by Jason Zuidema, NAMMA
NAMMA In Discussion – Rev. Mark Wodka of Canaveral Port Ministry spoke with NAMMA’s Dr. Jason Zuidema about some best practices for online prayer for seafarers. Canaveral started the ‘Waves of Hope’ daily Facebook chapel time at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as a time of encouragement for seafarers.
Below a transcript of the interview [edited lightly for clarity and with punctuation]:
Jason Zuidema: Welcome to this conversation. I’m joined today by Mark Wodka who’s the chaplain and executive director to Canaveral Port Ministry in Florida. Welcome, Mark, to this conversation.
Mark Wodka: It’s a privilege to be with you today.
Jason Zuidema: So today we’re talking about using new technology to bring worship and other pastoral resources to seafarers. This has become a big thing certainly in the context of the pandemic but it was already true before the pandemic for many ministries. Since the pandemic, lots of ministries have put new resources and learned new experiences in this space. Today what I’d like to do is just learn from you learn from your story. How did you get where you are in terms of putting pastoral resources online and what have you learned? What can you share with others? Could you tell us a bit more about Canaveral Port Ministry? What did you do previously and then why was it so important to start pushing things out online?
Mark Wodka: So prior to the pandemic, our main focus in our port was cruise ships that would come in and we have a center where crew would get be able to come and enjoy free wi-fi and being able to pick up packages. Churches would provide lunch for them we would take them shopping – that kind of thing. In addition to meeting those physical needs, we also would provide chapel services. We typically would have one to maybe ten at the most people come in for a chapel service and it was always a delight to be able to open God’s Word and maybe do some singing – that kind of thing. Everything came to a grinding halt in March of 2020. We began to really seek the Lord about what we do now.
One of the things that became very apparent was that we would take advantage of our social media presence and offer a daily Facebook live chapel. We had a lot of discussion, should it be once a week, three times a week, and it just felt like at the time God was leading us to a daily chapel service. It just happened that it was about a week before Easter of that year that we began, so we had a little bit of a steep learning curve. We chose OBS ‘open broadcasting software’ as our main engine for making it happen. OBS links with Facebook it’s a wonderful free product that is available that allows you to add videos and just all different kinds of things. It’s pretty simple to learn, but we found out at the beginning that if you don’t have the microphone settings set properly it can be all kinds of ugly. Now that we’ve had an opportunity to learn those lessons we’ve taken it up quite a bit. The wonderful thing is that we’ve been able to include pastors as presenters. One of our former chaplains is now serving in Thailand he was doing twice a month. Now he’s doing once a month. We have once a month at least we’ll hear from Ecki Breitenmoser in Germany, he will present for us. And then we have our staff chaplains that each have a day of the of the week. So it allows us to invite new people to present. I especially love it when pastors will take advantage of that and see the need for good teaching online.
So after we were done with Easter, we said okay what are we going to do now. Well, let’s just continue right through the Book of Acts. Then after Acts, I really had a sense that we should go back to the beginning so we started out with Genesis. And we made it through Easter and then we kind of ran out of gas, so to speak. We had a changeover in personnel and it just seemed like we needed something fresh, so we jumped to Matthew. There’s nothing like a Gospel to breathe new life into a project like that. I’ll tell you, it has been something that most of our staff would say has given them additional purpose through this pandemic. Also, the number of people – it went up to maybe close to a thousand people who were watching at first because of the pandemic – and then as people got busier and busier I would say now it’s probably between 100 and 200 people who normally would watch a video. So that’s still a huge impact considering that in our chapel service we might feel like, “Oh wow! we had 10 people in chapel today, can you believe it?” What a wonderful thing to be able to bring God’s Word. We try to keep it to half an hour total, just like as if people were at our chapel. We try to be very sensitive to the time factor just because we know people don’t have unlimited time to watch. Also, the purpose isn’t to go into a Greek discord in all of the understanding of the New Testament, but to give bite-sized pieces if you will. It’s in the context of people maybe are watching where English is not their first language and so then they can understand God’s Word better. Then the other thing that we have is the ability to bring music into it. So we had somebody on staff who’s a very talented musician. My wife likes to sing. So then that gives more opportunity for people to join in and be a part of it on the worship side. That’s been neat -some of its acapella, some of its guitar, we’ve had a few seafarers that have recorded songs for us and it’s always a joy to have a good amount of variety. Some of it’s very traditional, some of it’s new, but just to have so many people participate, it’s been a joy.
