My life changed very quickly when I joined the Merchant Navy. From the relatively sheltered background of growing up as a preacher’s kid I found myself living life in a very different world. I really didn’t want to be associated with religion at that time. As far as I know none of the people I sailed with held a Christian faith, although I have to say that many of them believed in God. Perhaps it is the quiet of the graveyard watch or the adrenaline rush of the storm that serves to remind seafarers that God exists?
Regardless of faith there was never any possibility of seafarers taking work back with them when home on leave. The two worlds never met. My family and friends had little understanding of my work world, and so the two worlds remained quite separate as I lived different lives.
Getting drawn back to faith during my first block of study leave at marine college introduced me to people who were effervescent about following Jesus. But these people had no understanding of the environment in which I worked. I was baptised before finishing college and returning to sea. My church friends gave me plenty of advice as to how to live a different life in my different world, but it wasn’t easy. Refusing a beer, for instance, virtually made me an outcast on my next ship. I only spent three weeks living like this on a voyage from the UK to Murmansk and back. Then I flew out to Iran to join another ship. By the time I reached that ship after three days travelling, including one day stranded in Kuwait, I was ready for a beer. And so my lives drifted apart, and my faith remained private, mostly locked away out of sight.
My wife did get the opportunity to see into my work world. She made visits to me in port before we got married, and then joined me for a honeymoon voyage. By then I was sailing on a regular route out of Barry in South Wales to the West Indies and back. Yes, I was second mate on a banana boat! These were beautiful ships that carried twelve passengers. General cargo was shipped out to Barbados, Grenada, St Vincent, St Lucia and Dominica. During the return voyage we carried mainly bananas, and a small amount of other tropical products including coconuts, grapefruit, nutmeg, mace, and rum.
So what is the point of a story of the different lives I lived at sea and on shore? The point is that I can’t stop thinking about the challenge to followers of Jesus to live the same life at church, at home, and at work. Because it is no good being filled with the Holy Spirit at church on Sunday, or in whatever time we generously give to God at the start of a day if we are not living spirit filled lives. And if we are not living spirit filled lives how do we expect to make a difference for Jesus in the lives of our families, friends, and colleagues?
‘It’s wonderful to receive the thrilling filling of the Spirit, to enjoy his immediacy, intimacy, and ecstasies. But it’s perhaps less appealing, and certainly demands more of me, to become holy as the Holy Spirit is holy. Yes it’s easier, I’m afraid, to go from conference to conference, celebration to celebration, ministry session to ministry session, seeking to be filled with the Spirit, than it is to do the work of walking in the Spirit.’ (Simon Ponsonby, Different, Hodder & Stoughton, 2016, p.5)