Bringing the Gospel to those who “go down to the sea in ships” (Psalm 107:23) has been an outreach of the Apostolic Faith Church for decades. This method of evangelism started in 1913 when a lone man made his way on foot along the waterfront in Portland, visiting the old windjammers tied up there, and inviting the men on board to attend the services. Since then, workers have brought thousands of merchant seamen, representing over seventy nationalities, into the church services. This ministry takes place not only at the Portland headquarters church, but also in branch churches along the West Coast.
Seafaring men attending the Apostolic Faith churches are given a warm welcome. Sometimes men of several nations have been in the services at the same time. Though many do not understand English, they understand the language of sacred music and Christian love, and they also recognize the presence of the Spirit of God. A Japanese officer said, “We feel the Spirit in our heart.” Some from distant lands, who had once bowed before images and idols, have knelt before the true God at an altar of prayer and have found peace they never knew existed in this life.
The largest total attendance of merchant seamen in a single Apostolic Faith service in Portland was recorded shortly after World War II, when 126 were present—113 of them from Japan. Annual attendance of men from the ships has been as high as 4,000.
In addition to personal visitation on the ships, the organization used another effectual method of evangelism in the harbor work. Between 1921 and 1953, a ministry was carried on by the means of small boats that cruised the harbor. In 1921, the first boat, the Morning Star, was purchased. This 28-foot motorboat was manned by a group of enthusiastic Christian young men who carried on a “life-saving” missionary work in the harbor every Sunday afternoon. With a cargo of Christian literature in various languages, the workers were well equipped to present the news of salvation to seafaring men aboard foreign ships. After deciding to visit a certain ship, they would pull in as close as possible and extend a ladder up the side of the ship. Then two of the members would climb this ladder to leave church papers for the men to read.
If ships in the harbor could not be boarded, Gospel literature distribution still took place. Workers would cruise by a large vessel and throw onto its deck waterproof packets of papers and tracts in the language of the men on that ship. Sometimes a ship they wanted to visit was already on its way out of the harbor and the little cruiser would accelerate to full speed to catch up with the ship. Then the workers would throw aboard the literature packets, sometimes called “Gospel grenades.”
In 1924, the first outreach boat was replaced with a larger one, the Morning Star II, a cruiser type. It was equipped with living accommodations for a group of workers, and being a larger boat, it was used to carry on a more extensive work. With it the workers cruised farther down the Columbia River toward the Pacific Ocean and reached more ships. Occasionally they would visit small towns, villages, lumber camps, and some places accessible at that time only by water. The Morning Star II was used until World War II restrictions limited the harbor work.
After the close of World War II, the harbor work was resumed as soon as restrictions were lifted. In 1945, a 28-foot cruiser, the Vigilance, was purchased, and it was in active service until 1953.
Over the years, Christian workers with a “missionary heart” have done more than simply bring the men into church services. Thousands of men from the ships have been entertained in the homes of congregation members. Countless trips have been taken to scenic spots near the port cities, resulting in warm friendships that have opened doors for sharing the message of salvation. This loving and gracious hospitality has had a profound impact, and bonds have been established that transcend national or cultural boundaries.
Some of the visitors from afar return to the church services each time their ship docks. Crew members who are welcomed to church in one port are told of other port cities where they can attend Apostolic Faith services. At times, workers who arrive at the docks prior to church time have found a group of men already waiting, saying, “We knew you would come!”
The effect of their visits extends far beyond the contacts made on board ship. Many of these men take Gospel literature to their families. They are also encouraged to leave names of family and friends, and letters are written to them. As a result, thousands are presented with the message of salvation.
Though access to the ships was curtailed as a result of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, the results extend around the world today. In the 1960s, because of an interest in the work among seafaring men, Harold Barrett and his wife Sally made a trip to Korea to meet the families of friends they had made on the ships. That trip was the starting point for the Apostolic Faith work in Korea, which now includes six established congregations. Seafaring men and members of their families are still active workers in these churches. Miguel Carganilla, a Philippine seaman who was saved while at sea was later sanctified and filled with the Holy Spirit in his visits to Apostolic Faith churches along the West Coast and is now a pastor of an Apostolic Faith branch church in the Philippines. Don Morse, a man from the headquarters church in Portland who regularly visits the ships and invites men to church, was himself a seafaring man who came to the Lord as a result of this ministry. Today, he often testifies, “Now I love to tell others about Jesus! It is a joy to visit the ships that dock in our harbor, inviting others to attend church. After all, someone invited me!”