Beyond their circular role in transporting the world’s goods, Filipino seafarers help spread the gift of spiritual living
Originally published in Seafarer Asia Spirituality Issue on October 2016
In the more than 15 years Pastor Bahman Amirazodi has served as port chaplain, having come across thousands of seafarers from different walks of life, he shares that among them all, Filipino seafarers stands out.
“I really thank God for Filipinos,” Pastor Amirazodi share. “Of all the nationalities I’ve visited onboard, no one knows the Bible more than Filipinos do. They practice what the Bible preaches. Their rich spirituality taught me so many things about God,” he adds.
Having recently attended the International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) AHOY Training Course in Manila, Pastor Amirazodi shares that this experience is an answered prayer. “I have always been praying for the day when I could come to the Philippines and thank this nation for its service. One of the things that humanity is very hungry for is spirituality—we are very saturated with materialism today, and beyond their vital role in transporting the world’s goods, Filipino seafarers serve as channels through which spirituality is shared across the world,” he says.
His rocky road to God
When the long history of border issues between Iraq and Iran finally escalated into a devastating war in 1980, relentless airstrikes, missiles, and chemical attacks befell both countries, eventually killing some 1.5 million people by the time the war ended.
Fearing for his life, a young Amirazodi fled to the mountains for survival when the war progressed to his hometown of Shiraz. “My only choice was to run away to the mountains where there were less possible bombardments,” he shares. While in self-confinement, he spent his time reflecting about life and started seeking God. “I would look at the birds in the sky and cry to myself, saying, Am I less than these birds? I am living, but everyone around me was dying and I knew that I could die any moment as well,” he recounts.
Pastor Amirazodi shares he would go far into the mountains, praying to a God whom he did not know yet: “I would pray, ‘God, you are the God of life and I wasn’t to know You. You’re a different god; you are the true God so please save my life because I love life and still want to live it. If you may save me, I will not ask You for anything else. Instead, I will seek and serve You for the rest of my life.
After eight years of living in fear, physically spent from going back and forth the mountains, the Lord finally answered the young Amirazodi’s prayers. The war came to end.
Fulfilling a promise
While other survivors were redefining their lives, the young Amirazodi wasted no time to fulfill his predetermined mission. He was seeking the Lord and knew he wouldn’t find Him where he was, so the moment his visa to Brazil was granted, Amirazodi embarked upon his mission. “It was my turn to keep my promise, so I looked for a visa and the only country I could get one for was Brazil. As soon as I got there, the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, received my very well. I was accepted by a refugee center in Rio de Janeiro and from there, I started looking for churches to know God,” he relates.
It was in Rio where Amirazodi met another war refugee, this time from Angola, who invited him to a Christian church where her father served as pastor. Coming from a war-torn country, stepping into the church deeply touched Amirazodi’s heart. “When I got to know the scriptures of Christianity, I discovered that Jesus talked about life, forgiveness, love, and freedom. It was the exact opposite of what I had lived through. I realized than that He was the God I was praying to in the mountains. I heard Him talking to me clearly inside the church: ‘I am the one you are looking for,” shares Pastor Amirazodi.
In 1993, Amirazodi converted from Islam. He was baptized and started embracing Christianity. He then studied theology and was later ordained as a pastor. “I was helping missionaries from America, translating from them,” shares Pastor Amirazodi, who speaks fluent English, Portuguese, Hindi, as well as a number of Persian dialects. It was his gift for languages that eventually led to his work with seafarers, when the port chaplain in Rio de Janeiro invited him to translate for the community.
In 2000, Pastor Amirazodi was ordained as the new chaplain for Rio de Janeiro. Five years later, Sailors’ Society—an international Christian charity that supports seafarers worldwide—came to Brazil and the pastor immediately became a member.
While in self-confinement, Pastor Amirazodi spent his time reflecting about life and started seeking God. “I would look at the birds in the sky and cry to myself, saying, Am I less than these birds? I am living, but everyone around me was dying and I knew that I could die any moment as well,” he recounts.
The role of Filipino seafarers
While attending the recent International Christian Maritime Association (ICMA) AHOY Training Course in Manila, Pastor Amirazodi spared no time proclaiming a fact he feels everyone, including Filipinos themselves, has been blind to.
“I am here because I want to let the chaplains and the seafaring missions to understand that many times, in general, we come onboard thinking that Filipino seafarers need us and that we must give them something. While in a way we do have something to offer them as they are alone and need comfort, Filipinos also have more to give us than to receive—in spirituality, values, and almost anything,” shares the pastor.
Pastor Amirazodi commends Filipino seafarers for their giving nature, saying “seafarers from other countries receive bigger salaries—but when you go onboard, they won’t even offer you a cup of water. Filipinos, on the other hand, probably receive less but would go to their cabin and bring you anything they could share—even if it’s just a can of soda, some biscuits, anything!”
He adds, “This is a rich nation, and this is what I’m trying to tell everyone all this time. Often we judge poverty in terms of the material well-being of people, but this is only half-true. Rich countries are not happy. They are very scared of many situations—to lose the material things they possess. They are very cold in love.”
Filipinos, the pastor emphasizes, “need to know that they are very good for humanity—they have a very precious wealth to offer. They are not only helping the world in transporting its much needed daily goods, but also humanity by spreading their much-needed spirituality.”