Seamen remembered during holiday season

December 19, 2011 8:30:12 PM PST
Every year, thousands of seafarers sail into the Port of Houston, the largest port in the United States. The months at sea can be lonely on board the ship. But as they arrive here from all over the world, they find they are not alone, especially during the holiday season, thanks to the apostles of the sea.

Everyday, ships move in and out of the Port of Houston. This time of year, as the cargo is moving off the ships, there's something else being moved on. They come in much smaller packages than the tonnage being delivered at the port but have a big impact.

The workers on the ship may be thousands of miles from home, but Christmas is coming to them.

"To be frank, life sometimes out in the sea is lonely sometimes," seaman Vicente Ramon Balano said.

And no matter how difficult, the gifts will be delivered in time for Christmas Day.

Ship by ship and gift by gift, the seafarers will distribute more than 10,000 gifts throughout the holiday season here at the Port of Houston. They distribute them to seamen from around the world.

"It's probably the only gift they will have that day," said Allan Frederiksen with the Houston Seafarers Ministry.

The men who carry these packages also deliver a message, sometimes in the form of a Bible in one of 47 languages.

"Of course we have no access to go to Sunday mass," seaman captain Luis Donzada Jr.

From the captain to the crew in small quarters, finding faith can be tough.

"You know life as a seaman you are away from your family, you are away from the social life, because you are confined from 200 meters by 32 meters," Donzada Jr. said.

Father Rivers Patout has been climbing on board since 1968.

"After they get to know you well, then they will tell you some things," he said.

The chaplains meet once a week to talk about their work.

"Well we've had a couple of suicides, one of our chaplains climbed up on a yard arm and talked him down from jumping," Patout said.

And in some cases, they know exactly how to talk to them, because they've been there.

"Even though they are not at home, they can focus on family to some extent and the celebrations at home which may create a little anxiety but there's a connection," Frederiksen said.

"When I was a 17-year-old cadet on a ship in the middle of the Pacific all by myself, that was the only gift I got," said Dwight Koops with the Houston Seafarers Ministry.

While the gifts are stacked for December 25, this crew will have little time to relax. Their schedule takes them right into Aqaba, Jordan.

December 25 will be an intense day of protecting the ship from piracy But just knowing someone halfway around the world was thinking of them makes the work of a seaman a little easier.

"We are happy because someone on this Earth has remembered us sailors," Balano said.

And it makes the life of a chaplain more enriched.

"You'd be surprised, they are very, very happy to see you, somebody cares, the nights are lonely," Koops said.

The seafarers always welcome donations to support their cause from books to magazines and DVDs.

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