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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Survival Psalms

   Survival stories have always fascinated me.  While it is possible to attribute the survival or an individual or a group to the "indomitable human spirit," there is often more to such stories than meets the eye.  When Jesus said, "Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God," we may not grasp the truth of such a statement given our well-stocked pantries and fridges.  I'd like to share the stories of two modern, ordinary folk who experienced the hand of God in their remarkable survivals and the link to the psalms of David.
Rita Chretien
   I learned of Rita's story through the news program called Context.  The episode "Lost" can be found by clicking here.  In the early spring of 2011, Rita and her husband were traveling from the west coast of Canada to a trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada, when their van became stuck in a deep muddy bog that came in the middle of a route their GPS suggested to them.  All attempts to drive out of the mud failed, and the remote place in the Nevada wilderness had no cell phone reception. Because Rita had trouble walking due to a weak ankle, her husband Albert determined to leave her and get help. He never returned.
   Meanwhile, Rita stayed with her van.  There was a small supply of trail mix (a mixture of nuts, raisins and sunflower seeds) in her van along with  a tin of candies.  For the first week she ate a tablespoon per day of trail mix and one candy.  When her water bottles ran out, she walked every other day to refill them at a stream, where she found sandy water that was palatable once the sand settled to the bottom.  After one week passed, all she consumed was one candy and one fish oil capsule per day and water.  It took 49 days before some hunters on ATV's passed by her van and rescued her.
   How is this story even possible?  In the Rule of 3, author Eric Walters points out that a person can survive three minutes without air, three days without water and three weeks without food. Obviously, something more was going on with Rita Chretien's life.  She had a source of nourishment that went beyond food.  Rita readily admits that it was the LORD who was with her during this time of isolation.  She read the Bible and she prayed.  She asked God moment by moment, "What should I do?" and felt led to the stream of water.  At times she imagined a meal that she would love to eat. She would ask the LORD to bless it and asked him to give her the nutrition that would have come if she had actually eaten it.  Day after day she did not give into despair.  She had a confidence that things would be OK as long as her relationship with God was foremost.
   One passage she highlighted as having special meaning for her was from Psalm 86:2-7
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.
   It was not until the day of her rescue that she began to realize the toll that her ordeal was taking on her bodily strength.  Coming back from her short daily exercise walk, she began to be short of breath and weakness overcame her.  She barely made it to her van and thought to herself that she might die. She lay down to rest in the van until a few hours later when she heard the engines of the ATV's coming nearby.  These hunters were not looking for her, and they had deviated from the route they had originally planned to take through the area in search of elk antlers.  They took her to civilization, and she spent time in hospital recovering.
   The remains of her husband's body were found in August of 2012, but Rita is assured that he is now fully enjoying communion with his LORD of which she had experienced just a foretaste during her time in the wilderness.

Harrison Odjegba Okene
   In May of 2013, Harrison was working as a cook aboard a tugboat, the Jascon 4 in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nigeria.  Suddenly a wave caused the boat to capsize and sink to the bottom of the ocean; however, Harrison found himself in a small air pocket submerged in salt water up to his waist.  Meanwhile, the other crew members had been locked inside their cabins due to protocols and drowned.
   He had just one can of Coke to drink for the next 70 hours.  In this dark and quiet place, Harrison cried out to God through the Psalms that his wife had sent him via text message.  He focused on Psalm 54, a prayer of deliverance, which follows from verse 1-2 and 4:

Save me, O God, by your name;
    vindicate me by your might.
Hear my prayer, O God;
    listen to the words of my mouth...

Surely God is my help;
    the Lord is the one who sustains me.

Against hope, a salvage crew from the Dutch company DCN came along to recover bodies and whatever materials they could from the wreck.  However they found a hand waving and a living man whose air pocket had been almost depleted of oxygen.  After his rescue, Harrison testified of God's care during his ordeal.  A news article about his rescue can be found here.

For another survival story on this blog, check out:
Endurance is not enough





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