From vision to reality
Elaine Rhoton | Ships
George Verwer lay atop boxes of books and supplies in the back of an old battered van, part of a convoy of OM vehicles heading to India from Europe. For George—brimming with energy and eager for ministry—the arduous two-month trip, composed almost solely of sitting or lying down, must have been pure agony.
As he tried to redeem the time mentally, an idea began to form. This two-month ordeal was a prodigious waste of time. Air travel? Think of how many tracts could be bought for the price of one airline ticket! There must be another way.
A few months later, when George was back in England, the idea of using a ship for evangelism came up. He launched into a spirited presentation about the money that could be saved in transporting people and goods between Britain and mainland Europe, or all the way to India. Other OM leaders in the room threw out all kinds of ideas, from the witty or ridiculous to serious possibilities. But the facts were that they were all in their 20s or 30s and none of them knew anything about ships. Nor was there any money for such a venture. Still, George could not let go of the idea. He talked about the vision as he preached in churches, constantly asking people to pray.
A year passed. Two years. Responses began to come in. Some were strongly worded and largely negative. One, however, came from a British captain, whose presence added weight to George’s pleas as the two men presented their vision in various Christian meetings.
The search for a suitable ship for OM’s unique ministry began. Steadily, professional crewmembers pledged to serve without pay on a vessel that did not yet exist: from an Australian chief engineer to a Norwegian first officer, who had only been a believer for one year; and even a young Arab deck officer who hadn't been a Christian when prayer for the project began. By 1970, 15 professional crew from 10 countries were on board—figuratively!
Then came a shock: After much prayer, the British captain felt he should set a deadline if he was to serve at the helm. If God provided the ship by the end of August 1970, he would proceed; otherwise, he would withdraw.
In September 1970, the annual conference for all OM workers was held in a cold, draughty, disused factory in a London suburb. One morning, George came bounding out of his makeshift office shouting, “It’s free! The Umanak is free!”
The Umanak was a Danish vessel OM leaders had settled on, but a Nigerian company had made a better offer. That deal had just fallen through and the ship had become available. God provided the money needed to complete the purchase.
After setting the end of August as his deadline, the British captain would not reconsider, believing it was God's will for him to bow out. He had played a significant role in the project, but he never sailed on the ship. The role of captain was given to the first officer from Norway.
OM named the new vessel Logos, which means 'written word' in Greek. It is used in the Bible to refer to Jesus Christ.
Discovery follows faith
On 26 February, 1971, Logos left London on her maiden voyage to India. Sailing down the west coast of Africa, she stopped in several ports to take on fuel, water and food supplies. This provided an opportunity to spend a week or two in each port so that OMers could go ashore to pass out tracts, go door to door, hold open-air evangelistic meetings or visit churches, schools or wherever appropriate for meetings. On board, there was a small book exhibition and a room to host gatherings of Christian leaders.
In Cape Town, South Africa, one Sunday morning, an OM team returning from a church meeting was surprised to see a long queue of people in the port area, feeding onto Logos. What was that all about? Local people had come to visit the ship after church. On that one day, the book exhibition recorded sales of over 600 British pounds
Later, for the first time when Logos left a port, all her bills incurred there could be paid for by book sales.
A great realisation dawned: Ship people could go ashore for ministry, but the ship itself could be an attraction—a platform for ministry—offering books, tours, conferences and personal interaction with the crew.
And so it was. Long queues became a common sight in the months and years ahead. The original vision to transport OM volunteers and goods was swallowed up by a much greater vision: a ship sailing from port to port throughout the world, carrying the message of hope in Jesus Christ and copies of His Word to nations of every religious and political background.
OM's Ship Ministry had begun.
Since 1970, OM's Ship Ministry has:
- operated four different ships;
- welcomed over 45 million people on board;
- distributed over 70 million portions of Scripture;
- visited over 150 countries and 1,470 ports;
- trained more than 10,000 crew and staff for future life and service;
- partnered with over 60,000 churches;
- hosted more than six million people at onboard events;
- greeted an average of 250,000 children visiting the ship each year;
- distributed over 38.5 million books;
- worked with more than 40,000 local port volunteers; and
- seen countless numbers of people come to faith in God.
In 1961, Elaine Rhoton worked alongside her husband, Dale, as he pioneered OM’s work in Turkey. In 1967, when visa problems ended their work among Turks, they began taking Bibles and Christian literature to believers in Communist countries. Leaving that work in the capable hands of others in 1975, they moved into the Ship Ministry and sailed with their children aboard Doulos in 1978. They are still with OM Ships.
Published: Monday, 09 January 2017
Credit: Elaine Rhoton