The Vancouver, B.C., skyline seen from Burrard Inlet is beautifully lit at night—and never so brightly or so welcoming as at Christmas time. But hundreds of sailors aboard the ships unloading and loading cargo in the Vancouver ports will never get onto the city streets. For nearly 50 years, including this year, the Christian Reformed Church’s Ministry to Seafarers has been making sure these sailors receive Christmas hospitality.
On a December weekend volunteers from The Tapestry, a CRC in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond, gathered to wrap over 1,500 gifts. They were joined by volunteers from partnering ministries: the Anglican Mission to Seafarers and the Roman Catholic Apostleship of the Sea.
Purchased with money donated from supporting churches or arriving from sponsors ready-to-wrap, the gifts include warm clothing and toiletries. Toques, especially hand-knit ones, are a favorite gift both to give and receive. The Port of Vancouver hosted the packing party, donating the souvenir gift bags. They will be delivered on Christmas Eve.
The CRC’s Seafarers ministry is nearly 50 years old, having begun in 1970. Gary Roosma has served as chaplain for the past two years. Roosma said gift-giving is not unique to the Port of Vancouver but is part of seafarer ministries in ports around the world. Sailors eagerly anticipate this small yet significant gesture, and for Roosma it’s a highlight of the ministry year.
A few volunteers and other chaplains join him on Dec. 24, boarding a small boat laden with the wrapped gifts. A local harbor company donates the driver and time. As they are welcomed on the anchored or docked ships, the small group offers a Christmas blessing. Roosma said they are often invited to offer a prayer or lead an impromptu service. In 2017, an all-Christian crew from the Philippines asked him to return on Christmas Day. Roosma not only led worship but was invited to join in a Christmas feast.
Roosma has also heard the poignant and bittersweet side of Christmas at sea. One sailor shared how he looked forward to summers with his family, “but in the 14 years of my daughter’s life I have never been home for Christmas.” Roosma understands that gifts and visit don’t replace home. “But we desire to spread the love and joy of Christ’s birth and offer something special in the name of Jesus,” he said.