A travelling pilgrim with a friend in every port

It’s been a wild ride for Melbourne primary teacher Rachel Brabham since she boarded the MV Logos Hope – the world’s largest floating book fair – in the Bahamas 10 months ago.

Since then, she has visited St Lucia, Barbados, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, Las Palmas, Ceuta and Seville in Spain and now Malta, discovering the individual beauties of each place, lapping up the local foods and enjoying the people she meets.

Rachel is one of three Aussies sharing life 24/7 with a community of 300 Christian volunteers of 60 different nationalities, getting involved in local community activities and making new friends in every port.

“It’s a bit of a wild ride, but I’m really, really enjoying it so far. We’re pretty busy. We all work 40-hour jobs during the week. Personally, for me, it’s teaching and we also do evening events and other regular events. Of course, we have our Sunday service and prayer times, but also we have training and special guests come to talk to us, which is really cool to be involved in,” she says.

While Rachel loves living in a community of like-minded people who all want to share God’s love with people around the world, her joy is tempered by the sadness of regular goodbyes.

“Unfortunately, there’s two big goodbye times in what we call changeover, where a new group comes in and a group who’s been there for maybe a year or two years leave, but then also at other times it might be people’s time to go – they’ve made that decision to do that,” she tells Eternity before beginning a new school day on board the ship as it berths in Valletta, Malta.

“I feel like the ship speeds everything up because you are with everyone every single day. You see people at every single meal – it’s a bit different to just once a week or just at work. You get really close to people really quickly and so 10 months can feel like 10 years of knowing someone. And when they leave, it hurts, it’s hard. But the blessing for me is that I know the hardest goodbyes I’ve had are people that I will see again. I’m already planning and anticipating overseas trips to visit them.”

“You get really close to people really quickly and so 10 months can feel like 10 years of knowing someone.”

Logos Hope is part of the Ship Ministry of global charity Operation Mobilisation (OM), which is a floating book fair that can attract thousands of people on board at each port, with the goal of sharing knowledge, help and hope with the people of the world. OM recently announced it will add to its fleet with a smaller ship, Doulos Hope, which will come into service next year.

Unlike many of her friends, Rachel had never heard of Logos Hope when a series of disconnected people mentioned the ship to her during the first Melbourne lockdown in 2020.

“Apparently, I did go to a Colin Buchanan concert on the [ship] Doulos when I was four, but I don’t remember. But in the middle of lockdown, we were all very reflective, trying to figure out ‘What does this mean? What am I really doing with my life?’ And I had a few people speak to me about the ship and none of them knew each other … And that’s the moment when you go, ‘Hang on a second, this can’t be a coincidence. God, are you speaking to me?’ And later as I was reflecting, I also felt him put it on my heart. And so I was like, ‘Okay, cool, I’ll look into this.’”

Rachel applied for a vacancy as a teacher of the children of volunteers on board, was accepted in May 2021 and left Melbourne on August 30 last year. At the time, because of COVID restrictions, she didn’t know when she would see her friends and family again but she stepped out in faith and obedience to God’s call. Thankfully, her parents are planning to visit her in September, when the ship is scheduled to be in Albania.

A lifelong Christian, Rachel tells Eternity a typical school day starts with prayer with her team of five teachers, with the children starting classes after breakfast at 9am.

“I always start the day with devotions, which is such a blessing to do that with them. I teach the grades 1 and 2s, so six and seven years old. My beautiful class is the most multicultural class. I mean, I know Australia is very multicultural, but this is the most multicultural class I think I’ve ever had. I’m Aussie. My assistant teacher is Russian. I have four kids – one Romanian, one South Korean, one from the US and one that’s Dutch,” she says.

Teaching the children of Logos Hope volunteers

While it’s a small class, Rachel finds it challenging to meet the children’s individual needs in individualised programs.

“The whole ship operates in English, so everything that’s official is done in English. I teach in English, but of course, as you walk through the ship, you hear Spanish over here and Romanian over here and German over there. It’s really cool. I’m very used to just walking around the place and picking up different things from different languages. The kids all speak their home language too, which we really encourage – they have language learning each week, like we do back home. And so the Dutch family continue learning Dutch. Some of the kids learn Spanish. If ever a family wants to continue their home language, we’re very supportive of that.”

While living in a multicultural community is beautiful, it can bring some funny clashes here and there, she says.

“My favourite one that I like to point out to people is something that once they notice, they can never unnotice, but when you walk up a set of stairs, we walk up the left side because that’s the correct way to do it, right? And every single day I’ll encounter people who are walking down the right side of the stairs and you do the stair dance,” she says, laughing.

“There’s beauty in different things in every country. It may not be the scenery, but maybe it’s the people or the hospitality or the food.”

More seriously, Rachel is thrilled at the opportunity to discover different countries and little port towns she has never heard of.

“Every country has its uniqueness, which is what I love too. I think there’s beauty in different things in every country. It may not be the scenery, but maybe it’s the people or the hospitality or the food,” she says.

“I try not to have too many expectations, but I was really pleasantly surprised by West Africa, particularly in Ghana. I really enjoyed Ghana – and I don’t know that I went into it thinking that I would. I made some beautiful friends there. I am still in contact with quite a few people and I know I would go back. The food is really different and interesting.

“Sometimes on our community days you can do an overnight one or a week-long one and I had an overnight one and we had this amazing catfish stew, but you eat it with cassava – you ball it up and then you take it like a scoop. It was so good. And I was really surprised because I was worried about what are we going to get? But it was delicious.”

Melbourne primary teacher turned journalist, Rachel Brabham

Another experience that left a deep impression was visiting a prison in St Lucia in the Caribbean.

“Right at the beginning, I did a prison ministry day. I’d never set foot in a prison before. And it’s one of those experiences where I guess you’re a bit nervous to start, because it’s just something so new,” she says.

“But we just sat and talked with the women. We did a Bible study. It was really a beautiful time, just sitting there and connecting with them, hearing their stories. Like, they were so open to share with us. And a lot of the things I heard, I was like, ‘Wow, if I was in that situation too, I don’t know that I would’ve done anything differently.’ Some of the stories were so normal and so hard.

“I particularly connected with this one lady and I actually have been emailing with her recently … and she’s applied to nursing school and is going to start that soon, which is so exciting. And I could see the encouragement in everything that she was saying, feeling like God’s not done with her yet and there’s so much more he could do, which is amazing to hear.”

I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m a lot more open to asking God, ‘Where are you sending me? What are you calling me to do?’

Before applying to serve on Logos Hope, Rachel had been exploring other ways of serving God and recently God has opened another door for her. Having signed on for another year on the ship until September 2023, she is excited to be transferring to a new role as journalist.

“Before I joined the ship, I just knew that I was meant to do something different and I knew God was trying to direct me into using different skills,” she says.

“I really love to write. That’s a big thing that I love to do. And at the time I was like, ‘Okay, so I love to write, I love to travel. Maybe that means being a travel writer.’ I was starting to delve into that and learn about that, but then the call to join the ship came and now being here, I have so much more a heart for people around the world who haven’t heard about God’s love.

“I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m a lot more open to asking God, ‘Where are you sending me? What are you calling me to do?’ So, that whole direction is really changing for me. I could really see myself doing this full time in the future.”