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An Officer of the Sea

She grew up on a farm near Brantford, Ontario, but now travels the world as a deck officer on container ships.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church singing, "Send the light, the blessed Gospel light. Let it shine from shore to shore." Little did I know back then that the Lord would guide me into a career aboard merchant ships literally sailing from shore to shore around the world. I travel on large container ships of enormous tonnage bringing cargo from Asia and the Mediterranean to North America. As a licensed deck officer, I am responsible for navigating the vessel for two four-hour shifts per day. I navigate through every kind of weather, sometimes rolling through 30-foot waves steering from our bridge which can be ten stories above the sea. The voyages are usually four months long, returning to a United States port every 35 to 40 days.

An Officer of the Sea
Jane, pictured above, navigating
her ship through ocean waters.

There are many opportunities to interact with cultures as I sail to various parts of the world. In each port of call the crew have time to go ashore for a few hours, and various means of transportation are available. I have walked into local towns, ridden bicycles and traveled by horse and buggy. The local people are always interested in meeting North Americans, so it is very easy to speak to them, focusing on my Christian faith and how the Lord has blessed my life.

The barriers of language are not a problem. If they don't speak English, I show them the sign of the cross, and they understand. Then I show them the Bible, and they start to talk. At times it becomes very heavy on my heart that this may be the only chance these people ever have to hear about the Lord. If I could just plant one seed for the Gospel, I know the Lord would bless it in His timing.

My experiences include riding a bicycle in South Korea through the rice fields and talking with the women working the land. They would stop their work and listen intently as I shared about the blessings of the Lord. With the help of my family at home, I was able to leave each one with Christian tracts and Bibles in a number of languages.

In Izmir, Turkey, one of the longshoremen who unloads the ship's cargo at port wanted me to share my faith with him. He told me he would read the Bible to his wife and three children, if I could bring him one. When I returned to Izmir 42 days later, I presented him with a Bible. The man was mesmerized as he opened it, and could not believe someone would care enough to go to the trouble to bring him this gift. Overwhelmed by his reaction, I wept as we shared.

In Alexandria, Egypt, my means of transportation was horse and buggy. As I stopped to walk around the open markets, the local merchants were eager to talk. I conversed with them about the blessing the Lord has been to my life, and they were always receptive to listen. I would always try to leave a tract with them.

Each vessel I sail has 22 crew members. By the end of my four-month voyage, I always have the opportunity to share the Lord's goodness with someone aboard. My family has a picture of my grandfather, a pioneer Pentecostal minister, sowing seeds in the field on his farm. We often refer to that picture as a symbol illustrating that no matter where our paths take us in life, we should be planting seeds, even just one seed to share the Gospel with someone.

If that thought is always with us, we know the Lord will cultivate that seed for His glory.

Jane Shelley grew up on a farm near Brantford, Ontario and attended Evangel Pentecostal Church for most of her life. She now travels the world as a deck officer on container ships.

Originally published in Testimony, December 2004.




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