Monday, September 24, 2012

A Modern Shipwreaked Paul Named Chad

Chad Earl 
Paul found himself ship wreaked on the island of Malta (Acts 27:14-44) and God's hand stayed with him and the 275 persons who survived.  . We read the account and even though Paul was in chains God was not through with him yet.  
Such as this modern day account of a missionary in Papua New Guinea, Chad Earl.  Below is parts of the account told by Chad himself and his sister who pieced together the story from Chad.  This happened on Sept 19, 2012...told you it was modern. 
 I’ll start this little conversation by saying that I just got off the phone with my brother, Chad, and he told me he is a little taken-aback that everyone is making such a big deal of this.
“All I really did is float in the ocean all night.  There’s not really anything too amazing about that.” I think what my brother is really saying is that he is a little embarrassed by all the hype and  attention that his story is getting. He sees himself as very ordinary; and he truly is a simple man, a man that loves God, a man that loves to work, a man that loves people – and a man that consistently puts others before himself.  Even when no one else is looking.

So I thought I would attempt to write out his story for him – as he told it to our family the night after he was found, while we were all peppering him with questions. He was on a boat with a company called SOLWARA MERI, heading out to another island to begin 21 days of island-hopping People-Group-Assessment work.  His plan was to meet up with some national believers out there who would accompany him on his travels. The ocean was fine,  the sky was bright when they shoved off from Kokopo around 1:30pm.  There were a couple boats traveling together; he was on one of them with 7 other people. The rumor was that an hour or 2 into the trip, a big storm blew up. Chad said, “It wasn’t really a big storm … just wavy, bad seas most of the time.  The sea continued to get rougher; there was a big rain ahead in front of us, and we were getting wet from the waves for most of the trip.”  Soon, massive waves started to sweep over the sides of the boat. Chad said it all happened so fast … one minute they were jerking up and down on the waves; the next, an enormous wave swept over the front of the boat, and they immediately began to sink. “I couldn’t believe how fast it happened. Literally I think it was 15 seconds and the boat was under.”  People were thrown off and cargo was floating all around in the water. He quickly surfaced; noticed his shoes floating. Note that Chad is a man of few possessions – so these were his one good pair NIKE BROOKS tennis shoes that our bro-in-law sent him. He grabbed them and tied them to a plank on a pallet of floating wood. Just then he noticed the 3 women from the boat who were screaming and frantically grabbing at the top of the sinking boat, bobbing up and down in the rough ocean. He said, “I noticed the women before getting my shoes…that’s why I felt so bad that I took the time to grab the shoes when I couldn’t see them for a minute and thought they had drowned.”  Looking over, he had a sick feeling like, “Oh shoot! Here these women are sinking and I just spent time tying my shoes onto this pallet. That was so worthless of me.” He quickly swam over to help them. All thof is time, they knew another boat had been just in front of them and saw them go down. Chad’s thoughts were that surely this boat would come back and pick them up, and this would be no big deal. The other boat was also rocking on the fierce waves, and while it did drive back and circle around them; it did not pick anyone up.  It seems they feared the same fate.  Neither did the other boat think of throwing any floatation devices over the side to the 8 folks bouncing in the waves. The boat drove away, with intention to come back and help – but they never came back.

The seas got rougher; the sky got darker, but no one came back.

The boat driver, Febi, was a very helpful, assertive guy; he and Chad began to scramble to grab the cargo that was floating in the water.  They grabbed the red plastic gas tank and a pallet of wood that had been in the bottom of the boat. Then they drained the gas out of the tank by squeezing the little black squeeze bulb that is on outboard , we just slowly squeezed the gas out by pumping the bulb, so there’d just be air left in the tank and it would float better.”  The tank had a handle, so they used the shoelaces from Chad’s shoes to tie the tank in the center of the pallet.    “We couldn’t just unscrew the lid and dump it or we could have gotten water back into the tank , it wasn’t my idea. I just helped.”  All of this was done while being pounded by the waves and treading water.

The 3 women that were with them could not swim. These women sat on, clung to, and clawed at the red floating tank, each one kind of straddling the tank and the pallet of wood.  There was also a young boy, maybe 16 years old, who could swim but was not very helpful.  Chad and Febi hung on to the pallet and tried to kick the group toward shore. “We could see the shoreline far in the distance, but it was  really far away.  The sea was rough.” 

