Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ!
“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”
This week, the United States and a few allies from the Middle East began bombing parts of Syria and Iraq. Videos and photos of the planes in flight and bombs dropping rekindled in me one of my most vivid memories: the war between Israel and Syria in 1973. I served the task group commander in position off the coast of Israel. Our job was to support the Israelis. For over 4 months, we were close enough to the coast to see explosions from artillery shells and bombs, but the noise was drowned out by the planes launching and landing.
Finally, the time came when we were able to go to Athens for the first liberty of the entire cruise. We anchored in the harbor and set up “liberty launches” (boats that shuttled us to and from the port landing). I, and a few of my friends, were eager to set foot on dry land and see some of the sights. Amazingly, we jumped onto the very first liberty launch and grabbed seats on the first tour bus. This bus transported people from the port landing to University Square. Our spirits soared as the bus stopped at the square. Our adventure began!
A huge crowd of students gathered across the street at the university. They were yelling things we couldn’t understand and carrying signs we couldn’t read. It was all Greek to us – no pun intended. Oddly, when the bus driver closed the door, he did not head back to port side. He just sat there for some reason. Then we saw an armored vehicle, some sort of tank, pull into the crowd of people. As the vehicle advanced, the top hatch opened and a man with a machine gun rose from within. Suddenly, he sprayed a circle of bullets over the heads of the crowd. Were they shooting at us? We were in serious danger, and we didn’t know it. At this point, the bus doors reopened. We scrambled around back on the bus, headed to port side. Two liberty launches awaited to shuttle us back to the ship. I raced to my station to find out what was going on. I learned there was an anti- American rally going on at the university. The students were protesting the Viet Nam War! We weren’t ugly Americans or baby-killers; we were valiant heroes who rescued war-weary Israel. Nevertheless, two hours later, our entire task group was underway, back into the waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
I share that specific memory in order to communicate a life lesson learned: Sometimes we get caught up in all the excitement, and we expose ourselves to great danger without realizing it.
My shipmates and I were spared death, and probably worse, by nothing but the grace of God. Although we put ourselves in grave danger, we are never separated from God. God’s protection and care are always available. When our need is greatest, God rescues us from danger. Grace always surrounds us; God always delivers us.
Grace and Peace,