which as one of its strap lines states that St Barnabas is "A Sanctuary for the Heavy Laden."

Under the WSC St Barnabas runs a range of projects.

Sharing the Manna

Every Thursday a free breakfast is served for people in the community, but especially the underprivileged and those who find it difficult to make ends meet.

This ministry started in October 2005 and they now get between 80 to 90 people per week attending.  

This free breakfast is open to anyone within the community, and this morning I saw one Hindu lady who attends asking for prayer from the church members.  Through this ministry of loving service, it is clear that people are being led to faith

Street Feeding

Pre packed lunch is distributed to about 200 people every 4th Saturday of the month at the Organ Asli settlement at Laguna Park.  They also organise games for the children, and provide used clothes and toys.  

Food Bank

Once a month food is provides to about 40 to 50 families in Klang, Port Klang and also from St Jude's Church Sungai Way.  Many of the recipients are single mothers.


Members of the church help provide tuition to children who would are struggling, particularly in the St Barnabas Centre in Port Klang.  

Prison Ministry

This is a ministry where families of prisoners are visited, counselled and assisted financially or in kind.  


This is one of the churches main ministries, it provides a home for orphaned or vulnerable children.  

The aims of SBH is to 
  • Provide shelter for children in need
  • To cater for basic needs of the children
  • To nurture the child to his/her full potential
In 2012 SBH had 25 boys and girls in their care.  The youngest child at this time was 5 years old, the oldest 19.  SBH has 4 full time staff.  


St Barnabas also has a number of cell groups (to which about half the congregation belong).  The purpose of cell groups is to enable people to meet together regularly to:
  1. Worship
  2. Study God's Word
  3. Share testimonies
  4. Pray for one another
  5. Fellowship
  6. Evangelise to friends and neighbours
They also have a Sunday school that meet, and a Young Adult Fellowship.  


St Barnabas has a men and women's fellowship, which meet monthly.  The aim of these two groups is to support, encourage and foster deeper, meaningful relationships, to study and share God's word, and participate in the mission and evangelism of the church.  


St Barnabas also provides facilities for a school for up to 300 pupils, all of whom are refugees, and are therefore not allowed to attend public schools in Malaysia.  This school is run by Migrant Ministries Klang (MMK) which you can read about HERE.  The teachers get their salaries from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).  Not only are the children given an education, they are also given breakfast and lunch.

One of three classes that meet in the church hall

Preparing lunch for 300 children

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Migrant Ministry Klang

Today I visited Migrant Ministry Klang.  There are around two million officially registered migrants living in Malaysia, with maybe as many as three million unregistered migrants.   MMK was started in 2002 in Klang, with the aim of bringing the gospel to these migrants, but they have also started to reach out to refugees and others in need.  

Andrew Ng Teong Siew of MMK Malaysia, and Revd Vijendra Daniel

I had the opportunity to meet Andrew Ng Teong Siew, who has a real vision to see others come to know Christ.  

On the MMK website they state: 

MMK’s main purpose is to reach out to the people that God has placed at our doorsteps. We do this through various means and methods – conducting regular weekly services in each ethnic group, conducting evangelistic meetings, providing medical services, running refugee schools, holding group camps, and most recently, setting up a cottage industry to fund the needs of refugees.

Through the preaching ministry, MMK has witnessed hundreds of baptisms yearly, along with an even higher number of decisions made for Christ. The weekly Sunday Services have itself spawned to having multiple services within the week at various locations across Klang Valley.

We believe not just in conversions of souls, but also the development and discipling of future full-time workers and Christian leaders. We have started a fund to help potential candidates to pursue their calling into full time ministry.

I also met the Revd Kelvin Choi from Korea, who is working in Melaka, and is keen to see the churches serving the migrant communities there.  The work of MMK is expanding, as they see to reach more of the migrant community in Malaysia, and encourage more churches to become involved in serving migrant communities, such as they do at St Barnabas Church in Klang, where people from Myanmar meet for worship and fellowship.

For more information about MMK Malaysia please visit their Facebook page HERE.

In the afternoon I visited the Wesley Methodist School in Klang, where Revd Viji runs a Bible club for students.  90% of the students who attend this school come from non Christian households, and so it was great to see the a lively and friendly bunch of teenagers engaging creatively with studying the Bible.

