Dear Reading Friends, thanks for joining us today! Whether there is a threat of persecution, or of natural disasters, God’s saints should be the first to respond. “For Someone Else” is a short story that captures what it may mean to live and die sacrificially. May God give us the grace to live well, and if necessary, to die well. See you on the next page!—David Telbat.
For Someone Else
by D.I. Telbat
Wes Swinfield gasped for air then clenched his teeth against the frigid Alaskan water that threatened to cover his head. The feet of other boat passengers kicked against him, and an elbow glanced off his skull as someone swam frantically for the overturned whale-watching boat in the choppy water.
Even as Wes cleared his head and breast-stroked toward the bottom of the overturned boat, he noticed it was sinking. They were only a quarter-mile off the forested coastline where the town lay, but the ocean there was deep enough to swallow five double-decker boats that size.
At his first attempt to climb up the slippery bottom of the boat, Wes failed, and slid back into the freezing water. When his head went under the surface, it felt like his brain contracted in agony from the cold. When he surfaced, he tread water for a moment while he shed his winter parka. Though he could move his arms better without the heavy coat, now the current from the river delta nearby was pulling him away from the boat and out to sea!
Desperately, Wes kicked and paddled back to the boat. His arms were sluggish and his legs felt like lead. He’d been in the water perhaps two minutes, and his body was already beginning to shut down.
“Help me,” a man weakly pleaded as he floated past Wes on the current away from the boat.
Wes tried to speak, but he was struggling himself. He stretched out an arm for the boat, knowing he would find no handhold, but if his bare hand could just—
A strong grip circled his wrist. Someone on the boat was dragging him out of the water! Even before Wes’s senses registered enough for his eyes to focus, he knew it was his friend, Matt Proffen, who’d saved him. The two men had taken the boat tour at the last minute as their wives shopped at the stores on the waterfront. Only Matt wore those monster boots with slip-proof soles, meant for yacht decks, and only he could’ve drawn him from the water like that.
“Come on,” Matt said, pulling him farther up the boat’s underbelly. Two dozen other survivors from the water clamored for the higher keel of the boat as well. “We’re sinking kind of fast. Let’s go. On your feet!”
Wes conceded to Matt’s urging to move around, though his body wanted to curl up and surrender. Ice was already forming on his soaked and stiffening clothing.
“A boat!” someone yelled, and pointed at the gray horizon. “We’re saved!”
Wes and Matt clung to one another as they stomped their feet and considered their survival that afternoon.
“No other boats are coming from shore.” Matt shivered uncontrollably, regardless of his tremendous size and strength. He was taller than everyone on the boat—tall enough to see over their heads at the whole sea and the single boat approaching. “It’s a fourteen-foot motorboat. It’ll hold maybe half of us before it’s overwhelmed in this water.”
“There’s almost thirty people here,” Wes gasped. “I think a bunch already died when the boat rolled.”
“The current’s too strong.” Matt slapped Wes on the back. “Come on! Stay with me. We need to hold on until the last minute.”
The motorboat approached slowly, and Wes saw why: it was the river current. On the small boat, the lone pilot pushed the throttle down, forced the pointed bow within ten feet of the capsized boat, then was forced to drift backwards. He couldn’t hold it steady enough to take on passengers.
In that instant of closeness, two survivors leaped off the boat in an attempt to reach the motorboat. But their bodies were already weary and hypothermic. One man never surfaced again, and the second man was carried away with the current, past the motorboat, and out to sea. Seconds later, his head slipped below the surface.
“God, help us,” Matt prayed. “Someone needs to swim for the motorboat and throw us a line. That pilot can’t do this alone.”
Matt’s words had been loud enough for everyone to hear, but there was a visible move of the survivors away from the rising water.
“No one wants to risk it,” Wes said through chattering teeth. “I can try. Maybe by jumping up-current, I can float down to the boat.”
“You can barely stand, Wes.” Matt’s jaw trembled. “I’ll do it. Get everyone to the highest point and start praying!”
As soon as Matt moved away, Wes slipped to his knees and huddled with the two dozen people around the keel. Waves lapped higher against the bottom of the boat. Matt’s boots splashed into the water’s edge. There, he paused, apparently measuring the angle and waiting on the motorboat’s next approach.
Wes had never been more proud of his friend—he was willing to risk his life for everyone when no one else dared to, even if they had any remaining energy.
Matt and his wife, along with Wes and his wife, had left their kids back home in Idaho while they braved the frozen Alaskan Kuskakwim River. For two weeks, they’d snowmobiled upriver with a local evangelist from Montana to reach Yupik villages with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Freezing temperatures and a broken-down snowmobile had nearly cost them their lives in the land of tundra, but God had preserved them to share the gospel with several hundred natives.
And now this.
“Let’s pray,” Wes said to those closest to him. Without bowing his head or closing his eyes, he merely took hold of those nearest him and cried out to God. If this was their last day alive, then it would be their last opportunity to trust in their Savior. “God, please hear us now! We’re lost. Help Matt get to the boat, Lord. Save us from our sins. Please take care of our families. Be with my children. Thank You for giving us life . . .”
