FLIGHT TO TARSHISH

Rain Cloud sat staring across the blue waters of the little lake. He would not look at Singing Bird, who was fashioning a strong bowl of birch bark as her ancestors had done before her for many generations. At the moment he didn’t feel like explaining the dark thoughts that chased each other through his mind.

After a time she stopped to watch him with a puzzled frown, but he pretended not to see. She left her work to come over and kneel at his side.

“My husband.” He grunted but didn’t answer. Timidly she laid a slender hand on his arm.

“Why are you so sad?” Still no answer. She returned to making the bowl, but a frown rested on her face. He felt a twinge of guilt.

“Singing Bird, when the ship sailed away with the white missionary, my heart sailed away too.”

“Now my people need us more than ever,” she responded. “We are the only ones who can teach them of the great God beyond the stars.”

“I don’t think they want to learn. No one will listen to us. The white missionary tried, and failed. He sailed away. How can we succeed when he could not?”

Rain Cloud walked over to stand beside her. “What are you thinking of, my husband?” she asked quietly.

“I want to sail back to my own home on the Straits of Mackinac.”

She rose slowly to face him, her eyes startled and sad. “Have you forgotten that you promised my people you would remain with them when you married me?”

He turned away impatiently, wishing not to be reminded of that. “Among my people there were many who would listen to the gospel message. It was much easier to preach to them,” he said.

For a moment he looked into the stricken face of Singing Bird. His heart twisted within him, but he would not relent. “Will you come with me?” he asked.

It was a long time before she answered. Then her voice was low and controlled. “Rain Cloud, I gave you a promise at our marriage. Where you go, I will follow.”

Rain Cloud took her hand and gazed into her eyes. In them he could read only sadness and patient devotion. He smiled at her and stroked her shining black hair, then walked down beside the water’s edge.

“How did’ Jonah feel when he set sail for Tarshish?” he wondered, then shook his head to rid himself of such thoughts. God had given him no orders to stay among unbelieving Chippewa. If the white missionary could not succeed, how could any reasonable person expect him to continue the hopeless battle to reach their minds? He had best go back where his labors would do good and be appreciated.

A few days later the waters of Lake Superior lay calm beneath the arching blue of the summer sky as Rain Cloud and Singing Bird loaded their few possessions on a ship to begin their journey to the east. A stiff breeze began to blow. “We should land at Sault Ste. Marie on the third day,” the captain told them.

The dancing waves reflected the glory of the morning sun. Rain Cloud gazed far away toward the horizon where lay his home and family. “In a few days I shall land on the beautiful shores of my ‘Tarshish,’ the land of my choice,” he mused. He threw a sidelong glance at Singing Bird. Her face had recovered its usual serenity as her faith in God’s leading and loyalty to her husband had triumphed.

Busy sailors trimmed the sails, and the captain pointed the ship’s bow into the path of sunlight lying across the bosom of the lake. A few hours’ sailing brought them far out across the water. Only a misty speck of land was visible, away to the south.

But the force of the wind began to slacken, slowing the vessel’s steady progress. In a little while a deep calm settled, and the sails hung limp from the masts. Helplessly the little ship rocked to and fro on the gentle waves. Rain Cloud swallowed his impatience and waited for the wind to freshen.

It was nearly five o’clock in the afternoon before the sails began to fill. The captain paused beside them on the deck. “The wind is coming from the wrong direction.” His eyes narrowed, and he frowned with worry. “It’s going to be a bad wind, very furious.”

The captain proved to be a good prophet. At six o’clock the storm broke. The wind roared through the masts of the little ship and dashed sheets of pounding rain across the deck.

Shielding Singing Bird with his body, he pulled her into the little cabin assigned to them. Whimpering, she clung to the bunk, as the whole world seemed in motion. He did his best to reassure her and conquer his own rebellious stomach.

The ship pitched and rolled alarmingly, and above the roar of the tempest he could hear the shouts of the crew and captain as they fought a losing battle to keep her on course. The door of the cabin burst open, and the captain appeared, drenched and weary. “We’re in danger”, he confessed. “The wind is maddening and determined to send us to the bottom of the sea. I’ve sailed this great lake for twenty-one years, but no storm has ever impeded my sailing. I’ve never seen anything like it. My friend, I am afraid something is wrong with us.”