In the evening we popped in to listen to the Tamil worship and Bible study service which is held in St Barnabas every Wednesday evening, and then we visited the St Barnabas Home.  This is a project launched by the church in 1997 to provide a home for children made orphans by the death of one or both of their parents, or who have been abused or abandoned, or whose parents can't care for them.  There are around 22 children living in the home at present, which is situated behind the church, and there is a school linked to the home.   Viji visits this home every Wednesday evening to talk to the children, and tell them a short Bible story, with a simple message that they can take away.  Tonight the story was Daniel and the lion's den, with the message 'Always Trust God'.

Although the facilities at the home looked rather basic, the children looked happy and were well looked after, although it's heart breaking to think of the hardships these children must have experienced in life.  As we left the home many of the children asked to receive a blessing, which was very touching to witness.

For more information about the home visit St Barnabas' web page HERE.  There is also an interesting blog about the home, with some photos HERE.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Arrival in Klang


After fourteen hours in the air, and a flight that took me via Dubai, I have finally arrived in Klang, Malaysia, and the home of the Revd Vijendra Daniel and his family, who have kindly opened up their home to me, and made me feel very welcome.  They have also introduced me to Durian, a Malaysian fruit which has a very distinctive smell and taste, it is definitely an acquired taste!

My initial impression of Malaysia is that it is a very developed country, it's also a very hot (thank goodness for air conditioning), and also a very multicultural country.  Yards from the house where I am staying you have several Christian churches, a mosque whose call to prayer can be heard over the town, a Sikh temple and a Hindu temple.

The other thing that strikes me about Malaysia is that it is a country where people take faith and belief a lot more seriously  than they do in the UK.  Whereas the UK could be described as a post Christian, or secular country, here in South East Asia belief in God is widespread, and that people take their faith seriously.

I spoke to one lady tonight, Linda, a relative of Revd Viji, who drives one hour each week to attend the women's Bible Study Fellowship, which has 200 members, the men apparently have their own group that meets separately.  Linda told me that children and teenagers also regularly attend these Bible Study groups.  There is an even larger BSF that meets in Kuala Lumpa.  It's attended by Christians from different backgrounds and denominations.    

Friday, 14 June 2013

Harwich - Celebrity Infinity

My final day with the Mission to Seafarers was spent in Harwich, visiting the cruise ship Celebrity Infinity.  Although the port of Harwich is approximately a mile from Felixstowe across the estuary (see picture below), to get there you need to travel over 30 miles by Road - rather frustrating when you're so close!

So close, yet so far.  The port of Felixstowe is on the right, and the port of Harwich on the left. 

Getting on board a cruise ship is no easy task, and we went through three sets of security before finally boarding the ship.  Celebrity Infinity is a 91,000 tonne ship, launched in 2001, which can accommodate 2170 passengers, and over 900 crew.  When I worked for the Mission to Seafarers in New Zealand I visited lots of cruise ships, and I would wonder freely around the ship meeting the crew, again things have changed hugely, and it would not be possible to do this any more. Instead we were escorted to the crew mess, where we met with some of the crew.  One of the challenges of a cruise ship is that with so many crew you can only hope to meet a few of them - even if on board for many hours.  One thing that particularly stuck me about being on board this ship was that with so many passengers and crew how were their spiritual needs met?  This is an issue on any ship, but when you have a crew of over 900 it seems even more important, because it is effectively a small floating town.  

Celebrity Infinity

The other thing that stuck me about visiting this cruise ship was how multi-cultural the crew are.  The crew come from all corners of the world, today we met people from Indonesia, the Philippines, Jamaica, Mexico and Ecuador, and I suspect there could easily have been at least 20 to 30 nationalities on board.  

In Harwich there is a small but pleasant seafarers centre, with basic facilities, which is situated on the station platform.  The centre is a few minutes walk from the cruise terminal, and it was good to see that the centre was being well used by the seafarers.

I had an interesting chat with the chaplain, the Revd Simon Davies, about the role of chaplaincy and priesthood.  Many (but not all) Mission to Seafarers Chaplain's are ordained, and when ship visiting Simon always wears a clerical collar, because he feels it often can help open up conversations.  But he did admit that it wasn't necessary to be ordained in order to do this job, because mostly the work entails visiting seafarers on board ships, helping in times of crisis, offering pastoral and practical support - important work, but not something you need to be ordained to do.  

It did make me ponder about the role of priestly ministry and chaplaincy within the Mission to Seafarers, and in what way being a priest going on board a ship may make a difference to say a lay person visiting.  This is something I imagine I'll need to continue to reflect on in the coming weeks.  I also would like to reflect in what way the spiritual needs of seafarers can be met, because this is an important aspect of the Missions work, and what prompted the Revd John Ashley to pioneer this work back in the 1830s - for the history of the Mission to Seafarers please click HERE.

