Engineering change for women

Ships :: OM Ships' pioneering female First Engineer shares her journey of serving God with her skills.

Eszter Vanheiden (Hungary) was 10 years old when her cousin showed her pictures of children in Africa and the Philippines after her time on board one of OM’s ships. Little Eszter thought, “I want to do that, too; I want to be a missionary!”

Her father was a driving instructor and Eszter and her family were used to driving between Germany and Hungary. She remembers, “I hated it when there was a noise and I didn’t know why.” Her passion for engines was born.

Becoming an adult and arriving on one of the organisation's previous vessels, Eszter worked in the bookfair. “I loved it,” she enthuses. After a while she became the head cashier. At that time, women were not allowed in the ship's engine rooms. They were only permitted to enter to help with cleaning. “I saw the engines and they were huge – you could take everything apart. I thought, ‘Why would I want to work on cars when engines are so big here?!’” she recalls.

With new-found passion, Eszter started praying and decided to fight the policy, with the help of her friend Hätli Menth (Germany), who also served in the marine engineering department. “I can’t remember saying it myself, but Hätli has told me that when I was a watchkeeper, I announced, ‘One day, I’ll be chief engineer!’” she laughs. Two women were eventually authorised to work in the engine room as watchkeepers; Eszter was one of them. After more than a year in that role, she went back home and served an apprenticeship on a container vessel. She went on to study marine engineering, obtained her license, went to sea commercially for a stint and then joined Logos Hope from 2008 to 2010 as third engineer.

When she finished her commitment on board, Eszter started looking for a contract where she would earn a salary and pay off her student loan. She remembered a Bible passage from Matthew 6:33: “ first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” She said to God, “That is Your Word and You say it is true,” deciding to trust Him with her search. A few days later, an agency contacted her and offered her a job as third engineer on a container ship.

Eszter was asked to return to Logos Hope in 2015, as second engineer. From 2017, she worked ashore as the organisation's technical purchaser and port engineer from offices in Germany, visiting the ship to lend a hand during the annual dry dock maintenance period. “It is satisfying to fix something when it is broken, but what matters most is impacting people who work with you; seeing them change and grow in their relationship with God.”

In December 2018, Eszter broke through the 'glass ceiling' and became Logos Hope’s first engineer. She says she had the backing of male colleagues to pave the way for other women. “I was working under our former Chief, Adam Dawson (USA). He pointed me in the right direction and encouraged me, saying, ‘You can do it!’”

“I am living my dream: since I was ten years old, I wanted to go into mission and be a ‘tentmaker,’” she says, referring to the apostle Paul, who provided for his missionary expenses by making tents. “Through the small and big things done in the engine room, people who come on board can have an amazing experience and get to know Jesus. If I do my job right, even though I don’t see it, what we are doing moves the Body of Christ in the right direction.”

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