More than a decade ago, I spent a fascinating two hours talking to a World War II veteran named Ed Harrell. That was the day I learned about the Japanese submarine that attacked and sank the USS Indianapolis in middle of the Pacific Ocean in July of 1945.
More than 800 sailors died as a result of that attack. Ed was one of the 316 men who survived, after spending four days drifting at sea.
The conversation was riveting (you can download and listen to all four podcasts of the interview if you’d like. Just click here). Harrell was on board the Indianapolis when it left San Francisco for the island of Tinian, on a top secret mission carrying parts for the atomic bomb that would later be dropped on Hiroshima. On the way back to the US, the ship was torpedoed by a Japanese sub. It sank in 12 minutes.
Of 1,195 crewmen aboard, approximately 300 went down with the ship. The remaining 890 spent four days adrift in the ocean with no lifeboats and almost no food or water. They faced exposure, dehydration, saltwater poisoning and shark attacks. The Navy only learned of the sinking when Navy pilots on routine patrol spotted survivors at sea. Only 316 were rescued.
Ed Harrell was one of them.
The sinking of Indianapolis resulted in the greatest single loss of life at sea from a single ship in the history of the US Navy.
One of the things I remember about my conversation with Ed was his description of how he and others survived at sea by staying together. Ed said “It was a little bit later before the sharks really began to come around us too much. And, really, they didn’t seem to want to attack our group. As long as we stayed in a group they didn’t bother us.”
The third day, Ed said, one of the guys huddled together with him said “Hey, Marine, see that island over there? I just came from over there.” He said, “Captain Parks, Lieutenant Stouffer, Sergeant Cromley, they’re over there. They’re having a picnic. They want you to come over.”
But there was no island. No picnic. This man had given into the urge to drink the salt water. And drinking the salt water led to hallucinations.
Ed said “The man who saw my Marine buddies over on an island? He swam away. And he got away maybe 25 yards and, all of a sudden, we heard the bloodcurdling scream. I looked to see and saw his kapok jacket go under, and a little bit later then the kapok comes back up with part of the body still fastened to it.”
I’ve thought about that scene in the middle of the Pacific in 1945 more than once during COVID. I’ve thought about how all of us have found ourselves drifting at times this year. How we’ve been waiting to be rescued. For life to get back to normal.
And I’ve thought about how easy it is to start to imagine things that aren’t true or real. To question reality. To drift away on our own.
It was staying together with the group that kept Ed safe. Those who drifted off didn’t make it home.
This has been a hard year for community. For fellowship. For relationships. In the midst of work from home and shelter in place orders, we’ve found ourselves cut off from something all of us desperately need to survive.
I don’t know how soon we’ll be having all church pot lucks again. I hope and pray that we’ll be able to eat together and hug one another and pray for each other face to face before 2022 arrives.
But in the meantime, we have to be creative and purposeful about how we stay connected and in community with each other. We can use tools like Facebook or Instagram to keep in touch with what’s happening in other people’s lives, and to let those who follow us know about what’s going on with us.
But I hope all of us are being more intentional than that. I hope we’re calling one another. Even texting one another. I hope you’ve made a FaceTime call in recent days to someone from church who you haven’t seen for a while and said “how are you? How can I pray for you?”
There’s a reason why the writer of Hebrews tells us we should not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. I think he knew that trying to live as faithful followers of Jesus demands that we are not drifting from the group. That we are not isolated from one another.
Take just a minute right now and ask God “is there someone I should call or text or FaceTime with today?” Then be quiet for a minute and see who God brings to mind.
And then pick up the phone and get busy.
You have no idea how much your text or phone call will mean to them.
While we’re thinking about staying connected and about community, let me remind you that our small groups are starting to gather together again. Some groups meet on Wednesdays. Some meet on Thursdays. Some meet in person. Some are meeting virtually.
If you’d like more information about the different groups and where you might best fit in, reach out to Pastor Matt. He can answer most questions you might have. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can click here for a list of groups, group leaders, times and dates when our groups are getting together. Contact any group leader and let them know you’d like to visit sometime.
As we think together about the subject of spiritual battle and spiritual warfare, we’re learning how critical it is for us to understand our adversary and his strategies. This Sunday, we’ll consider some of the most common schemes of the devil as we continue our study of Ephesians 6:10-18.
And if you haven’t read the passage out loud three times today, I’ll make it easier for you. Here it is:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.
See you (in person or on line) Sunday!
Soli Deo Gloria!