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In 1519, Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan began the first voyage around the world in recorded history. In 1520, after a long search, he discovered what is now called The Strait of Magellan, which allowed him to pass from the Atlantic through South America to the Pacific.

Finding the strait was crucial to reaching his goal, but passing through the strait was far from easy. Tides in the straight ran as much as 24 feet, making it difficult to anchor. Currents were strong. Kelp below the surface threatened to foul lines, keels, and rudders. The sky was rarely clear, making navigation difficult. The path wasn’t simple; instead of a simple shortcut, Magellan found an uncharted maze snaking through the mountains.

A particular kind of storm called a “williwaw” is peculiar to the strait. “A williwaw occurs when air, chilled by the glaciers surrounding the strait, becomes unstable and suddenly races down the mountains with ever-increasing velocity,” writes Laurence Bergreen in Over the Edge of the World. “By the time it reaches the fjords, it creates a squall so powerful that it never fails to terrify and disorient any sailor unlucky enough to be caught in its grip.”

Some in Magellan’s crew argued that the strait was too dangerous to navigate and that they should return with a better-equipped fleet.

While passing through the strait, Magellan’s crews felt exposed to falling ice from icebergs, as well as from possible attacks from settlements on the shoreline. They “appeared vulnerable to the elements, to starvation, to the local tribes they encountered, and most of all to each other,” writes Bergreen.

When Magellan finally reached the end of the strait, he wept for joy. He named the cape on the Pacific side “Cape Desire, for we had been desiring it for a long time.”

After all the dangers, the weather had been mild; they’d experienced only one williwaw; no glaciers had collapsed on them. His skill in navigating the route is acknowledged as the greatest feat in maritime navigation

I live centuries after Magellan successfully navigated the strait. Even today, the strait is considered challenging enough that a specialized pilot must maneuver the ship through the strait. Pictures of the strait look ordinary, far different from how astonishing it appeared to Magellan.

I’m even farther removed from New Testament days. The Apostle Paul had been shipwrecked (Acts 27:39-44). So when Paul wrote about some who had “made shipwreck of their faith” (1 Timothy 1:19), he knew what he was talking about.

Shipwreck seems like a foreign concept to me. I understand it, but it’s not part of my experience. Not so for Paul, or even centuries later, for Magellan. Danger abounds. When we depart from the truth, we risk destruction. Our adherence to the faith is no small thing. It’s a matter of life and death.

Magellan’s hazardous journey through the strait reminds us of our hazardous journey, and what’s at stake. Magellan made it safely through; with God’s help, let’s aim to pass through this world aware of the danger of shipwreck, and holding fast to the faith that we’ve received.

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