Preparing a 44-year-old sailboat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on the Azores island of Terceira and then sail it via the Netherlands to Greece where it will be used for the gospel. It’s a something you don’t hear about every day, but Robert and Daniëlle took on the adventure, trusting in God. “When we were asked to get the Dolphin3 ready for missions in Greece, we prayed and realized it was something God had brought it on our path,” Danielle says.
Although Greece is a beautiful country and very religious, not even 1% of the population is professed Christian. This applies to both the mainland and the islands. Some of the islands have only one Christian living on it. On other islands there are no inhabitants with a vibrant relationship with God at all.
The international, interdenominational mission organisation Hellenic Ministries has therefore been reaching out to Greeks on the mainland and the islands since 1980. But to reach the people on the islands you need different strategies than to reach people on the mainland; to reach people on islands you need boats. That is why Broad Reach Maritime exists under the banner of Hellenic Ministries and that is the ministry that will receive the Dolphin3.
Robert and Daniëlle first came into contact with the ministry when Robert’s parents retired. “My father was eager to go sailing with their sailboat the Dolphin2 when he retired. My mother thought they should have a goal”, Robert says.
“After that, at a mission fair, I saw a booth of Hellenic Ministries with their mission boat, the Morning Star, and I told my parents about it. They were enthusiastic and became involved in the missionary organisation from that time on.”
Around 2005, Robert and Daniëlle themselves went to Greece for the first time with their five children to work with Hellenic Ministries. “Alex, a friend of Robert’s at Broad Reach Maritime, had set up a committee of people at the time to pray and brainstorm about the vision for mission boats, because the islands were difficult to reach,” Daniëlle says.
A Zoom meeting was held once a month with about seven people. Robert: “I said: ‘Alex, I believe in your vision, but if God is really going to give boats… You know that a boat is a black hole on the water where money disappears. So make sure you find someone who can help you with this vision’.”
Robert said this without knowing that he himself would eventually be invited by God to become part of the adventure. More than ten years later, when an American missionary offered a sailboat, Hellenic Ministries asked Robert whether he would like to prepare the boat in the Azores and sail towards Greece.
“I’m a sailor myself, I’ve been sailing since I was four”, Robert says. “But when I saw the Dolphin3, I got discouraged. There was still so much to do to get the boat ready to sail. But Alex said to me: ‘God never gave me a boat that was ready’. When Daniëlle and I then prayed about it, we felt we should take on the task.”
Getting ready to sail turned out to be quite a process that didn’t go off without a hitch. In the summer of 2020, Robert worked on the boat for 2 months with a friend from Canada. When they thought the Dolphin3 was ready to sail, they left to sail from the Azores towards Gibraltar to Greece.
However, too much water entered the boat while they were crossing the deep ocean. After nearly 50 miles, the men therefore returned to the port on Terceira to continue working on the boat.
In the summer of 2021 Robert spent another 5 weeks working on the boat and made a second attempt to sail the Dolphin3 to Greece. This time the headsail tore apart during strong winds. The spare sail hadn’t even been fully hoisted when that one tore as well. Although the sails had looked alright, they appeared to have been weakened by many years of sunshine on them.
Robert returned to Terceira by boat for the second time. After a lot of searching and asking around he was able to take over two used headsails. After the necessary adjustments, the third attempt to sail with the Dolphin3 was made, this time with success.
In 13 days they sailed the boat across the ocean to the south of England. They then entered IJmuiden, a place in the Netherlands, via the canal and the North Sea after a total of 16 days. “The challenge that had come our way was outside our comfort zone,” Robert says. “Sailing across the ocean in a ten-metre boat is not so easy!”
Still, the couple has seen God’s faithfulness in the process. God always sent people to help Robert. Also, working on the boat brought conversations about God and faith. People were already being discipled before the boat reached its final destination. A beautiful testimony of how God makes all things work together for good to those who believe.
Robert and Daniëlle plan to make a six to eight week voyage in July to sail the Dolphin3 to Greece. There the boat will be used for evangelism on the islands.
“The Dolphin3 is meant to be a disciple ship in every way”, Daniëlle says. “We want to encourage followers of Jesus Christ on the islands who live in the midst of a Greek Orthodox environment. By meeting them, we also come into contact with their (unbelieving) friends.
We want to invest time in building relationships. Greeks are very relational people and on the islands you can easily make contact via boats and by drinking coffee together. This is how we evangelize and expand God’s Kingdom.”
Expanding God’s Kingdom in Greece is quite a process. Danielle: “Earlier we evangelized in Greece with Operation Joshua (part of Hellenic Ministries). We distributed Bibles to the local residents because the majority of Greeks do not have access to the Bible in modern Greek. Often only the priest has a Bible. That is because Greece still really has a state religion, but slowly there is more and more room for the true gospel.
In the beginning when we handed out Bibles, people sometimes threw stones at teams and they burned Bibles. That has changed over time. When we reach out to the Greek people and hand out Bibles now, every year Greeks come to Jesus. The Holy Spirit is changing the spiritual climate.”
Robert and Daniëlle are looking forward to sailing the sailboat to its Greek home port this summer. “We trust that God will provide everything we need. We walk with Him, knowing that He goes before us”, says Daniëlle.