On a typical winter’s day, Rev. Gerald Van Oyen might share a Bible with a Chinese sea captain or join in on a Skype conversation between a Russian seafarer and his wife.
Rev. Gerald Van Oyen (center, with clerical collar) poses with a ship’s crew and fellow volunteers.
Van Oyen, a retired Christian Reformed pastor, has spent the past eight years volunteering as a chaplain at port ministries in Florida.
Van Oyen’s current post, Anchor House, is a nondenominational ministry at a deep seawater port near Tampa, Fla. The ministry provides a small shop, meals, computers, high-speed internet, telephones, phone cards, a game room, Bibles in 53 different languages, and free rides to town.
Often, much of a ship’s crew must stay on board because they don’t have visas. So Van Oyen, 80, finds out what language or languages are spoken on a ship. Then he seeks permission to board the ship to lead a worship service and distribute Bibles. He assembles a worship bulletin and includes a photo of the ship on the cover. In the service, the scripture reading is in the language of the crew members. Seafarers appreciate this personal touch, he said, and the bulletin becomes a keepsake. He gives out Bibles and follows up on personal conversations with a Bible study that he sends by email.
Volunteers from Bradenton (Fla.) CRC also assist with the ministry.
“Ninety-seven percent of the [seafarers] we talk to are glad to talk to us,” said Van Oyen. “At the end of their visit, they almost always write us a note, saying ‘Man, we’ve never been treated so well.”