The 11th International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) World Conference

Nov 4, 2019

The 11th ICMA (International Christian Maritime Association) World Conference was held at the Ambassador Hotel in Kaohsiung, Taiwan and hosted by the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan. 2019 also marks the 50th anniversary of ICMA, so, appropriately, the theme of this year's conference is "50 years of Working Together for Seafarers, Fishers and their Families."

Attended by more than 250 people from over 40 countries, the conference started with the opening ceremony, which included many distinguished guests, among them the keynote speaker, Chen Chien-jen, Vice President of the Republic of China (Taiwan). We were also treated to the music of the Taiwan Kiristu Ciuru Kiukai Timur Kiukai choir.

The opening worship service was hosted at nearby Chien Chin Presbyterian Church a few blocks down the road. Highlights of the service included a special intercessory prayer, delivered in 12 languages ranging from Danish to Maori. In addition, the Taiwan Lau-Tiam Glee Club served as the choir and provided some angelic music, most notably, their rendition of "The Lord's Prayer."

Some quick info about the host city. Kaohsiung is an industrial center with more than 2.7 million people in its metropolitan area, an exporter of many agricultural products of southern Taiwan, and an important homeport for long-range fishing boats. Kaohsiung is home to Taiwan's largest and most versatile port and the 15th-largest container port in the world. The government of Taiwan promotes the Port of Kaohsiung as a major transshipment center for Asia Pacific, a global logistics center, and a free port.

Throughout the conference, speakers from many areas of the maritime industry shared their expertise and knowledge in their respective roles. Workshops were offered as professional development during the conference, giving attendees the opportunity to learn, interact and discuss. It was also interesting to learn about the different approaches that others take to the same work in ministering to seafarers. Our very own, recently retired, Douglas Stevenson, formerly the Director of our Center for Seafarers’ Rights, led a well-attended workshop regarding seafarers’ rights.

On the third day of the conference, we had the opportunity to tour the Kaohsiung Port on a ship usually reserved for dignitaries. In the evening, we visited our host at the Presbyterian Church of Taiwan’s Seamen’s and Fishers’ Service Center. During this visit, we were introduced to the crew of one of the fishing vessels and invited them to have dinner with us at the Center.

For me, one of the most memorable highlights of the conference was the sermon given by keynote speaker, Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila. In his sermon, he spoke about Christ’s call to work together to care for those in distress. His message had many valuable points, but what I will remember most was his closing.

The Archbishop shared a story about a woman who had worked for Caritas Syria and her specialty was helping illegal migrant workers, some of whom were detained seafarers. This woman was invited to a conference by Caritas Syria to train the staff in the area of ministering to illegal migrants. During the conference, she stayed in a convent of Sisters, and every day she took a taxi to the venue.

"One day, she arrived at the conference venue and asked the taxi driver how much she owed him. The driver said, you don’t have to pay. She said, I have money, I can pay you. The driver again said, no, you don’t have to pay. They continued the back and forth several times until the driver finally asked, how can I accept money from Caritas? The women said, how did you know I work for Caritas?

The driver said, three years ago I was in prison in Lebanon. I was an illegal worker and I would see you there. On the night before my release from prison, I had a terrible headache and I asked for medicine from the guards. The guards ignored my plea, and said you will be released tomorrow. At that moment, you passed by and I asked you for medicine and you gave me some, and because of that, I was able to sleep very well that night. However, I never got the chance to thank you. So now, let me thank you. Please don’t pay for this trip.

For three years, the face of this pastoral worker had been embedded in the heart and mind and memory of the man, who never forgot her act of caring and kindness. And by some mysterious act of God, their paths met again in Syria. The woman said, I get tired. I get tired working and I don’t even know whether my work makes a difference in the lives of people, but I just keep on working. But with this one incident, involving one person, whose name I don’t even know: What have I done? I just gave him medicine. And she said, it’s worth serving, not looking for recognition, but rejoicing that the life of this person is now better. He’s employed and back home. And with that, she made the vow to continue serving, which she announced that day at the conference.

I am sure you have all experienced the fatigue too, and sometimes wonder if you are really making a difference. In God’s hand, I’m sure there is some mysterious person who may not be able to thank you, but whose life is a testament to the power of love and working together and caring in a world that does not always seem to care."

In my mind, this story summed up ICMA's core values which revolve around ecumenism, collaboration, and compassion.

Timothy Wong
Director, International Seafarers’ Center in Port Newark