The men were amazed and asked, ‘What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!’” (Matthew 8:27)

A Sumatra squall is a squall line—a line of thunderstorms—that develops over the island of Sumatra in Indonesia and moves eastwards over the Straits of Malacca. Typically, Sumatra squalls affect Malaysia and Singapore for one to two hours in the night or morning, producing heavy rains along with wind gusts of 40–80 km/h (25–50 mph). These storms must be taken seriously, especially if you are sailing a 65-foot catamaran from Thailand to Indonesia in the late spring.

Last year, we invested in such a boat so that the captain and his team could be a living witness of Jesus to his crew and to the villages which are part of the routine stops the boat makes. The boat provides opportunities for two types of tourism:  ethno tourism, in which travelers explore indigenous populations, learning about their culture and traditions; and community-based eco tourism in which visitors participate with local residents in festivals, homestays, or production of artisanal goods in order to build local economies.  

After restoration of the boat was completed in Thailand, it became time to sail the boat to the location where it would soon be used for its unique tourism opportunities infused with a distinctly Christian focus of bringing salt and light to locations where Jesus’ name is unknown.

“Lord, we need relief from the storm”

Boat repairs took longer than anticipated, delaying departure several weeks and forcing the crew to sail later than planned. By then, the stormy season had begun. At 1:00 AM,  on the twelfth day of their seventeen-day journey, they encountered the squall. Night time squalls are very serious because a man overboard in these conditions would be nearly impossible to find or rescue.  The squall had completely surrounded the boat with winds as high as 50mph. The radar showed that the boat was directly in the center of the large Sumatra squall. Anxiety and tensions were running very high. While several of the crew did their best to keep the catamaran stable, the captain and a few others gathered to pray “Lord, we need your help. We need relief from the storm.”

Within minutes the radar changed. An opening in the squall to the east appeared, visible in this screenshot from the time of the event:

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Matthew recounts a similar event on the Sea of Galilee. Historical records about Jesus’ life describe violent storms on the Sea of Galilee a number of different times.. The sea’s location makes it subject to sudden and violent storms as the wind comes over the 2000-foot eastern mountains and accelerates down to the sea, 680 feet below sea level. The differences in temperatures and humidity between the dry mountain air and the semi-tropical warm, moist air of the sea cause large temperature and pressure changes. The strong winds accelerate down to the sea, funneling through the hills and picking up speed, finally descending directly on the center of the lake. When the fast-moving and powerful contrasting air masses meet, storms arise quickly and without warning. Small boats caught out on the sea are in immediate danger. The disciples in the boat with Jesus that night had every reason to be concerned about their safety.

Mathew tells the story this way in Matthew 8:23-27:

Then He [Jesus] got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Suddenly a furious storm came up on the lake, so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!

“What kind of man is this?”

There was one person on the boat in the Strait of Malacca that night who asked the same question. Captain Eric had known Aamir for more than ten years, working with him, becoming close friends, and sharing life and stories of faith. But Aamir had never decided to follow Jesus as his savior or Lord. A few weeks after the incident with the Sumatra squall, Eric sent the following text to friends back home who had prayed with them the night of the storm:

Fellowshiping with Aamir this morning, Aamir shared again how the trip from Thailand impacted him.  He especially mentioned our faith and the time we went through the big squall. He said that miracle was what really made him believe in Jesus.

Aamir accepted Christ and in late summer of this year, in the lesser Sunda Islands, Captain Eric and a local pastor baptized him.  He continues to work on the sailboat and excitedly shares his story and the Gospel with many, including his wife and family at home.  

Aamir had not considered following Jesus until that night when he experienced the amazing power of God’s ability to answer a prayer for a way out of a Sumatra squall. 

Aamir no longer needs to ask, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and waves obey him?” Aamir has met the Lord Jesus face to face, and he continues to be amazed at how God is providing for and protecting the crew of this community eco-tourism project. 

Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash