God and His servants do not seize to amaze me…let me repeat that, AMAZE me. God’s people, my brothers and sisters in Christ are always up for anything, they are the “Here I Am” of these modern days. I would love to share a story with you of a fellow Texan, future student of Texas A&M (Go Aggies!) this Fall and friend of two other special friends, Tristan and Nicole Monterroso, pastors in the most beautiful island in the world: Roatan, in Honduras.
Without further adieu, please read below, Aaron Rose’s story, copied with his permission:
So now that I’ve had time to readjust, read as many of the posts as I could, and just generally gather my thoughts, I’m going to try to explain what happened. I know many people have asked, so I figured this would be the best way to do it.
Tuesday afternoon, my brother and I went kayaking. That wasn’t the first time I’d been, and we were both pretty comfortable with it. We went out close to the reef, fairly far. After, we headed back and went about the rest of our day.
Wednesday, during dinner, Nathan felt sick so I walked him back to the room. I made sure he was good, then I noticed the sun was going down. One of my favorite things is to watch the sun rise or set on the beach, and I try to do it at least once when we go anywhere with one. I let him know where I was going, then headed down to grab a kayak. I stayed pretty close to shore because I saw my family walking down the beach. I told them what I was doing, and headed off into the bay at about 6.
I went out to the exact same spot me and Nathan had been the day before and watched the sky. It was, without exaggerating, the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever seen. The light was liquid gold on the water, and the whole sky was the most beautiful shade of orange. As it started getting darker, I turned around to get back.
I noticed pretty quickly that it was harder to paddle than it had been the day before, but I didn’t think much of it. (I found out later that because the wind had kicked up, the current was about ten times stronger than the day before) I’m experienced enough on a kayak to be able to take it a long way, so I figured I’d get back fine. When I realized how painfully slow my progress was, however, I decided to shift some so I could be more comfortable.
That shifting caused the kayak to flip over. I’m a pretty strong swimmer, so I got back in the kayak pretty easily. I saw the paddle floating about ten yards away, but I couldn’t paddle myself over to it with my arms. I decided I’d better get some help.
I started yelling back to the resort, but the wind was directly against me and stole my words as soon as I said anything. I tried waving, but it was getting dark and I was already being pulled too far out to be seen. The current dragged me back around the reef no matter how hard I paddled against it, scraping my arms raw in the process.
The first thirty minutes, roughly, I was more terrified than I’ve ever been before. I had no control over where I was going, and the resort we were staying at was getting farther and farther away. We’re located near the west tip of the island, which the current swung me around until I was on the east side. By this time it was completely dark, and the only light was coming from the moon and the island lights. I could tell it’d been at least an hour past when I should have back, and figured my dad would have started trying to figure out what happened. Thankfully I was right, but my parents are much better equipped to tell that side of the story.
After about thirty minutes, I started singing “Amazing Grace.” I’ve always loved that song, and I needed something to calm me down. Almost immediately, I felt a real sense of peace. I started singing other songs and hymns, and I prayed a lot, throughout the entire time. To be honest, I even yelled at God, and there were times I wasn’t sure I wasn’t just talking to myself. I had plenty of time to think though. And I decided, that if this was the end of my life, I wanted to go out with an attitude of worship, no matter my situation.
I want to be clear about something. When I say I felt peace come over me, that’s exactly what I mean. I don’t mean that I knew I was going to make it out of there. I didn’t know that for sure until I knew the plane had spotted me. I realized the entire time that I might be facing the end of my life. When I say I found peace, I mean that I realized the situation was out of my control. There wasn’t a thing I could do. I had no paddle, mirror, flares, or even water, just the shorts I was wearing. For anyone that know me, having my life be entirely out of my hands is not something I’m fond of. I just knew the only thing I could do was to trust God to do what was best. I was thinking of where Paul says “for me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” I know, and I knew then, that my relationship with Christ is strong enough to keep me safe through death. At the same time, I knew I wasn’t ready to be done. I told God that I wasn’t yet the man I wanted to be before I stood before him, and I wanted another chance to become that man.
I decided that if I could keep the lights of the island in sight, they’d find me pretty easily in the morning. I knew they were looking because I saw flashing lights from the boats that were around the corner of the island. I had no way of getting to them, but I knew they were out there. A few hours later, I saw some light in a direction I thought might be east. I was hoping it was the sun, but it turned out to be two cruise ships. I got fairly close to them, but neither heard me because of the wind. I saw, however, that the island lights were getting smaller and dimmer as the current carried me further out.
I started praying again, as the one half-plan I had was falling through magnificently. I remembered always wondering what the people on movies felt like when they looked around and only saw water in all directions, and I realized how awful a feeling it was. The island and the ships disappeared beneath the waves, and I couldn’t see anything.
That night was the coldest I’ve ever spent. The waves, from where I was, looked at least 15 feet high, and continued to drag me out to sea. I couldn’t sleep at all, or I would have fallen out of the kayak. I blistered my hands holding on and trying to stay in as it was, because I knew that was the one thing keeping me alive.
About two in the morning, as near as I could tell, the waves started to calm. They were still there, but smaller, more gradual, and much slower. I quit getting drenched as much, and I stopped having to bat fish away and out of the kayak. I found out later that about that time a lot of people were praying for the weather to calm, and I believe God definitely played a role in that.
