Of Boats and Books

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

How are your sea legs?  Mine aren’t great.  
I enjoy coastal living, and living a short walk from a beautiful sea view can’t be beaten; but the sight of all of those cruise ships parked in the Bay hasn’t whetted my appetite for any kind of an ocean-going vacation.  
In my early teenage years, I recall being on holiday in Cornwall, and whilst spending the day in Padstow, we went on a sea fishing trip.   
However, we hadn’t travelled very far off-shore before I started to feel a bit queasy, and I spent the next couple of hours doing nothing but hoping and praying I wasn’t going to be violently sick.   
When we arrived back in the harbour, and disembarked, I was so pleased to have returned safely to dry land that I sank to my knees and gave terra firma a big Pope-style kiss.  
One of the few enjoyable experiences I’ve had on a boat was 12 years ago, when I had the privilege of visiting a ship called the Logos Hope, when it visited the port at Cardiff.    
This vessel is a significant part of the on-going ministry of Christian charity Operation Mobilisation (OM).  The founder of OM is George Verwer, who first came up with the idea of a ship ministry whilst he was involved in missionary work in India.   
Transporting books and other materials used in OM’s rapidly expanding work around that country’s roads, during the 1960’s, was becoming increasingly hazardous, expensive and a logistical nightmare.  
Although George thought his idea made perfect sense, when he first suggested to supporters back in the UK that they should raise the funds to purchase a boat, many thought it was an “outlandish” idea and reckoned that George had “lost his marbles”!   
However, he persisted, believing that not only would a ship be ideal for transporting books vehicles and equipment safely over large distances, she could also be a catalyst for creating an eye-catching venue for events, accommodating large groups of people.   
Verwer said: “My dream was for something that would impact a city, that the word would get out about what we believed about Jesus, and people would come”.   
Many became enthused by George’s vision, the money was raised and, 50 years ago, in February 1971 a ship called Logos began her maiden voyage from the UK to India.   
In the subsequent five decades, OM’s ship ministry has operated four different vessels, visiting 500 cities in more than 150 countries across the globe.   
During this time, more than 45 million people have been welcomed on board, many receiving books & Bibles that would not otherwise have been available to them.   
The current OM ship, the Logos Hope, appropriately houses the largest floating bookfair in the world (the Greek word Logos means “the word”).   
It visits some of the poorest countries around the globe and, whilst in port, most of the ships 400-strong crew, many of them young adults representing more than 60 countries, will be engaged in all kinds of relief work on shore – working on construction projects, fitting donated water filters, bringing medical aid or gifts of food & clothing – all being practical expressions of God’s love and concern for people.   
Although he’s now 82, George Verwer still spends much of his time enthusing others to consider how God can use them.  And he credits his life of Christian service to the prayers of a neighbour, Dorothea Clapp, who prayed for George when he was a teenager, and also gave him a copy of John’s Gospel.   
She prayed not only for George to become a Christian, but also that he would be a missionary.  “All of the ministry of OM over many years,” says George, “can be traced back to one praying woman.  God heard and answered her prayers”.   
If you want to know more about the work of Operation Mobilisation, or know a young person who would benefit from serving on the Logos Hope, find out more at www.om.org/ships