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Sir Ernest Shackleton at Ocean Camp, Weddell Sea, 1915

Shackleton's Enduring Faith

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." (This was the actual recruitment notice posted by Captain Ernest Shackleton, to which over 5,000 men applied!)

When our homeschool group went on a field trip to see the Titanic exhibit at the Arizona Science Center, some of us also watched the Imax film, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure. This giant-screen film tells the extraordinary true story of polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton's legendary 1914-1916 British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition. The film features the trials of 27 crew members (and one stowaway) who struggled to survive nearly two years in the barren, frigid Antarctic after their ship was caught in pack ice that eventually crushed and sank the vessel.

Shackleton's epic expedition recounts one of the most astonishing feats of courage ever recorded. The Imax movie called it "a testament to heroism and human endurance." However, they failed to mention that this dramatic tale is also a testimony to the power of faith. It was Shackleton's belief in God that helped him to remain positive in the face of dire circumstances and constant danger.

Shackleton's diary and personal account (as told in his memoir, South) reveal numerous references to his dependence on the Almighty. Before Shackleton left on his journey, Queen Alexandra of England presented him with a Bible that was inscibed with the following words:

"May the Lord help you to do your duty and guide you through all the dangers by land and sea. May you see the works of the Lord and all His wonders in the deep."

At the beginning of their ordeal when they had to abandon ship, Shackleton made sure to bring his Bible along. On the eve that they set out on their sledge journey across the ice, Shackleton wrote, "I pray God I can manage to get the whole party safe to civilization." Later, after a particularly bad day he wrote, "I thank God that we have been spared through this fearful nightmare."

When Shackleton spoke afterwards about the trek that he and two of his men took to get help, he said "I have no doubt that Providence guided us, not only across the snowfields, but across the storm-white sea that separated Elephant Island from our landing-place on South Georgia. I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers of South Georgia, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three."

Shackleton's ordeal echoes the stories of faith and endurance described in Hebrews 11. While most of us won't go to the extremes that Shackleton did, even in our own small trials we are called to endure, to remain faithful, and to place our hope in the Lord.

Did you know…? As a child, Ernest Shackleton was educated at home by a governess. At age 13 he entered Dulwich College, a leading public school for boys, but the young Shackleton was bored by his studies. He was quoted later as saying: "I never learned much geography at school.... Literature, too, consisted in the dissection, the parsing, the analysing of certain passages from our great poets and prose-writers...teachers should be very careful not to spoil [their pupils'] taste for poetry for all time by making it a task and an imposition." Shackleton's restlessness at school was such that he was allowed to leave at age 16. His father secured him an apprenticeship "before the mast" on a merchant sailing vessel. During his four years at sea, Shackleton visited the far corners of the earth and met a variety of people from many walks of life, learning to be at home with all kinds of men.

Recommended Reading

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage, by Alfred Lansing, 1959. (The Tyndale House edition, copyright 1999, contains significant spiritual content that was left out of the original, as well as a Foreword and Afterword by Dr. James Dobson.)

South: A Memoir of the Endurance Voyage, by Ernest Shackleton, 1919.

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