"Just don't get in a hurry to get home; it's full on wintertime now." The words of a friend spoken over the phone a week earlier were sitting in the back of my mind as I traveled. Yet I was hurrying home in November, crossing the Western Gulf of Alaska from the Black Cod grounds, south of Sanak Island, to my homeport of Kodiak. In over 20 years of Commercial Fishing in Alaska, I have learned to never let outside influences make decisions of traveling in bad weather. Despite being reminded by a friend whose experience I highly respect and whom I know hears from God, my seeming responsibilities to the little church I am leading in Kodiak were outweighing common sense.
I had taken a month off to go "Out West" fishing and spend time seeking the Lord for a visitation. The rapidly shifting weather fronts common in the fall had stretched my time away to six weeks and I just wanted to get home, and certainly not be stuck in some remote anchorage for a week or more waiting for a weather break. The trip from the Western Gulf fishing grounds is a little more than two days of travel, and I was nearly half way home and clearly pushing the weather with my 42-foot vessel "Pacific Lady."
I was trying to work the angle of "traveling close to the shore," in the lee of a northwest wind that was now exceeding 50 knots of strength. Officially a "Storm Warning" in the weather forecast was coming over the radio. Running less than a mile from shore, I felt I was getting away with something and could keep going a little farther. Less than five minutes after entering my location at "Cape Providence," in the log book at 2:30 pm, I realized the wind had now switched and was coming out of the north, now howling down the straight right onto my bow, and the seas were building to 12 feet, even up close along the shore.I decided to try slipping back around the Cape for some protection, but when I turned back to the west, I was hit by a gust of wind that could only be called a true "Williwaw," which is a term used by the Alaska Natives of the Aleutian Islands to describe notoriously dangerous "wind gusts" funneling through bays and passes that can be several times the speed of the prevailing wind.
The Boat Capsizes
The "Pacific Lady" lay over beyond 40 degrees. The largest roll I had ever felt on this boat and it just stayed there. My fishing vessel was literally blown over by wind. I realized within a few seconds that I was not going to be able to recover and was losing my boat to the ocean and wind. As water began pouring over the portside rail and in the galley door, I hurriedly grabbed the radio microphone and made the first "Mayday" call on channel 16, the emergency channel, then waited for an answer. As sea water rose up against my windows, I hurriedly threw on a fleece jacket and began jamming myself into my survival suit. "Is there anything else I can do? Jesus, come on, save this thing for me! The boat's lying over and I've gotta' get out of here!"
I pulled the hood over my head then tried issuing another Mayday call with my accurate latitude and longitude position and adding this time, "I am rolling over and going into the water." There was no answer on the radio and as water gushed in the wheelhouse door, my world turned completely sideways. I was now swimming in chest deep water, trapped against the ceiling by the flotation of the suit and still inside the boat! I was thrown around inside the house and somehow, I muscled myself out the door against the rushing water.
My first thought was toward the EPIRB, (emergency position-indicating radio beacon) which is a locator beacon that is mounted on the top of the boat. As I scrambled across the chaos of rigging, I decided to release the raft first, and in the time it took to get it free, with myself inside, I was completely exhausted. I was so relieved to be free of the boat and be in a raft, and I just got away from the boat and all its rigging as quickly as I could. But I never thought to grab the EPIRB mounted less than a foot away from the raft. Even though all fishermen consider it a top priority to get the EPIRB manually released and drifting with the survivors. I relaxed, somewhat confident because it was "state of the art" safety equipment, including a new hydrostatic release that would activate the EPIRB as soon as the boat sank, and I never looked back. I had no idea that the boat would not actually sink until several hours later and therefore the signal would not be sent immediately.
Exhausted by the struggle to get out of the boat, the battle to survive began immediately. I was now in seas that were building rapidly as I drifted away from the protection of the Alaska Peninsula. The raft for my vessel is called a "Buoyant Apparatus" by the U.S. Coast Guard, which is essentially a 3ft x 4ft life ring with a web floor and handhold lines around the outer edge. I wrapped my hands tightly around some lines and did all I could to stay in, or on top of the flotation. The winds were so strong that the waves were not only stacking high, but the crests were being torn off the wave tops transforming the scene into a maelstrom of water and wind.
"I Shall Live and Not Die!"
One of the first thoughts that came to mind as I began this fight was the power of the spoken Word, and I began declaring aloud, "I shall live and not die." I knew this was as powerful of a statement that I could make because it was actually from the Bible. As I look back, those words were noticeably more powerful than some other declarations I made. I attribute it to the fact that they were God's words and will become truth if I agreed, completely so, with all the strength I could muster. I kept speaking it out loud, deciding to literally create an atmosphere for survival with my words.
