The reality of life onboard ships is that we, seafarers, have our own version of society – different lifestyle, trends, news, and even form of religion. This has always been the case: we are a world within a world. But somehow, when we’re under the mercy of the force majeure (act of God), we all are reminded we’re still human longing and yearning for divine intervention and healing grace.

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By John Michael M. Toniacao, as told to Marville Espago

“Pre, sabi ni segundo baka may malaria ako.” [Bro, second mate told me that I might have contacted malaria.] Renz, a catering crew on my second vessel, anxiously confessed to me.

It was supposed to be a usual working day – toolbox meetings, routine jobs, mess hall chats, and whatnots. But, everything was stirred up by this one statement. I was shocked. We were taught about shipboard hazards and inherent dangers, but this one came to us by surprise.

At the time, we were underway and proceeding to the Middle East. The lack of access to health care facilities and availability of medical practitioners has proven itself detrimental, if not fatal, onboard.

We constantly checked on him, making sure that his vital signs were normal. On my own, I prayed, petitioning God for his strength.  Yet I knew healing only takes place when we ourselves humbly submit to the Lord and ask for it. Quoting Matthew 7:7, “Knock and the door shall be opened for you.”

And you know what, he did. Renz told me, “Buddy, ipag-pray mo naman ako.” [Buddy, please pray for me.] I agreed and told him that I would just meditate on my own first. I wanted to strip all my personal inhibitions off prior praying over him.

I went to my cabin. The airconditioning blew a humid breeze yet I felt cold. I shut my eyes and fervently asked God’s guidance. I recollected myself and looked for another prayer warrior, because it says in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I with them.” Our Chief Cook willingly agreed to join us. 

We both laid our hands over Renz and interceded  for him. I told him, confident that God would bestow his grace upon him, “Buddy, lakas lang ng loob at gagaling ka. Pagagalingin ka ng Diyos.” [Buddy, fortify yourself and you’ll be healed. The Lord will heal you.]

A few days passed by, our Captain grew weary of our messman’s condition so he decided to ask for his repatriation or medical leave. He talked to Renz but the reply that came from his mouth struck us all in awe. It was as if the Holy Spirit was channeled through him. He told our Captain, “Sir, I’m okay now.”

Truly by His love, we are all saved. This is the moment I understood why I have been sent on this path – that every effort I made to evangelize onboard led to this. I reminisced on the times when I would write out bible verses and pin it up on the bulletin board and some engineers would scold me – that I’m just wasting paper. I remembered the constant mocking and peer pressure to visit bars when we’re docked and I chose not to. I remember the words killjoy, righteous, and walang pakisama [no sense of camaraderie]. Every stone thrown at me were stepping stones to a better vantage point – one wherein God is always in the center.

There might be a lot of you who want to ask me why I’m doing this. Here’s the thing, I asked God what my purpose in life is. He answered  me, “You were created for more. It is to experience my goodness and grace; to worship me; and to be an instrument of hearing the Word and healing the world.”


 John Michael M. Toniacao, currently an Oiler with an OIC of the Engine Watch (OIC-EW) license at Status Maritime Corp.


Marville Cullen P. Espago

Marville Cullen P. Espago is currently employed as a Second Officer serving the vessels of NYK-Fil Ship Management. He co-founded PASSION Projects, an advocacy organization for the indigenous people of Mayoyao, Ifugao. He is a son, a sibling, a maritime professional, a naval reservist, an educator, and a community servant.