Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Goodbye, Hong Kong

Last week I was eating lunch with a seafarer aboard the Warnow Carp during one my trips out in the anchorage. We spoke of the usual things. "How long is your contract? Do you have a family? How many kids do you have? What is the next port of call?" It was just like every other conversation I'd ever had with a seafarer, but then he started talking to me about all of the ports he had traveled to during his many years at sea.

The weathered seafarer was a Greek captain, and had been at sea for nearly 45 years. 45 years! Over the course of his long career he had been everywhere. And, I mean everywhere. Every major port in North America, South America, Canada, Europe and Asia. This man claims to have been to hundreds of different ports in his travels. With a tone of amazement, I ask the obvious question:

"What is your favorite port?"

Automatically my mind begins to roll from one exotic harbor to the next. Rio de Janeiro? Bangkok? Dubai? Which will he say?

But the old captain takes hardly a second to respond: "Home. My favorite port is my home port," he smiles. The other seafarers around us eating lunch, all look up from their plates and begin to nod and smile. "This is true for every seafarer," said the captain. "There's no place like home."

I took this photo on my final day of ship visiting. That's the mission launch in the foreground.

On July 31, I will officially end my first year with the Young Adult Service Corps, and board my flight back to that refreshing pint of IPA I call home: Asheville, NC. While I am so happy to go home, I am also very sad to leave my friends and family in Hong Kong. During my time here I have made some great friends and had the most amazing experiences. 

I got the opportunity to live in the middle of one of the greatest and most advanced cities in the world. I was able to travel and experience life in different countries around Southeast Asia, including Cambodia, Japan and Vietnam. I was able to spend most of my time on the water in Victoria Harbour and the South China Sea, helping seafarers from all over the world. I made friends with the most unlikely characters, ate the most interesting foods, and I feel like I truly made a difference to the thousands of seafarers that I came across.

Taking a seafarer selfie. 

Happy seafarers gather for a photo after a visit from the Mariner's Club.

This blog has been fun to look back on over the past few days. This morning I was looking back at this post from Aug. 19, 2013. It was the blog post I published just before arriving to start my mission here in Hong Kong. Take a look:

"One question I have been asked frequently over the past few days has been, 'What are you most excited about?' This has been a hard question to answer, and I think the answer has been different with every response. However, now that I have thought it over, I think I am most excited to grow.

What do I mean by growing? Culturally, mentally, spiritually - this mission is going change me. I've never lived in such a massive city. I've never been so far from home. I've never been in a better position to wrestle with my faith."

I certainly did a lot of growing up in Hong Kong. The type of growing that one can only do while living in a foreign country. I think the Will that came to Hong Kong last August, and the Will that leaves Hong Kong on July 31 are two completely different beings. Truthfully, I found what I was looking for in Hong Kong.

Culturally, I have gained invaluable insight into an ancient and fascinating way of life. Mentally, I have grown more confident about my own capabilities as a human being. Spiritually, I have come to recognize how important sharing and practicing my faith is to my own personal happiness.

I have also seen time and time again with seafarers how important faith and spirituality is to other people. After witnessing it over time and time again, I have come to this conclusion:

God, I think, in one way or another, whether you recognize it consciously or sub-consciously, is what holds us all together. This is a lesson that I learned not from reading the bible or going to church, but instead from just talking to seafarers every day out in the anchorage. Seafarers, much like missionaries out in the field, rely so much on their faith to see them through the rough weather, the long contracts and the pangs of homesickness that strike most every day. Perhaps its only through such difficult and uncomfortable lenses that you can see the true nature of God, and the importance of practicing faith. Maybe without these lenses, you can't see the ties that bind us.

The Hong Kong missionaries of YASC on a sailing trip in the fall. 

It's easy to look back at my year of mission work and be proud of what I have accomplished. To think however that I did it alone would be a massive blunder. I was only able to be successful here because of the people I work with and the friends I have made along the way. To all my friends and co-workers in Hong Kong who may be reading this, thank you so much.

Equally as important are all of the people back in the USA that donated money to help bring me here. And I can't forget the people that wrote me letters and sent me packages. None of this would have been possible without you. Thank you!

Amazing friends and co-workers at my farewell dinner.

Hong Kong friends gathered to say goodbye. I will miss these people! 

My Hong Kong family. They were so welcoming! 

My mentor and great friend, the Rev. Stephen Miller. I learned so much from him. 

So where do I go from here? My flight to Rome, where I will begin my next year of mission work with the Young Adult Service Corps, leaves Asheville on Sept. 12. But Before I leave, I've got nearly a month and a half to spend catching up with my family and friends.

The world is full of beautiful and exotic places. No doubt, Hong Kong is right up there with the best of them. However it is time to go. There is meaningful and urgent work calling me elsewhere across the globe. But first it is time to lower the ladder and drop anchor in the most welcoming of ports. The port that seafarers and missionaries the world 'round would agree is without equal.