Backtrack: when the shipwreck happened, 2 of the men on the boat drifted away and began swimming for shore. They were picked up somewhere and made it to the Bom Village on the New Ireland Island, where they told the villagers that the rest of the crew was still out at sea. Ryan; Shelbi Webb and Madonna Yates, missionaries on that island, had called in around 7:15pm reporting Chad missing since his boat never showed up.  Around 11:00pm, Ryan called again to say that these 2 men had shown up and told the story of the 6 still in the ocean, clinging to a pallet. They said there were women, a child, and a white man.  Needless to say, that rumor of a white man and 5 nationals in the ocean gave all of us a glimmer of hope.  We hoped he had something to hang onto for the long, dark night.  We held that hope while still crying out to God to spare the lives of these people and give Chad strength to tread water all night.

Chad said he watched as the sky grew darker and realized no one was coming back for them. 

It gets dark in this country between 6:30 -7:00pm, and with no watch, no light, and no end in sight, the night in the sea felt pretty long. Chad said his head continually bobbed up and down, in and out of the water. He had one arm slung over the pallet some of the time, but they treaded water and kicked most of the time, trying to stay afloat.
Chad and the others saw another boat pass by at a distance and hoped to get its attention so it would come pick them up. He took off the white shirt he was wearing and threw it into the air, yelling for help. “We all did a lot of yelling for help.” No one saw them or heard them. “We saw the boat right after we had gotten all the gas out of the tank so threw the red tank in the air a couple times for the boat to see, but they didn’t see us. Then we tied the gas jug to the pallet and so I took my shirt off to use as a signal snaker. Febi thought he saw another boat way off in the distance a little later so he asked for my shirt to throw up…he tried to stand on the tip of the sinking boat and throw it but whatever boat he saw was way too far off to see us…” Then Chad tied his white shirt to the thick rope hanging off the front of the sunken boat that was still sticking out of the water vertically. They hoped someone would see it.

“I really need to work on my breath-holding skills,” Chad told me, “because we thought if we could unhook the motor from the bottom of the boat, perhaps we could flip it over and then we could all sit in it.” The motor on the back of the boat was holding the boat down into the sea. Chad held his breath and dove under. The first time he didn’t make it to the motor and had to come up for air. Imagine the adrenaline pumping and trying to dive down 21 feet or so in the ocean to try and unfasten an outboard motor on the back of a boat. The second time he swam under the sunken boat and touched the motor. The third plunge, he was able to touch the bolts on the motor but realized they were screwed on too tight and there was no way he could release them. Up he came, gasping for air and wishing there was another way. All this time the 3 women had intermittent periods of screaming and freaking out, and the boat driver along with Chad kept trying to calm them down. The driver kept saying, “Just relax. Just relax. We will get there soon. It will all be alright. We will be there soon. Relax.” Over and over he repeated these words, and that was a real morale booster for Chad. Febi also reassured the women, saying, “Hey, just think of it like we are goin’ for a swim…it’s no big deal. We’re just goin’ for a swim. They saw little flickering lights off in the distance and wondered if they were people’s flashlights. “I did a lot of yelling to try to get help, but it didn’t seem like anyone ever heard us.” 

At one point in the night, the laces came loose and they thought they had lost them; and the raft came apart. The women of course started panicking and were grasping and groping at the men, trying to use them as flotation devices. Chad said that a woman grabbed on to him and was pulling him down a little bit.  He is not sure if it was the same woman or another one who grabbed the Gumi rubber necklace (Chad has one on in the picture) that was around his neck and was using that to hold onto.   Chad grabbed the woman’s hand off his neck right away, but he started going under from the weight of this woman trying to hold onto him to survive.  In a matter of seconds, these thoughts flashed through his mind, “I knew these ladies were pulling me down. I couldn’t let them drown, but it kept flashing through my mind how a flayling person could cause a strong swimmer to drown by frantically hanging onto them and pushing them under. I had to think of an idea pretty fast, and I didn’t want to get myself in another position where the lady would grab me and not let go.  So I threw her off me … and then quickly grabbed her shirt in a bundle from behind her and balanced her on my knee to float. That way I could hold her up, but hold her away from me so I could still swim and she couldn’t grab onto me.  I was afraid she would keep pushing me under if she kept grabbing at me.”   He held onto her until she calmed down and could grab onto the gas tank again. As Chad was telling the story he said, “I don’t think I held onto her very long at all….this part is a little blurry.  I can’t remember  if I just let her go and went and got the gas tank and had her hold on to that or if she grabbed the pallet or if I just let her go real quick to start tying the jug off… honestly I am not 100% sure what happened at that point….”  This part of the night was frantic, blurry, and dark.

