Gospel on the Gangways

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Ian and Vivian Dennis have been working with ECM for over 40 years ministering to seafarers. Sam interviewed Ian to find out a bit more about this unique ministry and how we can be supporting them into the future...

How long have you been with ECM and how did you first get involved?

I have been a worker with ECM since 1979, and Vivian since 1986. I first got involved in the ministry to seafarers in 1973 while working in Circular Quay, Sydney, when God showed me the merchant seafarers coming into the Harbour from all around the world. In 1977, the then ECM Director Jim Bosma took interest in visiting European seafarers in the port of Sydney and invited me under the umbrella of the Mission to continue the ministry. 

What does your ministry entail?

The ministry is one of personal evangelism to the sub-culture of seafarers in the merchant shipping industry.  We walk up gangways of ships to share the gospel with up to 40 different nationalities at once and distribute the Bible to them. Seafarers have many practical needs that present opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ in tangible ways. While a lot of the follow-up is then done virtually, most ships visit the Port of Melbourne regularly so some personal follow up is also possible. 

What have been some of the challenges?

Access to ships was easy prior to 9/11, since then many security protocols were introduced which made visiting seafarers difficult. In the current pandemic, gaining access to ships has become very difficult but hopefully these restrictions will be reduced or removed soon. There have always been challenges in following up and discipling seafarers who make a commitment to Christ. We often try referring them to churches where they live, but for some this is not an option, so we have to encourage all of them to use the internet and other resources for spiritual growth, especially while at sea. 

What have been some of the highlights?

Over the years it has been a joy to see seafarers who have put their faith in Christ, witness for him, and even take up positions of church leadership in the countries they live. Some have become pastors and port missionaries in countries such as Papua New Guinea, Madagascar, the Philippines and Singapore.

What can we pray for you and Vivian?

We are now ‘senior citizens’, our health has limitations, so we are looking to the Lord for those who are possibly younger yet committed to reach this global floating harvest on our doorstep. Always pray that God will provide a way for the gospel to have free course and triumph in the lives of seafarers - Colossians 4:2, 3a; 2 Thessalonians 3:1!

This article appears in the Summer 21/22 Edition of ECM News.

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