Florida Today

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Gil Magtuloy sits at a computer monitor inside Space Coast Seafarers Ministries and listens as his 6-year old daughter sings to him from their home, a world away in the Philippines.

Magtuloy, 35, a galley steward aboard the Disney Dream cruise ship, and dozens of other cruise ship crew members turn to ministry in Cape Canaveral as a place where they can make phone or video conferencing calls, read, have a meal or receive a Bible in one of 60 languages.

“I feel like I have a second family here,” he said as he lingered a recent morning at the ministry building. “I get encouragement from people here and from my fellow Filipinos.”

Magtuloy said he spends several hours at a time at the ministry surfing the Internet and talking with other mariners. First, he talks with his wife and daughter via Skype.

“She always shows me her drawings and she sings to me and she prays for me,” he said.

He and other cruise ship workers said they feel at home at Seafarers Ministry.

Local Christian groups began visiting ship crews at Port Canaveral in the 1990. Then in 1997, Space Coast Seafarers Ministries officially began. Today, with three full-time and one part-time staffer and more than 90 volunteers, it serves thousands of seafarers from more than 80 countries each year.

“If somebody comes in and says ‘I need a Bible in a certain language,’ ” he makes certain it happens,” Jeff Johnson, a chaplain at the ministry said about James Boyd, who manages the inventory of Bibles. “We have Bibles in 60 different languages.”

The organization, started by the Brevard Baptist Association, has four vans to transport the mariners to and from the ministry’s headquarters — a former post office — and to take them shopping. It also provides the use of 20 phones, 20 computers and WiFi.

“Basically we want to show them the love of Christ in whatever way we can,” said Johnson, known to some as the “pool-playing chaplain.”

“We build relationships.”

In addition to the library of Bibles and Christian books, there is a small convenience store, a closet of free clothes, free coffee, tea, snacks and free hot lunch. The ministry serves about 1,000 meals a week, all cooked with slow cookers, pizza ovens or a microwave.

The organization will begin trying to raise the money to build a new kitchen addition to its building.

Space Coast Seafarers Ministries is supported by donations from churches of different denominations, individuals and through grants.

“It’s the best seafarers center I’ve ever been to,” said Magtuloy, who has worked on cruise ships since 2007, including in Europe and Asia.

He said he uses the computers and can participate in a worship service in the small chapel in the ministry’s headquarters located just outside the entrance to the port.

He said that when he goes to be with his family for two months in July, he will have been away from them for seven months.

Richard Buccio, a chaplain at the ministry, said the ministry helps to meet many needs for the men and women who are away from their families. The seafarers work in a unique environment with a mix of people of many cultures, a situation often very different than what they are used to at home.

“They work long hours,” he said. “There are elements for depression and loneliness. We’re a second family to them. We do it all in the name of Jesus.”

Luciana Reis, who works with children’s programs aboard Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment, said she goes to the seafarers center at least once a week, when the ship is at Port Canaveral.

“This place is really nice,” she said as she opened a package she ordered online and had delivered at the ministry like many of the other mariners do. “We are all very glad about this place.”

Mariners said the Seafarers ministry is of great help to them as they try to build up savings for a business later on or to send money home to support relatives.

“When you work on the ship, you can save money and send more money to your family,” said Garibaldi Heredia, 29, of the Dominican Republic.

Heredia said he set a goal to build a four-unit apartment complex in the next four years. He said he finds help and encouragement at the ministry.

“You can relax, talk to family,” he said. “When you are away from home, you need this to feel like family,” he said.