At the appointed time, just eleven boys and some of us were collected by a mini bus belonging to the ship. There were meant to be two buses, but one wasn’t available, so we all squashed into one and some of the crew had to walk back to the ship. The nice thing was that, although some of the boys we had invited didn’t turn up at the meeting point, all of our regular boys were there, including the two Muslim’s. The boys wouldn’t sit still and were jumping around in the bus because they were so excited. We made them sit down as we went past the security point, otherwise they might not have been allowed into the ship area. Some of these boys had never been into this area, as they weren’t even allowed to cross the bridge from Olongapo into Subic Bay.
In the van a few of the boys had their hands and T-shirts up over their noses and mouths. I asked what was wrong and Paul indicated that he felt ill due to the air conditioning, which he wasn’t used to. Joel also was ill, with the start of a fever that continued for nearly a week, so he wasn’t his usual self. On arrival at the ship, the boys wanted to run towards the gangway, but they were stopped and given a short talking to by us about the expected standards of behaviour. They listened, and then promptly disregarded everything we had said.
In the lobby, we wrote down all of their names and gave them badges. Fortunately, many crew members were on hand to assist as we had prepared well for the event and knew that we would need a lot of volunteers to keep control. We tried to split them into groups of three for the initial ship tour, with the inevitable result that they wanted to swap and change groups to be with different friends. Two boys, Paul and Joel, had disappeared and I found them waiting in the clinic to see the nurse, as they weren’t feeling well and had been escorted there by a well-meaning crew member. I joined them as the nurse was saying, “I don’t really know what we can do here...” So I asked them, “Are you well enough for a tour of the ship?” They said “Yes!” straight away and didn’t seem to understand how or why they had ended up in the clinic, so I just took them straight back up to join the others. I commented to the nurse that they were street boys who were used to fighting off various ailments and that they would be okay in due course. She tended to agree.
The tour was amusing, as we tried to have two crew members with each group of three boys. However, the boys kept sighting each other from various points on the ship and then running to different decks to try and re-unite with their friends. I told my group that they weren’t allowed to go to the top deck as it is against the ship rules, but then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another of the groups of boys already up there and two boys hanging over the railings. I shouted for them to get down and then saw the crew member that was supervising them running across the deck to catch up. They had obviously escaped. This resulted in one of the boys from another group shimmying up a ladder to join them on the top deck, which is definitely forbidden. It was all pretty hectic, but also quite funny as we struggled to maintain control. We took them onto the bridge to try on the Captain’s hat and have photos taken, and then some of them sat on the deck to watch the sunset. Next, they went to the Dining Room for juice. The ship juice is made from powder and is brightly coloured, so they all had coloured moustaches around their upper lips as they insisted on drinking more and more of this juice which really tastes bad. It was the novelty value I guess.
After the tour, a ship security person, who will remain nameless, approached me and told me that I needed to keep more control of the boys, and that we needed to stick to the “official tour route.” I nearly laughed out loud at this, but just said that we would do our best. It was now time for dinner and the Chef had prepared rice and other items just for the boys, as rice wasn’t on the menu for that day and most Filipino’s eat rice morning, noon and night! The boys were allowed to go to the front of the dinner queues, but needed one crew member each, to assist them in getting their food, as they really didn’t know what they were doing. All of the crew were really friendly and helpful. They had heard a lot about the boys and the boys were more than happy to talk to them. Once they had their food, the boys were directed to sit in a reserved area to eat.
At this point, I was made aware of a situation in the lobby area. One of the youngest boys, Joshua (10), had run away from his tour group and to the exit door leading to the gangway. He was now clinging to the door, crying, and refusing to let go. I tried to persuade him to come and eat, but he refused and became more and more hysterical. Eventually, I obtained translation and it turned out he was afraid that the ship would sail with them all still on-board and that they would then be our prisoners. He was really distraught. It took several people about twenty minutes to convince him that we would not sail with him still on-board and that we were not trying to capture him. Eventually, he came upstairs to eat and that was the end of that.
Whilst they were meant to be eating, the boys kept getting up and walking around the Dining Room, either to engage other crew members in conversation, or to take their chances and conceal various food items in their pockets for later. There was always a reason for them to get up and walk around, and of course heading to the “Comfort Room or CR” ( a term for the bathroom in the Philippines) formed a regular part of their routine. One crew member went to the used clothes store on the ship, known as “Charlie,” and collected some items of clothing to replace the ones that were really dirty or torn.
Eventually, it was time to watch the Jesus movie (in Tagalog) in a corner of the Dining Room. Most of the boys gathered near the front of the screen but some hung back, and Reuben wanted to sit on my lap. This was okay but as the movie started I felt a wet patch seeping through to my trousers, and after my initial surprise, as this was a 12 year old not a toddler, I gratefully remembered the earlier escapades in the river, so I asked someone to get him some dry shorts. The boys generally listened well and watched the whole movie avidly, although a few at the fringes of the group and Joel who still wasn’t feeling well, fell asleep. In the middle of the movie, we overheard the following excited whisper coming from the two Muslim boys, Joshua and Luke, who were sitting at the front. Joshua said, “This is the part where Jesus is in the tomb for three days.” He remembered this from an Evangecube that some crew members had been using on the bridge to share the Gospel!
After the movie, we let them take some sweets and soft drinks with them, and then we ushered them back down the gangway to the bus. Unbelievably, they were even more lively than on the way there! When we reached the city, we let them all out in an excited mass. They continued to hang on to bits of the bus as we were trying to drive away, and they were shouting and singing. I was glad I wasn’t going to have to calm them down.
Although the bridge ministry, in terms of the daily presence of crew members with the book table seeking to share the Gospel, had officially ended, we still went to see the boys regularly and continued our feeding programme twice daily. Over the next few days, we began to see small punnets of jam, butter, and other breakfast spreads, in addition to Logos Hope wristbands, that had obviously been acquired from the ship whilst the boys were in the Dining Room and Book Fair. We accepted this as part of the course and were just grateful that they had been able to come after all the planning.
On reflection, although the event was stressful because I was co-ordinating everything, the rest of the crew really couldn’t have made it easier for me. If I needed anyone to do something, everyone was more than willing, and it was obvious that all of the crew really cared about these street boys. I’m sure the boys could see that as well, and knew that this care was despite their bad behaviour. It was a real testimony that everyone on-board was patient and no one got angry with them.
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