Summary: Joe was alone in the Pacific ocean, ten miles from shore, without a life jacket, and worst of all, no one knew that he was overboard.
I’ve known Joe for twelve years. Joe and his brother Dan own an appliance repair business and have kept our home appliance working for many years. It was unusual for Joe to attend prayer meeting, so I commented to Dan how nice it was to see Joe out on a Wednesday night. "I guess you heard about his story," Dan replied. I had not, and Dan proceeded to relate the following near death experience.
Joe was on a fishing boat returning for a multi-day deep sea fishing trip. They were about 2 hours from the Marina near Los Angeles. Joe was at the stern deck cleaning their fish while everyone else was asleep - everyone except his older brother who was piloting the vessel. Joe did something he had done hundreds of times before. It was a task so routine that its danger didn’t even cross Joe’s mind until it was too late. Joe took an empty 5 gallon bucket and reached over the stern of the boat to get a bucket of ocean water. The boat took a wave, Joe lost his balance and in an instant was overboard. The noise of the boats engines tuned out his screams and whistles, as the boat motored away toward the marina. Joe was alone in the Pacific ocean, ten miles from shore, without a life jacket, and worst of all, no one knew that he was overboard.
His brothers and friends continued in to the marina. As they emerged from their cabins, each one assumed that Joe was asleep in his cabin. Finally, his oldest brother knocked on Joe’s cabin door. When he discovered that Joe was not asleep, he knew immediately what had happened.
It was now 7 PM in September. Darkness was setting in and Joe had been overboard for at least 2 hours. His brother called the police and coast guard. Ordinarily, searches are not conducted at sea at night. It’s almost impossible to find someone in this situation. But the Coast Guard knew that they had a small window of hope to rescue Joe. Every available boat and helicopter was sent to the last known vicinity where Joe might be. His brothers raced out to sea, ignoring Marina’s "no-wake" regulations and frantic that their brother was drifting alone in the dark.
"I could see planes flying overhead, departing from LAX. I screamed and whistled hoping that maybe someone might be looking out of their window and would see me." As darkness settled, Joe began to grow tired from treading, floating and trying to swim closer to shore. The Coast Guard later told him that while he could see the shore, he was more than ten miles away and the current was actually taking him further out to sea. His legs were cramping, his body growing colder, and his hope diminishing. Joe began thinking of how he could drown with the least amount of pain. He began praying that his father would not die of a heart attack when he heard that his youngest son had drowned. And he prayed that his brother would not feel responsible for his death. He also settled things with God.
Joe grew up in a Christian home and attended church, but he was living life his own way. Joe knew the gospel but was straddling the fence, not interested in pursuing the committed Christian life that his brothers and parents possessed. He knew that he never truly committed his life to Christ, so there, miles from land and most likely never to be found, Joe asked Jesus to forgive him for his sins and save him from hell.
Exhausted and in full survival mode, Joe could see helicopters with their search lights looking for him. Again, he tried to yell, whistle and splash water, but his attempts to get their attention were in vain. He could see his brother’s boat also looking, but they were too far away.
Finally, at about midnight, a full seven hours after he went in the water, one Coast Guard boat ventured closer than anyone had come all night. Joe whistled. This time, the boat killed the engine. A 19 year old rookie on the boat thought he heard something. He was the only one who heard Joe’s faint whistle. The experienced offers on board trusted the rookie’s instincts and heightened their search. They tried closing in on Joe’s whistles and screams. Later, Joe would discover that pinpointing the source of a whistle at sea is difficult to do by day, and nearly impossible by night. But by God’s grace, the last rescue boat sent out from the Marina found Joe and rescued him.
You can read Joe’s personal account here. http://360tuna.com/index.php?/topic/41666-how-i-survived-coast-guard-rescue/
Joe understands what it means to be hopelessly lost. The reality of his physical peril highlighted his spiritual peril. But we shouldn’t wait until we are lost at sea before we see our lives as they truly are. This is the message that Jesus urged his followers when he taught a parable about Things that are Lost.