By Brittany Ragon
They’re definitely not trying to hide it. In fact, they advertise it on the windshield of their vans and on the dashboard: “God is love.” “Jesus is the answer.” “Real men love Jesus.”
That’s their purpose. And it’s been their purpose for the past nearly 19 years since the Gulfport-based Center for International Seamen and Truckers (CIST) was founded.
“We’re pushing people straight to Jesus,” said Charles Corey, retired CIST director.
So when ships come into port, Corey and seven other volunteer drivers take turns heading over in 15-passenger vans to pick up groups of men from all different nations who are eager to get on land.
And that drive to the nearest Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club or outlet mall is made possible by the Margaret Lackey State Missions Offering (MLSMO), which provides monthly support to help ensure this ministry, literally, stays running.
“These men are on ships for some time and they want to get off and meet people,” Corey said. “And it’s an opportunity for us to share the name of Jesus Christ. We get to hear their stories, listen to their stories.”
And every man has one.
They are young and middle aged. They are dealing with loneliness and depression. They are husbands, sons and fathers, seeking to provide for their wives, mothers and children back home.
And they are all in need of a little hope.
“Our volunteers are able to develop relationships with the seafarers,” said Steve Mooneyham, executive director of Gulf Coast Baptist Association. “They are able to share the gospel with them and provide literature, which the seamen take for themselves and back to their homes. By this means we literally are having the opportunity to send the gospel worldwide.”
In the last few weeks, the ministry has opened doors for Corey to talk with men from Ukraine, Russia, Estonia, Libya, Germany, Kaliningrad, Philippines, Indonesia, Honduras, Guatemala, India, Ecuador and Croatia.
“We give them a Bible in their own language and we also give them tracks on various topics like depression and loneliness,” Corey said.
And thanks to the funds through the MLSMO, the men also receive a DVD of the Jesus film, produced by Campus Crusade for Christ.
Since the men are on contract from four months up to a year, sometimes longer, Corey said they often see the same guys rotate into port. “So we go consistently so we can start asking questions,” he added.
Corey said he remembers one man from Russia who came through the first time in 1996. Coming through for a second time in 2010 on a Tyson chicken vessel, he inquired of Corey, “Do you remember me?” To which Corey was quick to respond, “Yea I remember you. Do you remember what we did? I told you about Jesus. Do you remember Him?”
“He said to me, ‘Yea, I do,’” Corey recalled. “That man was born again on the galley of the ship.”
Corey said “ministry success” is a hard thing to measure in terms of the numbers of lives changed. “But we share and trust Jesus to do the work through His Holy Spirit,” he said.
“I always say that we’re the chief mates and Jesus is the captain,” he added. “Jesus is the one providing this for you. He is the answer to your problem. He’s the answer to life on sea or on land. I’m just the chief mate. And we’re not asking you for anything; we’re serving you in the name of Jesus.”
And that’s the bold message that’s being heard around the world through the CIST.
“The world comes to our doorstep through the Port of Mississippi,” Mooneyham said. “Those who volunteer are able to influence the lives of men and their families for Christ. A person might not be able to afford to travel internationally, but as a driver or other volunteer, they are involved in international missions in a very personal way. Anytime someone’s eyes are opened to ministry abroad, there is also the chance that they see their own local area differently and develop a heart to reach people in their own neighborhood.”