PMI and Texas Port Ministry Celebrate Milestones

Article audio (courtesy of Don Sheetz)

by Susan Huppert, NAMMA

Port Ministries International and Texas Port Ministry are celebrating 40 and 50 years of service respectively. Each notes successful groundwork and continued flexibility as keys to their longevity.

Outreach to seafarers happens in almost unlimited ways. Chaplains, drivers and ship visitors often feel called to their specific work. Such was a young Baptist pastor when the foundational work among seafarers was laid in his neighborhood.   

“It was at the Third Street Baptist Church,” said Rev. John Vandercook, a noted forerunner in the outreach to seafarers during the early 1960s.

He wrote, how from the front door of the small church he pastored, he saw ships at the nearby docks of the Julia St. wharf near the French Quarter. Concern for those onboard never passed. As Vandercook began meeting seafarers, one after another described their spiritual need. Compelled, he began providing the care they longed for in his home. The young pastor witnessed the need and visualized an evangelical ministry specific to seafarers. He shared his concern with his denominational leaders. The growing awareness led to the incorporation of a non-profit corporation to meet the needs of international seafarers.

Footprints of prior spiritual care on the New Orleans waterfront began as early as 1823 when a few committed individuals held a worship service and about 200 seafarers attended.  The foundation of the New Orleans Bethel Union Society was established in April of that year with the Bethel flag hoisted over a dedicated schooner to signify where and when regular services were held. Methods are always changing, yet the significance of the seafarer remains at the core of outreach.

In 1965, Vandercook helped lay the groundwork of Southern Baptist Seafarers Ministers Fellowship. In 1983, the work was renamed and incorporated as Port Ministries International. Just beyond its 40 years, the organization continues its evangelical outreach and extends care to include the boarder port communities where its members serve. Some ports have teams of workers while others are sole operators. All benefit from the comradery found in PMI.

Mark Wodka, Director of Canaveral Port Ministry, Fla. is a 13-year PMI member and a board member. He attributes the longevity of PMI to its spiritual aspect.

“The strength of PMI is the fellowship, spiritual enrichment and encouragement found there,” said Wodka.

Aside of their shared mission to seafarers PMI stresses the care of those who serve.

“PMI offers a phenomenal opportunity to network and share resources as we work to include more international members for the extended care of seafarers,” said Rev. Philip Vandercook, president of Global Maritime Ministries in the port of New Orleans and long-time member of PMI.

“PMI is a group of evangelical port workers. Sharing the great commission is the core of our identity. It is the reason we do what we do,” said Vandercook.

Its mission clearly hinges on advancing the kingdom of God. Through equipping and assisting port chaplains around the world they strive to meet the spiritual needs of seafarers with practical care as an outgrowth of their relationships with Christ.   

How they practice their port ministries is flexing. Its vision now includes further partnership with other organizations in the industry, more intentional cooperation, sharing resources and recruitment according to Vandercook.

“PMI has always had the characteristic of encouragement,” said Wodka. “I like everyone to be informed about what’s available. I am open to where we can provide support.”

Texas Port Ministry, Freeport, Texas, is celebrating a significant history also.

Director Chris Moore, a 10-year board member of Texas Port Ministry is two years into the directorship of the 50-year-old ministry in the Freeport Harbor community. TPM has continued its effectiveness at the waterfront thanks to solid footings and committed leadership along the way.  Moore confirms the value of PMI and the North American Maritime Ministry Association.

“I have learned and gained much through the conferences of each organization. People are gracious to help. Co-operating with amazing people across the globe helps as we grow,” he said.   

The Texas mission to seafarers also records humble beginnings of faith-filled men. In 1974, the port was more open with fewer gates and clearances allowing seafarers to move freely from their ships. Moore recounts the story of two men from Baptist churches who initially happened to notice seafarers in their community.  The two approached the Gulf Coast Baptist Association executive board.

“We need to take care of these seafarers,” they reportedly said.

As a result, a house located on the East end of Freeport began operating as a Seamen Center.

Today, 1,200 ships dock at the Freeport Harbor annually with about 22 seafarers each. Their care remains primary. In addition, concern and care for truckers and port workers was added 12 years ago. The ministry center, now located just beyond the port gate, serves them with a Mother Teresa point of view, said the director. Every soul matters.

“Even though we are small, we still have the great commission,” said Moore.

In the Freeport Harbor, forty volunteers from 20 churches help keep the Texas Port Ministry personal and relevant as the original commitment continues.

Photo: Rev. John Vandercook visits the docks in New Orleans


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