by Kristin Saylor, 2009-2010 Episcopal Service Corps Intern
If you had asked me two years ago what I envisioned myself doing after college, working in port ministry would not have featured prominently on the list of possibilities. Indeed, I had no idea such a field even existed! And yet, here I am, fast approaching the end of an incredible year spent interning with SCI as a chaplain in training, having spent the past twelve months immersed in the maritime world and the lives of the seafarers who support our shipping economy. Talk about broadening one’s perspective!
Over the course of this internship, I have been able to see and experience a side of life to which few people have access. I have listened to countless seafarers share with me about the harshness of their lives – being away from their families, working inordinately long hours, and having inadequate access to shore leave to name a few. I have been beaten at table tennis by a kindly Chinese sea captain. I have warbled Michael Jackson hits with a Filipino crew obsessed with karaoke. I have shared hospitality and table fellowship with men and women from every imaginable country. Ship visiting is certainly not an easy or comfortable business. Stepping into the lives of other people — sometimes lonely and frustrated diligent people—is a challenging, but deeply rewarding process.
Advocacy—what I believe is the act of making the invisible visible—is an integral part of SCI’s mission, and one that resonates deeply with me. In many ways, seafarers really are invisible people. Because they are hidden behind security borders, and because the industry has been largely outsourced to other countries, the average American gives little, if any, thought to the people who are responsible for the physical transport of goods around the world. I am certainly no exception. Despite growing up in a major Great Lakes port city, I have no conscious memory of laying eyes on a ship before I began working with SCI. I and the rest of the world have an incredibly large blind spot where shipping is concerned.
Although my internship in Port Newark is almost over, my commitment to advocating for seafarers is not. I have learned that one of the best things I can do in this world is also one of the easiest: simply sharing my stories. I am profoundly grateful to have had the opportunity to delve into this oft forgotten-about side of life, and I would like to express my gratitude to both the SCI staff and the many seafarers who made for an intern experience I never could have imagined and will certainly never forget.