Posey trying to reach souls along the river

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 13, 1999

DEBORAH CORRAO / L’Observateur / March 13, 1999

L’Observateur Below the gangway the sun catches the iridescent colors of hundreds of ducks lined up along the banks of the Mississippi River in Reserve, paddling patiently back and forth pecking at the odd remnants of corn spewed out as the yellow kernels are transferred from a nearby grain elevator to a waiting ship.

It is a duck hunter’s dream.

But on the gangway is the figure of a man on a different quest. Armed withBibles instead of a shotgun, Port Chaplain Tim Posey reflects on the feathered creatures below hoping that his harvest of souls will be as bountiful as the corn.

Every year more than 3,600 ships dock along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Paulina – many of them right here in the River Parishes.

On board each ship are 20-35 seamen, crew members who spend months at a time out at sea away from their families.

Often these seamen depend on shore passes at ports along the river to purchase necessary toiletries or to make phone calls to their families around the world.

But a simple trip to a local department store or a phone booth can be dangerous. Walking alone in an unfamiliar neighborhood the men oftenbecome the victims of opportunistic muggers and robbers.

For seafarers who dock in Reserve, a safe haven is just blocks away.

At the First Baptist Church in Reserve, Posey, a full-time evangelist, ministers to the needs of these foreign seamen.

As a temporary assignment, Posey, 36, has taken on the task of working with volunteers from the church to get the fledgling port mission on its feet.

The program is part of a cooperative agreement between Global Maritime Ministries, formerly New Orleans Baptist Seamen’s Service, and First Baptist Church of Reserve. Members of First Baptist saw a need for theprogram, but the church did not have the money or the expertise to wing it alone.

Global Maritime Ministries funds his work.

Girded with Bibles in a hundred different languages and a Masters of Divinity in Evangelism, Posey, a native of Brookhaven, Miss., is leading thecrusade to provide Christian ministry to seafarers from around the world.

“Evangelism is something God called me to do,” says Posey, who is also Director of his own non-profit evangelism organization known as Freedom Ministries. “I know it makes some people nervous – people outside ofchurch – but I just know that what God wants me to do is be an evangelist fulltime.”The work is an uphill battle. Posey admits his message of Christianity isnot always well received by these men, many of them in port for only a day or so. But like a ship caught on the currents of the deep waters of theMississippi, his spirit is buoyed up if he can connect with just one soul.

His first meeting with Ronnie Gealon established an almost instant rapport.

Gealon, a Roman Catholic, speaks four languages, including English. Asecond engineer on the Alam Mexico, a ship that regularly transports grain from South Louisiana to ports in Mexico, the 37-year-old sailor has been working on ships since he was 18. He is away from home six months at atime.

Back in the Philippines Gealon has a wife and four children. He has his ownsmall car repair business there that he runs during the two months out of every eight he is home, but he said he depends on his income from his job at sea to raise his family and meet financial obligations.

It is painful for him to be separated from his family for months at a time.

“Every time I go home I think that this time, if I have enough money, I will look for something closer to home,” he laments. But so far things have notworked out that way.

Gealon has a persistent sinus condition caused by his constant exposure to grain dust. When he docks in Reserve, he knows who to call for a ride toWal-Mart to buy the over-the-counter remedies he uses to relieve the symptoms of his condition.

Posey, in the big white van supplied by Global Maritime Ministries through a grant, picks Gealon up at the dock in Reserve and takes him to Wal-Mart in LaPlace to buy his needed medical supplies.

“He’s super,” says Gealon of Posey. “I only met him last night, but he’salready just like a brother.”And, indeed, the kinship Posey feels toward seafarers so far from their homes gives him the determination he needs to go the extra mile, ministering to their physical needs as well as their spiritual ones.

“He’s the best port chaplain I’ve met since I started sailing,” Gealon continues. “Most chaplains will come on board and hand out Bibles and younever see them again.”On board the Alam Mexico are Pakistanis, Mexicans, Filipinos and Indonesians. Some are Christian, some Muslim, some non-believers.With Gealon as his guide, Posey boards the huge grain ship carrying plastic bags loaded with softcover Bibles in the native languages of their home countries.

“Here I can walk on a ship and give someone a Bible in Indonesian. InIndonesia I’d be put in jail,” he says. “In Indonesia it’s not against the lawto own a Bible, but it is against the law to give someone one.”One by one, Gealon gathers his fellow seafarers where they meet briefly in a small lounge, smiling tentatively as they are introduced to Posey.

His imposing presence could be intimidating to these timid men, many of them of much smaller stature.

He sits down to distribute the Bibles, waiting quietly for a reaction or a question. Several of the seamen sit down for a while to talk, others skimbriefly through a Bible before excusing themselves to go back to work.

It’s hard to tell if he’s sparked any interest or if the men are just being polite.

While many of the seamen he encounters have been exposed to Christianity, he says, most have not been given enough information to take a step toward commitment.

Posey sometimes is frustrated by the fact he may only have one chance to connect on that deeper level. He must have faith that his ministry willmake a difference in the lives he touches so briefly.

“Sometimes I reach people,” he says. “Sometimes I wonder why in theworld I do this.”One of the biggest obstacles to his ministry, he says, is the prejudice he encounters from the people who live along the river where the ships dock – people who are frightened by the difference in skin color or language or the clothes stained by the sweat and grime from a day’s worth of hard labor aboard a grain ship.

“People are scared of them and don’t like them walking in their neighborhoods,” he says. “Since most of them don’t speak English, theyhave a hard time communicating. This escalates the fear.”He compares his mission to that of Sister Helen Prejean in the movie “Dead Man Walking.””I ask people to see these seafarers not as monsters but as people,” he says.

Deborah Corrao is a reporter for L’Observateur

Back to Top

Back to Leisure Headlines

Copyright © 1998, Wick Communications, Inc.

Internet services provided by NeoSoft.

Best viewed with 3.0 or higher