“Is there a shark in the water? What’s everyone looking at?” The spectators on Panama City Beach were transfixed by the unfolding horror of an entire family being swept out to sea. Nine members of the Ursrey family had been caught up in a powerful riptide and cast helplessly into fifteen feet of dark, turbulent waves. Their cries of terror barely reached the shore.
A few men rushed into the sea and began to link arms. Quickly others went racing out to join them. Within minutes, a human chain began to take shape in the midst of the chaos. People who could not swim joined hands in a surf rising to their necks. Swimmers paddled out to the end to link arms. Soon eighty men and women had instinctively orchestrated a human lifeline nearly 100 yards long. They reached the imperiled victims and, one by one, passed them safely back to dry land.
One of the older members of the Ursrey clan suffered a heart attack but recovered at a nearby hospital. Another swimmer was treated for a broken arm. Everyone went home alive.
The whole scene struck me as such a vivid picture of the Church of Jesus Christ. Most of the eighty individuals who made the rescue possible could have done nothing on their own. Many could not even swim, and others could not have managed the tide that day. But united in one great purpose, each did what he or she could do and lives were snatched from despair and destruction.
Jessica Simmons and her husband were among the bystanders who were so quick to respond. Grabbing an abandoned boogie board she’d just spotted on the beach, she went rushing to the scene, ignoring the grim voices warning, “Don’t go out there!” She had already resolved, “Those people are not drowning today. It’s not going to happen. We will get them out.”
Jessica and her seventy-nine fellow heroes were driven by something sorely missing in the Church today: urgent compassion. Death and condemnation are not the most effective conversation starters in reaching out to our lost friends and neighbors, but those two painful realities should quietly drive us to talk, to intervene, to build bridges. You and I are surrounded by people at risk but we typically seem far more concerned about sunscreen and cold drinks than the fate of people we love.
I’ve gotta resolve in my heart: “Nobody goes to Hell if I can help it. It’s not going to happen. I’ve got this.” I have to pray, drawing down some fire from Heaven. And then I have to find opportunities and step up to say something about Christ or His Kingdom.
Thankfully, Roberta Ursrey can’t even recall the most terrifying moments of her ordeal at sea. But she easily remembers the chain of determined faces and the strong hands that tirelessly passed her family members to safety. “These people were God’s angels that were in the right place at the right time,” she said afterward.” If most people don’t believe in angels anymore, it’s because they don’t see them very often. As Jesus followers, you and I can fix that problem.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that One died for all.” 2 Corinthians 5:14.
Lift up the Cross!
For the actual news report, see nwfdailynews.com