What happens when you board a boat and arrive at a completely different destination than you planned for?
“Friends, you really should have listened to me,” I told them. “If you had, we could have avoided all this trouble.” But what good was saying I told you so? What’s done is done, and all my warnings about how fast storms come up this time of year had fallen on deaf ears.
I admit the weather seemed fine before we set sail. A gentle southerly breeze lulled everyone into believing we were in for smooth sailing. But no sooner were we out to sea than gale-force winds struck, turning the placid sea into a churning cauldron. Men, galvanized into action, slipped and slid across the rain-soaked deck and worked to correct the position of the boat, which bobbed like a cork. Heart hammering, I clutched at a rail to keep from lurching overboard as monster waves slapped us sideways.
I didn’t know at the time that in a few days the others would decide to kill me.
At some point we realized we had lost control of the ship. Our last best hope seemed to be a small island, visible whenever we rode a wave high before wallowing helplessly in its trough. But the island was there; we had seen it from the top of the waves, a distant oasis in this violent storm.
“Let’s make a run for it!” somebody shouted, and it looked as if we would make it. But a fortress of rocky shoals, like armed sentries around the island, surfaced suddenly and we barely missed smashing into the reef. Forced to abandon our efforts, we limped further out to sea, our ship so badly damaged that we dumped most of our cargo and tackle overboard to lighten the load.
The days wore on, an endless repetition as we battled fatigue and the ocean that seemed intent on claiming us. How long had it been since we had seen either sun or stars? The men lost all hope of rescue.
When I saw them discouraged to the point of no return, I did something that must have seemed crazy, because they gaped at me in stupefied silence. Against a backdrop of black sea and blacker sky I stood in their midst, a ship of weary, disheartened sailors, and shouted at the top of my lungs, over the sound of crashing waves and heaving ship, that not one of them would drown.
They didn’t say anything; just stared a dark gaze that made me wonder what it would take to spark hope in the dying embers of those lifeless, sullen stares. Some of them whispered, later, “Thank you. We believe you.” But the others were too weary to allow their thoughts to veer towards hope. And so we drifted, helpless, damaged beyond repair, day turning to night and back to day again on a slate gray sea of despair.
On the fourteenth night, still adrift, some of the sailors sensed we were approaching land. Afraid we would run aground, they threw out anchors and lowered the life boat in an attempt to jump ship. I sounded the alarm.
“If these sailors don’t stay with the ship, we’re all going to drown,” I warned. The soldiers, not even second guessing me, acted boldly to cut the lines to the lifeboat and desperate men watched as it drifted away, disappearing in the dark.
Just before dawn, I called them together. “This is the fourteenth day we’ve gone without food. None of us has felt like eating! But I urge you to eat something now. You’ll need strength for the rescue ahead. You’re going to come out of this without a scratch!”
My words sparked hope in some. Others, still disgruntled over the loss of the lifeboat, acted like I was insane.
I insisted on giving thanks to God before we ate, and when all 276 of us had eaten our fill, we dumped the remaining food overboard. By this time dawn had illuminated the island that lay ahead. Deciding to run the ship up to the beach, the sailors cut the anchors, loosed the tiller and rasied the sail. Full speed ahead! Waves billowing in the morning breeze!
But we didn’t make it. Still far from shore, we slammed into a reef, invisible until we felt its shattering impact, a boom that rivaled the loudest clap of thunder. Water rushed in as our ship began to break apart.
That’s when they decided to kill me.
You see, I was a prisoner, and the soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners so none could escape by swimming. But their leader, determined to save me, stopped them. He gave orders for us to dive in and swim for it. Those that couldn’t swim were ordered to grab planks or anything else they could hold to that would float.
Just as I had predicted, everyone made it safely to shore. I, formerly Saul, now Paul of Tarsus, witnessed miracles on that island, called Malta, that you would never believe. We spent a wonderful three months there before setting sail again, and I was able to do what I have dedicated my life to doing. I was able to spread the glorious message of our Lord Jesus Christ; to let both the natives of Malta and my ship mates know the door is always open to everyone who believes.
You can read about Paul’s shipwreck and the miracles that occurred on Malta in Acts 27 and 28.