At this point they also had to try to fix the raft.  Chad remembered that he had a drawstring in his board shorts and quickly pulled that out. “I was so frustrated because it broke in half when I pulled it out.  I thought it would work, but it didn't … it broke into such small sections it was useless. I told Febi that and he said he had the shoelace…I guess he found it cause I had asked if it was still there when the jug came off and thought he said it was gone.  Then we snaked the tank and the pallets together again. Even that was tricky because the women kept freaking out and we were trying to get them to hold still and not put all their weight on the wood so we could get the thing balanced again. It got a little hairy there at one point in the night when they were all screaming and we were trying to talk them through it as we fixed the raft.”  Remember that the entire night’s conversation would not have been in English, but in Melanesian Pidgin, the local language of Papua New Guinea. The string was now gone from Chad’s shorts; he lost them as they floated away; he was now down to his under-armor.  The official statement released by NTM said he was left with only his shorts … but he was actually in nothing but his grey underwear.  He had thought a couple times earlier that he was glad he still had his wallet in his pocket with his license, cards, and “700 Kina of People-Group-Assessment money. It wasn’t even my money, so I feel bad that I lost it. But I didn’t even think about it when my shorts floated away. I didn’t realize it was even gone till later. It got pretty hairy there in the middle part of the night and I wasn’t thinking about much else.”

I asked Chad if he tried to pass the time singing or talking. He said he did try to sing a little bit and at one point he tried to ask the people some questions to see if they knew their eternal destiny. “But it just was not that kind of a situation where you could even have a decent conversation. The sea was rough; the waves were rocking us; you would hold your breath, go under, and then bob back up. You had to repeat yourself again and again because the guys’ heads would be under water often. So pretty soon I realized that conversation was not going to really work.  I prayed that God would make the night shorter. I prayed that the light would come quicker. The night did feel really long.”

And so they weathered the night that way. The 16-year-old kid that was with them kept trying to sit on the front of the raft, and when he would do that it would make the raft start to sink and the ladies fall off. This would throw them into complete panic and chaos again. “I think it would at times make the raft unbalanced when he would do that but the main reason was it would push the raft too far under for me to keep my hand on it and still keep my head out of the water, and keep the raft balanced without pushing it further underwater.” Chad kept telling the boy not to sit on there, to just hang onto the pallet to float. At a few points, “He just wouldn’t listen so I had to push him off the front and tell him to stay off it and just hang on.”

“The ladies’ teeth were chattering and I knew they were cold. I never did feel cold, but I was in the water moving the whole time and they were up on the raft.” The good thing about the waters in the South Pacific is that they are quite warm.  We asked Chad if he thought about sharks or anything like that. “It did cross my mind a couple times, but I just didn’t let my mind go there.”

He kept seeing these flashing lights that he thought were coming from the shoreline way in the distance. A few times he wondered if he was dreaming or if this was really happening.  Once or twice it crossed his mind that he could swim for the shore and he would probably make it, but he never even considered this thought. He stayed with the women and the other 2 at sea.  “It was dark, pitch black, dark skies with dark clouds, raining off and on.  I tried to open my mouth and catch some of the rainwater, but I would just get a mouthful of saltwater instead.  We kept trying to kick to shore. We tried to kick to the shoreline all night long, but the current was strong and we did not get anywhere.  The night did feel really long.”

The head of the Marine Pacific command on the phone with 100 marines ready to be mobilized.  All night long, so many folks worked and planned towards getting Chad and the others help.  The NTM doctor, nurse, pilot, and a search team formed in the middle of the night at our mission center and rallied at 4:00am so they could leave at daybreak.