Jason Zuidema: I’d like to break it down and know what you’ve learned in the various aspects of it. What have you learned technically – you mentioned the software – but also hardware. What are some of the key things, if you’re giving advice to other people who are starting up, what would be some of the key advice in terms of hardware and setting up practically?
Mark Wodka: One of the things that we ended up getting which took our production up a notch was a good microphone. The microphone at the time was just a huge improvement in the audio capabilities. My encouragement to everybody is to think about what kind of setting are you going to have and that will reflect the kind of audio equipment that you need to get. It doesn’t have to be expensive – I know for us our first microphone was probably $75 and it’s a boom microphone. Unfortunately, that sits right in front of your face, sometimes you might want to hide behind it, but if you don’t speak directly into it then the sound isn’t as clear. One of the things we invested in recently which was 50 or 60 dollars was a lapel microphone that connects through USB. The nice thing about that lapel microphone is that it really picks up the sound well and you could even move in the room and it doesn’t change the quality. With the boom microphone if you look down to read it might sound great, but if you look up or turn to the side all of a sudden everybody’s kind of like, oh, your voice dropped out and that’s just unfortunate reality. But with the lapel microphone, eventually, if we get to the point where we are offering chapels live then the instructor doesn’t have to be or the speaker doesn’t have to be glued in front of the camera. They can actually be away from the camera and present to the group that’s there. And it just seems more natural that way. Having that consistent quality of voice is very important.
With Facebook, they do make closed captioning available. We thought at one time oh we have to pay for that. I don’t know how it works but now it’s free and it seems like it’s pretty accurate as well where in the past if you had your own video you could go in and tweak the wording if it was off a little bit. I don’t even know now how it works, I just know that they do seem to do a good job. I guess Google has caught up or whoever is caught up with the ability to understand what people are saying better.
We bought a camera that basically rests on the front of the monitor and it was a highly rated camera, but once again I don’t think it was expensive. It was probably between one and two hundred dollars that was a fairly early purchase that we made. I don’t know what cameras cost, but it’s a conferencing camera we thought perhaps with the microphone that would work the microphone, but it wasn’t good enough quality to pull it off. There have been times when we’ve used more than one presenter at a time, so it’s very important to have multiple microphones for them. These are all things that you kind of need to consider, but I do believe that you could get two lapel microphones maybe have a Bluetooth microphone that’s handheld. There are all different kinds of solutions. You just have to consider what works best for your particular style of presenting and for us that’s worked well until now. Now that we have the lapel mic, I think we can do the free-range teaching if you will.
Jason Zuidema: The second level then is the software and streaming platform. Not only the editing software but more where you’re streaming it in terms of where you choose to stream it. You’ve talked about doing Facebook Live. Why Facebook live? Why not Youtube or whatever other streaming services are there? Why do you think Facebook Live was the right place for you to engage with the audience that you wanted to engage with?
Mark Wodka: Facebook was our primary social media device if you will. So, that was a natural way to engage people. We weren’t engaging very many people with Youtube. Then if you start with another platform, then you basically are down to advertising on your website, maybe Instagram. Given that we had so many connections through Facebook that was natural for us. I think at this point we are actually downloading all of our Facebook videos and then uploading them to Youtube, just for the flexibility of organizing them on our website. The only problem is that’s a fairly onerous task of keeping up with that. So, I just keep in mind that maybe it’s important. We thought it would be nice to offer our videos in a searchable context and Facebook does not provide for that. You can scroll and all that but if you want to find a particular passage or a particular speaker, it’s not really user-friendly. So ultimately our plan is to have it all embedded on our website from Youtube and then people can scroll and look it up by a passage or if they happen to like a certain speaker. Our young chaplain that we had, who’s now a navy marine chaplain, was always the popular one. If you know people want to just watch him, that’s okay, you know. But that is something to consider. There is a way in OSB to send it to two platforms at once and I wish we had started that a long time ago. It’s something that would have made it easier, so we wouldn’t have to download and upload.
Jason Zuidema: We’ve talked about the technical side of things and the platform that you’re on, but I suppose most for me most important is engaging with your audience. How do you know that you’re engaging with seafarers? What do you do with that engagement once you see that seafarers are liking the content or sharing the content or more importantly asking questions or engaging with you? What’s the follow-up with that?
