The cruise ship had just sailed through the Sydney Heads on a hot and balmy Friday evening. The sights of Sydney city were fading in the setting sun and the open sea beckoned on our way to Auckland. My brother and sister and their spouses (one of them having their two sons with them) were on a 12-day cruise to celebrate our mum’s and dad’s 80th birthdays.
The best place to take in this grand fresh perspective was the top deck. As the sun began to set, we made our way to the chapel on the deck below to open Sabbath. The 10 of us filled most of the 16 chairs. On the table was some cranberry juice in a jug, a twisted loaf of bread and napkins, and two lights that were like candles. As family we were just catching up—as we had not seen each other for months—when a middle-aged lady came and sat down with us.
Her accent told us she was from the United States and we asked a little about each other. She was from a house church—her denominational church wasn’t meeting her, nor her husband’s or (she thought) her community’s needs. She had come to the chapel to open the Sabbath and knew the meaning of the items on the table: Jewish symbols. So did my brother. He led out in a Bible reading from Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 6—the two presentations of the law and the Sabbath—represented by the two candles Jewish women light just before the Sabbath begins. The reason to remember the Sabbath in Exodus is because God is Creator. We observe the Sabbath in Deuteronomy because God is Redeemer—He rescued His people from Egypt.
We prayed together and some ate some of the bread and drank the cranberry juice. It was very meaningful. In the conversation that followed we discovered “Janice” believed the seventh day was the Sabbath. She was looking for Jesus to return and believed in prophecy. She apologised for the way some Christians had treated Sabbath-keepers in the past. We left to rest very blessed.
"I sat back amazed as I listened to people who had never met each other . . . talk about Jesus and what He meant in their lives."
The next morning our family decided to have Sabbath worship in the chapel again around 10.30 am. As the chapel is a public place, and given our experience from the previous night, it was no surprise that an older couple from Mexico, a middle-aged man from Hawaii (all Catholics), an older Adventist from Australia and a young Adventist couple from the Caribbean eventually joined us. The chapel was full.
I led out in a Bible reading group. We read a short passage about Jesus from John’s gospel in two different translations, and then one of the group repeated the story in their own words. I then asked some simple questions (based on the Discovery Bible Reading method): “What is new? What surprises you? What can you do differently this week? Who could you tell?”. The discussion flowed freely; everyone had a thought or a perspective. I sat back amazed as I listened to people who had never met each other—and from very different cultural and religious backgrounds—talk about Jesus and what He meant in their lives. Jesus was the comfort, the reason for existence, the One who understood, the model, the Saviour . . . in their lives. We prayed and some stayed and continued to chat.
My last conversation in the chapel was with my family. We were amazed at how God led people to us, the quality of the Bible discussion and real fellowship with other followers of Jesus. We admitted some “Adventist prejudice” toward other faiths. Jesus did say He has people in many churches (John 10:16). He will call them together at the right time (Revelation 18:4). In the meantime, we are to live and speak faithfully about Jesus at every opportunity—even on the Sabbath on a cruise ship.