One hundred years ago this month, something tragic happened that forever altered the life of a young man and his family.
Earl & Marion Camp and their two young daughters left New York on a ship headed across the Atlantic bound for Belgian Congo, where they planned to begin their missionary service. It was an exciting time, anticipating a great start to work in the great and vast continent. Their plans were shattered on August 10, 1917 as they neared Cape Town when they heard a terrific explosion. Within two hours, the ship was on the bottom of the ocean and all the passengers were on lifeboats heading for shore, about 25 miles from the coast.
Seven lifeboats held all the passengers. Earl Camp wrote that a shark followed their lifeboat, which surely must have stuck fear into the hearts of those survivors. Another lifeboat was flooded and tipped over, leading to the loss of 18 people who fell victim to the sharks. Among those lost were a man and his wife and 6 children who all perished in the sea.
The Camp family were to find out later that the ship struck a mine which blew a hole in the bow of the ship. With one mighty blow, the lives of these young missionaries were forever altered. But despite the great loss of almost all their possessions, the young Earl Camp expressed great faith in God. Here is an excerpt from one of his letters written just a week after the tragedy:
We lost everything but the clothes that we had on our backs, and I happened to have my money in my pocket, that I had with me. My gold watch was also with me. I had about $600, but this is nothing in comparison with what we have to buy. We must have a complete line of new clothes, household furnishings, living expenses, a house to build and support of 6 months, besides 6 weeks of travel before we reach our destination. But don’t worry in the least about us because the Lord is wondrously caring for us and supplying our needs.
Earl Camp was my wife’s grandfather, and he arrived in Africa 100 years ago this month. This is just a small part of the story—many challenges and struggles were to follow—but it highlights an amazing faith in God’s leadership and enduring provision. As we recall the story of this young man and his family, let us remember that we need such faith and courage today. Remember the words of the Lord to Joshua as they entered the Promised Land:
"This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1.8-9, ESV)