The Gospel Hall outreach to seamen began 41 years ago, when Harold Hanna began to visit ships in the Vancouver area with gospel materials. His brother was an officer and later a captain on ships in Ontario and Harold saw the need to promote the gospel among seafarers on the West Coast.
In those days the Communist party was all-powerful; ships originating in Russia or Ukraine carried a commissar who had total control of the ship and visitation with Christian materials was not allowed. But access to ships with other crew nationalities was possible. The gospel was spread using the gospel of John, tracts, and calendars. In 1985 Isa Gilmartin saw a need for the hand-knitted toque to be added to the materials, and as a handout on board the ships this has become an essential part of the ship visit, paving the way to distributing the printed materials and presenting the gospel. We would like to emphasize the importance of toques in this outreach, and to encourage potential knitters to give some of their time to the production of them.
There are six multiple berth cargo ship terminals in the Port of Vancouver that could be visited with the gospel. Our brother Harold visits as many as he can, but with the sheer numbers, it is not possible to cover them all.
In 2002 the Gospel Hall outreach started at the Surrey/Fraser docks where there are eight ship berths for general cargo and two for container vessels. With improved technology the crew complement remains at 18 souls even though ships today are much larger. About 70% of the crews are from the Philippines, and the remainder largely from China, India, Myanmar, Poland, Russia, Vietnam, and the Ukraine. The Philippine crews understand English very well, and there seems to be a growing realization in the others of the need to be conversant in English. IBH supplies most of the printed material for ship visitation. Crews today have individual cabins and many of them have personal computers. This has led to the distribution of DVDs with a gospel presentation; and crew members are glad to receive them.
The Pacific Pilotage Authority provides ship movement information on its website and visits are made to the waterfront when appropriate. Some ships are on repeat voyages to B.C. but crew turnover is high and members from previous visits are rarely seen again and all materials are taken home with them.
Ship visitation is an excellent way to make the gospel known but the outreach could be much improved if more brethren would consider it as a personal exercise (John 4:35). The docks are usually fairly quiet on Saturdays and familiarization with the work is offered to any who are willing to give of their time.