An Amazing Story of Faith and Being Ready

I heard on the news this week that over 100 fans who attended the subzero Chiefs and Dolphins playoff football game in January required amputations of frostbitten fingers and toes.

I remembered how we had about 6 days of extremely cold weather with dangerous wind chill just a few months ago.

Neither of these compare to the incredible story of Ernest Shackleton and his 1914 to 1917 expedition to sail to Antarctica and cross the continent on foot with sled dogs.

The danger of this trip was beyond belief, Shackleton posted an advertisement in a London paper, stating: "Men wanted for hazardous journey. Low wages, bitter cold, long hours of complete darkness. Safe return doubtful….

On the way there, his ship, the Endurance was trapped by ice on Feb 14 and drifted with the ice pack until October 27 (8 months) when its wooden hull eventually was crushed and the ship began to sink. It was –15 degrees when Shackleton gave the order to abandon ship.

The men escaped the ship with lifeboats and camped on the floating ice for another 126 days.  Finally with the ice melting, the men used the remaining lifeboats and spent 5 terrible days at sea until they reached the uninhabited Elephant Island,

Elephant Island is an ice-covered, mountain-like island off the coast of Antarctica. The weather there is foggy or snowy with freezing temps and up to 100-mile winds.   No native plants or animals exist on the island, just migratory penguins and seals.
With supplies running out, Shackleton took five men and the strongest lifeboat to attempt a near hopeless 800-mile journey through the ice pack and stormy seas for help.  He promised the rest of the men, left on Elephant Island, that he would return for them and take them back to England.

Faced with continually dodging ice floes, being drenched in icy sea water and surviving hurricane winds, the tiny lifeboat finally made it to land. But Shackleton still had to make a 30-mile hike with no map, over frozen mountains and glaciers to reach the outpost.  One of the men hammered nails through the soles of the men’s boots to help them walk across the icy glaciers.

Shackleton and two of his men made a non-stop 36-hour march across the dangerous terrain. He later wrote: ‘I have no doubt that Providence guided us. It seemed to me often that there were 4 of us not three”. The other two men also reported seeing a 4th person walking with them.

When Shackleton finally arrived at the outpost, he immediately set out again in a boat to go back for his men. But he found to his dismay that the sea had frozen over and his men were cut off.

Three times, he tried to reach them, but his efforts ended in failure due to the ice packs that closed off any paths back to his men.

Finally, after four and a half months, in his fourth try, Shackleton found a narrow channel through the ice. Guiding his small ship back to the island, he was delighted to find his men not only alive and well, but standing at the shore! They were fully prepared and waiting to get aboard!  All the men were almost immediately loaded on the ship and on their way to safety and home.

After the excitement ended, Shackleton inquired how it was that they were ready and waiting to get aboard so quickly when they had to wait so long for him to return.  The men told him that every morning their leader, Frank Wild, rolled up his sleeping bag and gear, saying, “Get your things ready boys, the boss may come back today.”

The men were ready because they had faith, hope and discipline.   That is how we should be.

The return of Jesus to this earth is much more certain than Shackleton’s return to Elephant Island ever was.

Christ’s promise to return to rescue us who have been redeemed is guaranteed by His Word and His character.
Believers must have a faith that cannot fail. Jesus will return - it’s not a matter of if…but when. It is just a matter of time.  

The words of Frank Wild are good advice for us too, “Get your things ready boys, the boss may come back today.”

While we wait, are we living in such a way to be ready? Can we be as faithful and prepared as Shackleton’s men?

References - LiveScience - Tom Garner, with contributions from Timothy Williamson
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