Saved at Sea

In the fall of 1973, after high school graduation, it seemed all my friends were either getting settled into their first permanent jobs or beginning college. I set off as a radioman aboard the USS Ashtabula, a fleet oiler headed for the South China Sea off the coast of Vietnam. 

I was a wayward 18-year-old, struggling with drug abuse, among other things. I had been raised in a Christian home, but did not care to think how far I had drifted from these roots since childhood. I was not interested in religion, philosophy, or any other social “solutions.” Occasionally, I was low enough to contemplate suicide,but never seriously enough to act.

There was not a lot to do aboard ship aside from working, doing laundry, sleeping and eating. In any case, I found myself in the ship’s library. The books were outdated and seemed to be those no one else wanted to read. Eventually I came across a red New Testament, but I hesitated to check the book out. There was no way I was going to read the Gospels, because I knew my heart would be called to change.However, as I looked closer, I saw the book contained Psalms. I knew the Psalms were mostly praises to God, and told myself it would be a harmless read and perhaps even lift my spirit.

Reading a few chapters in Psalms each day became part of my routine. I began noticing the words were more than just praises. David was describing life, and the more I read, the more I agreed with his assessment. I became involved quicker than I expected, and I knew it was time to make a decision. I either had to put the Book away forever or I had to make a serious life change.

For several nights in a row I knelt and prayed on the ship’s outer deck, weeping before God.  One of my fellow sailors, who was a Christian, came and prayed with me. Over the next few nights, I surrendered my life to Christ.

The change was dramatic and immediate, a puzzle to all who knew me. I quit cursing, smoking, and drugs. God had picked me up, turned me around, and placed my feet on a new path.

Forty years have passed since my decision to follow the Lord. I have thought about that New Testament and Psalms many times. I know now it was placed on the USS Ashtabula by The Gideons, but am convinced God placed it there because He loved me even when I had nothing to offer but a broken life and a dirty spirit. I thank God The Gideons do what they do to provide hope in the most hopeless places on both land and sea.

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