Friday, January 2, 2015

Serving with Grace and Gratitude


Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: January 2nd, 2015

A Happy New Year 2015 to all my readers and friends.

For the first time since the launch of SabbathWalk, I took a two week recess from my weekly writings. It was not because I didn't have the time or the motivation. Neither was it because of some urgent work to be done. It was simply because I had a longer family vacation, the first real one in years. Since starting pastoral ministry, it has not been easy to take a vacation during the Christmas season. Take last year for example. I had to preach consecutively throughout the Advent. I had to organize various events, coordinate with different people, set forth a theme, and ensure that everyone were able to have a meaningful time of worship during the Christmastide. As for my family, they tagged along sometimes dutifully, but mostly lovingly. Ministry is a strange juggle between family and Church, between private thoughts and public words, between members you know and strangers yet to be known.

The Celebrity Reflection (inaugurated Oct 12th, 2012)
We traveled on the Celebrity Reflection to the Caribbean. For seven days, we walked, played, relaxed, and ate on the magnificent flagship of the cruise company.It was a thing of beauty, an engineering achievement, as well as a floating luxury hotel. With nearly a third of the passengers on board serving the other two-thirds, the large ship can hold a maximum of 3046 people. With a beam 123 feet, a length of 1047 feet, and at least 15 decks, this floating paradise can cruise about 24 knots (about 40 land miles per hour). Being the newest kid on the block, it contained some of the most modern technologies. I was especially impressed by a large stabilizer under the ship which made the ship less susceptible to water turbulence, reducing the level of seasickness among passengers. I could attest to the overall ride being stable and quiet. For the most part, I felt like this was the most stable ship I had ever traveled on. It made me wonder about stabilizers in general.

The journey is an oft used metaphor for the Christian life. We journey through life comprising of mountain-top experiences as well as valley-bottom struggles. In between, we navigate the meandering passages to get from one point to another. Along the way, we meet people of all ages, strangers and friends. We pause briefly at certain places but stayed a little longer at others. Who are the stabilizers of our lives? Who are the people at the helm of the ship while the rest of us are mere passengers on board? What does it take to provide an awesome time for cruise customers? In one word, the answer is: People.

Crew Directors and officers of the Reflection.
(Captain Athanasios G. Peppas with mike)
On the first night, we had the entire group of officers coming to welcome us. The captain of the ship toasted a wonderful greeting. It made the new passengers on board the ship comfortable and welcoming.  Dressed in their official uniforms and formal insignias, we really felt special and at the same time comfortable. The underlying message they were trying to give was: "Relax. For You are in safe hands. Have fun, for we will serve you."

We had lots of fun and lots of food too. With the huge range of food from Asian cuisine to European offerings, plus non-stop coffee and fruit juice 24 hours a day, we lived like royalty. I learned a bit about service.

1) Service with a Smile

We had a verandah! Kids stayed at the other room.
From the staterooms (your onboard suite or bedroom), to the public dining areas, room attendants, servers, waiters, and restroom cleaners were all ready to offer a "Good morning," a "How are you today," or a "Thank you." Most of them did so with a smile, despite their exhaustion and long hours of work. Four persons impressed us, two of them our stateroom attendants (Basri and Dimitar) and the other two, our waiters (Jorge and Elodie). With courtesy and conscientiousness, they were constantly on a lookout for us and our needs. At one point, it seemed like Basri and Dimitar were making our beds faster than we could mess them up! They cleaned up the room at least twice a day.  They waited on us and made sure we were happy with our rooms. Every question was answered with great detail and attention. The waiters were not to be outdone. We looked forward each evening to the smiling faces of Jorge from Nicaragua and the attention to detail by Elodie of France. Our water glasses were constantly filled. The menu choices were always appealing, with one set of menu choices for the more adventurous and the other set of classic selections for those who wanted to more familiar offerings. They even gave us more than one dessert each! We had a feast, every night. It was good for our tastebuds but bad for our weight.

Sometimes I wonder. Is it possible to serve with a smile sincerely? Yes of course. Being courteous and conscientious are two key ingredients. The crew on board the Reflection had been working non-stop for months. One of them had been working everyday on the ship since April 2014. That is a lot of time. Considering the long hours of work and the need to constantly put on a smile, I feel that the people who ought to be more patient are the other two-thirds of the people who were being served. My entire family were conscious of this and we tried our best to smile back, to appreciate the crew, and to make things easier for them. We didn't mess up our rooms as much. I tried to reuse my towel but the attendants always gave me a new one each day. I even tried not to bring any food to the staterooms as it would mean additional cleaning and clearing for the stateroom attendants. I saw an area near the elevators cordoned off because some passengers spilled food on the new carpet. Another passenger filled two coffee mugs to the brim and attempted to bring both cups to his stateroom on an elevator. I was certain that the carpet absorbed put of his spillage. I frowned. Surely, we can all help make the whole cruise experience better by ensuring we avoid creating more work for the crew.

2) Solitude with Style

I began my morning early each day. I loved the 6.30 am moment where most tables were empty, the food aplenty and the lines were rare. I loaded my plate with fruits and had at least two cups of coffee in the morning. The fruits and fiber diet did lots of good for my tummy and my gastronomical journey through the many fascinating restaurants on board. I would choose a window view in a private corner, open up my Bible, eat, drink, and reflect. There was no better way to do my reflections than on board a ship called Celebrity Reflection. I will share more of my thoughts on another issue. for now, suffice to say that my week on the ship was a time of relaxation and simply keeping Sabbath.

My learning about Sabbath on the ship includes being restful and mindful of what is going on around me. One memorable lunch time was when I shared a table with a few other people. A newly married couple from China were PhD students at New Hampshire. One is doing Civil Engineering while the wife is doing Electrical Engineering research. On the same table was a man from New Brunswick giving them some marital advice for the new groom. "When your wife speaks, shut up and listen."

Ha. That man must have spoken from experience.

Another was a couple from Texas who had been cruising a lot. When they found out about my theological interests, they were quick to ask me questions about faith, and in particular about the teachings of Joseph Prince. I gave them my little take about the popular preacher from Singapore. They sounded intrigued and agreed with my point of view.

3) Serving with Grace

It was a special time spending Christmas on the high seas. This year, I didn't have duties at Church but I still felt like doing something meaningful. I joined the choir. After three practice sessions over three days, the ragtag choir of about 25 people was ready. We sang two pieces. The first was "Silent Night" with the women singing the main tune while the men sang the alternate melody. The second was a delightful harmony of "Baby! It's Cold Outside." Led by Claire Vinkesteijn, we all had lots of fun.

None of us were paid. We just did it out of interest and joy both in music as well as the season of Christmas. That was my brief contribution on board the ship where I was served more than serving.

Happy New Year to all!

Panoramic View of the Beach at US Virgin Islands.

THOUGHT: Living with grace begins and ends with a heart of gratitude. It means serving with humility to give people the latitude to be themselves and at the same time to maintain an attitude of speaking the truth in love. Above all, living with grace is about serving. Whether volunteering or getting paid, serving is about gratitude, joy, hope, and peace.


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