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Rotterdam, December 1973. Two months into my first trip to sea and my ship is discharging 38,000 tons of grain from the US. The ship is manned by British officers and Hong Kong Chinese ratings. As each hold is emptied of grain it is necessary for the hold to be cleaned by the Chinese deck crew, who receive a financial bonus per hold in addition to their normal wages. There are seven holds, one of which must be cleaned particularly well because it has to be filled with water ballast before the ship sails. 

I worked a twenty-four hour cargo watch with the second officer from 12.00 to 12.00. This gave the third officer and the other cadet a good run ashore and a chance to sleep. After my watch I went ashore for a few hours, then got my head down. I had been in my bed for less than thirty minutes when the chief officer (commonly known as the mate) entered my cabin and told me to get out of bed and into my working clothes. I tried to reason with him through the fog of sleep. “No, I am off duty. I am meant to be in my bunk.” The mate tipped me out of my bunk and onto the deck of my cabin. “The crew are on strike. Get your backside down into number five hold and get sweeping. The old man (captain) is down there. If the old man is sweeping, then so are you.” (Polite version.)

It is not normal behaviour for the captain of a ship to exchange his uniform for overalls, take a broom and sweep a hold. When the crew saw the captain sweeping in a hold their resolve crumbled and they responded by ending their strike.

Sometimes it is necessary to set an example. God didn’t just put on working clothes and pick up a broom. He clothed Himself in a human body and experienced life in the world He had created. He lived in the poorest part of town, he worked with the people society looked down upon, and He set example after example for His followers. We the church cannot withhold our labour from our Holy God any longer. We did not sign on to be passengers. We are all called to serve in some way, regardless of age or position. For some of us that may involve picking up a broom.

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10: 1-2 (NIV)