I was struck by a story that originally came from Gary LaFerla’s book Finding Your Way. It’s an account taken from the U.S. Navy’s records recording events from WWII. Elgin Staples was aboard the USS Astoria when it was attacked by the enemy in the battle for Savo Island in the Pacific. This is the remainder of the story found in LaFerla’s book:
About 0200 hours a young Midwesterner, Signalman 3rd class Elgin Staples, was swept overboard by the blast when the Astoria’s number one eight-inch gun turret exploded. Wounded in both legs by shrapnel and in semi-shock, he was kept afloat by a narrow lifebelt that he managed to activate with a simple trigger mechanism.
At around 0600 hours, Staples was rescued by a passing destroyer and returned to the Astoria, whose captain was attempting to save the cruiser by beaching her. The effort failed, and Staples, still wearing the same lifebelt, found himself back in the water. It was lunchtime. Picked up again, this time by the USS President Jackson, he was one of 500 survivors of the battle who were evacuated to Noumea. On board the transport, Staples hugging that lifebelt with gratitude looked at that small piece of equipment for the first time. He scrutinized every stitch of the lifebelt that had served him so well. It had been manufactured by Firestone Tire and Rubber of Akron, Ohio, and bore a registration number.
Given home leave, Staples told his story and asked his mother, who worked for Firestone, about the purpose of the number on the belt. She replied that the company insisted on personal responsibility for the war effort and that the number was unique and assigned to only one inspector. Staples remembered everything about the lifebelt, and quoted the number. There was a moment of stunned silence in the room and then his mother spoke: “That was my personal code that I affixed to every item I was responsible for approving.”
Mrs. Staples in the story above could not have thought that the lifebelt she held in her hands and looked at so carefully would be in the hands of her son who would also study its construction after it saved his life, yet she had a personal responsibility for the safety of the one to use the belt…even if she never knew who would use it.
Every time God places you in someone’s path, or someone in your path, He is giving you an opportunity to minister. I think about Paul’s comment that he would only boast of what God had done “within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us—a sphere which especially includes you” (2 Cor. 10:13). This “sphere” was the area where God had placed the apostle to minister and included those to whom he wrote. It was a personal responsibility given to him by God. That person you encounter in your “sphere”, like the lifebelt, may just as well have a “personal code” written on them: they are your responsibility, an opportunity given by God to share with that individual what He has done and is doing in your life.
You may never know the impact that moment makes upon that person. God may choose to use that seemingly ordinary encounter to convict, encourage, minister or challenge…or to save a life.