Lighting jolted our plane as we flew through crackling thunder. With arms raised, I welcomed the storm like a drunken sailor. The lights flickered as we dropped through another cloud. My “yee-haa” didn’t seem to be appreciated by the young honeymoon couple in front of me. The protective husband finally turned around to let me know his bride was having a panic attack and asked me if I could please stop.
A group of us were traveling from Belgium to Mexico to embark on what would be one of the most amazing and terrifying adventure of our lives. We were joining Logos II, a ship that traveled around the world telling people about Jesus. Little did I know how this adventure would affect my life.
A couple of months after joining, on October 7, 1999, we encountered Hurricane Pauline, one of the deadliest in history. Wrecking havoc up the west coast of Mexico, it stormed towards our immobile ship. One of our engines was broken, so we couldn’t do what a ship should do in a storm, go out and face the waves head-on. Staying at port was the most dangerous thing we could have done, but we had no choice. It was predicted to hit us during the night. When the captain is nervous, you know something is very wrong.
With a pounding heart, I went to bed that night. I had no idea when or what I would wake up to. I read my bible again, and came across verses that encouraged me. I wrote one on a note and taped it to the wall next to my bed: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified…., for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6. I felt like we were in his care, no matter what would happen. I prayed, put my life in his hands, and, amazingly, fell right to sleep.
Then I woke up. I checked my watch and it was morning. I quickly dressed and joined the rest of the curious ship’s company in the dining room, all of us awaiting to hear what had happened. The captain appeared. Visibly tired, but with his usual calm assurance, he began to speak. He had watched God control the storm while we slept. As he watched his monitors, he saw hurricane Pauline make her way devastatingly up north towards us. Suddenly though, just before she hit us, the hurricane went slightly out to sea. Then she turned north again, passed us, and then went back towards the coast again. For reasons unknown, God had allowed the hurricane to slam the coast of Mexico, and for reasons unknown, he had also allowed us to be spared. Our captain had witnessed a miracle.
The hardest hit area was just south of us in Acapulco. Our engine was able to be fixed the next day, so we were the first ship to arrive to the devastated area with water and help.
The silence in the air was heavy as we eerily sailed into the Acapulco bay. Looking over the railing, I shuddered as a baby shoe floated by. Up ahead lay the skyline of what people usually encounter as a vacation paradise. We were, instead, entering a death yard. Still far from shore, we passed tops of cars, kitchen pots, clothes, chairs. We later learned that a whole Catholic church had been swept out to sea.
The devastation we found when we docked was even more crippling. We were quickly organized into teams to start digging mud out of homes to look for bodies. Other teams searched through cars crumpled up under bridges. Animals were decomposing on the streets, so we were asked to wear masks. I joined a team that traveled up to the outskirts to hand out water. It was sunny and birds were chirping when we arrived. “Where is the town?” I asked, as we got out of the van. We all froze. We were walking on top of the town.
As a couple of guys started passing water out to the survivors, I walked over to a young girl I noticed sitting on a rock nearby. I sat down next to her. She told me numbly that we were sitting on top of her home, where her husband and 5 children were buried just hours before. I teared up as I hugged her. There were no words. Just confusion, sorrow, anger, and heartbreak. She shared how she had gotten up in the middle of the night to run to her mom’s house for some milk for her baby. While she was gone, the avalanche hit.
I noticed the water was running out when I returned to the growing crowd. I started fervently praying that God would produce more, but nothing happened. What was happening, though, was much more strange. Instead of asking for more water, people were asking for Bibles and wanting to know about God. At a time like this, when they needed water and food the most, why were they asking for that? We started telling them about Jesus, about the message he brought his hurting world. Instead of being angry at God for what had happened, they were reaching out to him for comfort.
I returned to the ship a different person that day and have never been the same. On one side I felt guilty to have all I had. I wanted to invite everyone to come live on board with me, but I couldn’t. On the other hand, I had seen something very unusual that day… people in the midst of suffering and anguish reaching out for God more than water.
It’s different to see these tragedies on TV. One doesn’t smell the rotting animals or feel the heaviness of death in the air. One doesn’t see the longing in the mother’s eyes for answers. One doesn’t see the lives changed.
The next miracle happened that same week. I met Pontus. I had seen him around, but we hadn’t really talked. We were assigned to the same church team, where he was the one to preach and I was going to give my testimony and sing a solo. We arrived to an overflowing small church on the hillside of Acapulco. Children, adults, grandmas and grandpas filled the place. Barefoot people were hanging into the windows, standing on the streets, and walking on the roof. Later we learned that all of them had lost loved ones that week in the storm.
Pontus’ message that day was on “Love”. I translated as he spoke. People cried and laughed, and told us later it was exactly what they needed to hear. I also gave a testimony and sang a song I had written: “Solo Tu” (only you), a song I had written in the midst of suffering about how only Jesus can comfort and carry us through, and take us to a place of joy that is beyond this world’s understanding.
After the service, the leaders of the church took us to one of their homes for lunch and gave us gifts. To watch their love, to see their faith in Jesus, to feel their peace amidst trial. I was reminded of the verse from Isaiah 61:3: “To all who mourn, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the Lord has planted for his own glory.” These people were great oaks to me. The floor of their house was dirt. Their windows had no glass. Some of their loved ones had just died. Yet here they were, praising God and loving on us with lavish gifts.
They sat me next to Pontus. I watched him play with the little kids, talk to the men about God, and make the grandma laugh. Occasionally he’d look at me and smile with a spark in his eye. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. The next day, Pontus left the ship to fly to the next port. He was on the line-up team, the team that prepared ports, but didn’t work on the ship. From then on, every evening, I would stand out on deck and pray to God: “please give me a man like that.” Soon I got an email from him, and that began a friendship that ended up changing my life. But that’s another story that you can read here.
Many miracles happened that year. Like when the town dam broke while we were at a restaurant and we had to make our way back to the ship in a waist high dangerous, growing, and raging flood, trying not to get hit by the cars and trees floating by. Or the time I was shaking people’s hands as they left our conference and one person put a wad of bills in my hand. I said thank you and handed it to the next family that came to greet me. In tears they later came back and told me that was the exact amount they need to pay their bill that month and asked me how I knew. But to tell you those and more amazing stories would take a whole book.
One thing I learnt out at sea is that God is God and will do what he will do. In our eyes, we don’t understand. Sometimes good happens. Sometimes bad stuff happens. Horrible stuff. I had a lot of questions that year, but like many times in my life before and since then, I learned that God’s ways are not our ways. And the biggest miracle of all: he brings beautiful things out of ashes.
Pontus and Becky Karnsund have four children ages 11-16. Pontus was born and raised in Sweden and Becky was born and raised in Spain (American parents). They met in Mexico, got engaged at the top of the Eiffel Tower, married in Spain, and moved to Sweden where Pontus completed his Masters degree in theology. After Sweden, they lived in Spain for 6 years, then transferred over to Arizona for 7 years, where Pontus was involved in pastoring, church plant training, and church consulting. In 2016 they moved to Holly Springs, North Carolina, to start a new church.
Pontus & Becky Karnsund
PO Box 756
Holly Springs, NC 27540
We write not because we think we are good writers, but because we want to share with you a journey God has us on. We write not to point to us, but to the amazing, merciful, good, and gracious Father we all have access to through Jesus.