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Saved by the Father's Warmth

A seminary student experiences a crisis of faith when he finds his life in imminent danger.

By Haengso Hong, Seoul, South Korea

As appeared in

The frozen, snow-covered lake sparkled under my feet in the bright noonday sun. It was the first Saturday in March, still cold enough in Michigan for a coat and gloves even for a short walk. I’d learned to love the rugged Midwest winters during my four years at seminary, one of many adjustments from where I grew up in South Korea.

My eyes traced my footsteps back across the ice, to the trees, then to the retreat center on the bluff, where I’d started my hike and had been staying since the evening before. Other than the caretaker, Robert, and his wife, I had the old farmhouse to myself.

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I’d come here to study the Bible, pray and draw closer to God, to better understand his will for my life. So much was happening in the next few months, graduation, returning home to my parents and fiancée, the start of my ministry.

Where would my faith journey take me? I wanted to be prepared. But I couldn’t relax. The isolation was unnerving. Where was God?

That morning I’d sat in my room and read my favorite Psalms. Heavenly Father, hear my prayer, I said after each one. There was no still small voice, only a distant creaking sound. I couldn’t just sit there. I had to do something. A little after 12:30 P.M. I decided to hike across the hardened lake to a trail.

I was close to the other side when I reached a large tangle of impassable branches. There was no alternative; I’d have to turn around. Disappointed, I took a step. Crack!

I plunged into the water neck deep. Instinctively my hands grabbed onto the ice. “HELP!” I screamed. “HELP!!!!” Cold stabbed every inch of my body.

I stretched my arms as far as I could, frantically kicking my legs to try to scramble back on top of the ice. A large piece broke off instantly. I lunged to keep hold of it, arms flailing. But my weight pushed it below the surface.

I dog-paddled a foot or two to the still-intact ice sheet and held on with just the tips of my gloves. I didn’t dare put any more pressure on it for fear it would break.

“Heavenly Father! Help me!” I pleaded. I opened my mouth, sucking my breath deep into my lungs then pushed it out as hard as I could. “HEL-L-L-LP!!!” The only response was the sound of the branches creaking in the wind.

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There was no one around to hear my cries. Robert and his wife had gone out. I remembered my reading of the Psalms—He knows my every thought. I tried not to panic. God will deliver me.

I couldn’t feel my feet. My mind was in a fog. I looked to the shore. Only 100 feet away. Do something, I told myself. I raised a gloved hand and smashed it through a section of ice. I could break a trail to land. Lord, give me strength.

I shifted the chunk that split off behind me, then broke off another piece, steered it out of the way and pulled myself to the next section. I tried to keep kicking, but my legs felt so heavy, like anchors pulling me down.

“Somebody help,” I cried. The words came out as a kind of wheeze.

I slammed my fist against the ice again. The glove caught on a jagged edge and tore off. My hand was as red as a strawberry. I couldn’t break a trail anymore. It took all my strength to keep from slipping underwater.

My whole body was growing numb. I remembered reading that people could freeze to death in 45 minutes. I glanced up at the sun. It was just starting its descent. Was it 1:00 P.M. yet? How much longer could I last?

My coat seemed to weigh 500 pounds. Take...it...off, my brain told me. I’d be lighter, able to pull myself out of the water onto the ice. I let go of the ice and reached for the zipper. I sank like a stone. My head throbbed. I can’t breathe!

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One desperate kick and I burst out of the water, fighting for air. I clawed the ice and hung on. I looked up at the retreat center, this place where I’d come to commune with God.