THE BLOG

S. O. S.

02/27/2014 02:25 pm ET | Updated Mar 22, 2014
  • Ron Nikkel President Emeritus, Prison Fellowship International

Help, I need somebody
Help, not just anybody
Help, you know I need someone, help
But now these days are gone, I'm not so self assured
Now I find I've changed my mind and opened up the doors
Help me if you can, I'm feeling down
And I do appreciate you being 'round
Help me get my feet back on the ground
Won't you please, please help me
- From Help by the Beatles

Mayday - Mayday - Mayday! This is Ketchup 2 Mayday - Mayday - Mayday!

It was my last day of summer sailing several years ago, and while I did not hear the initial distress call on my marine radio, I heard the high seas drama being playing out as the coast guard quickly mounted a search and rescue operation. The Ketchup 2 was a large sailing vessel that had been anchored next to me in the harborr earlier that week, just before she set sail for the open waters of the North Atlantic. Now, a few days out of port she was in distress, foundered on a treacherous reef with her crew abandoning ship. They could not help themselves, there was nothing they could do but "jump ship" and try to save themselves.

There is nothing as terrifying as being helpless and at the mercy of the sea or circumstances beyond one's control. I've seen encountered such helplessness among prisoners who are locked up while their families are facing desperate circumstances outside and there is absolutely nothing they can do to help their children. Helpless and hopeless! And when no one comes to their aid, all that they can do is try to save themselves - or not.

Every person needs to know that someone is listening, that someone will respond when they are helpless. Every sailor needs to know how to make a distress call or signal - how to call for help in a dire emergency especially when the radio doesn't work. In Ketchup's case they were still in radio range and even though the call was distorted and unclear, the coast guard responded immediately and located the stricken vessel and her crew - disaster was averted, the sailors were rescued.

Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! is the universally recognized radio distress call that has replaced SOS, the historic distress signal based on the Morse code. The three dots and three dashes followed by three dots represent the letters SOS. Although it is unclear why SOS became recognized as the international distress signal, it is generally thought that the simplicity of three dots followed by three dashes and three dots was easy for even the least educated of seamen to remember. Others have suggested that SOS was simply an acronym based on a typical seaman's cry for help - Save Our Ship! Save Our Souls!

Although I have often sailed on the edge of danger and have felt frightened and almost helpless in the midst of storms I have not faced a catastrophic situation where my survival was at risk. I hope that will never happen, but if it ever comes to that and I have to call in a "Mayday" I take some hope that help may reach me because the coast guard are always listening and ready to respond. I may be helpless but I know whom to call and help may reach me just in time.

Some time ago I overheard a conversation between a very "avant-garde" musician and an obviously distressed woman seated between us in an airport. "It's bad for you now" he was saying to the woman, "but something good will come. Life is all about yin and yang, it all balances out, you just need to wait awhile - maybe you should buy a lottery ticket when you get home. You're in a bad way right now, so the good will come to balance out the bad,"-- he continued jabbering to the woman who was on her way back home after losing her health and her money in a foreign country. "You got it" he said looking straight at me, "that's all there is -- yin and yang - and anyone who believes in religion or God is definitely [screwed]!"

Although I tried to disagree with the young musician, there was no conversing with him; he was on a rant. So I simply said a quiet prayer for him and began wondering what it would be like drifting at the mercy of the sea, helpless and in deep distress, if there was no coast guard to receive my call for help. Shipwrecked and desperate on a rocky shoal - what yin and yang would come to my aid? What random "good" would come my way to save me from destruction? If good and bad go round and round and if these balance out, would my wrecked and capsized boat float back up on its own, or my life become un-drowned from the deep?

There is something every human being needs to learn but often doesn't think about - that life is more than mindless yin and yang and that there is a God who hears our desperate cry for help and comes to our aid and comfort. In times of helplessness, of terror, and of deepest anguish "yin and yang" don't hear our "Mayday" our SOS for help. Yin and yang are both as mindless as a rocky shoal and as heartless as the raging sea. Yin and yang can't hear or rush in to aid hapless, helpless, hurting people.

I take daily comfort that when the dying criminal on the cross next to Jesus called out in "Mayday" desperation - "Lord remember me," heaven heard and opened to receive him. When people are in trouble -- whether in the raging storms of illness, loss, or grief - and whether it is due to their own faulty navigation, or the foundering of everything they counted on - when they call out in "Mayday" desperation, God hears and He responds.

I love you, Lord!
You answered my prayers.
You paid attention to me,
and so I will pray to you
as long as I live.
Death attacked from all sides,
and I was captured
by its painful chains.
But when I was really hurting,
I prayed and said, "Lord,
please don't let me die!"
You are kind, Lord,
so good and merciful.
You protect ordinary people,
and when I was helpless,
you saved me. . .
- Psalms 3:1-6 The Message