In the early minutes, as I remembered I did not have the EPIRB with me, I was drifting rapidly away from the area of my sinking vessel, and it was completely possible that no other vessels had heard my Mayday calls. My only hope (in the natural) was the EPIRB releasing and alerting the Coast Guard of my position. I figured it would take them at least an hour to launch a C-130 search aircraft and fly the approximately 150 miles to my position. I knew the sun would set around 6pm, so I had high hopes of seeing a rescue plane and helicopter before dark. But I also realized that if I didn't see anything flying overhead searching before dark, that the signal from EPIRB, (which has to be some ten feet under water before releasing,) was not activated and the possibility of another fishing vessel traveling in this weather anywhere near my position was slim to none.
Hanging out with what I would call "prophetic-type Christians" for most of my adult life, the first thing that came to mind, in light of my slim hopes in the natural realm, was that the Lord was certainly with me now and wanted to tell me what to do. I have often felt the Lord answer my cries for help in less intense situations with something like, "You know what to do…" and I felt He would say this again without even asking in this incredibly crazy situation. I began to build my faith with spoken declarations like, "I am going to see a Coast Guard Helicopter coming over the horizon before dark, and I'll be in the steam room on the Coast Guard base in an hour, and on my couch with a cup of tea in two hours!" It still amazes me that I came up with a somewhat humorous way of saying what I wanted, but it was powerful and encouraging to laugh at my situation.
A statement I began to get out of my mouth was, "I can't die because I have a word from the Lord that isn't fulfilled." I had recently received an incredible prophetic word spoken over my life and the Kodiak area by Mahesh Chavda while at a pastor's conference in Albany, OR. Although I have received several words over the years, I found some more humor in the fact that this one was only a few months old and couldn't have been fulfilled yet, right?
I remembered this concept pretty quickly as we had a running joke among some of my friends and my wife, with all of us saying, "We can't die young, we have destiny unfulfilled." We started speaking this after hearing some stuff from Graham Cooke about destiny and spoken word warfare. This wasn't at all a laughing matter and I really believed what I was saying, but I did get a kick out of the fact that we had been taking that truth lightly, and here it was saving my life. I mention the names of these guys to emphasize the choice we have to honor the prophets and the fact that if you listen and receive them, you will receive rewards that can shock you with lifesaving power.
I Prayed and was Communing with the Lord
Remember, I am drifting offshore with no position indicator beacon, trying to hang onto a 3ft x 4ft open raft in 50-60 knot winds, and breaking seas mounting to 20 feet at this point. The only way I can describe feeling God's presence out there was knowing that "He was the length of my eyelashes away from me." I was quoted in an interview saying, "I prayed and ..." Yet my "praying without ceasing," was not "calling out to God to come down if I'm worthy enough for Him to help me," and this does not describe my conversation with God that night.
I never had to "pray," but felt "I was communing with the Lord." In fact, I did know what to do, and in the natural, that was hanging onto the raft, keep my body core out of the cold water as much as I could, etc. In the spirit realm, I believed that I could create strength and confidence by my spoken agreement with God's Word. I know that God created by speaking when He said, "Let there be light…" I was created in His image, so I can count it as truth that what I say with my mouth has the power to create life or death. Proverbs 18:21 is the concept, "death and life are in the power of the tongue." I, in fact, knew what to do, and I got with it, seriously!
It was a clear day, so I could watch and gauge the time as daylight slipped away. The intensity of the spiritual battle increased exponentially as it grew dark and I drifted further offshore into increasingly larger seas. I was pitched out of the raft by breaking seas many times, and learned to recognize the larger breaking wave by the sound of it hissing up behind me. I remember gauging these seas to be nearly 30 feet high. The waves would literally turn the raft upside down, throwing me out, down the face of the wave, which is a sensation similar to body surfing. I was completely overcome and held under for several seconds. Needless to say, I was not at all happy with getting dunked like this, as I was beginning to get ice cold seawater inside the survival suit through leaks in the face seal.
The Battle with Negative Thoughts
As the night and darkness drew on, the spiritual battle heated up considerably. I was reminded of the power of "contentment and thankfulness" and began applying it to every thing I could. Thoughts like, "Well, at least I am in a survival suit. My suit does have a top of the line strobe light attached. At least I am in some kind of raft, and at least I got that fleece jacket on before I pulled the suit on." The fleece jacket and pants I had been wearing along with the capilene long underwear were now obviously a huge factor in my fighting off hypothermia. "I do have a good EPIRB out there somewhere, and I am strong, a good swimmer, and have no fear of the water."
