On October 20th, Miss Sue and I walked up the gangway to board the Sapphire Princess cruise ship. We were celebrating our 50th Anniversary. We were about to begin a 28-day cruise to Hawaii and the South Pacific. It was a dream come true. Thanks to our daughter, son-in-law, and friends in Alabama, we were on our way.
I was excited, but also weary from a hectic summer preaching schedule. I had preached in excess of 100 times at camp meetings, revivals, and mission conferences in recent months. I was also experiencing sadness over a decision I had made. I had felt for some months the Lord was telling me it was time to step down as Chairman of the Board of World Gospel Mission. The day before Miss Sue and I flew to L.A. to begin our great adventure, I shared a message with the WGM staff for the final time as the Board Chair. The next day, I called the WGM Board to order for my final time. WGM has been such a vital part of my life. It is hard to step away from something you love so much! But I knew it was time.
The day after WGM Board meeting was our travel day to L.A. As we were loading the van to head for the airport, the airline called. Our flight had been canceled. My heart stopped. What to do? The great adventure was not starting well. Thanks to my son-in-law, who I think spends more time in the air than on the ground, we were able to reschedule at the last minute and make it to the port before our ship’s departure. Thank you, Lord, and thank you, Rich!
Miss Sue and I kidded each other as we boarded the ship that we had not spent 30 days (including travel to and from L.A.) in a row together in our 50 years of marriage. Across the years, she has been so supportive and patient with my absences from home because of ministry. We couldn’t wait for this special time together. Walking onto the ship, I quipped to Sue, “ Do you think I can handle 28 days ‘on the shelf’ without preaching?” We laughed and found our room and began unpacking. As the ship pulled away from the pier, we both could feel the tension draining and a sense of relaxation setting in. The brand phrase for Princess Cruise Lines is ‘Escape Completely,’ and we were about to do just that.
Our first full day on board was Sunday. As usual, I was up early and tried to exit our room quietly to let Miss Sue sleep. It was about 5:30 a.m. and still dark. I was on a quest… to find coffee! With steaming cup in hand, I found an empty table. It was no big deal at that time of day. I opened my Bible and was drinking in the Word, the sea breeze, the blessed quietness, and of course the coffee. After some time, a gentleman, seeing my open Bible, stopped to ask me if I was a Christian. He then asked if he could join me. We had an enjoyable conversation and agreed to see each other at a ship-wide non-denominational worship service a little later.
The service opened with Stu, the Assistant Cruise Director, handing each person a sheet containing a few formal prayers and a couple of hymns. He shared that he was not a minister and inquired if there was someone who would like to lead the service. The man I had been talking with earlier stood and walked forward. He turned around and pointed at me and said, “ Roy will do it! He’s a pastor.” I slid down in my seat, but the Assistant Cruise Director spotted me. He asked me to come and share the morning message. At that moment, two scriptures leaped to the forefront of my mind. First was Paul’s words to Timothy, “ Preach the word; be instant in season, and out of season…do the work of an evangelist…(II Tim. 4:2-5). Secondly, Peter’s admonition, “But sanctify the Lord in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” (I Pet. 3:15)
In a minute, I found myself on my feet preaching the Word, doing the work of an evangelist. At the end of the service, a large number of people came forward and shared how the Lord had spoken to them during the service. An impromptu meeting followed and we emerged with a plan. During the near month that stretched ahead, we would meet everyday we were at sea for Bible study and fellowship. From that first Sunday, I was ‘Pastor Roy’ to a wonderful group of new friends. On the final Sunday of the cruise, once again, I had the privilege of sharing the morning message. When I extended a closing invitation, 167 people responded. What a service! Praise the Lord!
Let me share a final scripture with you. Although I have often quoted this scripture, it now has a special new significance to me. (Psalm 139: 7-10) “ Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” Escape completely? I don’t think so! Thank you, Lord for your presence wherever we are.
When the ship docked, we said good-bye to many new friends in Christ. We felt a sense of sadness, but also a awareness that we would meet again someday when we ‘escape completely’ from this fallen world.
~ Brother Roy
Check the NHIM web-site in the future for several devotionals regarding different looks at the theme ‘Escape Completely’.