At Boston wharf, a sailor's beaconSeafarers Mission provides spiritual guidance and a home away from
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BOSTON - Working as a crewman on a tanker, Bong Hebrado is spending another Christmas half a world away from his family in the Philippines.
That's why his face lit up when the Rev. Stephen Cushing strode into the crew's dining room on the liquefied natural gas tanker LNG Matthew, as the boat docked in Boston earlier this week.
"You know, every day on the ship there's no person you can talk to. And when you reach the port here, Father always comes in, and asks 'How are you,' 'If you have a problem, tell me or write me,'" Hebrado said Monday. "That's why we are very happy to see him, especially the Filipinos, because we know he cares."
When sailors like Hebrado pull into Boston Harbor, usually for a day or less, the New England Seafarers Mission, headed by Cushing, makes life a little easier, providing them with a mixture of spiritual guidance and practical help.
The Mission was established in 1880 for Scandinavian sailors docking at Boston. Now, its clientele includes sailors from about 102 countries, Cushing said, from Anguilla to Croatia to Trinidad and Tobago, with 400 to 500 ships docking each year.
The Mission is tucked away in a corner of Boston's Black Falcon Terminal, housed in an old army warehouse. Here, behind the sliding industrial doors, sailors find a one-stop shop - a chapel to pray in, a telephone and Internet center to keep in touch with their families, a money transfer service to wire or mail money home, and a convenience store selling everything from Ramen noodles and Bibles to shampoo, bottled water and stamps.
One of the Mission's most popular services is prepaid phone cards.
"People say that I'm a pastor, what am I doing selling phone cards?" Cushing joked. "But these men are not in constant communication with their family, and if I can do anything to help their reconnect with their family, help their with loneliness, that's a pastoral duty."
The Mission's most frequent visitors are the crew members of cruise ships, since many industrial ships' crews aren't given clearance to go ashore. So during the cruise ship off-season, between November and April, Cushing fills up his backpack with phone cards and snack packets and takes the Mission to the sailors.
Then he sits down at the crew dining area and waits: to talk to the man who's depressed and lonely; to sell a phone card to a new father who had a son born half a world away and wants to hear his baby breathe over the phone; or to pray with another who misses his family.
"The life of a seafarer, really, honestly speaking, just sucks," Cushing said. "They have to deal with loneliness, weeks and months on a ship, not much contact with their families, sometimes horrible eating and living conditions. They need that listening ear."
Around this time of year, the Mission also brings some holiday cheer into the sailors' lives, at a time when many are missing their families most.
The handmade gift ditty bags, donated by the Women's Seafarers Friends Society, are small and filled with basic essentials - a knit wool hat, socks, a T-shirt, a sewing kit, a razor, a calendar, a pen and a soup packet.
But it's the thought behind the gifts that touches the gruff and weathered seamen who feel like they are often forgotten, Cushing said.
"Everything they get in the gifts, they could just go buy on their own. But the feeling that somebody remembered, that somebody intentionally went out of their way to do this for them, makes them feel so much better," Cushing said.
(Published: December 26, 2002)