Adrift on the deep lake and surrounded by cliffs, I couldn’t help but question the decision I’d made to get into the boat with my family. With every passing moment the lake was getting rougher and rougher! There was no place to go except into the steep ledges. With no life jackets on board, the tension was rising. We now found ourselves in a life threatening situation!
It was a holiday and we had spent the last two days with another missionary family from the church at Lake Atitlan. The beautiful lake was formed in a volcanic crater, expanding 50.2 square miles, with a surface elevation of 5,125 feet, and reaching a depth of over 1,120
In the early morning hours the lake had been peaceful, as I’d watched the sunrise from the dock. Then it was time to go. We gathered our things and headed for the dock only to discover the only water taxis (a lancha) crossing the lake were departing from a town called San Marcos. We’d heard rumors of dangerous drug trafficking in that area. This meant we were in for a long day of zig-zagging across the lake to get to our destination.
Once we arrived in San Marcos we found someone with a boat willing to transport us. We boarded the boat only to learn we had another two hours of waiting before departure. Time was of the essence. No one wanted to be traveling at night. It didn’t take long to realize this was going to be an all-day affair.
Out came the peanut butter and marshmallow fluff. Everyone in our group was hungry, so we figured the next best thing to calm the moods and stop the hunger pains was to introduce the famous Fluffanutter Sandwich. Before we left the states, my father had insisted we take marshmallow fluff and peanut butter with us as a trusty survival staple in a hard pinch. This time we were grateful to have it.
Finally the time came for departure. We were relieved to be leaving San Macros and on our way to Panajachel on the other side of the lake, where we could continue traveling to our final destination. We settled in for the 30-minute ride across the lake.
We all began laughing and reminiscing about the great weekend getaway, when suddenly, halfway across the lake the winds picked up and the waves became increasingly choppy. I could see the anxiety on everyone’s faces. John and I assured them all it would be okay; but I knew we needed to keep moving.
Then it happened! The engine made a choking sound, accompanied with a strong smell of fuel, and followed by a black cloud of smoke rolling out from beneath the boat. We stopped dead in the water!
We were adrift! I looked to the shoreline for a place of safety. There was nothing to be found, only sharp cliffs rising abruptly from the water’s edge. The water was cold and dark with an eerie, bottomless feeling. I knew that, if we slammed into the cliffs the heavy steel boat would sink like a rock. We all began to pray. I tried to calculate who could save whom. Not everyone on the boat could swim. There were ten of us altogether. A missionary widow, her two teenagers, a two-year-old, my two sons, my husband John, the captain, and his assistant. The boat became a breach in the waves, causing a loss of control over it.
The captain ordered his assistant to go below to the engine room. We heard loud noises as he repeatedly hit the engine with a tool. The boat chugged and sputtered, but only produced more smoke. The captain called for him to return to the bow of the boat and take the wheel. The captain made his desperate attempt to fix the engine, but again no power was produced. With every minute, the ledges drew closer and panic was taking over among the group.
I suddenly heard singing! Unbeknownst to the rest of us, the Lord had spoken to John to go to the front of the boat and talk with the captain’s assistant. After introductions were made, John discovered the captain’s assistant was a Christian and the choir leader in his church. John asked him, “What is your favorite song?” He immediately began to sing with great passion and John joined him in singing!
At that very moment, the captain called out from below, “Start the boat!” The motor chugged and we moved forward. As long as they continued to sing, the engine continued to run, propelling the boat forward.
After an hour of singing, their voices were exhausted. They stopped for a moment’s rest, when to their surprise, the boat abruptly stalled again. John realized in order to keep the boat going, they needed to continue singing. We slowly crossed the perilous lake to Panajachel, singing all the way. By the time we arrived, the 30-minute water taxi ride had taken over two hours of singing praises to the Lord.
In 1914, Ernest Henry Shackleton led an expedition to Antarctica with a crew of 28 men in an attempt to reach the South Pole. The last 800 miles, he sailed a 16-days’ journey with five men in a small whaleboat. He navigated across the open ocean through terrifying conditions and circumstances with dead reckoning. (Dead reckoning is a navigation technique based on mathematical calculations of time, speed, distance, and direction. These measurements are taken with a tool called a sextant.)
Adrift on Lake Atitlan, our song (the sextant) was the measure of our faith. And obedience to worship released a miracle that propelled us forward to the safety of the shore with dead reckoning. We sang with full hearts, praising God for His goodness.
2 Chronicles 20: 21-22a, “And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord; for his mercy endureth for ever. And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord set ambushments . . .”
Life can challenge us in ways that cause us to lose our direction. How do we navigate with dead reckoning? I have found in those times the Holy Spirit can guide us when we exercise our faith, making our hearts glad with songs of praise! What seemingly looks impossible can change in that moment of faith.
Act 16:25-26, “But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.”
Together we build HOPE,
*(This took place in 1998, while we were serving as missionaries to the country on Guatemala.)