Port Ministries International Celebrates 40 Years

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Port Ministries International celebrates 40 years of service to seafarers by equipping port chaplains at its annual gathering in Mobile, AL.

Mobile was chosen to host this year’s anniversary PMI conference because PMI was formed there in 1983. A proclamation from the mayor of Mobile was given in recognition of the 40th anniversary.

Over 40 people including port chaplains, directors, volunteers and families representing 12 port ministries met June 27-30, 2023, to benefit from the support and encouragement of PMI.  Those serving international seafarers and their respective port communities gained insight and encouragement from spiritual care and professional enrichment. Keynote speaker, Dr Ken Fielder, Director of Worldview Ministries provided insightful information as it pertains to discipleship in cross-cultural settings and gave attendees an opportunity to return to the basics.

“It was a good way for us to re-center,” said Mark Wodka, PMI past president, representing the Canaveral Port Ministry in Florida.  

In addition, Dr. Thomas Wright presented “Prayer and Ministry that makes a Difference” to the network of participants. Scheduled daily devotions, joint worship and a Gospel concert nurtured camaraderie and spiritual support. 

Chaplain Robert Kerry Ash, Director of Gonzales Seafarers’ Center oversees the ministry reaching 70 miles of the lower Mississippi. The center serves security, dock workers, barge workers and those on ships included in the 35 ports in his designated care. This year was his second year at the PMI conference.

“It was an excellent mix of sessions and downtime,” he said. Ash found the time networking with those from other ministries most beneficial.

“Learning what others have tried, what has worked and what has not is valuable,” said Ash, who is in his sixth year of ministry to seafarers. 

Following the years of ministry during the COVID-19 pandemic, with its adaptations and limitations, joining with others who share the same ministry goals was refreshing. Chaplain Mike Hayes from Texas Port Ministry found the conference uplifting.

“It is encouraging to know you are not alone in this work,” said Hayes who has attended previous PMI conferences.

Along with dynamic preaching, he too found the networking with those from other centers most valuable.

“How we can improve our ministry is most important.”

Improving ministry was important as was addressing areas of growth personally.

Dr. Chuck Kelley, former president of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary brought spiritual truth to a settling point as he spoke about his experiences in a leadership role during crisis times like Hurricane Katrina and his personal challenges as his wife battled cancer.

“He shared amazing things which instilled how to not lose sight in the midst of the trial,” said Wodka who served as past president of PMI.

“If we do not lose sight of who we are [and who God is] we can offer hope in the midst of struggles.”

Special events such as a tour of the U.S.S. Alabama battleship provided a historic connection to life at sea before members returned to their home ports.

Photo: PMI Conference group photo (Facebook)


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