There is a hidden story about the greatest boat lift, boat rescue in the history of the world. It is hidden, not because it happened a long time ago, but I think because it shows how ordinary people can do extraordinary things in the time of confusion. It demonstrates how God can use people regardless of the circumstances, regardless of a person’s station in life, regardless of their relationships, and regardless of their ability. This boat rescue saved 50,000 civilians in less than 9 hours from possible death.
Let me paint a word picture describing the events of this amazing individual and group effort to save lives. This took place after the planes struck the World Trade Center the force of the blow and the fire weakened the buildings to such a degree that the buildings collapsed like a house of cards on September 11, 2001. Many who worked in the buildings and many rescuers were killed instantly. Those able to escape the buildings were now faced with a new issue. They had to escape the falling debris and the engulfing clouds of soot and smoke.
At ground level no one truly knew exactly what was happening and most felt it was an attack on New York. So they began to run for their lives, not really knowing when or if another attack might take place.
Many ran toward the sea, hoping to escape the mayhem. As they reached the water’s edge it soon became apparent that Manhattan is an island and the only way to safety was the sea. They had become trapped. Do they risk jumping in the ocean or do they return from where they came? Suddenly, through the dark dust clouds a single boat appeared, then another, then another. Soon the sea was full of boats looking to take people to safety.
Brave men and women heard of the attacks and risked their lives to get their boats to the shores of lower Manhattan. All kinds of boats, including ferries, Coast Guard, private boats, and party boats showed up to help, without being asked and not knowing what danger might lay ahead for them. They disregarded their own safety and their own lives to rescue total strangers.
It is hard to believe that it has been over ten years since the 9/11 attacks. Until recently, I had never seen or heard about this amazing boat lift evacuation. It was the largest boating evacuation in history. Over 50,000 people were removed in less than nine hours. It was not scripted. It was not organized. It was a reaction to the confusion that caused people to accept the call of conviction on their heart to help someone else, someone they did not know, and possibly that they would never see again. What makes someone react positively in the face of confusion, to have cause for concern, to question the pending controversy, to witness confession, to attempt to correct the wrong, to show care, and ultimately accept the call of conviction to do the right thing?
Many of us think that we may only see this type of heroics once or twice in a lifetime but I am here to say it is a daily occurrence at a place called the Haven of Rest Rescue Mission located in Bristol, Tennessee. For the past three years, I have had the honor and privilege of playing a small part in a place that provides safety to those whose lives are collapsing around them. These are people who are trying to escape the falling debris of a shattered life that has engulfed them in clouds of frustration, worry, doubt, and sin. They run for their lives and from their lives, not knowing when the next attack may happen, running to try and avoid the mayhem. And in that run for life they find out that since they do not know what they are running to and they are too afraid to turn back, they are lost. But suddenly through the dark dust clouds of life appears a beacon of light. The Haven of Rest is a light in a lost and dying world where brave men and women offer a helping hand to others.
For 55 years the Haven of Rest has been about helping homeless and needy people by meeting their needs for food, shelter, clothing, a new start, forgiveness, peace, stability, love, and freedom from a life controlling problem, in a Christian environment.
For me, this is a hidden story about the greatest people lift, a people rescue, if you will. It shows how ordinary people can do extraordinary things when it counts most, during those times that people’s lives are collapsing around them. It is a testimony of daily heroics by people who simply allow God to use them – people willing to help someone else, someone they do not know, and possibly may never see again. I am grateful for the people and vision of Haven of Rest reacting positively in the face of confusion, to have cause for the concern of others, work to correct the wrong, show care, and ultimately accept the call of conviction to do the right thing. May this stir our call today to be heroic!
Mike Miller is a graduate of the Cumberland Area Pulpit Supply Phase 1 Training, is a local businessman, and is active in his local church. Mike coordinates the CAPS preaching schedule for one of the chapel services at the Haven of Rest Rescue Mission, where several CAPS men volunteer to preach every month. In addition to coordinating the schedule and occasionally preaching, Mike also serves as a volunteer chaplain for a local restaurant. We are grateful for his continuing service to the Lord, His church, and those who need salvation in Christ.