If They Can't Come to Jesus, Jesus Can Come to Them

Feeling adrift and unsettled? You have no idea.
Just consider the story of some stranded Filipino sailors who are currently anchored off the coast of Georgia. According to a story published this week on National Public Radio by Camila Domonoske, the cargo ship—the Newlead Castellano—is swaying without direction on the ocean swells off a Georgia beach, holding its sailors captive.
“The cargo ship had been seized by U.S. marshals because its owners had stopped paying on their loans. The ship would be sold to pay off those debts — a process "similar in concept" to a home foreclosure, says attorney Todd Baiad, who represents the lenders.
"Because it's a movable object, there's some intricacies involved," he explains. "And, you know, you've got crew members."
The crew has been marooned on their ship since April. And they haven’t been allowed to come ashore.
For many of us, we can identify with this tale of suspended animation. Although we may have never stepped foot on a cargo ship, we are quite familiar with the sensation of feeling trapped. There’s something both poignant and disturbing about this universal experience of feeling stranded.
Maritime stories abound of sea voyages plagued by the doldrums. The doldrums refer to areas of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans where the trade winds become quiet, effectively hijacking the progress of ships that were dependent on capturing the wind to fuel their sails. Sailors would bake on the decks of their ships, praying for a breeze to ripple the glassy sea and inch them closer to their destination.
As much as we may loathe the doldrums, trying to avoid them is fruitless. Sometimes, we just get stuck. Progress feels impossible and we find ourselves staring out at the distant horizon, desperate for an agent of change. In these moments, our souls are deflated and we oftentimes feel cut-off from those we love. God seems absent and impotent. We become tired of our own prayers.
In the story of the cargo ship, however, the Newlead Castellano’s prayers were eventually answered. The National Maritime Service became responsible for the crew, providing for them sustenance in the form of food and water. The crew asked for something else, though. They wanted a priest to visit them and to provide them the Eucharist, or communion. The attorney that had been assigned to them swiftly contacted his own parish priest, asking him if he had any interest in visiting the stranded sailors.
“The pastor, Father Brett Brannen, wound up making the trip offshore not just once, but several times over the course of the summer.
"If they can't come to Mass, Mass can come to them," the attorney Todd Baiad says. He says he was there for one of Brannen's visits, and that sharing the Sacrament with the stranded sailors was "a really meaningful spiritual experience."
For our Catholic brothers and sisters, Mass includes the experience of communion—of having a direct experience with Jesus Christ.
“If they can’t come to Mass, Mass can come to them.”
If they can’t come to Jesus, Jesus can come to them.
How many times has Christ come to you through the love and compassion of individuals who have ventured beyond the gap to be near you when you’ve been adrift? Personally, I thank God for the grace I have received when I have been found sitting on the deck of a ship stuck on a wide ocean, unsure if it will ever move again.
I am deeply moved by Father Brannen’s willingness to take communion to these stranded Fillipino sailors because it strikes at the heart of the Gospel. In the Great Commission, God commands us to go to distant lands to unfamiliar people and to share Jesus’s life, ministry and teachings with them. It is both foolish and disobedient to presume that these far-flung individuals should come to us in order to experience Jesus. The burden is upon us. We are the ones who Jesus is calling to go to others in His name.
The church as a lighthouse may not be the best image for us, here. Yes, lighthouses pierce the darkness so that ships can find safe passage to shore. Rather, I prefer the story of the primitive ‘lifesavers’ who were stationed on the Outer Banks during the late 1800s. More than a century ago, these committed individuals kept watch for ships that got shipwrecked on the cape’s trademark shoals. For when they did, they launched a kind of zip-line from the shore to the stranded ship in the hopes of rescuing the sailors and bringing them to safety.
It is imperative that we are a church who seeks to share Christ with those outside our fellowship. Just as it was with the lifesavers on the Outer Banks, we must keep watch; ever-prepared and passionate about saving souls in Christ’s Name. We, ourselves, have been rescued countless times. We know how to do it because we’ve experienced it ourselves. It’s now time for us to journey out to others so that they can experience the breath of the Holy Spirit filling their sails.