I tend to collect stories. I’ll read or hear accounts that lodge somewhere in my mind, and they resurface at odd moments (those of you who have heard me preach for any length of time know this truth all too well). One of my favorites comes from Gary LaFerla’s book Finding Your Way. In WWII, Elgin Staples was aboard the USS Astoria when it was attacked in the battle for Savo Island in the Pacific. This is the story as LaFerla recounts it:
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.
Around 4 hours later, 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. 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 and 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 did not know 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. She bore a personal responsibility for the safety of the one to use the belt whether she knew the person’s identity or not.
Every time God places you in someone’s path, or places someone in your path, he is giving you an opportunity. 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 Corinthians 10:13). This “sphere” was the area where God placed the apostle to minister and included those to whom he wrote. Paul understood he had a personal assignment to those around him no matter where he found himself. The people you encounter in your sphere of influence may just as well have a personal code written on them: they are your assigned responsibility and an opportunity given by God to make him known.
You may never know the impact a single, God-directed appointment has in the life of another person. God may choose to use that seemingly ordinary encounter to convict, encourage, minister or challenge…or to save a life.
Look for those moments in your walk with Christ. They come more often than we might think and are far more important than we might know.
We will use every gift given to us by God to serve others faithfully. – 1 Peter 4:10 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
We would always live in such a way that others would recognize God’s work in us. – Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
We recognize that our mission is to make God known to all the nations. – Psalm 96:3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!