Christmas in the Port of New Orleans

Article audio (courtesy of Don Sheetz)

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

The vision of the Port of New Orleans, La. is to advance global connections to exceed the needs of tomorrow.

Within this port community is Global Maritime Ministries, a Christian outreach to the world of seafarers. The purpose of the mission mirrors that of the port it serves. It seeks to advance global connections among the world of seafarers, one personal contact at a time.

Concern for each international seafarer’s well-being and the family structures they represent is central to their work.

Robert Roussel, Port Chaplain for the Reserve, La. location, serves the river parishes of the ministry.

“The Gospel is the major drive in what we do,” he said.

This motivation is carried out in a variety of ways. Among them is the Christmas gift program of the port outreach which began in 1962 by Rev. John Vandercook.  In the New Orleans port, he first met the physical and social needs of seafarers. His work led to the establishment of a not-for-profit corporation in 1965.  The sound footings still provide volunteers of all ages opportunities to participate in outreach, specifically during the Christmas gift program. 

This year, children’s Sunday school classes at the First Baptist Church of Reserve filled 120 Christmas stockings. The ministry plans to give 1,000 gift stockings away during a 6-week period this year.  

“We are doing much better now than prior to the pandemic,” said Roussel. “People want to get involved.”  

Thanks to donations from corporate partners, law firms, financial institutes, churches and individuals, the mission can include Bibles, books, journals, engraved key chains, personally written Christmas cards and candies.

Roussel recounts a visit he had on a ship with a mixed crew of 13 Chinese and eight Burmese crew members. As a rule, Chinese and Burmese seafarers speak little English. The chief officer was very busy but “his face lit up immediately” with excitement that someone came to see them. When the chaplain delivered the gifts he explained the reason for Christmas, a message that with prayer will sail with them.

“It is exciting once you see they realize it is for them,” said the chaplain. “You get a chance to communicate with someone without them talking. They were really appreciative to know someone loves and cares for them.”

New Orleans is Louisiana’s only international container port. It is located about 100 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, on the Mississippi River. It is the sixth largest cruise port in the United States.

Aside from the cruise industry, the more quickly cargo moves, the better for business. Turn-around times for cargo vessels are from 12-24 hours. Contact with seafarers is extremely important if you seek to care for them. Global Maritime Ministries operates with centers in Port of New Orleans, Port of South Louisiana and Reserve continues to advance its personal global connections at Christmas and every opportunity it gets.

It’s encouraging to see you can give a small gift and make a difference,” said Roussel. “That’s rewarding.”

Photo: Global Maritime Ministries Facebook


NAMMA members receive a print copy of The MARE Report, NAMMA’s annual magazines for seafarer’s welfare professionals