It has been a fascinating week with the Mission to Seafarers, and I'd like to express my thanks to Simon Davies for allowing me to spend this week with him, and to Sister Marian and the staff at the Felixstowe Seafarers Centre who have been so welcoming.  I have loved the opportunity to reacquaint myself with the work of the Mission, and to see the changes that have taken place since I last worked for them, and how they continue to serve seafarers in ports across the world.

For information on how to support the work of the Mission to Seafarers please click HERE.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Revd Simon Davies, Port Chaplain, Felixstowe

This interview with the Revd Simon Davies was published in FAN (Flying Angel News), Spring 2013, Issue 8

Simon works at the Felixstowe Seafarers' Centre on the UK's east coast.  Felixstowe is one of the UK's busiest ports, and Simon's centre welcomes over 1,000 seafarers a month.

What's the port of Felixstowe like?

Felixstowe handles approximately 40% of the UK's container trade, which means that it deals with a lot of ships, from smaller feeder ships right up to the very larger container carriers.

What facilities does your centre have?

We've got internet-enabled computers and telephones, so people can contact their loved ones. We also offer leisure facilities, including a bar, a TV and a pool table.  For those who need time to reflect, we have a chapel and a library too.  Over in Ipswich and Harwich, we have some seafarers' cabins, which have free internet facilities and are accessible 24 hours a day.

What services do seafarers use most?

Internet provision is without doubt the most popular service, through our Wi-Fi service or the computers.  Seafarers often use Facebook, Skype and email to keep in touch with their families.  Our shop, which stocks a range of souvenirs and treats, is also pretty popular as I'm sure you can imagine!

What goes on during a typical day?

A good deal of my time is spent visiting ships.  Because of short turn-around times in port, many seafarers don't have the opportunity to leave the vessel to visit the seafarers' centre, so I look out for their welfare and find out what their needs are.

What problems do seafarers most frequently come to you with?

Many seafarers want help and advice with practical issues, such as how to get in touch with their families, but when they're given an opportunity, they will often speak of the challenges of their lives at sea.  They talk about the effects that long periods of separation from their families have on their relationships, and that distance causes stress, strain and unhappiness.  

They also talk about work issues.  Sometimes they want help concerning an unfair employment contract, which may have left them unpaid or kept on beyond their original term.  Sometimes they speak of tensions on board within the crew.  These issues are often considered 'unsafe', so they appreciate being able to share their concerns with someone who is neutral, and outside the ship's hierarchy, who can help them.

What part of your work do you enjoy the most?

Helping seafarers in practical ways is very satisfying for me.  Some ships make regular visits to our ports, and in these cases it is possible to build up better relationships with seafarers, which has proven to be mutually enriching.

Mission to Seafarers Church Newsletter

This is an article for St Martin's Church Newsletter (16th June 2013), about my time with the Mission to Seafarers in Felixstowe.  It is largely based on my two earlier blog posts.

As part of my sabbatical I am spending a week shadowing the the Revd Simon Davies, the Mission to Seafarers Chaplain to the Ports of Felixstowe, Ipswich and Harwich.  The Port of Felixstowe is one of the UK's busiest ports, handling approximately 40% of the UK's container trade, and can accommodate some of the largest container ships in the world (up to 150,000 tonnes).  

Rev Simon Davies, leaving the 143,000 tonne MSC Trieste

Over 90% of the UK's imports come via the sea.  The port of Felixstowe deals with 40% of all UK container trader.  

The Port of Ipswich in contrast handles smaller bulk carrying ships up to 10,000 tonnes, transporting goods such as cement, wheat, fertilizer, timber and other commodities.  

In Felixstowe there is a very modern attractive Seafarers Centre, run by a mixture of paid staff and volunteers, but with a quick turn around of ships, it is not always possible for the seafarers to visit this centre, so the majority of Simon's time is spent visiting the seafarers on board the ships in port.  

It is 14 years since I last worked for the Mission to Seafarers in New Zealand, and I have noticed a number of significant changes.  The first big difference is security on board ships is much tighter.  When I worked for the Mission to Seafarers, we would wonder on board the ship as we wished. Now however security is much stricter, due to the International Ship and Port Security Code or ISPS, which was introduced in the wake of 9/11.  Now you are no longer able to just wonder on board a ship, but must get permission to board, and to sign for a visitors pass.  