There was definitely a grace from God to keep my mind on "the life" in the situation, but the battle to stay there versus giving up or even considering the impossibility of hope in this situation was very real. I had to fight for every inch in my thoughts with my words. It was interesting to realize later that thoughts like, "Remember to find something to be thankful for..." seemed like they came into my mind clearly and powerfully. They were like a headlight beam in the face when compared to some negative thoughts that I had to deal with, which seemed to creep up over the side of the raft out of the water from behind my shoulder or something. I believe the enemy is more afraid of the light than we can imagine.
As the hours stretched on, my thought life was really going strong and there were times when I found myself entertaining hopelessness in one form or another. It became clear how strong some thoughts against my life were becoming. Even thinking about something as relatively sound as, "I wonder if my life insurance will pay off and will it be enough for Amy and the boys?" While entertaining negative thoughts, I could actually feel myself getting colder and I slumped down further into the raft, which dropped my chest area into the icy water. When I realized what I was doing with my thoughts, I would reverse it with some thoughts out loud, sometimes yelling, "I shall live and not die!!" I could literally feel strength come into my bones and it warmed up my entire being. My favorite word was this, "I have sons to raise and a wife to love and I am the one You chose to do it, so get me there!" A bold statement, definitely not a request to the Lord, but extremely powerful to beat back the "wondering what God's will is here," thoughts.
I also felt clearly that the Lord is not bothered, but honored by that kind of confidence. I do realize that, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." I also feel the completion of wisdom is knowing who we are in Him, fully receiving His Son and all the authority He has already paid for. I am sure the Lord was waiting for me to stand up in the spirit realm and do what I knew to do--walk in authority and receive it as my strength to survive. The bottom line verse to describe my relationship with the Lord through the entire ordeal was from John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, but I have called you friends." The Holy Spirit was clearly reminding me of strategic words He taught me about declaring and thinking. I didn't need to ask for help or guidance nor was I afraid, and amazingly, I did not feel alone at all. It was as if I was surrounded by the opportunity to embrace His goodness and grace, and I was the only one who could decide to ignore it and give up.
The battle in my mind was intense though, and I cannot describe how hopeless this all was in the natural, watching the moon cross the sky, feeling that the boat must be still laying on its side and not sinking, which kept the EPIRD release from working. Surely if this was the case, nobody knew what was happening but me. There was no way I would survive until the light of day in this water, and if nobody knew I was lost, the chances I would live to morning were nonexistent.
It was going to be a slow death and I was not going to be able to just go to sleep as I had heard people do when freezing to death. I couldn't hang on to the raft without full effort. Many times, I wondered if some remote intercessor tuned into the heart of God was alerted to my situation, and was hoping the Lord would alert the people I know who could hear from God well. (I did find out later that people were already praying. Kathie Walters and others were praying on and off all day, knowing nothing about my current situation.)
One of the most amazing moments for my determination to survive was when I realized that, in the process of getting rolled out of the raft by breaking seas, I got worked over so hard physically, and my body was totally warmed up again by the sheer exertion. As I lay in the raft hyperventilating and catching my breath after one of these wave experiences, I realized that if this wasn't happening, I would be just laying on top of the raft in super cold wind and would have undoubtedly gone to sleep, never waking again.
I remember laughing with the Lord about His method of keeping me awake and decided it was worth saying, "Well Lord, thanks for that." What slipped out next was, "But can we be done with that for a while?" Earlier on I had tried the "Peace Be Still" thing a few times and felt the Lord answer, "That's a good try, but that's not what I'm doing." No explanation needed, but it made sense later as the price of anointing for endurance cannot come easy.
As my feet began to get really cold and I was considering the reality of trying to stay alive till dawn, I began asking the Lord to warm up the water. In another crazy exchange, believing the Lord might do this for me, I specifically asked Him, "How about a hot tub temperature of 105 degrees?" Then I heard His clear reply, "You're warm enough." The truth is, I was, and somehow hearing that from the Lord was enough to really make me laugh. I felt the Lord got a chuckle out of the whole wave rolling thing also, and though that may seem too much for some people to believe, the truth is, I was warm enough and though it was exhausting, it was keeping me alive.
