by Kimberly Rowles, SCI–Port Newark Summer Intern
When I was a child, I spent my summers “down the shore” in Wildwood, NJ. I had no idea at the time that in Newark and Elizabeth, less than 150 miles from where I built sandcastles, nearly everything that I would need, want, or buy was being lifted off container ships. This year, instead of going “down the shore”, I found myself going down to the port, and this is where I spent my summer break from General Theological Seminary.
In the past 3 months, I’ve visited an average of two ships a day, three days a week—about 54 ships. Since most ships’ crews are about 20-24 people strong, I impacted the lives of over 1,000 seafarers either directly or indirectly. That sounds pretty impressive until you think about the hundreds of thousands of seafarers on the ocean every day. These men and women work 24/7/365 to bring us our “stuff,” and yet most consumers do not know them at all.
As I sit down to reflect on my summer of climbing up gangways, selling phone cards, transporting seafarers to Jersey Gardens shopping mall and sitting in the newly remodeled seafarers’ center, I recall speaking with a Chief Mate. In the midst of our hour-long conversation, he told Chaplain Megan Sanders and me that he felt like we were “real people.” Living on the ship is almost like living in a hotel—meals are provided; beds are clean, dry and warm. The only thing that you have to give up is … everything. You see the same faces for four, six, ten months. You never see your family. You do not have a normal life. But you do this because you need to—because you have parents and siblings and wives and children to whom you send the money that you make on board ship.
During my time at SCI, the chaplains and I helped seafarers feel like “real people.” We worked to extend a welcoming handshake or hug. We provided tools that allowed individuals to call, Skype or email home. We sold phone cards and SIM cards—I now know more about cell phone plans than I ever thought I would. We looked every seafarer in the eye and recognized his or her humanity. Chaplains don’t think about the port in terms of export and import; rather, we look at the port as full of strangers and friends.
I believe SCI fulfills the mission Christ commanded his disciples to assume, acting each day and in every way in an honest and reciprocal way. I feel privileged to have worked at SCI for this summer break. I have learned more about hospitality and community in these three months from seafarers and the chaplains who serve them than I can express in a few short paragraphs. Thank you, SCI, for showing me how to be a better Christian in my daily life and work.