He sensed he was rambling, but it beat sitting there shivering and doing nothing.
The motorboat lined up for another approach, then rode up the current. Matt leaped like a polar bear off an iceberg, and stroked toward the nearing motorboat. Wes didn’t know how Matt could move like that, being so cold. Pure determination, he decided. Or pure love for others.
For an instant, the interception between man and motorboat seemed an impossibility. The motorboat backed off and floated away, but Matt finally tumbled into the boat. Wes squinted and saw Matt struggle to his feet and stumble to the bow. The pilot returned to the helm and Matt picked up a thick bowline.
“Get ready, everyone!” Wes called to the others with him. “Catch the rope!”
“Who made you boss?” a young man asked, and pushed away from Wes.
Wes recognized the man an instant later. He and his pals had been drunk on board before they’d capsized. They’d mocked him and Matt for having their Bibles with them as they witnessed casually to people on board. With Matt at his side, Wes hadn’t been bothered by the mocking. They were on a boat ride at the end of their mission trip. Why wouldn’t they be carrying their Bibles?
But now, Wes was offended. In that instant, he realized at least half of the survivors wouldn’t make it onto the motorboat, and the mocking man would probably die mocking God. That was justice, Wes thought, knowing that he himself would make it onto the motorboat since his friend held the safety rope.
The motorboat approached cautiously, and the survivors lined up by standing at the water’s edge. Wes chose the far left end of the line of people so Matt could identify him clearly amongst the shivering, ice-caked strangers.
The bow of the motorboat rode low in the water with Matt’s heavy body at the front. The little boat would hold no more than ten or twelve, Wes guessed. They’d have to race to shore, then zoom back, hoping to return before the tour boat sank completely.
Water splashed against his boots, and Wes stepped back with the rest of the survivors. Several raised their arms to catch the rope as Matt readied his arm to throw it.
The motorboat approached with its motor whining. It struggled against the current and choppy waves. Wes saw Matt identify him clearly. Their eyes locked. Yes, Wes thought, he knows exactly where I am to throw me the rope.
But when Matt threw the rope, as it uncoiled in the air, Wes saw that it was snaking out to strangers at the other end of the crowd.
“Put the loop under your arms!” Matt shouted. The motorboat came as close as the pilot dared bring her, and then she started to drift back away. “Hurry!”
Wes glanced toward shore. There were still no other boats approaching. No one had been ready for such an emergency.
The rope was slid over a woman’s head and under her arms. The rope went taut, and she was yanked into the water. But Matt was there, using his burly arms to reel her in, hand over hand. She had only to hold her breath. Finally, the woman reached the boat, and Matt leaned overboard and ripped the sputtering woman free from the water.
“All right!” someone on the capsized boat called. “Let’s go! Hurry back!”
They all backed away from the rising water at their feet.
On the next run, the motorboat pilot showed he was getting the feel of the current. He roared his little vessel within feet of the boat, and Matt neatly tossed the rope to another woman on the far right. Wes was fairly sure she was the last woman among the survivors. The rest were men.
They cheered as Matt pulled the second woman to safety.
Wes wept with anxiety and joy. That was his heroic friend rescuing everyone!
The motorboat came for another approach, and Wes saw no harm in raising his arms to receive the rope, like everyone else, but again it went to a stranger.
Disappointment whelmed inside his heart as Wes climbed farther up the hull to avoid the water.
On the next approach, Wes waved at Matt, and they locked gazes again. But this time, Matt shook his head, and with the rope still in his hand, he pointed with one finger at the sky.
Wes was stunned as Matt threw the rope to another man—this time to one of the drunks who’d mocked them! Now furious, Wes turned his back to the motorboat and climbed to the tallest point of the keel, and peered toward shore. People were gathering on a dock, watching them, but no one else was approaching in a boat. He wondered if they were all locals, familiar with the dangerous current that could sweep a swimmer away as easily as capsize a vessel in the tumultuous crosscurrent.
The motorboat took on another passenger, and Wes watched from his higher vantage point. He was the only one not lined up at the water’s edge. Despair filled him. His own friend—his brother in Christ—wouldn’t rescue him! And what did Matt mean, he wondered, by pointing at the sky?
Looking up, Wes saw only an overcast canopy, threatening to rain as it had the night before—a freezing rain.
The motorboat was over-capacity, but still it came back for one more person. Matt threw the rope at a smaller man whose weight wouldn’t upset the boat much more.
“This is the last one!” Matt yelled. “We’ll be back!”
The remained ten cried out and grumbled, but there was no point in arguing. Even one other person on board would risk everyone the little boat had already saved. And Wes guessed there would be no return for them, either. The capsized boat had only a small area of the hull showing now, and in minutes, the whole thing would be gone. Like so many others that afternoon, they would sink into the cold water and pass into eternity.
Through the fog of his frozen mind, Wes frowned as he thought of Matt gesturing to the heavens. He’d been communicating to him something about eternity. His big friend had shaken his head and pointed to heaven. Matt had known they couldn’t all be saved. And suddenly, as Wes realized he was seeing Matt for the last time, he knew what to do.