Dispatching Angels for Help
Many experts in the area are amazed that after ten hours in Alaskan water, I was even able to talk much less stand up after that level of exposure. The single most significant thing the Lord showed me happened around six hours after the capsizing. I remembered something I had been hearing over and over on my MP3 player while fishing. It was at the end of somebody's message when an elder prophet, Bob Jones, was speaking about some stuff, and one single line stuck in my mind and resurfaced in the middle of the night. I have got to mention the real power there is in honoring those who are going before us and have paid dues for maturity in spiritual victories. I have made a point of sitting under the older prophets and teachers as much as possible, believing I can pick up impartation of their faith and anointing, just in receiving their words. I will listen to recorded messages again and again, even if I feel I already know what they are teaching to make sure I get all the Lord has for me.
This was a perfect example of that concept and it saved my life; I am quite sure. It was only one sentence, but I had heard it maybe ten or more times in the last month. Bob was talking about angels and said something like, "Most people are still just tryin' to believe in angels, I don't just believe in 'em, I use 'em." The last part of that came clearly into my spirit in the middle of the night, even though I had known that concept for years and had been growing in faith for dispatching angels from an intercessory stance. While listening to that message, I had chosen to agree with I Corinthians 8:2, "that I know nothing yet as I ought to know," and repeatedly stay sitting under the prophets for more understanding. I received a whole lot more.
Sending angels this time was totally different. I felt a revelation of Psalm 91:11 come into my spirit--that I have authority over the angels assigned to my protection. Jesus gave it to me to use. I just got with it for maybe 20 seconds and shouted "Angels Go! Set that EPIRB off. Go tell my wife that I'm in trouble. Go alert the intercessors. Go and guide the Coast Guard to me." As soon as I finished, it lifted, and I never thought about it again. Those had been the main declarations of authority I needed from the Lord. My wife is one who has favor with the Lord to an incredible degree, and she is fierce when it comes to our boys or my safety and I needed her to know. I also knew we had some strong intercessors in Kodiak and across the nation that are tuned in enough to hear the Lord wake them in the middle of anything. If they knew I was fighting for my life, they could get some stuff done in the spirit realm.
In the natural, I needed the EPIRB to activate and I needed a Coast Guard helicopter ASAP. I found out later from the Coast Guard that the timeline for their reaction to the EPIRB signal reception was something like this:
8:51--EPIRB signal received, registered
to Alan Ryden, Pacific Lady.
8:52--Contacted Elana White at Ryden home (my mother-in-law was watching our son while my wife Amy was at a Dream Interpretation Meeting).
8:53pm--Coast Guard C-130 launched to locate EPIRB and any survivors. (A C-130 had been on a training mission far to the east in nicer weather and had just landed, still on the runway with props spinning, when given the order to launch.)
Those times are approximate in my memory, but it was only a few minutes from the EPIRB's first transmission to my wife receiving a call that my EPIRB was going off. She happened to be at a prophetic dream interpretation meeting with several of the heavy hitter intercessors of our church at the time. These intercessors were now in the fight, and the Coast Guard was on their way. I firmly believed that all transpired in conjunction with the sending of those angels to get some specific stuff done. Again, it was with absolute confidence in my place before the Lord, and not a shred of wondering if I was in over my head sending them. I did not ask the Lord to send them, but on His Word, both in the written Psalms and in the spoken prophetic word brought to remembrance, I sent them, and they moved out on my behalf.
It is very hard to describe what I was walking in, as far as approval with the Lord--there was just no wondering about what I was supposed to do. It was as if the Lord was giving me a chance to see what I am designed for and what Jesus meant when He said, "It is finished." I was at an entirely new level of spiritual strength. Alongside this, was also a clear recognition that if I hadn't been prepared by walking in the "spirit of a sound mind" from II Timothy 1:7, I would not have been in a survival suit, on a raft with a good strobe light attached, and in good physical shape to survive. There is a dangerous place of presumption we are tempted to walk in, asking for miracles while lying on the couch of our spiritual lives.
The Rescue Begins
I remember hearing the sound of a C-130, a large four engine plane, roaring overhead and looking up to see its running lights zooming over, doing a large turn, followed by a direct pass over my head. I was feeling like, "Ok, now we're getting this done," as if I expected to be rescued, even though I had no reason to assume it would definitely happen at that point. I later heard that the EPIRB signal was marking a position nearly seven miles from my raft, and the Coastguard pilot spotted the strobe on my suit in the huge frothing water. Nothing else could have led them to me--but the angel I had sent to guide them. I knew that the tough part might still be ahead of me as helicopters with their rescue swimmers and hoisting capacity would possibly still be in Kodiak waiting to hear from the C-130. They would need to know that there was someone in the water before launching, and it could be another hour and a half before I was actually out of the water. I would have to keep going and the weather was not abating. Now, at least I had a defined period of time to rescue, and as they flew over several times dropping flares to mark my position, my morale soared with each drop. They knew I was here!
