By Yvonne de Kock

‘It’s still ‘lockdown’ as regards on board visits to vessels, missions and hospitals. But we’ve set up communications with them via website links for chats and devotions [even airtime renewal] we have the same communication capabilities with many vessels worldwide with 6 of us on a round the clock roster to assist captains and crews with care in these circumstances. We have now set up Skype and call-in lines with vessels worldwide with us covering Africa and our Asia, Europe, New Zealand and S. America Networks.

Each day chaplains world-wide have a Skype meeting to exchange information from their respective regions and countries.”

The words of Rev Boet van Schalkwyk, Principal Chaplain and Co-ordinator Crisis Response Network, Africa.

As has been reported, seafarers the world over are in dire straits resulting from the lockdown. They are far from home, cannot leave their vessel even when they do arrive in a port and cannot visit the Missions there.  Feelings of isolation are severe.

Boet van Schalkwyk, Principal Chaplain and Co-ordinator Crisis Response Network, Africa.

Hence the work of the chaplains as explained by Rev Van Schalkwyk is to be lauded.

But what do their services include?

Apart from counselling in lockdown situations, their frame of operation covers a broad spectrum. There are virtual hospital visits to seafarers who are hospitalised as a result of injuries at sea or an emergency operation. No more personal hospital visits.Then there are those who wear a different type of mask, the sinister masks of pirates and attackers at sea. They do not maintain social distancing. Lockdown doesn’t exist in their vocabulary. Chaplains have to deal with seafarers who have been involved in these despicable crimes as well.

Consider what it means to be on duty 24/7 to counsel. Mercifully all of them do not have stressful calls day after day. But when they do, they have to employ all the counselling skills they have learnt. No idle chats, those ‘ every cloud has a silver lining” platitudes will not help ; they could be talking to a seafarer who has come to his wits’ end as he is suffering from extreme loneliness, trauma after an attack,  extreme stress having had bad news about his family.

They need comforting words but importantly words of meaningful advice and practical information as to how to cope. It does not end there, chaplains then often have to make contact with their families for assurance and to establish what they need, or refer the chaplains in their countries or areas to make contact with the families.

Chaplains could be saving a life.

Face to face counselling is less complicated but the counsellor has to make remote counselling just as meaningful. It is exhausting; it saps emotions and physical energy.

But they do it with devotion and love.

Counsellors do have opportunities for discussing their concerns, but these are infrequent owing to pressure of work,  so, just as we pray for the medical personnel for their sterling work, remember the chaplains in prayer- they take care of the mental health of so many.