by Joel Bates
When Japanese sub I-58 torpedoed the USS Indianapolis, it caused the worst naval sea disaster of World War II. And yet, for the men who survived the initial sinking, the worst was yet to come. With communications knocked out at the onset of the raid and a mere 15 minutes during which the ship would stay afloat, all attempts to send out distress signals were in vain, leaving the survivors in the hands of fate. For days, the bobbing sailors succumbed one by one to their wounds, shark attacks, and the deterioration of their fragile psyches until only a few remained. Miraculously, an American seaplane happened to spot the oil slick left behind by the sunken vessel. A closer flyby inspection revealed, amid the turbid waves of shark-infested waters, human bodies—survivors who had drifted aimlessly for four days and now had little physical strength and even less will to live.
An emergency SOS went out to all American ships in the vicinity. The USS Doyle received the message and began steaming “all ahead full” toward the position. As night encroached, the Doyle had yet to reach the men. Knowing that the survivors’ mental fight to stay alive hung by a thread easily snapped by the despair of darkness, the captain issued a dangerous command that no crew had ever heard. In the inky darkness, he ordered the searchlight be aimed into the sky to give hope to the men in the water, to let them know that help was on the way. At the same time, though, this order painted a broad target on the warship itself for any enemy subterfuge. Against U.S. Navy protocols, the light continued to shine brightly. Later, survivors would testify that it was the light beamed from the foredeck of the USS Doyle that saved them, proving that light has power over even the darkest night.
I was with a group of missionaries-in-training recently, trying to convey this message of the power of light over darkness. We were assembled in a cave, covered in muddy filth and sitting in pitch-black silence when someone started to cry. To my surprise, it was Ross, the oldest of our group…Ross, who was toned and lanky for his 61 years of age…Ross, who was always congenial, smiling, and kind. This former California surfer had left behind a home, a business, and a past that should have taken him to hell. Now headed to Africa with a reckless abandon for Jesus, he sat in the dark with tears running down his weathered face.
We waited as Ross dug down to unearth the words to describe how he felt. “I had forgotten about the power of light,” he whispered. “All those people around the world living like this…covered in mud and all alone in the dark.” He continued, “That was me. That’s my story. If not for the light of Jesus, I would be lost right now…probably dead is more like it. This is a picture of what we are going to do...shine!” His words punctuated the already sobering reality of just how important is the mission of sharing the gospel. Using the cave and its darkness as a simple illustration, Christ made His call to these mission recruits poignant; they would shine the light of Christ in a very dark world.
Whether from the deck of a great warship, in the small beam of a headlamp in a cave, or from the word of the gospel told to those lost in darkness, light always…ALWAYS wins over darkness.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Come along side us as we journey in and out of the wilderness, discovering our Creator in creation.