Interview with Rev Un Tay: “Joyful service with compassion”

To say that the Rev Un Hui Tay is brimming over with the joy of the Lord would be a huge understatement. He always has a story or three, laughs almost more than he talks and looks a decade younger than his 59 years. All God’s doing, he assures me.

Pastor Tay bring this exuberant faith, and 40 years as a church planter, to his work as Principal Chaplain at Mission to Seafarers Sydney. He is excited about what the Mission can offer the mainly Asian crew of international freight vessels who have to live away from their loved ones in order to provide for them.

“The life of a seafarer is very tough,” he said. “They sacrifice the comfort of home…spend nine to 12 months at sea and have to deal with isolation, loneliness, depression, mental health issues.

“The   suicide   rate for seafarers is much higher than the general population. If you have relationship problems, you have nowhere to turn. If you have problems at work, you can’t go home like the rest of us do. There’s no escape.

“When they arrive at the port, we have a chaplain go on board to visit them. We provide conflict resolution if needed, pastoral care, counselling — we are there for them, a pair of listening ears that they can confide in, whatever the issues are. They look forward to seeing us.”

Because of the mission’s desire to be a welcoming, compassionate ministry, its centre at Millers Point is crammed with whatever a travelling sailor might need: games, comfy couches, free wifi, cheap local SIM cards, Western Union money transfers, toiletries, international snacks — even souvenirs at cheaper prices than the shops outside.

“Because of the standard sea routes we see them once every 35-42 days,” he says. “Our bus goes and picks them up [from places such as Port Botany]… and whenever they’re not talking to family or whatever, there’s time for our staff here to interact and talk to them. 

He said the Chaplains chat to them about all sorts of things and try to find out if they are feeling OK not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Some have not had the opportunity to talk about faith issues ever and others not for a long time, despite the challenges they face daily. We have many resources to support them including Gospel information in several languages. Every time they come back to Sydney, we can continue those conversations and follow them up if the seafarers would like to do so.

As exciting as this ministry is, Rev Tay says there are even more opportunities on the  horizon. For the five years to 2017, Mr Tay says, barely 10 cruise crew members visited the centre each season. Last year, after the MtS reached out in person at the terminal, there were 250 visitors. Since the Centre reopened after covid lockdowns, it has offered the service as the ‘home address’ for seafarers parcels. This is especially useful to Cruise ship seafarers. In the past year, seafarers from over 70 nations have visited the Centre.

As this growth looks set to continue, Rev Tay hopes to create a roster of volunteers who can give up an occasional morning to welcome newly arrived crews to Sydney. The crews come from all over the world so this is great way for people to experience a bit of different culture and expand the mindset, he said.

“We need extra hands and feet to expand our work and find more volunteers and funds. We trust in God by faith. He will uphold us.”

Extract from Southern Cross News Magazine August p. 4

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