The other big difference is the advances in technology.  One of the main priorities of seafarers is to keep in touch with their families, who they are away from for months on end.  In the past they would visit Seafarers centres, to make cheap calls on the banks of telephones.  Now they use use mobile phones and the internet to stay in touch with relatives.  So when Simon visits ships he takes on board a selection of SIM cards, and internet cards, which the seafarers can use in their own phones to contact their relatives at home.  Simon also carries with him a laptop and free WIFI, again so seafarers can contact their families via Facebook or Skype.  It is interesting to see what a difference modern technology has made to the lives of seafarers, and the work of the mission.

Some ship visits are very brief and can last a matter of a few minutes, and other visits you can be on the ship for quite a long time.  The length of a visit depends on many different factors including how busy the crew are, when the ship is due to depart, and also the type of welcome you receive when you board a ship.  Sometimes when visiting a ship we don't get any further than the gangway, and on other ships we are invited into the mess deck, and can be offered food and drink.  Often the seafarers talk about the difficulties they face being away from their families for up to 10 months at a time.  When the seafarers do return home, there is the challenge of re-establishing relationships within the family.  I have also talked to a number of seafarers about the dangers they face from piracy.  One seafarer told me that he always prayed for bad weather when they travelled past the Somali coast, because the pirates can't operate in rough seas. 

As a nation we are very reliant on all that seafarers do, so please do remember them in your prayers, and the work of chaplain's like Simon, serving seafarers all around the world.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Port of Ipswich

Whilst the Port of Felixstowe deals with container traffic the Port of Ipswich, seven miles up the Orwell River, deals with the smaller bulk carrying ships.  Cargoes such as timber, fertiliser, cement and other items make their way to the Port of Ipswich, which can take ships up to 10,000 tonnes.  

Unloading a cargo of onions all the way from New Zealand 

Ipswich comes under the care of the Felixstowe chaplain.  Today we visited a number of ships moored in Ipswich.  Because of the nature of the cargo they carry, ships that visit Ipswich tend to have a longer turn around time, compared to the container ships that go to Felixstowe (which are in port between 12 to 24 hours maximum).  In contrast some of the ships we visited today in Ipswich had been in port for several days. Certain cargoes - such as wheat or fertiliser, requires fine weather for unloading, so rain can prolong the time some ships stay in port.

The old seafarers centre in Ipswich, due to be replaced later this week with a more modern cabin

It is not possible for seafarers in Ipswich to visit the larger and much better equipped seafarers centre in Felixstowe, so instead there is a small, and rather dilapidated cabin which provides very basic facilities, including a very small chapel, tv, chairs and a computer and internet access.  This cabin is due to be replaced this week with a more modern cabin, which should improve facilities for the seafarers in Ipswich.  Unlike the centre in Felixstowe which is open from 10am to 10pm, seafarers can gain access to the mission centre in Ipswich 24 hours a day via a special code. 

Some ship visits are very brief and can last a matter of a few minutes, and other visits you can be on the ship for quite a long time.  The length of a visit depends on many different factors, including how busy the crew are and also the type of welcome you receive when you board a ship.  Sometimes when visiting a ship we don't get any further than the gangway, and on other ships we are invited into the mess deck, and can be offered food and drink.  Today we had a very good conversation with an Indonesian cook on board one ship.  He was a lovely Christian man, who went to his cabin to retrieve his Bible which you could tell was well used, and also his daily Bible notes that he received from a chaplain in another port he had visited.  We finished this visit by asking this seafarer if he'd like us to say a short prayer for him which he gladly accepted.  Whilst you can go away from some ships wondering what if any impact your visit, occasions such as, remind you why these visits can be really appreciated.  You simply never know what may happen when you visit a ship.    

As mentioned in yesterday's blog one of the big changes that I have noticed is in the use of technology on board ships, particularly the use of mobile phones.  When the chaplain visits a ship he always carries with him SIM cards, and mobile phone top up cards.  These are always very popular, and help open up access to the ship where otherwise access may be a bit difficult, although at time the chaplain admitted it could feel as though he was an unpaid rep for the mobile phone company.  Amongst the seafarers I have met over the last two days, the length of contract varies between six to ten months at sea.  Being constantly on the move, and far away from their homes and families, it is important that seafarers have the means to keep in touch with their loved ones.    

Back in Felixstowe I had chance to chat to the Apostleship to the Sea Chaplain, Sister Marian.  It was interesting to have the opportunity to talk with her about her experiences of ship visiting, and how seafarers relate differently to her because she is a female - the shipping industry still remains largely male dominated, although we did encounter a female officer yesterday.  Sister Marian not only covers the ports of Felixstowe and Ipswich, but also ports stretching up to Lincolnshire.    