After several flare drop passes, I noticed a small light drifting towards me and was trying to figure out if it was a flare that was not lighting very well. I watched intently as it drifted closer. As it loomed into view, I realized it was a small light on a life raft which was dropped from the air. It drifted right up to me and literally bumped into my little raft! I reached out, grabbed a hold of it, and rolled right in. As recounted to me by the Coast Guard 130 crew, it is an amazing drop if they get the life raft within 30 yards on a clear windless day in training. To drop it close enough for me to reach out and grab in 50 knot winds and accompanying seas is beyond belief.
The C-130 had to depart to refuel, but not before coordinating a search with a large fishing vessel they had found traveling in the area. The captain later mentioned, "I have no idea why we were traveling in that area," as he would usually be far offshore in weather like we were in that night. His boat is called the F/V Heritage, and is owned by a Christian that I have known for many years. By the time the sound of helicopter blades reached my ears, I had already seen the lights of the large boat off in the distance. I was preparing myself for the possibility of being picked up by a boat, missing my helicopter ride, and having a cup of tea at home in two hours.
Sure enough, the helicopter flew over fast a couple of times, marking my position for the boat to find me. As they pulled into view, I recognized the Heritage boat from a distance. The Heritage crew did an amazing job of laying the boat alongside a little guy in a raft in big seas. The captain of the Heritage and I agreed later that the weather had seemed to be laying down much calmer for the time surrounding the search and rescue before it picked back up to a full storm for the rest of the night.
The boat crew pulled alongside me and threw a life ring perfectly within reach, and though my legs were cramping up when I tried to sit up in the raft, somehow I grabbed the life ring and held on. As I was pulled close, the boat rolled down toward me, and I just stood up, grabbed the rail at mid chest height, and held on as the crew pulled me aboard when the boat rolled the opposite way. The crew dragged me and my suit, full of water, inside the galley. They helped me down into the engine room, which was the warmest part of the boat, so I could begin warming my body core temperature.
Inside the Rescue Boat and After Thoughts
I remember looking at my watch, amazed to see it was after midnight. I had been in the water for over ten hours! I pulled off my wet clothes and was into borrowed clothes in no time, and began thinking, "I better go up to the galley to get some warm fluid intake happening." I surprised everyone by walking out the engine room door within ten minutes, looking for a cup of coffee. I remember the captain asking if I was ok as I was pulled aboard. "I am so ok!" I was on a boat again and alive for sure.
I wished later, I had said more about how long I had been in the water as they might have lifted me into the helicopter for the one hour ride home instead of a 28 hour run on board the Heritage in storm conditions. I was very much ok though, and I heard later, both the CG pilots and Kodiak doctors were amazed I had not been hypothermic after that much exposure. A Coast Guard survival expert exclaimed during an interview a few days later, "You're the survival story of the year." All I can say is, "God is Good, and these are exciting days to be a Christian, eh?"
I do feel the Lord is bringing a message through this story concerning who we are and what we can walk in if we choose to apply truth. We, as Christians, the children of the King, have got to get a real handle on who we are. The battle is definitely heating up in the spiritual realm, and it is imperative that we walk in the authority Jesus paid for and then gave to us. We are in a state of being actively deceived if we stay focused on our weaknesses and walk in anything less than who we are. We will walk in what we confess and focus on our own thoughts. It is a heated battle for our minds and tongues only because the enemy is well aware of what we can do if we actually believe the Word.
I also need to encourage everyone who has a calling on your life--that means everybody-- to begin preparing now by applying the "Spirit of a sound mind" to your life and get full of the Word. Build your sword because you probably will not have your Strong's Concordance at hand when it gets real crazy. What are you consuming and what is your belly full of? What is going to come out of you in the fray?
These really are exciting days to be a Christian, right?
Pastor Alan Ryden
Alan Ryden's Bio:
Alan Ryden was born in Alaska and raised in Colorado. Returning to Alaska in 1978, he spent years exploring the last frontier and experiencing the power of God in the wilderness where the creation literally shouts, "Glory to the Lord." After twenty years pursuing the Lord as a commercial fisherman in the Bering Sea and North Pacific, he was called into full-time ministry to carry on the vision of his former pastor, Steve Kenney, on Kodiak Island. Having never attended formal ministry school, he considers his training ground the "School of the Spirit in the Bering Sea of Alaska." Experiencing the power of a conversational relationship with God while at sea, transformed his life. It has become his passion to see the average believer as well as those who do not know Jesus yet, to realize the Lord God is speaking much more than we expect or believe.
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