El­der ex­pe­ri­ences mir­a­cle on the ocean near Panama

Serve Daily - - EMPOWERING LIBERTY - By Den­nis McGraw

com­pan­ion and I pad­dled out to the larger boat, which had a mo­tor and was about It was like any other Sun­day, ex­cept 15 feet long and wide enough to seat three this Sun­day, I was on my own. I was run­ning across (or two com­fort­ably). It had a semi- Sacra­ment Meet­ing alone this week hard top to keep the sun and rain off the — well, with­out my nor­mal com­pan­ion, trav­el­ers and was used mostly for pri­vate any­way. One of the lo­cals agreed to be my taxi ser­vice from is­land to is­land. com­pan­ion for a few days while my reg­u­lar I waved good­bye to my temp com­pan­ion com­pan­ion was off-is­land at­tend­ing as he pad­dled back to my home is­land. some branch meet­ings. Sacra­ment went We didn’t get far be­fore we started tak­ing smoothly: I taught sev­eral lessons in both on wa­ter. I bailed wa­ter out with a make- Span­ish and Kuna and we broke for the shift one-gal­lon milk jug as a bucket. Soon day. I wan­dered to the other end of the the wa­ter was above my an­kles. I passed chapel, which had also served as my home the bucket to a for­ward el­der and be­gan for the past eight months. bail­ing wa­ter with my hands. Ev­ery­one

My com­pan­ion called and said they was bail­ing with their hands. I looked were go­ing to meet me at the shore line back at the driver just as a wave hit us to head to the next branch meet­ing on an from be­hind and en­gulfed the small out­board ad­join­ing is­land - “Oh, and grab the life mo­tor, flood­ing the boat. I looked jack­ets, it’s a lit­tle windy out to­day,” he at the branch pres­i­dent. Our eyes met, and said. I quickly changed into shorts and a we both had a look in them ask­ing, “Is this T-shirt - I hated trav­el­ing be­tween is­lands re­ally hap­pen­ing?” in my Sun­day clothes. I care­fully folded As the wa­ter flooded up to my knees, them up and stuffed them into a garbage I re­al­ized the boat was go­ing down, bag to keep dry on the boat ride. and I quickly grabbed my garbage bag

When I ar­rived at the beach, my com­pan­ion of clothes and bailed out the side. We were fend­ing for our­selves. I glanced out Sud­denly I heard a mo­tor. I saw a lo­cal and five other mis­sion­ar­ies, in­clud­ing all hud­dled to­gether watch­ing in hor­ror to the outer chan­nel, saw a large Colom­bian fish­er­man wav­ing me on. They pulled me a lo­cal who was the branch pres­i­dent, as the boat up­ended and went straight sup­ply boat and re­al­ized we were in just out­side the reef. They turned to the awaited me in a boat on the outer edge of down, leav­ing noth­ing be­hind ex­cept too far off from the ship­ping chan­nel and beach - and I yelled, “MY COM­PAN­ION the break. The waves were pretty big, so some float­ing de­bris and the gas tank. We would not be seen by any pass­ing boats. IS OUT THERE!” they did not want to drive into the beach prayed fever­ishly and vowed to be okay. Boom! A wave pounded me. I des­per­ately “We can’t get him yet, the boat is rid­ing to pick me up. They mo­tioned to me to We were quickly sep­a­rated by two large searched and found my com­pan­ion, too low,” they said. row out in a small fish­ing boa. My temp crash­ing waves. Now in two groups, we and we both knew it was time to head I’m dropped on the beach 30 min­utes for land. from my pue­blo. I fall to the ground, my

I could see the beach in the dis­tance - legs and body so ex­hausted I can­not stand. maybe two miles out - and kicked with all I lay on the beach for 30 min­utes wait­ing my might to­ward it. An­other wave and an­other for my cir­cu­la­tion to nor­mal­ize. I crawl to pounded me, and my com­pan­ion and a nearby fresh-wa­ter river and spend the I were sep­a­rated by a large dis­tance. The next 45 min­utes lay­ing in the river, thank­ing mo­tion of the mon­strous waves hit­ting and Heav­enly Fa­ther that I have lived toss­ing me to and fro made me nau­seous. through the ex­pe­ri­ence and pray­ing for the I threw up again and again. Chok­ing down safety of my friends. sea wa­ter, I threw up yet again. The life We would all come to­gether later that jacket felt like a brick around my neck. It night and re­al­ize for the first time that we was wa­ter-logged and prac­ti­cally sink­ing, were all okay. so I took it off and added it to my garbage Thank you, Panama, for the ex­pe­ri­ences, bag of clothes that had enough air trapped and thank you, na­tives of San Blas. I in­side to float. My legs were cramp­ing at owe my life to you. this point, and I lost sight of my com­pan­ion. Que Dios les bendi­gan siem­pre. But ev­ery now and again at the crest El­der Bran­non McGraw of a wave, I could make out his fig­ure be­fore I was shoved down into the trough of the swell and saw noth­ing but mas­sive swells and black seas.

Up ahead, I saw the reef of my is­land, the waves crash­ing against it like a head- on col­li­sion over and over. The vi­o­lent spray and wash was eerie and dev­il­ish. There was a nar­row slot about 20 feet across. “Could I make through?” I won­dered. The waves were too big, the cur­rent too strong - I’d never get in place. I be­gan back-stroking to jockey for po­si­tion. I caught a glimpse of my com­pan­ion; he was way out of po­si­tion. He would never make to the slot. Sud­denly, I saw a Colom­bian boat stop­ping to pick some­one up, and the person was pulled in. I couldn’t see who it was. At the crest of a wave, I screamed and threw my arms in the air. They turned away from me. “Are you kid­ding? Why aren’t they pick­ing me up?” I thought.

I had to get in po­si­tion. No­body was com­ing for me. I de­cided I’d swim all the way in. Four hours had passed and I was so sick. I would have been dry-heav­ing if it weren’t for the sea wa­ter I was chug­ging, and my legs were cramp­ing so badly I wasn’t sure if they were even mov­ing. For the first time, I be­gin to have se­ri­ous doubts about whether or not I was go­ing to make it.

Photo by Ed Helmick

Hav­ing strong roots is im­por­tant in life, and it is aptly il­lus­trated in this photo taken on a nearby mountain road. Aspen trees grow as a colony - young and old trees - from a com­mon root sys­tem like a fam­ily. They stand tall and proudly reach for the...

El­der Bran­non McGraw near the ocean in Panama.

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