A brown expanse of water churned in the feeble beam of my flashlight. I could hear boulders grinding deep under the surface as the flooded river caught them up and smashed them against each other.
“You’ll be fine,” I reassured myself as I waded in. “You’ve been crossing more dangerous rivers than this ever since you were a kid.”
Soon the torrent was over my knees, threatening to knock me over. Drawing on past experience, I began letting myself be washed downstream a little with each step in order to keep my balance.
“Sure,” I muttered, “this river kills someone every rainy season. But you’re a good swimmer. Besides, your church leaders have been traveling for 18 hours to get home from the training seminar. They’re counting on you to pick them up. You have to get across this river.”
The water was up to my armpits now. The current was so powerful that I could feel the entire riverbed moving along with it—rocks, sand, boulders and all.
And then my foot slipped between two stones. Instinctively I lay back to keep from breaking my ankle. The foaming water went over my head, and when I came up again I was 100 feet downriver. Well, here’s your chance to test your swimming, I thought, feeling strangely calm. I flipped over onto my back with my feet in front of me, pointing downstream in case I encountered a boulder. Using my arms I started paddling toward the far bank.
Just then, the dim moonlight outlined a standing wave rushing toward me. The crest towered above my head, and I knew that a huge rock lay beneath it. “Lord, I’m in Your hands,” I breathed. To my relief, I bobbed right over the wave, never even touching the boulder beneath.
By this point I was already most of the way across. A few more strong strokes, and I was under the overhang of the bank. But as I watched the shore whiz by, I realized that the current was strongest here. I put down my feet, but I immediately toppled over. I couldn’t stop!
I wonder if there is a root or branch I could grab . . . As if on cue, a thick, gnarled root loomed out of the darkness in front of me. I grabbed it with all my strength, but I was moving so fast that it tore from hands.
For the first time I started to feel a little worried. “Lord,” I prayed. “I’m running out of options. I know there are dangerous rapids just downstream. I’ve done everything I know to do. I need Your help.”
As I was still praying, another root rushed out of the darkness. Again I grabbed at it, and again my speed tore it from my grasp. But there was something special about this root. Years ago, deep underground, it had entwined with another root. When the river washed the soil away from the tree, it left the two connected roots floating like a V in the current. As my hands slid helplessly across the slippery bark, the V caught me under my arms and slammed me against the bank. In a jiffy I was out of the water and standing safely on solid ground.
Years before I arrived in the Philippines, God had fashioned a life preserver in just the right place and with just the right shape to save me that dark, stormy night. It had waited patiently in the ground all those years. The storm that nearly washed my lifeless body out to sea also washed away the soil that was concealing the roots and floated them up to find me in my moment of need.
When we do our level best and leave the rest in God’s hands, He never lets us down.