In 1980, there were no known Christian outreaches to cruise ship personnel anywhere in the world.
This ministry did not start out as an idea to share Christ with the crew of the cruise ships, it started out as sharing Christ with the passengers. Jeannette Seale had a young woman violin student who wanted to play in church but was afraid to stand up in public to play. Since it was the 100-year centennial for the city of Juneau, where they both lived, they dressed up in old fashioned dresses and played old fiddle tunes, dance tunes, and old hymns on the city docks as people walked by. From this arose a program about the history of Juneau including the gospel message, that soon was presented on the Prinsendam, a HAL ship and four other ships all summer long. It was during that time that the Lifeline Quartet, as they were called with Jeannette Seale, Melissa Masters, and Ken Copelson and Jesus representing the fourth member in the quartet, was asked to sail on a ship named the Calypso to play more concerts for the passengers. It was during that 4-day trip that the group went down into the crew mess and played for the crew, who in turn started asking very serious spiritual questions of the group. After an all-night question and answer session, the group flew home to Juneau. Jeannette was so shaken by the spiritual vacuum they had experienced among the crew that she cried all the way home on the jet and then could not easily tell her husband Joe what had happened during the four-day trip. After an entire winter of telling God “NO I don’t want the job” daily, she finally relented and told the Lord she would go to the ships to share Christ with the crew if only He would go with her and show her who to talk to and what to say.
The other thing she promised the Lord was that she would continue to go until the door to the ministry closed, 35 years later the door is still open. Countless thousands of seafarers have heard the gospel through words, booklets, tapes, CDs, DVDs, or any other conceivable way for them to hear it.
Before Google, cell phones, cheap long-distance calls, and all the rest of the modern world’s gadgets, it was very difficult to find anyone else who had an interest in seafarers. Through a missionary in Belgium who had sent her a gospel cassette in Turkish, she met the first port chaplain she met. That was Jess Dresselhuis in Vancouver, BC. Canada. In the early years of the ministry, she would write to Jeff, and he would contact a predetermined captain aboard one of the cruise ships that sailed between Vancouver and Alaska, and they would deliver large heavy boxes of Bibles to Jeannette. This went on for more than 8 years until she and her husband moved to Anchorage, Alaska.
During their time in Juneau, they introduced the ministry to other believers in Juneau, but no one caught the vision of the worldwide impact this ministry had. Also, it was during this time that Jeannette met David Hawkins, a crew member who worked for Princess Cruises. He had been crushed in a watertight door on a ship and had been flown from Skagway down to the intensive care unit at the Juneau hospital. Jeannette had been requested by the nursing supervisor to visit David because he had no family closer than England and the doctors felt he would die in just a few days. The nursing supervisor was a Christian and she wanted David to hear the gospel message. Jeannette visited him every day for two weeks, sharing Christ with him many times, and much to everyone’s surprise, he did not die. He was repatriated home to recover and wrote to Jeannette. She replied to his questions, but he did not read the letter immediately. He carried it around in his pocket for 6 weeks and just before he was transferred from one ship to the next, he decided to read it before he threw it away. As he read it, the spirit of God opened his eyes and he trusted Christ as his Lord and Savior. To make a long story short, he continued to work on the ships until August of that year, then through a string of miracles that only God could orchestrate, he started Bible college in Glen Allen, AK. and graduated 4 years later. Recently he married Ina, a missionary nurse.
During the time that David was attending college, Joe’s job moved the Seale family to Anchorage Ak. Even though Jeannette had been asked by several high-ranking officers to visit the ships in Whitter, Alaska which is 60 miles away from Anchorage, she spent another winter crying and telling God “No, she did not want to follow the ships to that tiny cold rainy miserable hamlet of Whittier,” an old cold war deep-water port. But the Lord won out again and she relented.
David and Ina helped two summers in the newly founded mission that Joe and Jeannette had started in Whittier. David and Ina eventually went to England to work and while there the mission work was moved to Seward where most cruise ships docked. David and Ina were asked to come back and be the director of the mission in Seward. This was a faith mission, he was offered no salary and had no budget, no money, no building, no place for them to live but they had a big God they could trust with the future of this work that was His.
Three Port Mission
Since that year 1993, the work has continued in earnest, visiting cruise ships in the summer months, now in all three ports, Seward, Whittier, and Anchorage, and freighters in Seward and Anchorage.
In 2013, David and Ina Hawkins retired after 20 years of tireless service to the seafarers. David always said he was so driven to share Christ with seafarers because in his 7 1/2 years at sea, no one ever shared Christ with him until he was in the hospital in Juneau, after the watertight door accident. Even after my encounter with him, he tried to commit suicide in a seaman’s club in London. He was a very troubled man, but Jesus Christ healed his emotional and spiritual wounds and sent him to share the same message of love and forgiveness to other men of the sea. The most amazed crew were the ones he had worked with, drank with, gambled with, and knew him as Harry the Dog.
Scott Johnson became the director in June of 2013, so this summer will be his tenth summer ship visiting. Joe and I are still involved with visiting ships in Whittier and Anchorage and in other ports of the world.
CBN Interview of Seward Seaman’s Mission