Monday, 10 June 2013

Mission to Seafarers, Felixstowe

I first heard about the Mission to Seafarers from a friend in college, which led me to work for them as a Chaplain's Assistant in Auckland, New Zealand from 1998 to 1999. I loved my time with the Mission, and in more recent years have kept up my links with them, as an honorary preacher in the Diocese of Lichfield.

As part of my sabbatical, it was always my wish to spend sometime with a Mission to Seafarers Chaplain, to see how the work has changed over the last 14 years, and to consider whether this might be something I'd consider going back to in the future.  So I am spending a week shadowing the Felixstowe Mission to Seafarers Chaplain, the Revd Simon Davies, who has been in this current post for 18 months.  

It has been really great to be back on a port, and the opportunity to visit ships, something I've really missed over the years.

The port of Felixstowe is the largest container port in the UK, handling 40% of the containers that come into Britain.  It can accommodate the largest container ships currently in use (up to 150,000 tonnes).  Although Felixstowe is facing a challenge from the new Thames port, which seeks to take some of this trade away from this Suffolk port. 

In Felixstowe there is a very attractive, modern Seafarers centre on the port.  In this centre there is a chapel, shop, bar and area to relax in.  This centre is run by a mixture of paid staff and volunteers.  

The bar and shop of the Felixstowe Seafarers Centre

Games tables and computer desks in the centre

The very attractive garden behind the seafarers centre in Felixstowe

There are two chaplains working in the port of Felixstowe, Simon Davies, the Mission to Seafarers Chaplain, and a Apostleship of the Seas Chaplain.  There used to also be a Sailors Society Chaplain, but the Sailors Society has recently withdrawn its funding for its chaplains in Britain.  The two chaplains cover the Port of Felixstowe, Harwich and Ipswich.   

Today we visited three ships, the Cornelia Maersk (91921 tonnes), 

the Opdr Cadiz (7360 tonnes) 

and the Pucon (73,934 tonnes).  There were two things that really struck me about today's visit, compared to my experiences in New Zealand.


The first big difference is security on board ships is much tighter.  When I worked for the Mission to Seafarers (before 9/11), we would just wonder on board the ship as we wished.  Now however security is much tighter.  This is due to the International Ship and Port Security Code or ISPS, which was introduced in the wake of 9/11, over fears about terrorism.  Now you are no longer able to just wonder on board a ship, but must get permission to board, and to sign for a visitors pass.  


The other big difference is the advances in technology.  One of the main priorities of seafarers is to keep in touch with their families, who they are away from for months on end.  In the past they would visit Seafarers centres, to make cheap calls on the banks of telephones.  Now people use mobile phones and the internet to stay in touch with relatives.  So when Simon visits ships he takes on board a selection of SIM cards, and internet cards, which the seafarers can use in their own phones to contact their relatives at home.  This means that the banks of telephones in the Seafarers Centre which were in so much use, now are not required in the same way.  Simon also carries with him a laptop and free WIFI, again so seafarers can contact their families via Facebook or Skype.  

A lot of my time when I was a Chaplain's Assistant, when not ship visiting, was spent making calls on behalf of seafarers, it is interesting to see how modern technology has changed this aspect of the Mission to Seafarers work.  

On board the Cornelia Maersk, we had our best conversation of the day, talking to a veteran seafarer from the Philippines, aged 61.  He talked about some of the challenges he has faced being at sea much of his life.  One of the biggest challenges is how being away from his wife and family, has made it difficult to discipline his children, and that he has missed much of their growing up.  

His wife and children have been so used to not having him around, there is always a challenge when he does return home about re-establishing relationships within the family.

The ship he is on travels between Europe and Asia, and regularly travels via the Suez Canal, and the pirate invested waters off Somalia.  He told me that he had been lucky, and he had never been threatened by pirates, but he said he always prayed for bad weather when they travelled past the Somali coast, because the pirates can't operate in rough seas.  Although he's on a large ship, it brought home to me the dangers seafarers face from piracy, and how vulnerable they are from attack.  To come under attack from pirates must be a truly terrifying experience.  

I was also reminded to, from our ship visits, that although ships are busy places, they are also the home for seafarers, and so when boarding a ship, you are not just boarding someone's place of work, but also their home, and respecting this is extremely important.

It has been a fascinating day, and it has been interesting to see how the work of the Mission to Seafarers has changed during the last decade or so, but also how the ship visiting remains at the heart of what this job is all about.