The captain left. Rain Cloud tried in vain to swallow the feeling of guilt that rose to choke him. He saw the piercing eyes of Singing Bird on his face, but neither of them spoke.

Another hour passed before the captain returned. Looking exhausted, he leaned against the wall and shook his head. “It’s no use. We can’t go forward. We’ll have to go back to the harbor.”

When he had gone, there was silence in the little cabin except for the roar of the elements outside. The vessel swung around slowly and pointed her prow back toward the safety of the harbor they had left. It was late at night before the battered ship tied up once more at the dock.

As Rain Cloud bent to put their possessions together Singing Bird laid a gentle hand on his arm. “Husband, I must say a few words. He straightened and looked down into her pleading eyes. “Husband, as surely as I believe in God, I believe that we were the cause of all on this ship nearly perishing this night. It is true, as you say, that this is a country full of darkness and idolatry. But I believe God wants us to stay and do something for my people. He has shown us by many signs.

Rain Cloud laid an affectionate hand over hers. “I have thought of this, but surely it cannot be. Surely our heavenly Father has not taken note of our journey and sent the storm to hinder us. We are too small, too poor, to notice. It’s impossible. If the white missionary with means, education, and experience has found the work here useless, what can God expect of us?”

“Then you still mean to leave?” Her hand trembled on his arm.

“Yes.”

“Then I shall go with you.”

Rain Cloud found the captain on the bridge talking to a member of the crew. When they were finished, he approached. “When are you planning to set sail again, sir?”

“As soon as we have a good wind.”

“We will sail with you.”

Rain Cloud took Singing Bird ashore to find shelter and rest at the house of an acquaintance. The following afternoon they boarded once more, somewhat refreshed. About two o’clock a good wind came up and the vessel again set sail for Sault Ste. Marie.

They had good sailing until they reached the place where they had been becalmed before. Once more the wind fell, and the ship could make no progress.

Rain Cloud and Singing Bird sat resting on the deck, watching with anxious hearts the lifeless sails. From the blue, unclouded heavens the sun beat down with breathless warmth.

An hour passed. The sun sank. As it dropped toward the horizon those on board could see a small dark speck of cloud rising in the west. Rain Cloud’s heart beat faster. The cloud grew and spread, black against the sky.

“The wind is coming,” the captain shouted. “It’s going to be worse than before!” The crew burst into activity.

Rain Cloud stood and watched in wonder as the tempest descended upon them. He and Singing Bird found refuge in the little cabin before it hit in all its fury.

Above the shriek of the wind they could hear the captain ordering the crew to throw over all the barrels of fish to lighten the ship.

Overcome by emotion, Rain Cloud looked out the tiny porthole. Furious lightning tore the inkblack sky. The winds lashed the boiling seas without mercy.

There was a terrible roaring and howling as of a thousand demons. He staggered to the door of the cabin and opened it, bracing against the wind.  From there he could see the captain rushing about, talking to his men. It seemed as if he could hear the captain saying, ” Come, and let us cast lots, that we may know for whose cause this evil is upon us. “In his heart he knew that if they did, the lot would surely fall upon him, guilty Rain Cloud.

Again he heard the captain’s voice, lifted above the storm. “Surely there is something wrong with this vessel, and we must all perish!” Rain Cloud choked down the cry of terror that rose in his throat. At that moment he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. Singing Bird pulled him back inside and shut the door against the wind.

He staggered like a dying man across the room and sank to his knees beside the little bunk. She knelt beside him, her arm around his heaving shoulders.

Hiding his face against the quilts, he said, “Because of me we may all perish. Like Jonah I should be thrown into the sea.”

“Our heavenly Father only wants you to return,” she pleaded. “Promise Him that you will do His will.”

Rain Cloud began to pray. Humbly he confessed his guilt and stubbornness and pleaded with God for mercy for them all. Then, thoroughly repentant, he rose and sought the captain with a strange confession and request. The captain agreed to take them back, and it seemed that the winds and waves began at once to subside. With difficulty they made their way once more to the security of the harbor.

The next day Rain Cloud and Singing Bird stood on the dock and watched as the little ship set sail for a third attempt, this time without them. Rain Cloud’s heart was chastened, but peaceful, as he took the slender brown hand of his wife in his. “We will remain in this land. I will give my life to bring the light to these people.

Surely if God can notice one so small and poor as I, as He has done in this astounding way, then He Himself will be with us and make our labors bear fruit.”

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