At daybreak, boats launched … and you know the rest of the story. He was picked up by local villagers and they headed toward an aidpost on another island.  The guys in the rescue boat had to pull them all out of the water. Chad tried to get into the boat but couldn’t, so they pulled him in.  The boat driver, women, and other boy just c
All the while, there were hundreds of people that soon became thousands of people, who began rallying to pray. It started with calling our immediate family. There are 6 of us siblings currently spread across America and PNG and we, along with my mom and dad, and lots of friends, began rallying people to pray. Within hours the news was all over Facebook and the internet. Churches gathered to pray, school classes stopped to pray, little bands of believers all over the world came together to pray. We knew Chad and others were out at sea. We knew there was no rescue attempt being made until dawn. We knew that he would have to keep swimming for another 10 hours or so until daybreak. Missionaries, Ryan & Shelbi Webb and Madonna, at Bom Village, tried to rally the villagers to send out a search party that night, but a large squall wind had blown up and was gusting strongly toward shore. No one had good lights or equipment and the reality was that they probably feared for their lives as well with going out at night. Shelbi Webb reported, “We just kept going and never got any sleep that night; we just didn't want to leave him out there for the night; we wanted to do all that we could so that he knew we were doing absolutely everything. Ryan kept going village to village offering anything to get Chad that night; no boat drivers would go, so we knew we had to wait till daylight”. Ryan was able to set up a boat and gas and planned to leave at daybreak along with the villagers, to try to find Chad and the others.

Not too many people slept that night; everyone called upon the God who made the wind and the seas and those people, to please save them. Many, many phone calls were made; many people were awakened in the night including the US Embassy, the PNG Maritime service, ANY helicopter company within a decent range of the ocean in which they were lost; we even called a couple resorts on the coast and talked to the night manager to see if they had any search boats they could send out. Our bro-in-law & brothers contacted our cousin Nathaniel Brock, who is a US Marine.  
 Chad said they were all limp and could not think straight. They couldn’t walk.     The boat took them all to the shore of another island, and the people gave them coke and crackers.  They offloaded the national survivors to head to a nearby medical aidpost.  Chad told them he needed to go the village where the missionaries lived, and they took off that direction.  Missionary Ryan Webb came on the scene very shortly and put Chad into his boat, taking him back to his home on the Bom village island. As soon as Ryan got Chad into his boat, he placed a call to the NTM director, Keith Copley. We were standing in Keith’s house as he got this call.  There was a lot of background noise, but Ryan was yelling, “I have him! I have Chad in my boat! I can’t hear you because of the outboard motor, but he is here in my boat! We’re going to land!”  Let me tell you that rejoicing and tears took place in a big way.  We quickly began calling the family to let them know that Chad was alive. Bless Ryan & Shelbi Webb, Madonna Yates, and all those wonderful villagers at Bom & the surrounding villages!  So many people rallied to help. 

The NTM helicopter, with doctor onboard, picked Chad up at the Bom Village and took him to the mainland.  Chad doesn’t have any big injuries. He has chaffing on the insides of his arms from where he hung onto the pallet and the wood and saltwater rubbed at his arms. His legs are extremely stiff and sore from treading and kicking for so long. His eyes were red and bloodshot for a couple days and he has some bruises, but otherwise he is just fine.  The others that were lost, Febi, Cris, Rose, Olivia, and Grace are also okay.

I asked Chad what he was thinking during those hours in the sea. Was he afraid of dying? Did he think this would be the end? He said the thought went through his mind a few times.  “It did cross my mind. I thought, ‘Oh, maybe this will be how I go. Maybe this will be it for me.’  But I was content. I didn’t question why we were out there. We just were. You know, all my life I have struggled with doubt. But in those moments in the sea I didn’t have lots of questions. I knew my eternal destiny. I knew I was spending my life exactly the way I wanted to be spending it, doing something that mattered in God’s kingdom.  I didn’t have any regrets or wish that I was somewhere else, doing something else.”

(God is not through with Chad, there are more villages to survey, more missionaries to help move into a tribe without the gospel.  I (Betty) pray this has encouraged you to continue on with your walk with the Lord even if you find your self in your own sea of problems.   Reach out to  your lifeline, He will be there for you. )





  1. What an awesome story!!! I am blessed by this real life modern Paul and his story. There is a man of God...