Voyage into the unknown


Portuguese sailors inspire us to boldly step into the unknown

By David Wiebe

Drawing from his travels to visit Mennonite Brethren churches around the world, ICOMB executive director David Wiebe offers insights on faith.

“That’s impossible! It must be photoshopped,” I said as I looked at an amazing picture in Sagres, Portugal.

My wife and I were in Algarve province exploring the beautiful cliffs, caves, beaches and blowholes carved by millennia of ocean activity. Sagres is located at the southwest corner of the country.

The courage of Henry the Navigator

Its claim to fame is a museum honoring Infante D. Henrique, otherwise known as Henry the Navigator. He lived from 1394 to 1460, a son of Portuguese royalty. Under his inspiration, two new sailing technologies emerged in the 15th century: a ship with greater agility, called the caravel, and techniques for sailing against the wind.

Henry is credited with setting the stage for the age of discoveries for Portugal and for Christopher Columbus to reach North America in 1492.

We had just toured this museum, spread over four square kilometers in a park atop the 30-meter cliffs overlooking the vast Atlantic stretching unbroken to the western horizon. We passed blowholes where we could actually hear the unseen ocean far below. I wondered what kind of water power carved these holes 50 meters away from the cliff edge.

Then, I saw the picture in the gift shop. Someone had photographed a wave crashing against the cliff, with the splash rising high above it! A hundred foot wave?! Impossible, I thought, until I saw videos of surfers riding 100-foot waves at Nazaré, Portugal.

It really struck me: What courage it took for sailors to set out in such tiny ships to explore the world!


Facing our own rough waters

Starting a new year doesn’t sound nearly as daunting. Our resolutions for personal improvements typically don’t require the same resolve to conquer unknowns while risking life and limb to do it.

Still, Christians might be sailing pretty rough waters these days.

For example, how shall we navigate our changing culture? We lament that postmodernism is rewriting the rules of truth. However, can we say that the materialistic machine of modernism was or is a better model? Truth is in Christ, a person who said, “I AM the truth” (John 14:6).

An ancient Christian named Makarios taught that we should strive to be the “friend of God, brother of Christ.” Paul wrote, “You have come to know God, or rather to be known by God…” (Gal. 4:9, ESV). This turn of phrase strongly implies friendship. What implications does this have on our discipleship and witness today? What implications does this have on relating the gospel to sexual ethics and related hot issues; the definition and misuse of power in the church; our largely unchecked materialism and its power over us?

How shall we navigate the challenges of terrorism and its effects?

Should we welcome Syrian refugees openly or be cautiously reluctant? Of course we worry about terrorism. But is the terrorism of the Islamic State much different from the state-sponsored terrorism of Leopold of Belgium in the Congo (10 million deaths); of Hitler on Jews, Jehovah Witnesses, Roma, homosexuals, persons with disabilities and more (11 million); of Stalin toward Ukrainians (7 million deaths)? What about the terror unleashed on the First Nations of North America for five centuries after Columbus “discovered” this continent?

What implications does all this have on our commitment to a message of peacemaking in the name of Christ? I think it should drive us toward it, since if we don’t witness to peace in our world, who will?

The new year stretches out before us. In a sense, the future provides no navigation lines to guide us. Yet we have a Captain who directs our lives. We truly must lean on and obey the word of our Captain. It will be a struggle! We wrestle; we contend (Eph. 6:12). We do it with truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God and prayer (6:14–18) so that our proclamation is clear and powerful (6:19) even if we are oppressed and bound because of it (6:20).

Here we find courage and direction to face our future, big waves and all.

David Wiebe is a fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and podcasts on church history (57 hours and counting). After two decades of working for the Canadian Conference of MB Churches, he has served the International Community of Mennonite Brethren as executive director since 2011.

Photo of the Sagres coastline: ThinkStock


Did You Know

  • Associaçäo dos Irmäos Menonitas de Portugal (AIMP) is comprised of five churches with some 200 participants. They are very multicultural: Angolan, Russian, and Portuguese.
  • Missionaries Otto and Marjorie Ekk have served in Portugal, based in Lisbon, for more than 25 years.
  • Lisbon experienced a major earthquake, tsunami and fire which destroyed much of the city and historical records in 1755. This landmark event was widely discussed and dwelt upon by European Enlightenment philosophers and inspired major developments in theodicy (why God allows manifestations of evil).






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