by Susan Huppert, NAMMA
From the largest to the smallest, outreach to seafarers is a Christmas priority.
As we celebrate Christmas, the seafarers of the world who provide the tinsel and traditional trimmings for us will be lacking their own. No family gatherings or Christmas morning delight for those living at sea. That’s why Christmas giving to seafarers matters to each of them.
At the Norfolk Seamen’s Friend Society, a retired pastor, now serves as chaplain to those who dock at the Norfolk International Terminals. Mariano Biazon began volunteering five years ago. Today he continues his commitment to care for seafarers where three ships dock per week. He wants to meet them face-to-face.
In Norfolk, where increasing amounts of cargo continue to flow, there is no seafarer’s center. Chaplain Biazon operates from his home. Although his outreach is small in comparison to some, the value of connecting with those working on the ships is critical. During the Christmas season, he and his family and friends set up shop in his garage to prepare gifts for seafarers who dock at the terminals of the port. He finds that caring for those who live and work in isolation cannot be overlooked.
“We try to meet any available needs,” said Biazon.
This year, the Norfolk Seamen’s Friend Society will receive a $400 gift from the ITF Seafarer’s Trust, through the North American Maritime Ministry Association to assist with their Christmas giving.
“We are so glad to be a recipient. We are very fortunate,” said the chaplain. “Thanks to NAMMA, the ITF and the International Christian Maritime Association, we are going to give 200 ditty bags away this year.”
The outreach has only a tiny core of volunteers. Yet, Biazon, retired from 22 years serving a congregation, says as long as he is able he will continue to do the port ministry.
The turnaround time for the vessels is short. Some only remain in port 24 hours. Many seafarers cannot get off their ship. Biazon senses the anxiety of the crew when he meets them to deliver Christmas cheer.
“They are very busy, but they make time,” he said. “We sing some carols together. I give them the gifts and they are very happy.”
Thema Aspiras, a Filipino businesswoman, has volunteered for the Seamens’ Friend Society for more than five years and serves as a board member for the outreach. She understands the plight of the seafarers from her personal experience.
“We used to go on board and transport seafarers before the pandemic. Since then, we are not able,” she said. “Only pastor Biazon and his wife go now and I am glad that they do that. I support the Christmas giving 100 percent. The seafarers so look forward to that.”
As cargo continues to move around the globe, seafarers leaving Norfolk will travel a bit lighter in heart, knowing someone cared this Christmas.