Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The Gospel of Manny

My work here in Hong Kong with the Mission to Seafarers can be lonely. Unlike my brothers and sisters in YASC who work and worship with the same community day after day, my community is one that changes regularly. My "congregation" is composed of whatever the tide happens to bring in on any given day as seen from the Hong Kong Marine Department website that allows us to monitor the traffic coming in and out of the port. Some of the ships that come into Hong Kong might be coming for the first and only time in the crew's memory. Other ships, however, may be coming to Hong Kong every week, or every month. Regardless of their schedule, it is difficult to get to know a seafarer like you would a member of your community or parish. Their lives are so transient, so unstable, that they often don't open up to people from the "outside" world.

And I can't blame them.

These seafarers are gone from their homes 9-12 months out of the year, passing like driftwood between ports all over the world. Life for them is just one big commute. Why get attached to anything in such a lifestyle? Nothing is stable.

The sea is a lonely place
Our Mission in Hong Kong however seeks to shatter the monotony that these seafarers face, and we do so with a variety of tools. Every ship visit I come aboard with a warm welcome, newspapers from their homelands, and perhaps most importantly, recordings of their favorite sporting events.

Now it just may be a "guy" thing, but few things make you feel more at home than watching your favorite sports team from continents away. I, myself, have experienced this by finding live streams of UNC basketball games and Carolina Panther football games during my time in Hong Kong. It brings a mysterious sense of comfort knowing that the world you left behind is still running smoothly without you. It's nice to know that the despite the tumultuous and unstable activity going on in your own life, your favorite traditions are still alive and well. That's what these sports recordings do for seafarers out on the sea. In an ocean of instability, sports give them peace.

On Nov. 24, 2013, a sporting event took place that, despite its violent nature, is still spreading peace and comfort to seafarers today. On that day, Manny Pacquiao of the Philippines brought down the hammer on Brandon Rios in an epic boxing match that revived a legend's career, restored hope to a broken nation, and granted the seafaring industry's most important demographic a little peace of mind.

Watch below as the lighter and older Pacman puts a hurtin' on Rios.

Filipino seafarers are the backbone of the shipping industry. They make up the majority of the seafaring workforce and have the least glamorous jobs. They have also had a terrible year in terms of the well-being of their country. Earthquakes and typhoons have left thousands dead, many of which are related to Filipinos seafarers. In fact, an estimated 160,000 Filipino seafarers are directly affected by Typhoon Haiyan. So, in many ways, the 34-year-old Pacquiao's victory was much bigger than a boxing match. His win showed millions of Filipinos that even though we may get knocked out from time to time, we can and must pick ourselves up.

Like I mentioned earlier, ship visiting can be hard. However, armed with the latest victory of Manny, I have found that talking about the boxer and his accomplishments is a great icebreaker. Even more so when you can actually give a Filipino seafarer a recording of the fight to watch.

If I have time, I love to watch the fight with them.

During those times on the ship, in front of a small TV in the vessel's mess room, we could be anywhere. His comfortable home in Manila, his wife and kids only in the next room over. The fight makes him forget about the troubles of the sea, the demanding and isolating life of the seafarer.

With the fight on, it's only him and his hero. A lucid demonstration that life outside the ship is moving forward in the way that it always has (and should), and clear evidence that there is finally good news coming out of a place that has seen way too much bad news in the past year.

I titled this post the "Gospel of Manny" because in many ways Pacman's victory has lifted a broken group of people up much in the way that faith and religion are capable of picking people up. Time and time again in the bible, we see God's people revitalizing/reinventing themselves to be better and stronger after invasions and disasters. Is Manny Pacquiao a saint? Absolutely not. However, if you could see the look of happiness and surprise that darts on the face of seafarers after they have received a copy of his most recent match, you would have sworn you'd seen the face of God. Home, healing, and hope - all in the same expression.

Now, that's truly a victory.

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