When I had the chance to look around, I noticed how beautiful it was. Nothing adequately describes the ocean at night. The water was pitch black, and the sky a deep charcoal. The stars were out in full force, and the moon reflected off the clouds and water amazingly. Lightning was bright and purple in the distance, which was a concern, but I didn’t hear any thunder, meaning it was too far off to affect me. As I rose and fell I remembered thinking that in a difference context, I would have thought it was the most beautiful night I’d seen. Some luminescent plankton gathered around my kayak, leaving a trail of glowing green specks surrounding me.
Probably because of the exhaustion and my inability to sleep, I fell into a weird half-dream state. I would think I was taking to a friend, or family member, then realize where I actually was.
I prayed a lot that night. More than I ever have before. As I moved father out to sea, with no trace of land in sight, I remember realizing again that I really had no control over what came next, only the attitude with which I handled it.
Finally, the sun came up. As anyone who’s watched a sunrise over the ocean will tell you, it’s even prettier than a sunset. I saw a few fish around me as the water became less opaque, but nothing that gave me any cause for concern. Something kept bumping the bottom of my kayak, but I never quite figured out what it was. Whatever it was, though, it never put me in any danger.
As the morning arrived, I could make out the faint smudge of land in several directions, with one smudge being noticeable darker than the others. I decided to make for it, as the current was heading somewhat in the right direction, and began paddling again. However, after being stung by a jellyfish (by the way, that old urban myth about how to cure a jellyfish sting that’s not polite dinner conversation? Complete truth. Worked like a charm), and realizing that hand paddling was doing absolutely nothing, I decided to just let the current take me. I reasoned that the current would be mapped, somewhere, and if I followed it they’d have a better idea of how to find me.
The current was noticeably stronger than the night before, though far less choppy. It brought me directly east much faster than I had been the night before. Looking around, I saw some large black shakes bobbing out of the water. I got nervous until I saw one of them blow a cloud of water into the air. I never got a good look at them, but the dolphins, or orcas, or whatever they were followed me for several hours, and may have been there the whole night. I’m convinced that was a God thing, because if you see a pod of dolphins you won’t see sharks nearby. That had been a concern before, and I was relieved to not have to worry about it.
As I moved eastward, sort of in the direction of what I now know was the island of Utila (southwest of Roatán, where we’re staying, but southeast of my position then), I heard the first aircraft, then saw it soon afterwards. I began yelling and waving my arms, but it was clear they didn’t see me.
I can’t describe the absolute heartache I felt when the airplane turned around, even less when it happened three more times. The thought of being that close to being found and missing the opportunity was unbearable, as was the knowledge that each one could be the last I saw.
As my back was already sunburned, I tried to lay with my stomach up to avoid getting more damage. The biggest seagull I’ve ever seen showed up, saw me, and tried to land on the kayak (vultures of the sea, I guess), but I was able to scare it away. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t dead yet, that I still had a shot at making it out alive.
Finally, the fifth time I saw the airplane, they saw me. I broke down and cried for the first time the whole ordeal, waves of relief washing over me. They started circling over me and were soon joined by another plane, and I realized that I was going to be rescued, I was going to see my family again, and most of all I was going to live.
Within 10 minutes of the plane finding me, about 9 AM, I saw a helicopter flying in, which was either an Apache or a Blackhawk. (Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the difference). The relief I felt as seeing the American flag on the uniform of the man who cabled down to pull me from the water was immense. Anyone that knows me well knows that I’m not given to displays of patriotism, and I’ve always got a lot to say about the problems I see in America. However, I’ve never been more grateful to be a citizen of the United States than in that moment. There’s a reason this country is still great, and that’s because no matter what’s going on, we’re still willing to use whatever we have to take care of our own. That’s what, in my opinion, the military means at its core.
The men who rescued me wouldn’t call themselves heroes, but they’re wrong. I, quite literally, owe them my life. I’m beyond grateful to Joint Task Force Bravo, based in Comayagua, which carried out my rescue, as well as to Tristan Monterrosso and the other Hondurans who helped organize the search and took care of my family. Special thanks to Mark Flannagan, who early on took charge and was instrumental in making all the right phone calls. The community of this island and this nation rallied around my family and I, as did the people back home, and words can’t express the depth of my thankfulness. I know for a fact the five churches in orange that I have connections with had prayer teams going within hours, and from what I’ve been told others I’ve never even seen did as well.
I was told, after everything had calmed down and I had gotten to see my family back on the ground, that the same situation has happened to seven others here, and I’m the first to survive. God answers prayer. If he didn’t, I know for a fact I wouldn’t be alive today. Thank you, everyone, in Honduras, the States, and abroad for your unceasing prayers and support. They mean the world to my family and to me as well.
I know, like few people my age, what it’s like to stare into the mouth of death and know you’re not ready. I’ve been blessed beyond measure to make it out alive, let alone with barely a scratch on me. I know that my family will never forget this ordeal, and I know that it’s something I’m going to have to deal with as I move on from this. However, the important thing is that I actually have the chance to move on. Thank you all for everything, and God bless.
EDIT: I was told I needed to add this. Feel free to continue sharing! Copyright Aaron Rose 2015, use with permission only.
Deuteronomy 31:6 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”