MV Doulos’ faithful journey before beginning a new life next month
Gracia Lee // June 10, 2019, 7:26 pm
In 1999, after missionaries from Doulos played a part in peace talks in Papua New Guinea, UN ambassador, His Excellency Mr Noel Sinclair, said of the Doulos community: "Your floating missionary group of more than 30 nationalities is a demonstration of the reality and effectiveness of unity and reconciliation among people." Photo by Tom Brouwer, OM Ships International, published with permission.
This July, former Operation Mobilisation (OM) ship MV Doulos will officially start a new chapter of her life as a ship hotel, Doulos Phos, docked permanently on Bintan Island.
In more than 100 years of rich history, Doulos served — and continues to serve — as a channel of God’s goodness and grace.
Even though the MV Doulos, which means “bondservant” or “slave” in ancient Greek, is no longer sailing from shore to shore to share the Gospel, its purpose as a vessel for Christ lives on under the ownership of businessman Eric Saw, who has pledged all of the hotel’s profits to charity.
The ship may just be a shell, but it has contained more than 100 years of rich history as it served — and continues to serve — as a channel of God’s goodness and grace.
Here is a photo essay looking back on Doulos’ significant milestones as God’s faithful bondservant.
Constructed in 1914, the MV Doulos is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s oldest ocean-going passenger ship. She previously sailed under three names — Medina, Roma and Franca C — before becoming a missions boat under OM.
A roaring start in Latin America
After sailing to its first nine ports in Europe, Doulos arrived in Tampico, Mexico on December 4, 1978 — the first visit to Latin America by an OM ship. It spent five years (1978-1983) in and out of the region, welcoming more than 4.1 million visitors and distributing over 400,000 copies of Christian and educational literature.
In September 1991, two hand grenades were thrown at the team performing at the Doulos International Night in Zamboanga, Philippines.
Doulos is fondly remembered as the initiator of the mission movement in Latin America. After setting foot in the region, the ship’s volunteers fanned out to evangelise and and share the need for world missions.
Their message was eagerly received by many locals who later gave their lives to spread the Gospel. Most of the Latin missions agencies today trace their roots to Doulos and the OM teams that brought a mission mindset to the local church.
In 1970, only 4% of the Latin American population identified as evangelical. Today, 20% does so.
“The continent is no longer considered a mission field, but rather a mission force,” said an article published in OM’s 60th anniversary magazine.
A terrorist attack
In September 1991, two hand grenades were thrown at the team performing at the Doulos International Night in Zamboanga, Philippines. Two team members, Karen Goldsworthy and Sophia Sigfridsson, were killed and over 30 others were injured.
Despite the evil and atrocity that happened, many locals committed to following Jesus the very next day. When OM’s third ship, Logos Hope, was commissioned in 2009, two meeting rooms on board were named after Karen and Sophia, and their story is told on ship tours.
A platform for peace in Papua New Guinea
In September 1999, Doulos sailed towards the Papua New Guinean island of Bougainville, where a ceasefire had just been declared after a decade-long civil war.
By divine orchestration, David Short, a ship ministry worker who has helping the advanced preparation team, met the then-president of the Bougainville People’s Congress and the interim leader of the island, Joseph Kabui, at a diner.
Doulos has travelled the equivalent of almost 17 times around the world.
After Short told Kabui about Doulos’ upcoming visit, the latter asked if Doulos could hold a seminar on prayer for the island’s new leaders and a workshop on good governing principles! This would be the platform that God used to bring about reconciliation in Bougainville.
In OM’s 60th anniversary magazine, then-director of Doulos, Lloyd Nicholas from Australia, said: “The leaders of the two factions each came with about 30 of their senior people. They sat separately from one another and did not interact much. Then on the third day, delegates who’d been rivals — even enemies in combat — publicly released their bitterness and sought forgiveness from one another.”
A reconciliation ceremony was held on the ship’s final day in port, September 21, 1999, which also happened to be the United Nation’s (UN) International Day of Peace.
The UN ambassador, His Excellency Mr Noel Sinclair, had this to say about the Doulos community: “Your floating missionary group of more than 30 nationalities is a demonstration of the reality and effectiveness of unity and reconciliation among people.”
Spreading hope, joy and love
Volunteers on board Doulos sailed to 601 ports of call in 108 countries and territories, hosting locals — sometimes even royalty — at the ship’s book exhibition and dining hall, putting up performances and travelling out to provide aid and company wherever needed.
After 32 years of faithful service, Doulos’ ministry came to a close on December 31, 2009, after surveys by marine safety authorities confirmed that major repairs amounting to more than €10 million were required to keep the ship safely in service.
It was a cost that the OM Ships’ executive leadership team and board felt was not appropriate to invest in, given the ship’s age and limited future.
By the end of 2009, Doulos had travelled more than 360,000 nautical miles — the equivalent of almost 17 times around the world — welcomed more than 22 million visitors and sold close to 17 million books.
A new beginning
In 2010, Christian businessman Eric Saw, 64, rescued Doulos from the scrapyard by purchasing it for S$2 million, with the intention of repurposing it into a modern ship hotel that would hold symbols — like its staircase and some old cabins — of its 100-year-long history.
He renamed it Doulos Phos, which means “servant light” in Greek. Although its physical body had been repurposed, Saw was determined to continue using the ship as a vessel for the Lord by committing to dedicate all of the hotel’s profits to Christian and secular charities.