One of the downsides of living in the age of instant communications is that we are often inundated by the news of tragedies occurring around the world. In an earlier day, folks might never have heard of some of these events, or news of the disasters would have arrived at best several days or weeks later. With 24-hour news broadcasting, cell phones with cameras, and so many other forms of advanced communication technology, news of worldwide disasters reaches us in minutes. Sometimes the toll in human suffering is so great that we turn off our emotional sensors to block out the pain, steeling ourselves against the hurt and grief that others are enduring.
I recently learned about the worst maritime disaster in American history. I would have suspected that might have been some battleship that sunk during World War II, but in fact it involved a steamboat on the Mississippi River just days after the conclusion of the Civil War. The Sultana was carrying 2100 passengers when it exploded and sank just north of Memphis, TN on April 27, 1865. Only 400 survived the tragedy, most of the passengers drowning in the swollen waters. Of the 1700 that died, all but 100 of these were Union veterans, the majority being survivors of Confederate prisoner of war camps. They had survived the rigors of the battlefield and endured the harsh conditions of imprisonment only to die in an accident on their way home.
The lesson I would underscore from this tragedy is that we never know what lies around the next bend in the river or the next curve in life’s journey. Whether it brings us unexpected joy and happiness or unspeakable sorrow, our calling remains to live by faith each day. May we look together to God’s grace to find the strength to encourage one another along the way.