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CBN.com - "There was a huge wind and huge swells just folding over me, one after the other, and I got to the point where I realized, If I don't get into this boat, I'm going to die," Jon Stockton reveals.
It was a trip Jon will never forget, and it started with a simple longing for the sea.
"I was at the place where I needed some rest. And for me, resting was going and having an adventure. That's how I recharge."
In search of some peace and quiet, Jon traveled to the big island of Hawaii. Here he bought a state-of-the-art kayak and set out by himself into the vast Pacific Ocean. Jon's plan was to paddle up the western coastline of Hawaii from Kona and camp along the way. The first three days of his journey, the weather was pleasant, the waters calm.
Jon says, "My prayer was just, 'Lord, fill the day with signs of Your love.' I saw two manta rays slip right under the kayak, I saw these flying fish come out of the ocean like a machine gun had just kind of shot up out of the water, birds flying everywhere, all kinds of schools of fish. It was amazing."
That is, until he caught sight of an ominous storm approaching. At this point, Jon was about half of a mile from shorejust minutes from his next campsite.
"As I came around the point," Jon recounts, "I immediately saw a change on the surface of the water."
The storm had jumped the northern point of the island and was heading straight toward Jon.
"The wind started getting more and more intense, and finally what ended up happening was a gust of wind just came and capsized me, just flipped me right over," he says.
Jon had two choices: swim back to shore, or stay with his kayak and paddle back. He chose to stay with his kayak.
Says Jon, "I was kind of paralyzed. I didn't know what the right move to do or to make was. It was like, This is really bad. This is, like, the ingredients for a disaster right here. As I was looking back toward the shore, I could see the light was starting to fade, and I just started praying, 'Lord, this is going to be a long night if I don't get back.' And I felt like the Lord said, 'I made it very clear. You're going to live and not die.' "
Then Jon saw a rainbow in the distance. It was a promise from God that he'd need to hold onto, since where he was, the sea was still raging all around him. It was a long, treacherous night.
"I was just being pushed straight out to sea. We're talking two-story-house sized waves, like 20-foot waves, just pounding me," Jon explains.
Every time Jon got the boat right side up, a wave would knock him over and fill the boat with water.
"I was trying to be Mr. Independent and take care of the situation," Jon admits, "but it was so severe I couldn't make any progress."
Hours later, and now 20 miles from shore, the storm finally subsided. Jon made it into his kayak and out of shark-infested waters. For the next 21 hours, Jon paddled back toward shore. Jon was fading fast.
"I started yelling at myself, 'Come on! Don't you want to live? This is your chance. You've been at this work all day. Get in there!' So I just gritted my teeth, and I just started rowing like crazy, like a madman."
That didn't last. Exhausted, Jon dozed off and his kayak drifted farther and farther from shore. When he woke up, he was sun-burned and helpless.
"I just said, 'Lord, my arms are just like wet noodles of spaghetti. There's no strength in them at all. They're sore. They're tired,' and I just started saying, 'Lord, what do I do?' I felt like the Lord said, 'Paddle and use your cell phone.' "
Since Jon was so far out at sea, he'd figured he wouldn't get any reception, and his battery was low. But Jon pulled his phone from his waterproof bag, and, amazingly, he acquired a signal. He dialed 911 and spoke to an emergency operator. Jon communicated minimal details and then lost connection. Still, the operator was able to pass on enough information to set a massive search mission into motion. When Jon's phone finally regained signal, he had a message waiting from Coast Guard Petty Officer Justin Acosta. Jon called him right back.
"I kind of knew the tone of his voice and just how desperate he was and he needed our help soon," Justin recalls. "I really started praying about this guy that he, at this moment, just puts his trust in the Lord. I was just praying for patience for Jon and for hope and just to be strong and to not give up."
Meanwhile, Jon anxiously awaited his rescue. One plane flew over him 10 times.
"I came to the realization, They can't see meI'm just this little speck in the ocean. They can't see me. I started to feel this absolute dread inside of me."
Night fell. Jon had now been stranded at sea for three days and three nights. Delusion set in.
"I started having these weird escapes or visions or whatever," he says. "I had this imaginary friend on the boat, this Japanese sailor, and I started saying, 'Hand me the oar. Come on, do your part.' What are you saying? Stop it. You're losing your mind! It started really scaring me. I remember a saying from the pastor: 'When you don't know what to do, do what you do know, and then you know what to do.' What I did know to do was a Bible study."
One Psalm stood out.
Jon reveals, "It was 'Save me, O God, for I have sunken down into the pit.' I just really identified with this, and I said, 'Lord, I'm in a pit. You're going to have to bring me out of it.' I looked over to my right, just as I finished reading, and I heard the rumble of engines. I looked and there was this plane sweeping the horizon."
It was now day five of Jon's perilous journey. He was 80 miles from shore. It was the end of the day when Navy radar operator Gary Phillips urged his pilot to make one last pass. He, too, had been asking God for help.
"I was just praying that he would put me in the right position to be able to find Jon," says Gary.
"You try to imagine from 500 feet in the air what a small kayak would look like with a person in it," says Gary, "and then all of a sudden, he went by."
Relief swept over Jon as rescuers pulled him from the water. He was taken to a nearby hospital where he was treated for severe dehydration, sun and wind exposure, and 2nd- and 3rd-degree burns. Later, when he inquired about the phone calls he made at sea, he found that, mysteriously, the phone company had no record of them.
"They said, 'I'm sorry, sir. I don't know what to tell you. He didn't call us. We didn't host it. He didn't make the call,' " says Jon.
The Coast Guard labeled it a miracle; local papers did the same. Justin, Gary, and Jon all knew.
"When you have God on your side, anything's possible," says Justin.
Adds Gary, "It's just a testament to the power of prayer."
"This is what God has done," says Jon. "It's a total miracle."
Since the rescue, Jon has had time to process his battle at sea. He now realizes God knew where he was each step of the way. All he had to do was surrender, pray, and believe.
"It went from a place of being totally independent to just pure prayer. That, to me, is what the Lord was teaching me. That's what faith is: the absolute hope of things unseen, absolute hope upon hope. You can't see anything working, but you know that God is good, and you know that He is loving. I know because I was in the boat. I know what name I called on, I know what name I cried out to, and I know what name delivered me," he says.
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