The Revd Ijeoma Ajibade
Jeremiah 20:1-11a, Romans 14:1-17
I wonder if Jeremiah ever felt abandoned?
There he is speaking truth to the leaders of Israel, people who should have been listening to God, but all he receives from them is judgement, physical abuse, imprisonment and exclusion. It must have been terrifying and lonely.
In the light of Jeremiah’s suffering our reading from Romans is a timely reminder for us. When we find ourselves in positions of power, or when we are relating to others, we should be careful not to judge, or condemn people. We are entitled to our opinions, but we are not entitled to do as the priest Pashur has done to Jeremiah. We are not entitled to use our own positions to oppress others. We are called to walk in love. The phrase ‘walking in love’ conveys a sense of hospitality, openness and welcome, a sense of love without judgment.
Today is Sea Sunday. It is a day in the year for remembering seafarers, the men and women who work on our oceans. 90% of the goods and materials that we need as a nation come to us by sea.
It is easy to forget that the oceans of our world are vast and wild. Seafaring is a hidden and difficult world to work in. It is generally invisible to mainstream society, especially those of us who do not live in coastal areas. It is also invisible because the vast majority of seafarers are from low income countries.
The UK has a rich maritime history, but with globalisation, businesses have found cheap labor from other parts of the world. It is cheap labor for the shipping industry but it is not without its human cost.
Sometimes we meet seafarers who haven’t been paid and we get involved in these situations by working with the seafarers and other organisations to recover their unpaid wages.
In 2014 the International Transport Federation managed to recover 59 million dollars in unpaid wages for seafarers. On land there would be uproar if any employer owed this much to their employees but the hidden nature of the sea makes it easy for bad employers to cheat people.
Sometimes ship owners go bust or encounter other difficulties and seafarers can end up being abandoned on a ship without food or water, and without any way of getting home.
The leaflets at the back of the Cathedral tell stories of seafarers who have been abandoned off the coast of Dubai but abandonment happens all over the world. Over the past year we have responded to cases of abandonment in Cyprus, Aberdeen and in Great Yarmouth. In these situations we will find out what has happened and help seafarers get home safely.
We hold prayer services for seafarers on board their ships and in our centres. We are there for them when they lose family members back home or when there are accidents or deaths on board. We listen to their stories and try to share in their lives at sea.
Last year I visited our family support project in the Philippines and I met some seafarers who were looking for work. They told me about the ports they had visited in the UK and it was amazing to hear them speak about the care they had received from our volunteers and staff, but they also told me stories of injustice.
25% of all seafarers are from the Philippines. They are paid much less than seafarers from Europe and the US even when they are doing the same job. I have been told this is because the cost of living in the Philippines is lower than in the global North countries but does that make it right?
The seafarers also told me that they are not given senior jobs even when they have the required qualifications and experience. The shipping industry allows “a feudal and racial pyramid” with powerful industry leaders from Europe and the US on the top and low-paid migrant workers from low income countries on the bottom.
Of course there are many responsible shipping companies but just like the society leaders in Jeremiah’s time it is easy to become blind to injustice and go along with the status quo, especially when the status quo will give you a large profit.
As a mission agency we don’t have all the answers and we struggle with these issues. We have been providing care for seafarers for 161 years but we are still learning how to recognise injustice and how to speak truth to power like Jeremiah but we have a vision of love which empowers us to welcome strangers, seafarers who we may never see again and to care for them.
Caring for seafarers is one way we can all show compassion. It is one way we can include instead of excluding and it is one way we can love others and not judge.