Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Echoes of Another

"In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me." (Jonah 2:2)

There are about 50 people huddled underneath that
tarp with about another 100 below deck in the
cargo hold and 50 more on the stern.
It was around 3:00 am sandwiched between my camera bag, where I was leaning my head, and a group of teenage girls who were literally sitting on top of each other in a desperate attempt to shield themselves from the rain, that I felt a level of distress I cannot ever recall experiencing before.  We had already been on the boat for 35 hours on our journey back to Honiara from the east coast of Malaita, and the conditions on the open sea had deteriorated with waves splashing onto the deck and rain lashing against the tarps that were flapping furiously in the wind, providing minimal protection for the 200+ passengers on board.  Together with an electrical fault that caused the rusty metal floor in front of us to become electrified, nobody was having a good time!   

In that moment, I did call out to the Lord in my distress from underneath the pandanas mat my travel companion unselfishly shared with me in an attempt to protect me from the elements.  Somewhere between my tiredness and borderline seasickness I found myself praying, 'Lord, get us to dry land or end it now!'  From the security and comfort of my living room my prayer now sounds a little melodramatic and somewhat irrational for a man of faith.  However, after two sleepless nights on an overcrowded, unseaworthy vessel with a crew who were uncertain of our exact location (the disadvantage of sitting next to the cabin with someone who could understand the frantic conversation between the captain and crew), rational thought had long escaped me!

God answered me in a most unexpected way!  Dry land was still three hours away and the boat stayed afloat, but God confronted me with a very personal and powerful reminder of a family who took a similar journey to Australia five years ago.  For the first time their story that had previously received deep sympathy from me, now evoked a deeper empathy as a small part of their journey became my reality.  These conditions that I had absolutely no control over all of a sudden made their story very real for me!

I remember when I first met the Afshar family from Afghanistan.  As I listened to their story of how they escaped serious threats from the Taliban by boarding a small boat that took them on a long and dangerous journey through Malaysia, I struggled to imagine the sort of conditions they would have experienced.  I had absolutely no doubt that their story was true.  But as a person who at that point had never sailed longer than an hour on a comfortable and well equipped passenger ferry, with room to move around and enjoy the journey, it was difficult to really connect with their experience.  Their journey across the ocean was a compelling tale that was far removed from anything I had ever experienced or could imagine experiencing.  Until now!  

While the similarities between our respective journeys start and end with a boat trip, I found this uninvited reminder of another family's distress in the midst of my own a profoundly emotional experience.  It right-sized my own circumstances and redirected my reality towards the reality of another.  For the next few moments I imagined myself sitting alongside the Afshar family with their bodies leaning against mine, sharing the same pandanas mat to protect each other from the discomfort of a shared experience.  In my distress I was given a rare gift to feel the distress of another more deeply than I thought was possible.  Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid is quoted as saying, "Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself."  Out there on that ocean in the dead of the night and during a raging storm, I found the echoes of another family in myself.  My prayer now is that those echoes will resound through a more empathetic life and ministry as I continue to pursue a passion for the LORD, the LOST, LIFE and LEADERSHIP!

Would I want to go through an experience like this again?  Absolutely not!  Am I grateful that I did?  Overwhelmingly so!!

This post is dedicated to the courage and resilience of Aziz & Masuda with their children Ali, Nagus and Zara, and Mohammad & Mariam with their children Satiash and Daniel. 

No comments:

Post a Comment