Thanks for reading,

Will Bryant 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sea Sunday

July 13, 2014, churches all over the world will celebrate Sea Sunday - a day of worship dedicated to men and women who work on the sea. Two weeks ago, a few of us at the Mariners' Club were invited to do a radio broadcast service for Seafarer Sunday at RTHK (a local radio station here in Hong Kong).

For this radio service, I was asked to write a small five minute presentation about the arduous life of seafarers, and also about the work of the Mission to Seafarers in Hong Kong and around the world. Below is the script for my speech, as well as a few photos I've taken during my mission.

***Update*** You can listen to the radio broadcast by clicking here. Enjoy!  

Good morning!

My name is Will Bryant and I am a young adult volunteer currently serving with the Mission to Seafarers here in Hong Kong. The mission here does a lot of good work but before I get into that I want to ask you a very, very important question:

What are you wearing?

Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of radio show is this? Isn’t that a very personal question to be asking a complete stranger? You’re right, so let me ask you another question.

How are you listening to this broadcast? Are you with us on your computer? On your phone? Perhaps you’re driving in the car on your way to a meeting.

Well I’ve got some news for you: All of the items I just mentioned - your clothes, your computer, your phone, your car - have made it into your possession because of the crucial work of seafarers around the world.

"Welcome aboard!"

Today, human beings are blessed with a standard of living that has never before been achieved by mankind.

Grocery stores in the arctic regions of the world stock shelves with fresh bananas and oranges.

Red wine from Italy can be tasted in every corner of the globe.
Japanese-made cars rule the roads in the countries around the world.

How is this quality of life possible? The answer is simple: shipping.  

According to the International Maritime Organization, 90 percent of the the world’s trade is carried out at sea. Think about the things we use in everyday life that is shipped!

It extends far beyond food, clothes and technology. It is the raw materials for roads and houses; the minerals for microchips and processors; the fuel for our cars and airplanes.

Can you imagine your life without these things? Shipping makes it all possible.

This modern phenomenon isn’t just a matter of coincidence. This way of life didn’t just happen by chance.

There are over 1.5 million seafarers in the world that work months on end to make this way of life a reality. They are easily the most important work force in our world today, yet we rarely ever think of them. And we rarely ever see them. Why? Because this shadow workforce is always at sea.

My friend Fernando and I aboard the TS China.

I love telling people about seafarers. Quite simply because their way of life is so different from every other person that you or I know. What do I mean? Let me tell you about the life of a seafarer.

Most seafarers sign on to a ship by contract, and these contracts are often 10 to 12 months long. Imagine that! Imagine living on a massive container ship with a group of 20 guys, going from port to port, country to country without seeing your family or friends. There are no days off. There are no holidays - not even for Christmas. It is non-stop work for 10 to 12 months.

Think about where you have been for the past 10 to 12 months. Where have you travelled? What have you done? For most of us, the answer is meeting new people, getting new jobs, living new experiences. For seafarers, the answer is much more simple: they have been on a ship, doing the same thing over and over again.

Most people think that seafarers get to see the world in their time at sea. This may have been true 20 years ago, but the days of the seafarers sightseeing at cities around the globe are gone.

Container ships now spend as little as six hours in a port of call. Technology and efficiency have radically sped up the pace at which global shipping moves.

Because of their hectic schedules and isolating positions, seafarers are struggling with loneliness and depression. With contracts lasting 10 to 12 months, many seafarers only see their wives and children a month or two out of each year.

They miss birthdays and anniversaries. They miss first steps and first words.

Yet because of their hard work and sacrifice, they are able to provide for their families and send their children to school.

My friend, Vladimir, aboard the Mell Satumu. 
The worst time for seafarers is when tragedy strikes at home. In November of 2013, super-typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. Hundreds of thousands were hurt or killed. Communications for most of the country came crashing down. Filipino seafarers - stuck at sea - were left to sit in their ship cabins, unable to contact home.

Many would find out after days of worrying that their loved ones had been hurt or killed. Many would find out that their house had been destroyed. It could be weeks before they are able to sign off their ships and head back home. These are the worst times at sea.

Yet there is a bright spot in the midst of this massive and exhausting industry. Seaman’s missions around the world do their best to care for seafarers when few others do.

The seafarer window in St. John's Cathedral, Hong Kong.

Here at the Mariners’ Club in Hong Kong, our chaplains visit over 30 ships a day, bringing news, recent sporting events and telephone cards to crews on board. Often times we do much more than that.

We enable them to wire money to their families back home.

We visit them in the hospital if they become sick and need to leave their post in an emergency.

We contact the proper authorities if we find that they are not getting paid what is owed to them.

Why do we do this, you ask? We are merely trying to support them as much as they support all of us.

Today, July Thirteenth, we celebrate seafarers on this Sea Sunday. We celebrate and give thanks for those that sacrifice so much so that we may enjoy a more full way of life.

So please, as you bow your heads this morning and give thanks to God for all the blessings you receive, remember the seafarers - that shadow workforce - working hard to deliver some of those blessings to you each and everyday.