On Feb. 18, 1952, the S.S. Pendleton was caught in a brutal winter storm generating 60-foot waves that slammed into the 500-foot tanker. The seas became so intense that it split the ship in two. The captain and six others were in the forward part of the ship; the other 32 in the aft as the two sections began drifting apart.
When the distress call came into the Coast Guard station, the station’s commander turned to a 24-year-old Bernie Webber and told him to take a boat out and attempt a rescue. Webber asked for volunteers who would go. Three other men, all younger than Webber, quickly stepped forward.
Someone spoke up and told Webber it was a suicide mission to take a 36-foot boat into the most intense storm to rock the Massachusetts coast in decades. He turned back and said, “We’re the Coast Guard. ‘You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back.’ ”
The little boat was pounded by the frigid waves as it rose six stories in the dead of night then plummeted down the other side. Webber piloted the boat to the wreckage and in heavy seas rescued the men of the Pendleton one-by-one. With a total of 35 people squeezed into a 12-man lifeboat, Webber then found his way back to shore.
The rescue of the survivors of the shipwrecked Pendleton is considered one of the most daring rescues in the history of the United States Coast Guard. The story was made into a movie in 2016 titled, “The Finest Hours.”
There are nearly four million people in our state who are spiritually shipwrecked. Most don’t even realize the eternal disaster they’re facing. They are slammed by wave after wave of moral relativity. They are grasping for something to save them. The call is coming in. “Mayday! Mayday! This is an emergency!”
Tennessee Baptists, God has rallied us for a rescue mission.
It’s not going to be easy. It could be dangerous. We must go out, and there is no guarantee we’ll come back. However, I believe this could be our “Finest Hour.”
A successful rescue operation depends on a “sitrep” (situation report). Here’s ours:
• Sixty-six percent of the people in our state are unchurched and have no relationship with Jesus Christ.
• Nine out of 10 Tennessee children will grow to adulthood and have no relationship with Jesus Christ.
• More than 145 global people groups are now living in our state.
While my heart breaks over the spiritual reality of our state, it is simultaneously racing with excitement. Our state is laden with white fields ready for spiritual harvesting. That tells me God is waiting on His workers to rush to the fields to gather the harvest. Many are.
At First Baptist Church, Bruceton, Pastor Josh Franks reports that the church has baptized 33 so far this year, which is the church’s highest since 1976 and its third highest in the church’s 92-year history.
In Knoxville, Faith Promise Church bought a stack of $5 Starbucks cards and asked members to invite their spiritually lost friends out for coffee and conversation. Pastor Chris Stephens reports that more than 150 people were saved, baptized, and set on the road to discipleship, then another 50 came the following week for baptism.
In Jackson, Soul Quest Church held its Family Fun Day 2017 and had 718 in attendance and 70 were first-timers. They reported 19 salvations and 7 baptisms.
In inner city Memphis, Pastor LeMar Walker at Christ’s Community Church is reporting that the church is combating the complexities of an inner-city lifestyle, but is effectively winning African-American boys ages eight to 18 to the Lord.
In Alcoa, Pastor Greg Williamson, at Calvary Baptist challenged the congregation last December to pray for spiritually lost persons and for the Sunday services. Now almost a year later, Calvary has baptized 30, and 12 more have been saved in the last few weeks. It all started by praying for the lost.
That story about those Coast Guard guys is amazing, but what if they’d braved that storm, found those sailors but never threw them a life ring? They would have exhibited amazing bravery, but that wasn’t their mission, was it?
There’s a lesson there for us. We can sail out into a culture that is growing increasingly hostile to Christianity and we can exhibit great bravery fighting the culture war.
But that’s not our mission, is it?
Tennessee Baptists, I believe we have an incredible opportunity to be a part of the greatest spiritual rescue mission in the history of Tennessee. But for that to happen, it is going to take all hands on deck to cast the life ring of the gospel to someone drowning in the sea of spiritual lostness. Let’s make this our finest hour.
It is my joy to journey on this rescue mission with you.