Once Upon a Time There Was… 

In the following story I have not indicated places, names or dates.

Once upon a time there was a young ‘line up man’, hereafter known as ‘line up man’. He was ‘lining up’ for the world’s first floating bookship. The job involved preparing for all aspects of an upcoming ship visit to a port. Arranging official permissions for public to visit the onboard ship exhibition, customs, immigration, appointing shipping agent, organising concerts, conferences, and all kinds of meetings onboard and onshore. In addition all manner of things that what was home for 140 crew from 25 nations might be needing.

Usually those who did line up went in small teams of 2 or 3 for mutual support. However on this occasion said line up man went alone. He was excited. It was a small, remote island nation the population of many mid-sized towns in the UK. Line up man arrived and found accommodation with some young people from another Christian organisation. One of his first tasks was to find and set up an office. Upon being introduced to the Crown Court Interpreter (hereafter CCI) he kindly said line up man could use his office facilities. The office also seemed part of the Ministry of Information. The arrangement proved fortuitous as the CCI was a mine of information. Anybody who was anybody he knew and could fix or arrange most things. 

The CCI was also a Christian and decided that one of the most important things would be to get line up man to speak at a Bible study he was involved with. This was quite normal as line up man would usually seek spiritual and material support from the churches in whatever port or country the ship was planning to visit. So it was that at appointed time line up man went along to the meeting. As was the custom everyone sat cross legged around the edge of a large room. What was not normal was that the Bible study was in the home of the prime minister of the country (hereafter called PM). It could be said that line up people should be ready for anything. This was such a case. Young line up man said his piece in front of the PM and rest of the gathering. Line up man had been urging the importance of prayer and that there was a ‘spiritual battle’ involved in bringing the ship into the country. Line up man was very surprised at the response. Those attending took the message to heart in an unexpected way. A spokesman for the meeting said that not only would they pray. They would also partially fast for the next 3 or so weeks before the ship arrived! Everyone appeared in agreement including the people line up man was staying with. Whether it was the immaturity of youth, potential embarrassment in front of the PM or more likely pride the line up man felt obligated to join in this proposal.

Now one thing line up man liked was his food and line up was not a relaxing or easy going job. A lot of energy was involved in going round government offices getting permissions, church visits, arranging publicity, dealing with port authorities, ship chandlery etc. etc. Cutting back on food for 3 weeks seemed a bleak prospect. After a few days of eating very little line up man was getting quite faint. He recalls sheepishly going to others fasting to ask if he could break fast and start eating breakfast. It was no problem. However line up man felt a bit shameful when others were not doing this. A few more days passed on this one meal a day regime. Yes you’ve guessed it, line up man was still feeling very weak. Anticipating further embarrassment he then asked if he could also eat evening meal. This was again no problem but did nothing for his sense of letting people down. Nevertheless line up man did enjoy low key visits to a local hamburger place. The two meal a day arrangement proved sustainable (just) till the ship arrived. 

One day while the above was going on line up man got a message from the PM. He wanted to see him and was waiting outside line up man’s office in his chauffeur driven government car. Line up man wondered somewhat anxiously what issue of import would cause the PM to personally come and see him. Had he caused offence in some way? Duly going out he joined PM in the car. There was no problem, rather the opposite. The PM wanted to have a time of prayer with him. The PM was a man of faith and left an impression on line up man. Despite wielding authority he was humble. At other times it became known to line up man that his wife (a princess) and two of his daughters shared his faith. Indeed his wife helped with line up by creating an invitation list for the opening reception of the ship when she arrived. 

On another occasion during this line up time the king of the country had to go overseas to represent his country. Now the PM was of royal lineage and a close relative of the king. When the king was out of the country the PM became the acting king. 

One day line up man got another message from the PM during the time he was acting king. Would line up man like to visit him while he sat on the throne? Not a normal invitation but an offer he was excited to take up! In retrospect it was probably an offer he would be ill advised to refuse. As it was had he not met the PM on several occasions. The offer almost felt like from a friend so this should not be that different. So the time arrived and line up man duly turned up for the appointment. He felt quite grand signing visitors book while waiting. The person ahead of him on the list was the Canadian ambassador.

The time came for the meeting and he was ushered in to the Throne room. The acting king (PM to me) was enthroned at the end of a very long table. Line up man sat at other end of table unsure of what the protocol should be. Impression was his chair was at an angle so there was no direct ‘face to face’. The natural focus was the view from a big window looking out to the ocean. A single tanker ship lay at anchor a few km offshore. They appeared to be alone but there may well have been inconspicuous aides nearby. Exact details of conversation are somewhat lost to line up man’s memory. He does though recall his feelings. The king spoke of his country and its needs. The challenge of representing a small country in a big world. Not really feeling he could relate to such matters line up man responded with what he did know. He began to speak of how they had met previously at meetings and thanked him for this interest and enthusiasm for the upcoming ship visit. At that point line up man was reprimanded for becoming too personal. Did line up man not know that when on the throne the king (or PM, line up man was confused) would only speak of matters of state? Line up man had not shown respect to the office. At that point it was good to be able to focus out to sea and try and forget where line up man was. Why had he not been trained in the art of speaking to kings on thrones?

The time in this small country was not all drama. There was also the mundane. One need was for line up man to have a haircut. Without much thought he went along to a local barber. What he didn’t see before it was too late was the use of the trimmer on top of his head instead of scissors. He was now almost a ‘skinhead’. More humiliation! 

So the great day came when the ship sailed into port. Standing on the quayside to welcome the vessel’s arrival into port line up man’s lack of calorie intake and shaven appearance shocked his fellow crew. One even thought he had spent time in jail. 

Despite what seemed blunders by line up man the ship visit went well. Many visitors from all sectors of society were welcomed on board. Friendships made and people were touched. The international crew had many opportunities to share their lives with the people. An opportunity in part made possible by a man with authority yet who was humble. At end of the visit the PM felt the time had been a great blessing to his people. He assured the ship crew of his prayers and was on the quayside to say goodbye as the ship departed. As for line up man he flew off to his next adventure.

11 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time There Was… 

  1. Duncan Mackenzie

    Remember Ibbie telling me the Doulos was iced in so boat couldn’t leave Port. They all prayed and overnight weather thawed dramatically.

    Liked by 2 people

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