Each war has its testimonies of deliverance

Another fascinating story comes from an earlier war in our history. Captain Edward W. Rickenbacker, foremost American airman in World War II, was thankful he knew to call on the name of the Lord for deliverance. The remarkable story below, written soon after his return, describes a near-death experience in which he was stranded in the South Pacific for twenty-four days, on an ill-fated goodwill tour during World War II.

“Captain Rickenbacker, (“flying ace” from World War II), left Hawaii by airplane with seven others for a certain island, but when their arrival time had elapsed, there was no land in sight. Their compass had failed them, and their radio was not working properly. They were lost! And to make matters worse, their gas tank was empty, causing a crash landing into the water.

The first miracle was the fact that this was probably the only time in history that a four-motor plane, designed to land only on the ground, had landed in the ocean without serious casualties. Water was pouring into the broken windows with such force that in their eagerness to get away from the airplane before it sank, they were unable to retrieve their drinking water and rations. All they had between them were four scrawny oranges. For eight days those eight men should have consumed a total of 192 meals, yet they subsisted on those four oranges and no water.

There were three rubber boats, two of which were designed to hold five men, but Rickenbacker´s crew was sure that whoever had designed those rafts must have constructed them with midgets in mind. None of the man wanted to think about the fact that they had landed in an expanse of water covering 68 000 000 square miles and enveloping more than a third of the globe. It accounts for half the world´s water surface and is 11 million square miles greater than the total land surface of 57 510 000 square miles. How on earth could three tiny rubber rafts be seen in that great expanse?

There was no comfortable positions. A standard position, but most awkward, was one man´s legs over another man´s legs under the other man´s arms.

Twelve-foot-high wave turned one of the rafts over and no sooner had the occupants gotten it upright and pulled themselves back inside that they all noticed the water was suddenly churning alive with sharks. They could see their dark bodies circling their rafts throughout their hole ordeal. During the day the sun would burn the, yet they would almost freeze during the cold nights.

The lifeboats were tied together with three men in the first one, three in the second (including Captain Rickenbacker) and two in the third. Private Bartek in Captain Rickenbacker´s boat had a Bible in the pocket of his jumper and the second day prayer meetings were organized in the evening and morning and the men took turns reading passages from the Bible. They laid bear their inmost secrets and sins to God, none of which will ever be revealed. There were some cynics and unbelievers among them – not after the eight day, however. For on that day a small miracle occurred. Something landed on Rickenbackers head!

Rickenbacker said: “Frankly and humbly we prayed for deliverance and if it weren´t for the fact I had seven witnesses, I would not dare to tell this next story because it seems so fantastic. Within an hour after the prayer meeting on the eighth day, a seagull came out of nowhere and landed on my head. I reached up my hand very gently and got him. We wrung his neck, defeathered him, carved up his carcass into eight equal pieces, divided it among the group and ate every bit – even the little bones.”

Rickenbacker said: “Our spirits rose. All because of one little gull hundreds of miles from land. And there was not a one of us who was not aware that our gull had appeared just after we had finished our prayer service (which we held twice a day). After our feast, we then used his innards for bait. With this bait we succeeded in catching two fish.

That night we ran into our first rainstorm. Usually, you try to avoid a black squall, but in this case we made it our business to get into it and catch water for drinking. Later we were able to catch more water and build up a supply.”

Ricknbacker said: “Added to my physical effort were my prayers. I had asked God to help us paddle to reach the storm so we could catch fresh water.” It was nothing short of a miracle that they were able to maneuver those rubber boats that far by nightfall. They busied themselves catching water with their shirt, socks, and handkerchiefs and wringing them out. Even when one of the boats capsized they learned that determined men who won´t give up  can do anything. In the midst of all the turbulence, the other rafts were able to rescue the sunken one and help the men back into safety.

Rickenbacker, who had started that journey with a message to deliver to General MacArthur, said that it was clear that God had a purpose in keeping him alive. He knew He had been saved to serve. He had faced death and had learned from those encounters the meaning of life, the meaning of God, and the meaning of the Golden Rule (Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you).

During the last days their supply of water increased and on the twenty-fourth day American planes found and rescued Captain Rickenbacker and his men. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, Rickenbacker was able to transport the oral message he had been commissioned to deliver to General MacArthur – a message that will forever remain a secret. Rickenbacker said: “Though I remember every word of it to this day, I shall not repeat it. Stimson and MacArthur took it with them to the grave, and so shall I.”

The survival of the airmen was important to the war efforts in other ways. Because the experiences of those eight men, survival equipment was redesigned. Life rafts were made longer and wider, carried sails and such emergency supplies as concentrated food, vitamins, first-aid kits, fishing tackle, and bait. They were also fitted with radios and with small chemical distillers capable of converting seawater into drinking water.

But beyond helping the war effort, the experiences of the rescued airmen had far-reaching spiritual results. They made powerful witnessing Christians of the airmen who had experienced the miraculous answers to their prayers, and through them made a strong impression upon the American public.

Equally outspoken about his experiences on the raft in the Pacific Ocean was Johnny Bartek: “Then we prayed, and God answered. It was real. We needed water. We prayed for water, and we got water – all we needed. Then we asked for fish, and we got fish. And we got some meat when we prayed. Seagulls don´t go around sitting on people´s heads waiting to be caught… Then I prayed again to God and said: “If You shall send that one plane back for us, I promise I will believe in You and tell everyone else.” That plane came back, and the others flew on. It just happened? It did not! God sent that plane back!”

The whole free world was thrilled by the rescue and by Captain Rickenbacker words: “We prayed, and we were spared to come back and tell America to pray.”

Deliverance is all-encompassing. It happens within (internal) and without (external); in fact, it surrounds us.

“You are my hiding place. You protect me from trouble; You surround me with songs of deliverance. Selah (Psalm 32:7)

Excerpt from the book “Psalm 91. God’s Shield of Protection. Military edition” by Peggy Joyce Ruth and Angelia Ruth Schum.

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