THE CAPTAIN COMMANDED ME, “FULL SPEED
AHEAD”. THIS IS MY TRUE STORY
By S. Nisamdeen
Published via Amazon. 220 pages. £12.95
ISBN 979 8 681 669 401
Not many people start their lives as Muslim in Sri-Lanka and eventually settle in a small Welsh town. Not many people travel 25,000 miles overland in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Not many people become helmsmen piloting large ships all over the world. Not many people start their lives born in to a Muslim family in a Buddhist community and become Christians. The author of this book, S. Nisamdeen, fits all these categories.
Nisam was born in Sri-Lanka, in a small Buddhist village to a fairly prosperous Muslim family who ran a local shop and also owned property. But when he came of age Nisam decided that there was no future for him in the village and decided to travel. On this first journey he travelled right across India, across several other countries and ended up in Frankfurt. He soon decided that he had made a mistake and returned home. But before long the travel bug bit again, and he left home never to return, except for holiday visits.
This time he again flew to India, travelled across India by train and then journeyed by bus through Pakistan, through the Khyber Pass to Afghanistan and to Khorramshahr, then a major port in Iran. There he sought work and found a junior position as a kitchen assistant on a small ship. After six months, he joined another ship belonging to same shipping company. Nisam was acting as watchman, and he quickly demonstrated an ability to find people to befriend and look after him. All went well for a while, and then he joined a large fishing trawler as an engine-room worker. Unfortunately one of the crew was killed in an accident in the Persian gulf while fishing, which caused the crew to return to land leaving just Nisam and the French engineer. They were there for three months before being collected by the captain. This would have been bearable except that the engineer would get drunk and try to kill Nisam – who quickly found all the suitable hiding places on board. A complication then was that his Iranian visa had expired, so when he applied for an exit visa he had to go to court. He didn’t have the money to pay the fine, but the judge paid it for him. Already God was looking after Nisam.
To cut a long story short, his next job was on a larger Greek merchant ship, again in the engine room. But the chief engineer took a dislike to Nisam so he started working as a steward. But then he was asked to substitute for a sick helmsman and this led eventually to him becoming a full-time helmsman – hence the title of the book. Eventually the ship arrived in Liverpool – where he was refused permission to land. But Nisam wanted to travel further, and managed to get a position with a larger Greek shipping company. The company flew him to Hong Kong to join their large ocean sailing ship; he travelled worldwide, the St Lawrence Seaway making a big impression on him. While in Duluth, typically, he was befriended by a woman who drove him sightseeing and also gave him a puppy he named ‘America’. Unfortunately, he lost his adoring dog in the port of Durban. In Basra, Iraq he was befriended by a local doctor and in Durban he was befriended by a businessman. In Rotterdam Nisam’s career as a helmsman ended as his contract with the shipping company expired, but even more unusual events were to come.
Go to Denmark
At an isolated bus stop two men appeared from nowhere and told Nisam he had to go to Denmark. He ignored this for some time, and went to France, where once again people befriended him for no apparent reason, and then to Belgium.
Eventually ‘Denmark’ came into his mind, and he soon felt he must go there. In Copenhagen friendship led to him travelling from Copenhagen to Hjørring, northern Denmark. There, while asleep in a hotel he dreamed of two angels carrying him in the sky, which was traumatic. Later that evening as he was looking for a restaurant or pub, he was invited into a building which turned out to be a church where a prayer meeting was in progress. He was given a meal and the pastor invited him to stay with his family. They also gave him the name of a pastor in Copenhagen, with whom Nisam made contact when he returned there. Nisam was made welcome at the Elim church and began attending meetings regularly. And he began to hear the words of the Bible, though at this stage he did not understand much. Unfortunately, Nisam accidentally outstayed his visa so it was not renewed. However, it was in Denmark that he became a Christian. He then went to Wiesbaden, Germany, staying at the Christian Teen Challenge Centre and taking part in Christian activities including visits to the local American army camp – which should not have been possible.
After a while he decided to return to sea, but God had other plans for him. He was invited to go to Calcutta with a missionary from the Centre. While in Calcutta he was taken seriously ill, but out of the blue God provided a man to take him to hospital, and he recovered. He spent some time in Calcutta helping the Christian team there and visited the Mother Theresa hospice. The next stop was at a Bible college in Bangalore though he did not complete the course. He had decided to return to Iran and find another job on a ship.
The trip involved being smuggled across the Iranian border, since it was shortly after the Iranian revolution in 1979. Again, God had His hand on Nisam. He arrived safely in Tehran despite being stopped by revolutionary guards, but was advised not to go to Khorramshahr because soldiers were everywhere and there might no longer be any shipping companies. In Tehran he stayed with two Christian friends he had met in Bangalore, and after a while he decided to head for Europe. So to Europe, but first stop Izmir, Turkey. While there he looked at an address book he had been given in Germany. An address in Belgrade had a mark against it. So there he went. Belgrade was then in Yugoslavia. Once again Nisam was made welcome by a local couple, and he spent some time accompanying them in their missionary work. After a while, following rejection of another application for a Danish visa, Nisam began to lose heart. He records: ‘I prayed to God that I was fed up with all this and to stop messing about with me’. However, he also records: ‘My words came from my mouth although not from my heart’.
Now God spoke to Nisam through the couple he was living with. One day they said to him: ‘Nisam, we have good news for you. God has spoken to us! This is true, Nisam. You must believe it is the true word of God. God has a plan for you. He has a nation and a family for you and you must not be afraid because He is still with you and He will never let you down.’ They then gave him a plane ticket to England and some money, and also the name and address of the principal of Mattersey Bible College, near Doncaster.
This time there were no visa problems whatsoever, either when entering the country, or in getting it renewed several times. Nisam spent some time studying at Mattersey, and one summer was invited to join a group who were visiting Newtown, Powys. The following year he returned to Newtown to gain knowledge under the leadership and guidance of God. He stayed in the homes of numerous families and took part in many church activities from preaching to cleaning. At the same time as Nisam arrived in Newtown, so did a family from Lancashire. In due course Nisam married their daughter. He had various jobs, and eventually trained and worked as a psychiatric nurse, obtaining an honours degree at North East Wales Institute (now Glyndwr University). He still lives in Newtown, having recently retired from the NHS, and now spends a good deal of time as a volunteer pastoral assistant at the local Anglican church. Not bad for someone who as a boy never did well at school.
This summary can only touch on Nisam’s many adventures. What is very evident throughout the book, though, is the way God was leading and caring for Nisam on his journey. And as he ends the book: ‘I humbly continue faithfully to face what He may bring me tomorrow, as the Captain (God) commands me “Full Speed Ahead”.’