by Kevin Walker, NAMMA
Our ministry’s newest generation shared a week of discussion, worship, and fellowship at NAMMA’s school in the Houston International Seafarers’ Center (HISC) this February 12-17, 2023. This was the second in-person course since the COVID-19 lockdowns, and the first ‘normal’ one, with last year’s having taken place in sweltering June due to Omicron postponements. It is always encouraging to see new workers in seafarers’ welfare and hear them talk about their work with colleagues, many for the first time.
The course material covered the unique challenges of seafarers’ welfare: religion and seafaring, working with union partners, ecumenical relationships and the organizational side of maritime ministry, and a detailed exploration of the Maritime Labour Convention, 2006, among other things. Dcn. Jeff Willard, a former student of the school, spoke on counseling and active listening, and Capt. Mahesh Bedre of GMB Shipping spoke about working with NAMMA and the HISC to get thousands of seafarers affordable vaccinations.
More so than in previous years, there was also a focus on the pragmatics of supporting a ministry: on Monday, anthropologist Jeni Brett presented on the nature and motivations of voluntary work in seafarers’ welfare; and on Friday, HISC’s Dana Blume and NAMMA’s Jennifer Koenig presented on fundraising strategy.
Worship and fellowship remained important cornerstones of the programming as well, giving students an opportunity to build relationships between their organizations and to reflect on shared purpose. This also took the form of recreation, with a trip to the Sam Houston Monument and a boat tour of the port, along with several group meals. Tex-Mex, Cajun, local seafood, and (Texas) BBQ were all on the menu – Dcn. Willard, discussing the role of health and diet in a chaplain’s self-care, noted that the Houston School is always a bit of a ‘cheat week’ for him.
Students came to the HISC from near and far. A majority were from NAMMA’s core of Canada and the US, but along with them was the new director for the Bermuda Sailors Home (also a NAMMA member), and three of our partners through ICMA from the Mission to Seafarers UK. As the HISC is an important ecumenical hub in a busy port, many were also with local ministries, including the Chinese-language Lifeline to Seamen and the brown-water ministry of the Seamen’s Church Institute. Volunteers with HISC itself were also in attendance, and they, along with the HISC chaplains and staff, took good care of the rest of us with a place to meet, transportation around the area, and of course food.
On a personal note, this was also my first time sharing leadership of the course with NAMMA Executive Director, Jason Zuidema, who had to leave early to prepare for another course and left me to wrap things up – I am particularly grateful to the students, and to the HISC staff, for making it all so easy. This was a good, thoughtful group of students, with interesting questions and careful engagement with the material. We look forward to hearing more from them, at the Seattle conference or through the NAMMA network, and we look forward to meeting yet more next year.