“Matt!” Wes screamed as the motorboat motored carefully around the capsized vessel. “I get it! I’ll be okay!”
“What?” Matt couldn’t hear him over the motor.
Unable to yell any louder, Wes smiled as broadly as his frozen cheeks would cooperate, and gave his partner in ministry a thumbs-up.
“It’s okay,” he mouthed.
Matt seemed to understand. He touched his chest and pointed again to the sky, then the motorboat pushed toward land.
Wes watched after the motorboat for a moment, realizing now that he really was going to die. But what kind of death would it be? His own friend had volunteered him for this demise, all to save one more stranger. It hadn’t been out of spite or any evil intent, Wes understood. The strangers on that boat had known the two men were together, Christians with Bibles sharing about Christ on the deck of the boat. Matt couldn’t, in good conscience, rescue his friend—who was bound for eternity with Christ—while sacrificing a stranger whose eternal destination was unknown.
Considering the irony, Wes realized that the drunk who Matt had saved would live his life knowing that Matt had rescued him instead of Wes. And knowing Matt, the big man wouldn’t miss the opportunity to share with everyone he’d rescued about Christ’s own sacrifice.
Thinking of his own conscience, Wes took a breath of relief that he hadn’t been rescued in someone else’s place. Sure, he would’ve lived to see his kids graduate and go off to college. He would’ve grown old with Lacy, and maybe even enjoyed grandkids together. But he would’ve always known that he’d lived while another had died. Matt had made the unselfish decision for them both.
“Get up here!” Wes called to the others left behind. “Get to the top! Come on! We have to hold on until they get back.”
“It’s too far!” someone grumbled.
Wes took a step down and positioned the grumbler in the higher space.
“If you’re standing on top,” Wes instructed them, “you might last long enough for them to return. Hold onto each other! Support one another to stand at the highest point. Work together!”
“There’s not enough room!” An older man clung to two strangers around him. “It’s too narrow!”
“Is anyone else here a Christian?” Wes asked. He clutched his ribs, shivering uncontrollably. Water lapped against his boots. “Has anyone here trusted that Jesus has died for your sins? Do you know that you have eternal life?”
“I do,” a man with an icy beard said. “I’m a believer, for about twelve years.”
No one else responded.
“Okay, then, you and I will stand down here together. Come on.” Wes held out his hand. “These others will have more room now. They have reason to fear eternity, but you and I don’t.”
The bearded man swallowed with difficulty and looked at the frightened faces with purple lips around him. With some resignation, he stepped off the keel into what was now knee-deep water, and another man moved a little higher into his spot.
“Hang onto each other,” Wes said. “The boat—it looks like it’s unloading now. It’ll be on its way back real soon. Be ready!”
“We won’t all make it,” the old man on the keel said. “You’re right. I’m afraid of death!”
“You were created by God.” Wes struggled to think and speak clearly. “Jesus died for us. Confess your need for Him. And your sins. All are guilty. We need God. Pray!”
The water reached his waist. The bearded man wept next to him, holding onto Wes’s arm.
“I should’ve lived more like this,” the bearded believer said, shivering violently.
“We all should have.” Wes frowned, trying to make out the shore or the boat, but he’d sunk too low in the water, which suddenly felt warmish as it lapped against his shoulders. “We’ll be there soon.”
He could feel the tug of the current, trying to draw him out to sea and away from the boat. His footing was slipping. The bearded man pulled him into a rigid embrace, still weeping.
“Thank you for this!” the man barely managed to say through clenched teeth.
Wes couldn’t move his arms. He tried to kick to tread water as he was swept off his feet, but even his legs wouldn’t respond. His face bobbed in the water. Gazing up, he saw the remaining survivors holding onto one another in thigh-deep water on the keel. The sound of the motorboat was near. They would make it. They were yelling, calling out to the boat, cheering it closer.
Then, Wes and the bearded man rolled at the mercy of the current under the waves. Wes’s eyes were open, and he saw bubbles and the form of the bearded Christian who’d thanked him for the opportunity to die so others could live.
Wes felt no fear. He felt only two things: an immense peace, and an unearthly love.
You can find other longer D.I. Telbat short stories here.
NOVEL UPDATE: Both Steadfast Book 5 and Book 6 are in the hands of our proofreaders. As soon as they are finished, the novellas will go back to David for his last tweaks, and then they’ll go to our Beta Readers! Meanwhile, Dee has begun initial formatting to prepare the new novellas for you. We’re getting closer, readers—stay tuned!
ANOTHER NOVEL NOTE: We recently removed Jaguar Dusk by D.I. Telbat from all retailer sites. It is no longer for sale, because it is part of our exclusive subscriber gift. You can get this exciting Special Forces Christian Novel as part of our Three For Free Subscriber Gift when you subscribe to get our weekly posts! Click the link and come join the adventure, if you’ve not yet done so!
COMING UP: Join us next time for a peek inside Steadfast Book Six in, “Trust like Daniel.” And for our following post, Dee will be peeking from behind the screen to bring you the Aug 2018 Novel Update on David’s upcoming books!