Mark Wodka: admittedly, that’s probably our biggest weakness. We had talked at one time of having a follow-up like Zoom session, but then we realized we’re doing good just to afford the 30 minutes in our day to provide the teaching. We often will ask people to connect with us through our email, through chatting, not in the video chat but sending a message to our Facebook messenger. You know so we are encouraging people to come contact us and let us know if they have questions, if they need more information, if they have made a commitment or if they have a prayer request. Those are all things that we want to do. We’d love to spend time praying with crew if they reached out to us. I think most of our chaplains are connected with different people who are watching on a regular basis and are hearing about those on an individual basis. When we do hear about it through our main email address then we do try to of course respond to them and pray as a group and see what we can do for them.
Jason Zuidema: This is no doubt designed to bring pastoral care to seafarers, but how important has this been actually for your team? So not just for the people you’re trying to serve but also yourselves, your group? How does this affect the morale of your work together as a team?
Mark Wodka: So, one of the things that we felt was lacking in the beginning [of the pandemic] especially was hope. So that’s why we call our program “Waves of Hope”. We were trying to bring in waves, you know, just try to keep it all together. Our organization, our group was committed to persevering through everything. We weren’t going to take time off even without cruise ships. There would certainly be cargo ships coming into our port and their needs would be at a higher level. What the Facebook chapels did is gave us a rallying point to make sure that we were all in the Word. As we were going through God’s Word together, we were learning things and we were reminded that there is a ‘scarlet thread’. They talk about it in the Old Testament, where it refers to Jesus, and throughout the whole Bible. We were looking for that because he’s our ultimate hope. One of our most seasoned chaplains said if it hadn’t been for ‘Waves of Hope’ that he would have really struggled. The fact was that he needed purpose and so it gave us that rallying cry together and it helped us to sit down and decide where are we going next and what are we going to focus on. Having God’s Word as the primary focus has been a huge stabilizing factor for our ministry.
Jason Zuidema: I note at this time that you’re serving with Port Ministries International and by that have a national and international view of port ministry from that position. I’m wondering how important you think this online chaplaincy and this online worship should be for other chaplaincies and other port ministries? How would you encourage them if they’re perhaps not as engaged in this? Is this something that’s just good for Canaveral or should this be something that other port ministries should be doing as well?
Mark Wodka: I really believe that everybody has some kind of circle of influence, if you will, and until we got on Facebook we didn’t know how great our circle of influence was. Since we’ve been involved with doing people’s packages, we’ve been able to get some of their email addresses. We’ve reached out just by sending out a crew newsletter as well about once a quarter. Those are different ways of reaching out to people through the digital world. I don’t know what each port ministry’s digital influence is, but I would just encourage you to pray about what it is that could be developed, what God may be calling you to develop right now. Focus on that. If it’s something that you could provide, even just posting things on your Facebook or Instagram, you know, passages or stories, updates about your ministry, people really want to know. They want to have hope that the world’s not over yet and somebody cares about them. The fact that people can reach out to you is huge. We had one volunteer who would get on and do an introduction about once a week and then he was promising people everything. And I told him you can offer to pray, but you know we have helped people financially, but we can’t promise that over the air, because I just don’t know that that’s realistic.
I don’t know what’s realistic for anybody else, but I do believe that God has a purpose in all of this and that through this that there are opportunities we wouldn’t have had otherwise. So just look at what your opportunities are and take that first step. I would have never guessed that we would be proficient with OBS software to do Facebook Live, but God got us where we needed to be and it’s worked out. There’s still days when the video for the song is upside down and that’s very embarrassing or the microphone’s not working. It’s Facebook live – that’s what you have to tell yourself. Do your best and just trust that the Lord is going to use it. There are so many pretty excellent resources out there like the Bible Project that you don’t have to come up with everything yourself. It allows you to put things out there without copyright infringement. You need to look into that also. You need to be aware in America that you have to have a CCLI license for just doing streaming, and so learn what you need and then do it in a way that will honor the Lord. I believe he’ll bring about good fruit from it.
Jason Zuidema: Mark Wodka, chaplain and executive director at Canaveral Port Ministry, thank you so much for being on this conversation. It’s really an encouragement to be together with you.
Mark Wodka: It’s a privilege. Thank you for letting me join in today.