Stephen Arrington’s childhood dream was to be diver for the Cousteau Society, and praise God, he was living his dream. He had become the chief expedition diver and his current assignment was in Hawaii.
Mount Kilauea, and active volcano, had exploded with a sound like a million cannons firing. A glowing cloud of white-hot steam, dust, and gas rolled down the mountain.
“So, Stephen, are you ready for a little adventure?” Michel Cousteau asked.
Stephen didn’t answer because he had found that sometimes when Jean-Michel asked a question, he liked to answer it himself.
“I need you to take a small team and film the lava flow from Kilauea.
The lava is flowing into the sea, and we want some underwater footage.”
“What?” Stephen asked. Suddenly his legs felt like rubber. He wanted to sit down, but his feet seemed fastened to the floor as if he had gigantic wads of chewing gum stuck to the soles of his shoes.
“Captain Cousteau wants you to get closeup footage of the lava flowing underwater.”
“How am I going to do that?”
Jean-Michel said, “Well, you begin by going downstairs and getting some of the guys to help you pack up the equipment.”
Smile, Stephen thought. Nod your head up and down. You can do this.
“Then go to the volcano, follow the lava flow to the place where the ocean is smoking-”
“Jean-Michel!” Stephen interrupted. “How?”
“Stephen, it is for me to think up the ideas; it is up to you to carry them out. We both know that you’re going to figure out how to do it. Just be careful.”
Stephen could practically hear his heart pounding as he walked toward the door. JeanMichel had a way of making him nervous, especially when he was giving him a dangerous mission that no one had successfully attempted before.
“Diving with lava is going to be scary, but if you plan well, it can be a lot of fun, too,” Jean-Michel added as a parting shot.
As Stephen prepared to film the lava flow, he learned all about it first.
Kilauea has a broad, gentle slope shaped like an ancient warrior’s shield. Hawaiian lava is thin and flows quickly. In some lava rivers speeds as high as 35 miles per hour have been measured.
Learning facts such as these little to calm Stephen’s did anxiety. Thirty-eight hours later the small Cousteau team stood nervously at the stern of ship Tsunami. They were the at the eastern edge of the lava flow. West of them the flow looked completely out of control, but where they were positioned, the lava was flowing the ocean at a single into point. It meant their approach would be a bit safer.
Leaping into the water was like jumping into a hot tub with a wet suit on. Stephen and the team swam down, down, down, leveling off at 30 feet.
Suddenly underwater explosions surrounded Stephen. The team swam toward the boom. Another boom-then another. A faint red glow radiated from the darkness below.
Bob Talbot, the camera operator on the team, led the way, with Stephen sticking to his side as if they’d been harpooned. Like a black curtain opening, the surging water abruptly cleared before them, revealing a thick lava tube weaving its way down the steep rock shelf like a giant angry red worm.
While Bob filmed, intently focused on the slow-moving lava, Stephen watched other lava worms weaving toward them. Gently touching Bob’s elbow, Stephen squeezed a warning. They were getting too close, way too close! A tube of lava dropped over shelf, spilling tons of molten rock. It was time to leave.
Twenty minutes later they were back on board the Tsunami. Stephen was excited.
Excited, that is, until they returned to the hotel and Bob opened the underwater camera.
“No!” Bob yelled. Instead of film there was confetti inside.
“What happened?” Stephen asked.
“The threading system slipped a cog,” Bob explained. The sharp-edged gears inside the high-speed 35-millimeter camera had instantly chewed the prized footage to shreds.
Stephen simply said, “We have to go back.”
The next morning, with the camera repaired, the team prepared once again to jump from the stern of the Tsunami into the frothy water.
“Bob, the lava flow has increased dramatically,” Stephen said, pointing to the shoreline.
The stream of flowing lava from the previous day was now a river of cascading molten rock. The lava poured into the water in a broad fiery sheet.
“It’s like a liquid avalanche of flowing stone,” Bob observed. Stephen nodded.
They jumped into the hot water and swam quickly downward, discovering that the water was much warmer at the 30-foot level than it had been the day before. Determined to recapture the lost footage, they swam vigorously toward the shoreline.
Swimming toward a steep rocky shelf, they filmed unstable lava rubble. Smoking lava boulders tumbled down the 45-degree incline of the shelf.
Suddenly part of the lava rock began to slide, causing an avalanche that plunged into the dark depths below.
Stephen and Bob carefully moved in closer to capture the dramatic footage. A huge smoking boulder laced with red fiery cracks came crashing down, weeping jets of steam. It looked like a falling meteorite burning its way through a fluid atmosphere.
The rock bounced between the two divers, then somersaulted over the shelf, disappearing into the black abyss below.
Stephen and Bob had started filming a pair of lava tubes at a depth of 80 feet when a powerful shock wave slammed against their bodies.
The heavy rolling sound of a massive avalanche shot up from beneath them. A deep black cloud of debris engulfed them in absolute darkness mixed with sweltering heat.
Bob and Stephen reached out and clutched each other as they were struck by a tremendous undertow of surging water.
Oh, God! Stephen thought desperately as the downward plunging current hurled them tumbling and spinning toward the depths below. Save us! Have mercy on us, and I will serve You forever!
By swimming with all their might, the two were able to break free of the current. Now they found themselves lost in deep darkness, blackness so thick that it disoriented them. They did not know which way was up or down. It took them three long minutes to struggle back to clearer water. After allowing a few extra minutes in the water for decompression, they quickly returned to the ship.
Pulling off his steaming wet suit, Stephen looked toward the fiery tempest raging at the shoreline. The massive lava flow continued to grow more dangerous. Stephen realized it was time to end the expedition.
The film turned out better than Stephen had hoped, and he realized that God had saved him from death, as He had many times before. Stephen did not forget his promise to God, and a short time later he quit his dream job to begin a Christian ministry.
Stephen knew he was alive for a purpose. He did not want God to have to find someone else to fulfill that destiny.