One local story, which I have followed from day one and that has even made national news, has particularly captured my attention: two firefighters went fishing for a day off the coast of Port Canaveral, Florida, and never returned.
At a Loss for Answers
It’s the classic dilemma of why God allows bad things to happen, made even more poignant because we may never know how these men met their fate at sea, if in fact they’re dead, and also because they were young men in their prime with wives and children. This on top of the fact that the community has banded together in prayer and to organize a search effort unlike any I have seen before.
The Coast Guard, numerous other agencies and hundreds of volunteers spent six days searching for Brian McCluney and Justin Walker. Calculating the approximate northward drift of their 24-foot boat, they ultimately scoured over 145,000 square miles (an area equivalent to the size of Montana) along the Gulf Stream from Florida to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
Agencies searched until the odds of success were deemed slim and then, with a heavy heart, decided to officially withdraw resources from the effort a few days ago. Ultimately, nothing was found in the search except one item – a tackle bag floating in the water about 50 miles off the coast of St. Augustine, Florida. The wife of one of the firefighters, Stephanie McCluney, said it belonged to her husband.
Speculation is that strong thunderstorms moving east off the coast the day of their fishing outing created strong winds that put the firefighters in a quandary about 30 miles out to sea.
Ever since the men went missing, their wives have been leaning heavily on their Christian faith. “It’s not manpower, it’s God power,” Stephanie was quoted by the media as saying several days into the search, referring to the massive number of folks volunteering to help.
And, after the search officially ended last week, she remarked, "To all the volunteers, the army of men and women that poured themselves into that the past week, I see the hands and feet of Jesus through these men and these women."
With so many prayers (likely thousands, maybe millions) being lifted to heaven – knocking at the door not only once, twice and thrice, but continuously since the search began – one could easily wonder why these men have not been found, or if it’s just a matter of time.
A Common Tale with an Uncommon Outcome
Granted, throughout history, this is just one instance among many of seafarers being lost at sea or washed up on a deserted island with the cards stacked against them. I recall an account of a Dutchman, Leendert Hasenbosch, marooned on Ascension Island in the early 1700s as a punishment for sodomy. He begged God to be rescued for months on end, to no avail.
His diary ends with the entry, “Searched carefully but found no water. Have employed myself in praying and interceding with God to have mercy on my soul.”
Fortunately, Hasenbosch’s journey lives on, recently chronicled in a widely-available compendium entitled Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls: True Stories of Castaways and Other Survivors. Hasenbosch’s faith amidst desperate circumstances not only benefitted him in the end (that is, his immortal soul), but benefits those who read his account and find encouragement from it to this day.
I cannot help but think of the two firefighters and the community who has been begging for their rescue as Hasenbosch had begged God for his own. I have to wonder what God is up to. Best-case scenario is the two men turn up alive at some point, emaciated, dehydrated and malnourished.
The Paradox of Hope
But should they never be found alive, worst-case scenario is what we know now: the community has bonded over the experience, including the firefighter community and the hundreds of volunteers who searched and continue to search; some have doubtlessly drawn closer to God either through their prayers or as a result of the time they’ve selflessly dedicated to the cause; and everyone following this story locally and nationally has witnessed the steadfast faith of the wives – faith that persists and even seems to grow stronger daily despite the odds increasingly against the men being found alive.
It cannot be said this worst-case scenario is a bad thing. But it is a paradox – good coming out of bad, something not uncommon in the Christian experience, as seen in Hasenbosch’s ordeal nearly 300 years ago. Yet, at the end of the day, we are still at a loss for answers as to why these firefighters vanished without a trace. We can only speculate.
Whether or not the men are ultimately found, perhaps Stephanie McCluney, Brian’s wife, summed it up best: “My hope lies in that I know there will be a reunion, whether it is here or in eternity. This is a brief moment. Eternity is forever."