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Search and Rescue

Steven P. Wickstrom

Many years ago when I first enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, I was sent to a small boat station. It was located in the southern portion of the state of Michigan on the Lake Michigan side of the state. Our main job at that station was search and rescue. When a boater got in trouble, we would go out and provide whatever assistance they needed. My job would alternate between being a crewmember on the boat to standing a watch in the radio room.

One day while I was standing a watch in the radio room, a Mayday call came over the radio. Two men had been out fishing and one of them fell over the side. The man who fell overboard did not float; he simply sank to the bottom. The frantic companion did the only thing he could think of doing; he called the Coast Guard. I answered that call.

I reached over and pushed the alarm button which sounded the emergency alarm throughout the station. I heard doors slamming and feet pounding as people dropped whatever they were doing and ran down to the boathouse. I picked up the radio's microphone and calmly asked the person who called the Mayday, to tell me what the problem was, and to give me his location.

It was my job to be calm, and to calm others. When a Mayday comes across the radio, all the other boaters in the area listen in. They want to know that the Coast Guard is in charge of the situation. They want to know that the Coast Guard can help. For several hours I coordinated the search efforts of a helicopter and two of our boats. The mission had changed from rescue to recovery after we had given up hope of finding the man alive. We were now simply trying to find his body. I was unaware of the passage of time until I had to take a restroom break.

I got someone to sit in for me and I headed for the restroom. I walked through the station and passed through the waiting room near the entrance doors. The Chief was in there along with the family of the man who had fallen overboard. I had been so preoccupied that I had no idea that they were even there. As I walked through the room, all eyes turned to look at me. The family member's eyes were red from the tears and grief. They had cried so much that they had no more tears to cry. They were longing for some good news. They were yearning for some hope. I had neither. It broke my heart to see them. I gave them a weak smile as I walked through the room. I got into the next room and cried. I still cry when I see their faces in my memory.

When I look back at that day I realize something about my life as a Christian. The world around me is longing for some good news. They are yearning for some hope. As a Christian, I have that good news that they so desperately need. I have the gospel of Jesus that they are yearning for. Am I giving them the good news, or am I living my life as if I have nothing to give?

As Christians, we need to be sharing Jesus with a world that is dying. We need to be living our lives in ways that bring glory to God. The world is looking not only at us, but to us. Are we actively engaged in search and rescue? We should be, because that is our mission from God. As long as there is a person who needs salvation, we have job to do. Somebody right next to you could be sending out a Mayday. What will you do when you hear it? Share Jesus with someone today, and you could save a life for eternity.

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© 2006 by Steven P. Wickstrom, all rights reserved.