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10/15/97 Following in Jesus’ footsteps becomes father-son tradition

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)–Philip Vandercook’s first birthday was a family affair years ago. There were toys, cards and the traditional birthday cake. But the “Happy Birthday” chorus wasn’t sung around a dining room table. It was sung on board a cargo ship docked in the port of New Orleans. Along with his parents were “extended” family –seafarers from India.
Philip’s first experience on board a ship was when he was six weeks old. “Philip was born into seamen’s ministry,” says his father, John Vandercook, who became a missionary to seafarers in 1963.
“The day Philip was born,” John remembers, “we had a big gathering of seafarers at our house, and I had to leave in the middle of it to take my wife to the hospital.”
During the early years of Philip’s life, the seamen’s ministry center was located in the Vandercooks’ home. “As a child, I never thought about the center being in our home,” Philip recalls. “There were people from all over the world — different countries, cultures and languages — but it didn’t seem strange. It was more of a lifestyle for us. Whatever was going on in our family — if there was some special family event — the seamen who were visiting the center joined in as part of the family.”
The blending of cultures gave Philip a worldview impossible for most children. “I enjoyed going on the ships, and I made some very interesting friends. Many of the seafarers treated me like one of their own. They were often away from their wives and their own children for long periods of time. They made me sort of a substitute son.
“I remember when I was a boy in Royal Ambassadors how the missions stories would take us to faraway places and tell us about missionaries working there. For me, it was especially interesting because I could always place a face of someone I met with the country being studied. I could almost always personally relate to the stories. Now, RAs come to our center to learn about missions from me and my staff. They help out in the center and on the ships, and they are learning that you don’t have to go far away to minister to internationals. They are just a ship away.”
While Philip was in college preparing for a career in engineering, he began serving as part-time chaplain at the New Orleans port. He enjoyed the work and decided to continue. His sense of call came not as a blinding light or grand revelation but as a gradual assurance of knowing God was affirming his ministry with seafarers. When John Vandercook retired in September 1991, Philip was asked to become full-time director of the seamen’s center.
“Dad’s still involved, but he knows that this is now under my direction,” says Philip. “He’s the one I go to for advice and encouragement. One of the best lessons I’ve learned from Dad is that our call to ministry isn’t to a place — it’s a call to have a heart for people. And all people need to hear about Jesus. Right now, I’m working with seafarers, but my ministry is to anyone with needs.”
John Vandercook admits he’s human enough to be proud of his son. “I don’t know if it ever crossed my mind that Philip would be involved in seamen’s ministry. My wife and I prayed that God would call our children into service if that was his will.” All four of John’s children are active in ministry.
Recently, Philip and his wife were enjoying a family event of their own. At the baby dedication of their daughter, Anna Catherine, the usual family members were present. But, as was the case on Philip’s first birthday, new extended family members were on hand, too. They were taking pictures and admiring the little girl. They were seafarers from Guyana, in port for a few days, and experiencing what it’s like to be part of the Vandercook celebration — and the larger family of faith.

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  • Carmon Keith