The young people who spent Sunday afternoons singing to sailors aboard ships in the Port of Montreal in the early 1960s could not have known that their outreach would grow into the Ministry to Seafarers now celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Gail Van Eyk was one of those young people from First Christian Reformed Church in Montreal, Que. “Every Sunday after church, that was our mission as a young people’s group, and we loved it. We wanted to make them feel at home,” recalled Van Eyk. She remembers those afternoons very well, laughing at memory of how difficult it was to climb aboard in a skirt.
Rev. Hans Uittenbosch was the first chaplain when the ministry was established by the Montreal church in 1965. “I wanted to start a ministry to those passing by,” said Uittenbosch. “Over 76 different nationalities came through the port. We would provide a Bible in [people’s] own language. It was an exciting ministry; a lot of people came to know Christ and were baptized.”
The ministry was focused on building personal contact with the seafarers. That is still the focus today for the ministry—now known as M2S. The ministry is supported by Classis Eastern Canada and Classis Quinte (regional groups of churches).
“When the ships come in, the chaplains make first contact. Most of the ministry happens on the ships, said Michelle De Pooter, the ministry’s current chaplain.
While the focus of the ministry is unchanged, the way the ministry is delivered has changed. For many years, M2S had its own centre. However, as container shipping developed, ships were in the port for much shorter periods with fewer sailors aboard. In 2001, M2S moved to Mariner’s House, a space now shared by several denominations.
When communication was only possible through letter writing, mail would come to the center and was delivered to the sailors when they came into port. “Now with email, texting, and skyping, we facilitate communication by offering phone cards, free Wi-Fi, and computers to use,” said DePooter.
More than 1,000 ships come through the Port of Montreal annually. Last year, M2S staff and volunteers made 1,600 visits to those ships, providing hospitality and meeting practical needs. De Pooter says, “We share the love of Jesus through the things we do.”