It is probably time that I revisited the experience of joining my first ship back in October 1973. My father took me to Heathrow Airport for my flight to Gothenburg. Dad wanted to stay at the airport. I needed him to go as I wanted to get myself a pint of beer, being as I was all grown up now and leaving home. I figured that being in uniform should disguise the fact that I was underage.
I was travelling in uniform because the cadet training manager of my shipping company had told me that I should (and that everybody did). This wasn’t true, but it did make me identifiable to anyone who knew the score. One gentleman did. He was a former Swedish Merchant Navy captain, and he was on his way home after a business trip to London. He spotted me in the departure lounge where we were waiting for fog to clear and flights to resume.
Captain Ragnar Sandström took me under his wing. I was travelling alone because the fog had prevented my fellow first trip cadet from flying down from Scotland to London. Unfortunately, the shipping company had not told me how to get from Torslanda Airport to my ship. In a second dose of misfortune the shipping company had notified their agent in Gothenburg that the arrival of both first trip cadets had been delayed by twenty-four hours. Consequently, there was no agent at Torslanda to meet me and transport me to the ship after emerging from the baggage hall.
Captain Sandström noticed the lack of a welcoming party. Despite our late arrival (it was now early evening instead of early afternoon) he drove me not just to the repair yard where my ship was berthed, but right to the gangway. He gave me his business card and told me to get my captain to call him at his office after the weekend if there was any problem with my late arrival. He said goodbye and drove away, leaving me to climb the gangway and find the captain.
I don’t know what my parents were thinking of letting me run away to sea at sixteen years of age! One thing I am certain about is that they prayed about my joining the Merchant Navy, and especially the joining of that first ship. I would say that their prayers were answered in the form of Captain Sandström. Some readers may doubt that Captain Sandström was divinely provided to make sure that I made it safely to my ship. I know he was! I was alone in a strange airport in the first foreign country I had visited. I hadn’t a clue where the ship was berthed or how I was supposed to get from strange airport to said vessel.
Just as God did not leave me alone in Sweden, neither did Jesus leave His disciples alone in the strangeness of their lives after He left them. And neither does He leave us alone.
“If you love me, obey my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. (John 14: 15-17 NLT)