Volunteer chaplain logs cruise ship hours in port

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

Charis Williams boards Carnival’s cruise ship Fascination three days a week, almost every week and has been doing so for six years.
She never leaves the port, but has probably logged more than 3,000 hours on board.

Williams, who has a Master’s degree in Christian counseling, is an unpaid chaplain with Jacksonville Cruise Ministry. She makes herself available to more than 900 crew members on the Fascination each time it comes into port.
The mostly international crew knows Williams is on board when they see a piece of wrapped candy – her equivalent of “The Doctor Is In” sign – on the dining tables in the crew dining room. “Candy and a smile are two universal languages that don’t need words,” said Williams. “Everybody likes a piece of candy and a smile.”
The 52-year-old Ortega resident walks the decks of the ship with her backpack, distributing 7 lbs. of candy and smiling at crew members, most of whom may not speak English very well or at all. She also eats lunch with the crew in order to develop relationships. “I’m an outsider ministering to them. They are around each other all the time so I have to win their trust,” she explained.

Williams said that God has been preparing her for this ministry since she started working with a degree in medical assistance many years ago. She served on medical missions teams in the Philippines, where she learned a little bit of the Tagalog language and some Spanish. “I see a lot of Filipinos. If they don’t understand a lot of English I slow my speaking down,” she said.
“I’ll see someone with a downtrodden face and ask if they have a problem,” shared Williams. Often the problem is with or about family who are thousands of miles and many months away from next contact. She offers to pray about the situation and remembers to ask the crew member about it the next time she’s on board.

In addition to dealing with spiritual matters, Williams keeps her eyes open for medical needs that she can help with. “Once I ran into a crew member holding his jaw; it became apparent that he had a toothache but had not visited a dentist or someone in medical on the ship,” she related.

After seeing him later in the week still in pain, Williams immediately left the ship for a Minute Market near the port and bought a tube of Orajel for him. It resolved his pain, at least temporarily. “I see a need and act on it right then. I may not see him again.”

Through the years she’s developed some good friendships with the crew members and stays in contact with them when they go home between contracts. “Building relationships is one of the key aspects of this whole ministry, as well as being consistent in what I say and do,” noted Williams. “I’m there because I want to be there and want to be their friend. I could be anywhere else on those days but I chose to be there with them, eating lunch with them.”

Williams was recognized by the Florida Baptist Convention Chaplaincy Ministries in 2008 when she was honored as Volunteer Chaplain of the Year. She is an active, long-time member of Lake Shore Baptist Church and has gone on short-term mission trips to Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, Uganda, Kenya, Vietnam and Haiti.
“I may be an American, but I have an international heart,” she concluded.

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