Webster’s Dictionary defines Perseverance as “not giving up. It is persistence and tenacity, the effort required to do something and keep doing it till the end, even if it’s hard.” Perseverance is the characteristic of great men and women in history, known and unknown.
At 12:05 a.m. on February 3, 1943, the USS Dorchester was headed to Greenland with more than 900 men on board. Aware German U-boats were reported in the area, the captain ordered all men to stay ready and keep their life jackets on, though many disobeyed the order because the life jackets were uncomfortable preventing them to sleep.
Four Army chaplains were on the ship: a Methodist minister, a Jewish rabbi, a Catholic priest, and a Reformed Church pastor. All four had been Boy Scouts. All four were brand new lieutenants in the Army. All four were ready to serve their soldiers, their country, and their God. I’m guessing none of them knew that February 3 would be the day for their service.
When the torpedo hit, darkness overtook the ship. Death was everywhere, many dying instantly, with more dying in the water. Many were injured. Many soldiers were trapped below deck, in the dark, panicking as they searched for their life jackets so they could abandon ship.
The four chaplains sprang into action immediately. They encouraged those who were panic-stricken, guiding soldiers towards the upper deck and to the lifeboats, helping them find life jackets. When the life preservers were depleted, they took off their own life jackets and gave them away in order to save the lives of a few more men, knowing with certainty that it means they themselves would die.
Two hundred thirty men made it into the rescue boats that night. As they looked back at the sinking ship, they saw the four chaplains standing on deck, arms linked, praying and singing in Hebrew, Latin, and English.
Many of us face sinking ships, literally or figuratively. How we respond at our darkest moments when there are no visible means of escape is a testament to who we place our faith in.
The four chaplains of the Dorchester are heroes. They could have lived longer, ministering to flocks for many more years, making a difference to thousands. Yet, discerning the time and the season, they each chose to whisper, “I love you.” They decided to take off their life jackets, “Here, take mine.” They loved the men they ministered to, knowing it certainly meant they would die, and in making that decision, they painted a magnificent work of art as they persevered under great trial.
James 1:2-4 “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”