SEWARD, Alaska -- Every year more than 50 cruise ships dock in Alaska's Seward Harbor.
As the passengers disembark, Pastor Scott Johnson makes his way on board. Scott and his wife Beth run the Alaska Seaman's Mission and the massive ships that come through the state's harbors serve as their mission field as they seek to reach the crew members.
"Seafarers ministries have been around since the early 1800s in England and other places in the world, but this one's about 30 years old," said Johnson.
Meeting both Physical and Spiritual Needs
They try to meet the physical needs of seafarers by providing meals, transportation, phone cards and the modern necessity of Wi-Fi. By addressing the physical, they can then focus on the spiritual.
"I think we want them to be impressed with God, with Jesus Christ and his love. So we serve them in the love of Jesus Christ. Hopefully they understand the gospel, that it's Christ and Christ alone that offers salvation. We want them to know the value of the word of God, we want them to see the love of Jesus Christ in action and so we want them to have a sense of drawing, God drawing them, just using us as a means, as a vessel," Johnson said.
It's a unique twist on the Great Commission.
"Jesus Christ said go into all the world, preach the gospel, go into all the world make disciples of all nations, well we do that, reversed. They come to us," Johnson told CBN News.
A Focus on Building Relationships
As seafarers come through, mission volunteers simply seek to serve and develop relationships. Many of the staff members on the ships are eager for the chance to worship after months at sea.
"The relationships are pretty special because they don't have a home. They're on these ships for 10 months out of the year, they work 12-15 hours a day and the mission house is their home away from home. So when you connect with them and they have a meaningful relationship, especially when they're a believer and they're just spiritually starved and they're hungry and you can just fellowship with them on a high level and you're able to encourage them in the Lord and encourage them in the light of eternity. It's something that I look forward to in Heaven when we get to be around everyone again," said volunteer, Jenn Parcham.
Not all crew members come from Christian backgrounds. Many who pass through are Buddhist or Muslim. Still, all are welcome as volunteers accept each person where they are in their spiritual walk.
"If they reject the word of God--say I share with them something and you can just tell visibly they don't want to talk about it or they're maybe in your face about it negatively--it's not a personal attack on me, it's their response to Jesus Christ and if that's where they're at spiritually, the Holy Spirit is still working on them. I can just cast them on the Lord and they need prayer," Parcham said.
These missionaries also work to connect with those unable to leave the docked cruise ships.
"I have to go sometimes to the table in the crew mess where the person's sitting all alone and they maybe don't want to talk to me, they know he's that Christian pastor over there. But I usually just ask them general questions about themselves and truly God has given us a care for them so its not phony or fake, I really do care. And so I interact or engage with them and I can think back many times, going and just sitting, getting to know the person and being able to transition into a spiritual conversation," said Johnson.
Investing in Souls
Those simple conversations, whether on land or sea, make an eternal difference.
"It's an investment in people's souls forever. When we see someone trust Christ, they're going from death to life spiritually," said Johnson.
The volunteers at the Alaska Seaman's Mission know that they won't always reap the harvest, but they continue to plant and water the seeds, trusting God to continue the work.
Each day Scott, Beth and the volunteers pray for those who will walk through their doors or cross their paths--and God faithfully sends more and more people their way.