The New England Seafarers Mission is located right on Boston Harbor at the EDIC Pier, where cruise ships are docked for loading and unloading. The pier alternates between a lull of anticipation and bustling busyness. Shortly after 9:00am, returning passengers exit the ships after spending a week to the north, in beautiful Canadian destinations, or to the south, in the warmth of Bermuda. Receiving these sea-legged travelers are the longshoremen, who haul their luggage to the taxis and buses prepared to take them across the harbor to Logan Airport, downtown to their hotels, or back to their hometowns.
The last of the buses and taxis has barely left the pier area before a new wave of vehicles arrives with those who are ready to be loaded aboard the ship for its next journey to one of these destinations. The process is reversed, but the actors are the same: bus/taxi drivers, longshoremen, and passengers.
The mission is located at one end of the pier, which is also the location of an elevator that is used to transport handicapped and/or special needs persons aboard ship. As this elevator serves as a portal to international destinations, a MassPort officer and a cruise employee are on hand to check passports and tickets before allowing them to depart. The officer agreed when I suggested that his job was better than the jobs of those serving across the harbor at Logan Airport: these people are all happy to be returning from a great vacation or preparing to embark on one.
Meanwhile, the employees on the cruise ships have precious little time to accomplish important tasks. On this particular Friday, the workers–who are of a wide variety of ethnicities and nationalities–have gotten paid. That means their first priority is to send money to their families back home. Second, they may need to purchase a few items to bring back to their quarters on the ship for their next hardworking journey. Third, these international employees find that purchasing items online in the United States is sometimes cheaper than their home countries. To take advantage of these savings, they need a mailbox service for receiving these packages, which will then be loaded into their quarters. Finally, they need a spot with WiFi to catch up on email and social media.
In addition to spiritual counseling, the New England Seafarers Mission provides for these needs. There are three levels to the mission: level one is a convenience store that stocks, among other things, many international snacks. My daughter Sarah was amused by the banana-flavored marshmallow pies. Level two houses MoneyGram and postal services, and level three is the internet cafe as well as the counseling office. When I described this multilayered mission to the on-duty MassPort officer, he was impressed and said “It’s about time someone did that: find out what people need!”
For the past 17 years, Steve Cushing has served as the chaplain of the New England Seafarers mission. For about the past 15, NESM has used the model described above. Steve and I were part of a Leadership Cohort, sponsored by a Lilly Grant and facilitated by several pastors in the Evangelical Covenant Church. When I told Steve about Ink and Skin: Word Made Flesh, he told me that tattoos were one of the best ways he’s found to open communication with young international seafarers. I asked if I might come out for a visit, and he enthusiastically agreed. Sarah and I visited in early June, and I’ll be posting some of our discoveries, right here, in the near future.