Our Finest Hours

Are we willing to venture out to find others who need rescuing?

The 2016 Walt Disney Pictures release of the film The Finest Hours starring Chris Pine is a retelling of the true story of what is considered to be the single greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Bernard C. Webber, played by Pine, and his crew of three braved a severe “nor’easter” off the coast of New England just south of Cape Cod in February 1952 to rescue the crew of the Pendleton, a tanker that had broken in half and was grounded far off shore on an underwater sandbar.

Another tanker only about 50 miles away had also broken in half, and its crew was in need of rescue. The Fort Mercer had broken apart earlier and the most experienced Coast Guard crew had been dispatched to that rescue. Webber was asked to assemble a crew of volunteers to face crossing the notoriously deadly—even in calm weather—Chatham sandbar to break out into open seas and rescue the Pendleton’s crew. In harrowing maneuvers Webber was able to steer his rescue craft close enough for the crew to jump onto its deck as the seas tossed both ships up and down.

The crisis moment of the film comes not during the rescue, but before that, when Webber and his volunteers face friends and loved ones begging them not to embark on what seems a suicide mission. The real-life Webber was later quoted as saying, “I reasoned that I was a Coast Guard First Class Boatswain Mate. My job was the sea and to save those in peril upon it.”

In the Gospel of Luke, the author tells the story of a tax collector short of stature and with a poor reputation in his neighborhood. He was despised as a cheat and a thief! Zacchaeus climbed a tree in order just to see Jesus passing through town, but ended up inviting Jesus to his house for a meal. The religious people in town questioned Jesus’ wisdom in attending the event at Zacchaeus’ house. Jesus dismissed their criticism by saying, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

As a Christ–follower, I’m challenged by our religious behavior. Are we satisfied staying safe in the harbor of our church walls, or our organization? Or are we willing to face the barriers of resistance and to venture out into open seas to find others who need rescuing?

To paraphrase Coast Guard First Class Boatswain Mate Bernard Webber, “I reason that I’m a sinner, saved by God’s grace. My job is my world and to save those in peril of sin.” That would be our finest hours.

Major Curtiss A. Hartley is the secretary for program for The Salvation Army’s Western Division, with headquarters in Omaha, NE.


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