Joining my first ship in Sweden could have posed some problems linguistically had the Swedes not been so fluent in English. I was amazed at how fluent most of them were. I had studied French and Latin in school, but neither would have been much use in Gothenburg. But there were linguistic challenges on my first ship. One was that a large percentage of the officers hailed from the Newcastle area. Although I had not encountered a Geordie accent previously, I soon became fluent in Geordie.

But there was another strange language that I needed to learn. This was the language of the sea where left became port and right became starboard. The front of the ship was the bow/for’d, and the back was the stern/aft. Anchor aweigh meant that the anchor (port or starboard) was clear of the seabed when heaving anchor, as opposed to an anchor being let go (when dropping anchor). Being told to suji the bulkheads on the bridge deck was an instruction to clean the steel walls. While suji meant clean, dhobi also meant clean but related to laundry rather than bulkheads. The officers’ saloon was where we ate, whereas I thought that a saloon was a bar in a spaghetti western. Then there were fathoms and shackles and cables and knots, all being measures of depth or distance or speed. Not to mention the other knots of many different names and uses. It’s amazing how quickly you learn.

Scan of a page from my Deck Cadet’s journal in Nov 1973 (I was required to keep this as part of my training) showing the floating dry dock where we spent a couple of days.

After a week on ship we were moving from our berth in a repair yard to a floating drydock further down the river. At three in the morning! Because we had no ratings shoreside riggers were assisting. I was on the fo’c’sle with the mate. First, he sent me aft for coffee. Unfortunately, the mug was only half full by the time I returned to the fo’c’sle, plus the mug had grease on it from my gloves. He threw it at me and politely (not) told me to get another one. I got two and poured them into one before handing a clean full mug of coffee to him. Then the mate told me to go down to the fo’c’sle store and get a heaving line. I hadn’t a clue what I was looking for, so I took a coil of rope I found to the mate. He threw another wobbler. One of the Swedish riggers felt sorry for me and accompanied me back to the store and found me a heaving line.

I feel sorry for anyone who enters a church for the first time and finds that the people inside speak a different language, one that doesn’t effectively translate into the message that Jesus brought to the world. Jesus spoke a language of love, compassion, and forgiveness. For those who understand the language of Jesus it has to translate into another language – an unwritten language of joy and a deep sense of awe that never fades, but only gets deeper. Is that your church? Is it you? If it hadn’t been for a church in South Shields that spoke that language of joy I would not be here writing this blog. It is because of their contagious joy that I found myself back on course, no longer drifting in an ocean of forgotten faith and distractions. I owe the people of that church a great debt. But nothing like the debt that Jesus paid when He died in my place. That truly was awesome.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 NIV)