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Fishing Off the Map

Fishing Off the Map

By Colette Newer, Washington Conference Outreach Ministries associate director

I encountered a story recently on This American Life that captured my attention. The story took place in 1980 in Damascus, Arkansas, where a nuclear missile silo was housed.

In the vividly recounted story, two technicians were preparing for routine maintenance on one of the missile’s fuel tanks. Their job was to remove a dust cap (essentially a gas cap), pump in more liquid, and complete their maintenance. But it wasn’t so cut-and-dry simple.

The hydraulic lift malfunctioned before they could even begin and caused a waiting period to fix it. When the suited-up-in-protective-gear technicians were finally allowed to do their job late on a Friday afternoon, they discovered they had forgotten a torque wrench.

The experienced technician told the inexperienced technician not to worry, that there was an unofficial tool and way to complete the task without the official wrench. He had done it before. They improvised and completed the job with a large, cumbersome socket wrench.

And then the socket wrench fell…spectacularly and dangerously punching a hole in the missile. Fuel began spraying out.

They had a problem. A problem they don’t know what to do about and they are panicked and terrified. There were no guidelines, no procedures, no protocol to guide their next step. In all of the engineering and safety drills, nobody had thought through this scenario and come up with a solution ahead of time.

They don’t know what to do so they did nothing and the situation escalated. Alarms and sirens began going off in the missile’s command center. There was confusion and miscommunication, but no solutions. And it’s about this time in the story that they used the term that caught my attention. A commander stated, “We were off the map.”

Have you ever found yourself off the map?

In unfamiliar situations?

Surrounded by unplanned for circumstances?

You’re unprepared, uncomfortable and often downright frightened?

Often in life we find ourselves off the map. Whether intentional or not, life takes us places we didn’t foresee or plan for. We have not considered or thought of. No protocol, procedures or policies to guide us.

And this is especially true of the Christian life. Because the Christian life is one of ministry and, much as we would like there to be, there are no easy formulas to follow in ministry. But operating off the ministry map is also where we find the most powerful moments of Christian life.­

The disciples distinctly learned this with the trial, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Dejected, they returned to something they knew — fishing — and did a terrible job. Jesus interceded that night so that the disciples would know unequivocally, that they would be fishing now for people.

The disciples went on to create a new map. A map that really, was always there, they just weren’t aware of it. But by following Jesus and being open to His lead, they established a map that we still reference today.

When we willfully and willingly step off the map, this is where we meet God in powerful ways, clearly see our deficiencies, and discover God’s sufficiency.

With the missile accident, the results were disastrous when the explosion occurred. The missile site was totally devastated.  

However, for a Christian being off the map it is not only ok, but often the right place to be. Our maps are limited and need to be stretched. When we step out of our known and safe environments, then we are able to explore new territory with God as our guide. Jesus can see the maps that we cannot and will navigate us through them.

Jesus has a plan and a future for you. Something new, something you haven't considered yet. Do not be afraid.

God has a plan and He's waiting for you to be in a place to accept what He's offering you. He's waiting until the timing is right for you and for the people around you. He’s waiting for you to step off the map and find out that the new territory is better than you ever imagined.

The end for us is not devastation – but instead, hope and a future.