Written by Phil Meulman
, I thought. I was standing on a replica 1st Century coastal sailing vessel, much like one the Apostle Paul would have sailed on for many of his journeys.While I couldn’t say that my sailing experience on the yacht had been particularly comfortable, I knew that Paul would have faced far worse on this small boat. Cramped conditions, rolling waves, slow progress, heat, exhaustion, lack of sleep, dwindling provisions, these are not things that I ever intentionally seek out in my life.
What was the apostle Paul thinking? How was he able to put up with it? What compelled him to get back on the boat and continue to sail onward? - Sometimes forced, sometimes willingly, ever watchful of the horizon, even fixing his eyes on going as far as Spain.
I spent many hours with my eyes fixed on the horizon in my time sailing in Turkey. I am quite prone to motion sickness and suffered from it even as a young child. Even with the continual upkeep of taking Kwells tablets, I was still susceptible to feeling quite nauseous at times. It wasn't easy for me to go below on the boat while we were on the open water. I couldn't read or type on my iPad without feeling sick. So I looked ahead to the horizon. One particular day we faced a choppy head-on wind. We needed to go directly into it by motoring. The six-hourly Kwells tablets were starting to wear off. The yacht pounded against waves, up and down and up and down. I succumbed to the inevitable vomit off the side. Twice.
I succumbed to the inevitable vomit off the side. Twice.
We came into port, and I was a shaking, clammy, dizzy mess. I pulled out my phone and googled. I found a room near the port for about $80. With airconditioning! I was not going to sleep on the boat that night. At that stage, I was not even sure if I was ever going to get back on. ‘Just leave me here fellas.’
With a good night's sleep and a calm stomach, I woke the next day to a decision before me. We were two days sailing from our final destination, Fethiye. I calculated the cost of a taxi for the 200km drive. Should I take a taxi and meet the rest of the group in two days? Or should I get back on the boat?
To my own surprise, I decided to finish what I had started. I was going to get back on the boat for another two days. I was going to willingly subject myself to cramped conditions, rolling waves, slow progress, heat, exhaustion, and lack of sleep. The only thing we didn't have was dwindling provisions. Praise God.
I have continued to reflect on the apostle Paul and his journeys since returning to Australia. What made him get back on the boat each time? Maybe he struggled like I did, to keep going. We see in his letters hints of this, such as in Philippians chapter 3 where he talks about the necessity of pressing onward. At other times in Paul’s letters, such as in 1 Corinthians chapter 9, he calls us to discipline ourselves and our bodies for the sake of the gospel. I wonder now if that is because it was not something that necessarily came easily to him. I wonder if Paul would have rather have checked into an airconditioned hotel than keep sailing onwards.
No, I think that something far greater than ‘toughness’ or even ‘nuttiness’ compelled Paul to journey onward. I think it was his firm assurance of the gospel and God’s calling to him to bring the Good News onwards to the Gentiles. The gospel and God’s calling were Paul's reasons for getting back on the boat time and time again.
At the beginning of this year, I was accepted as an ordination candidate in the Anglican Diocese of Bunbury. I am excited and willingly looking towards the horizon of ordained ministry for the sake of the gospel. I believe that this is what God is calling me to do.b As I look towards this new horizon of ministry, the horizon of Turkey and my experience there continues to teach me. Ministry is tough. And I have realised that metaphorically and literally, Christian ministry can be full of cramped conditions, rolling waves, slow progress, heat, exhaustion, lack of sleep and dwindling provisions.
But God is there, I know it and the Apostle Paul knew it too. My prayer is that I will continue to learn from my experience in Turkey. I pray that, like Paul, I will be resilient in my ministry. And that the assurance of the gospel and God's calling on my life will compel me to keep getting back on the boat and sailing on.