The organization now known as Alaska Christian Ministry to Seafarer’s (“ACMS”) or “The Seaman’s Mission” began, literally, with a song in 1980. Jeannette Seale, a violin teacher in Juneau, Alaska had a student who was reluctant to play her instrument in public. To solve this problem, Jeannette persuaded the young woman to join her, in historical garb, to perform old fiddle tunes and hymns on the Juneau docks, for the City’s Centennial celebration. Their strolling performance was well received.
So well, in fact, that Jeannette quickly formed a musical group, the Lifeline Quartet, to tell the history of Juneau to passengers on four cruise ships that visited Alaska’s capitol throughout that summer. Their musical program contained a clear gospel message.
Soon, Lifeline was invited to sail on one of the ships in order to present concerts to passengers. During that cruise, group members Jeannette, Melissa Masters, and Ken Copelson were also permitted to meet the ship’s crew in their dining area below the passenger decks. More than a few of the workers had serious faith questions. Jeannette realized that there was an obvious spiritual vacuum on board that needed to be addressed. The passengers had church services; the crew did not.
Before the next cruise season (mid-may trough September), Jeannette and her husband, Joe Seale, struggled to understand what seemed to be a strong call from God to begin an organized effort to meet the crew’s varied needs. The couple already had several charitable commitments; and, Joe was working fulltime. However, as the Spring approached, the Seales’ hearts softened. One day, Jeannette surrendered, telling the Lord that she was willing to go on the ships to share Christ with crew members, if only He would go with her in Spirit and show her to whom she should talk and what to say. She promised to stay with the nascent ministry until God or circumstances closed the door.
Thirty-five years later, the Seales and many other Christian volunteers from around the world are still engaged with this work in Alaska. Over the years, countless thousands of seafarers have heard the Gospel through ACMS, which utilizes on-ship and on-shore conversations, worship services, booklets, donated Bibles, tapes, CDs, DVDs and other means. ACMS now has physical locations in both Seward and Whittier, Alaska to address many types of needs. Crew members (as well as workers employed in the fishing, coal and canning industries) have enjoyed recreation, snacks and meals, availability of ACMS computers and telephones, and/or just a chance to relax at these locations. ACMS also meets vessels from time to time in Anchorage.
One year, Jeannette met David Hawkins, a wine steward for Princess Cruises. He had been crushed in a water-tight door aboard a ship and life-flighted from Skagway, Alaska to a hospital in Juneau. Jeannette was requested by the Intensive Care Unit Nursing Supervisor, a Christian, to visit David because he had no family closer than England and the doctors anticipated he might die in a few days. But, gratefully, David survived his injuries. Jeannette was able to visit him many days during his recovery, and shared with him about salvation in Christ. David then returned to London to convalesce, during which period he corresponded with Jeannette about questions of faith. Months later God opened David’s eyes and he trusted Christ as Lord and Savior.
Miracles happen. David was able to attend and graduate from Bible college, where he met and married Ina, a missionary nurse. The couple moved to a small town where David had his first pastorate. Then, in the providence of God, David was asked to become the Mission’s first Executive Director.
By then, Joe’s employer had moved the Seales to Anchorage, and Joe and Jeannette began serving cruise ships arriving in Whittier, a small isolated port about 60 miles south of their home. The Hawkins also worked in Whittier for two cruise ship seasons. But, in 1993, they established the Mission’s permanent location in Seward, where the majority of Alaskan-bound cruise ships have a “turn-around day” before sailing back south with new passengers to Vancouver or Seattle.
When David joined the Mission, he was offered no salary. Back then, we had no budget, no money, no building, and, no place for the Hawkins to live. However, we serve a BIG God. From that day until now, ACMS has operated as a “faith mission”, trusting God for finances, Biblical materials for distribution, housing, food, etc. We do not ask for donations. God has been trustworthy. Over the years, David never solicited contributions, yet our Lord has been sufficient to meet the Mission’s every need.
God often works through benefactors. Other organizations, families, churches and individual Christians have provided funds to buy a house in Seward where crew members now rest and are refreshed before resuming duties back aboard their ships. We’ve been provided transport vans; apartments to house summer volunteers; food shelf supplies and spare clothing for indigents; even a basketball court for pick-up games. David and Ina were able, in off-seasons, to use some of these items to meet Seward local charitable needs. The original summer occupation became and is now a year-long endeavor.
In 2013, David and Ina retired after 20 years of tireless, dedicated service. A huge celebration was held to honor their zeal to share Christ and assist others. David testified that he was driven in his years as Director to share the Gospel, because for over seven years as a seafarer, he never heard this message as the answer to his issues. Jesus healed David’s emotional, physical and spiritual wounds; he sought as Director to share his story and God’s message of love and forgiveness with others wherever he went. To those that accepted God’s gift, David provided follow-up materials and kept in email contact with them, even as they moved to other ships plying waters in other parts of the world. ACMS is truly a global ministry operating out of Alaska.
The story continues. Upon David’s retirement, Pastor Scott Johnson, a Minnesotan who worked summers in Alaska, stepped in as Executive Director. Scott and his wife Beth are well equipped to carry on the work with the Seales, long-time missionaries — George and Cheryl Reichman, and other volunteers. God is good all the time.