After a week at sea as guest chaplain for a trans-Atlantic cruise, I’d had another very fulfilling day with a well-attended morning worship time and conversations aplenty.
There was a hum of spiritual momentum which affirmed my prayer support, for I kept crossing paths with people with issues to discuss, even though they could easily have been lost among the rest of the two thousand on board.
With the crew catering for their every need, people relaxed as we talked over mealtimes, in coffee shops, in music lounges, beside the pool or on coach tours while we were in port. Some would share personal, family or church concerns, or their hopes and dreams about new possibilities back home.
Other folks hit me with big questions that stretched my own faith and insights, but God’s touch ensured that we could explore them with honesty and respect, so our next conversations were positive. For beneath all this interaction, I was on call if any crises hit with no familiar supports within reach.
It was almost midnight as I made my way back to my cabin, the plush carpet cushioning my steps along the timber-panelled hallway. Glancing towards the room where our worship had been held, I noticed about twenty south-east Asian crew members seated in a circle. Some familiar faces turned my way, gesturing animatedly for me to join them.
As I opened the door, a whole circle of smiles immediately affirmed the welcome, for everyone had a bible on his lap, and guitars reclined at different angles against some knees.
That they were still up was a surprise for, unlike me, they would all be awake and on duty before the sun rose.
Familiarity rapidly faded, for though this was bible study, it was all in Indonesian. Silently but desperately searching through my south-east Asian vocabulary, I unearthed two greetings: Mabuhay and Selamat detan; firstly in Malaysian and secondly in Tagalog, which is the native tongue for Filipinos.
Neither one would build any communication, so I sat and listened, quietly praying for some bridge to emerge.
Their commitment was obvious, but I was unable to participate. As I listened, it crossed my mind how often we invite unchurched people into our church scene, using a “Christianese” language that does not resonate with where they are or where they are from. And how much worse is it if their slowness to get a handle on our terminology or our culture is taken as sinful rebellion against God?
Familiar chords sounded, with guitars now raised, and they began to sing. But though I used to sing in a gospel choir—more through finding safety in numbers than in unleashing any great talent on the world—I could only hum through their more unfamiliar songs of praise.
After their last song, their leader David asked me to share a word with them. He showed me their study on 2 Timothy 4: 6 – 8, in which Paul shares his confidence in gaining the crown of righteousness that the Lord will award to him and to all who have longed for his appearing.
Looking around, I saw men whose work contracts meant six to nine months’ absence from their loved ones: wives and children, fiancés or girlfriends. However they all knew exactly when they would see them again, and despite their anticipation they continued to serve passengers with constant, cheerful courtesy.
I sensed an opportunity to share with them the same anticipation of seeing Jesus Christ on his return, even though we don’t know when that day will come. In the meantime, each day may be anointed with the possibility of seeing him face to face; but if not, he will show us regular or spontaneous opportunities to share his grace with courtesy and compassion for anyone within our circles of influence.
We closed in prayer; my hum long gone.
But God’s hum kept right on, and our hope in him gained a deeper resonance.
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