sihanoukville – Kaylee Dadisman boarded the MV Doulos about a month ago while it was docked in Thailand. The petite 21-year-old from the US said she joined the crew of the world’s oldest passenger liner because of God.
“I wanted to make a difference in the world by getting the gospel to nations,” she said.
Last week, the Doulos—home to the world’s largest floating book fair—pulled into Sihanoukville, marking the first time the vessel, and its 500,000 books, has ever docked in Cambodia. It will remain in Sihanoukville until Nov 5.
To mark the arrival of the more than 150-meter-long ship, a parade of government officials, including Tourism Minister Lay Prohas and Sihanoukville Municipal Governor Say Hak, turned out on Oct 26 to welcome the crew.
“It is an honor for Cambodia to be visited not by the world’s largest floating casino, but the world’s largest floating library,” Lay Prohas joked.
The Malta-registered ship has been traveling the high seas since 1914, first as a cargo vessel, later as a passenger liner and, since 1978, a ship of books—and Christian faith.
Reka Borsiczky, the Doulos’ Hungarian press officer, said that the mission of the vessel was to bring “knowledge, help and hope to nations around the world.”
To this end, the ship—owned and operated by the German nonprofit Gute Buchen fur Alle, or Good Books for All—ferries 348 volunteers from 53 nations around the globe to provide low-cost books, conduct relief work and promote cultural understanding. The boat just spent six weeks in Thailand and will continue on to Singapore next.
Borsiczky said most of the volunteers—who sign on for two years—are “people who have just finished high school but have not skills, but two hands, to offer.”
The ship was received warmly by the government officials—flowers were bestowed upon the crew and silver plates depicting Angkor Wat presented as gifts. A troop of adolescent apsara dancers performed inside the ship, and were matched by a rendition of the Korean fan dance by members of the Doulos crew.
During speeches by officials and Doulos leaders, a great deal of attention was paid to the books and the diverse nature of the crew, but little was made of the Doulos’ Christian mission.
The press materials distributed by the ship also make no mention of its missionary aspects.
The book store itself is full of thousands of titles covering a wide array of subjects, all at discounted prices, but it also has large sections devoted to Christianity. The ship’s music section is comprised entirely of Christian music—be it pop, rock, gospel or Christmas carols. Most selections in store are English-language books, but there was no shortage of Khmer Bibles.
Borsiczky said the non-denominational group are more than missionaries at sea.
“The problem with this word ‘missionary’ is that it is misunderstood,” she said. “We don’t try to come here and tell them what to believe.”
She said that the Doulos was more concerned with creating cross-cultural dialogue and fighting ignorance through books.
“But if they like our way of life, then it is their choice,” she added.
Say Hak said Wednesday that the Doulos was welcome in Sihanoukville because it would boost tourism. He also said that it was unimportant if the ship’s crew were here to promote Christianity.
“I don’t care who they are,” Say Hak said. “They came here legally…so they can do what they want.”