In April, Ministry Associate Michelle DePooter welcomed chaplains Rev. Adelar Schunke and Father Samuel Fonsenca from the Brazilian city of Santos, São Paulo.
DePooter is the Christian Reformed chaplain for the Ministry to Seafarers in Montreal. The chaplains are participating in a “twinning project” through the International Committee on Seafarer’s Welfare. DePooter visited Brazil in 2008.
DePooter frequently visits ships in port. She said that the sailors miss their families very much. When they come into the Seafarers’ Centre, communication with families is a priority. “We sell more phone cards than we can count, and we don’t keep track of the number of Bibles and videos we give away, but they are numerous as well,” DePooter said.
Harsh working conditions, sickness, and even death are common on board ships. Schunke told of a time when a death occurred at sea. When the ship arrived in Santos, Schunke and others led a memorial service for the deceased sailor. He said, “The peace that came upon the men was visible on their faces.”
Crime, disease, and prostitution are prevalent in the busy South American ports, and there is little law enforcement. Seafarer centers provide a safe haven for sailors to relax, get medical attention, play games, and meet new friends.
Fonsenca travels across South America to promote ministry to seafarers. Port ministry in South America is new, but churches are enthusiastically joining in. Through exchange programs such as this one, chaplains are encouraged in the challenging work they do.