A group of Simbari believers were headed out to one of their gardens in order to collect pandanus nuts, a delicious nut that is only in season at certain times of the year. In order to get to the garden, they had to cross a pole bridge over the river.
Our rivers here are not the kind that you swim in, except in certain safe locations, and this particular river is full of waterfalls and huge boulders. The current is swift and dangerous. On this day, not only was the river high, but the bridge was located over a place where two boulders were close together, constricting the water and making the current extra powerful there.
As the group was crossing, some of the men observed that it was difficult for those carrying burdens to cross without anything to hold onto. They decided to get some poles in order to construct a handrail.
As they were working, one of the men, Pita, was holding onto one of the poles. The current was so strong that it jerked on the pole and threw Pita into the water, pulling him down into a pool below.
Not all of the believers heard him fall, but those who did cried out. They waited to see him surface, but though Pita is a very strong man and in spite of the fact that he struggled and struggled, the force of the plunging water kept him pinned to the bottom of the river. He tried to surface three times and each time the current pulled him back down.
Pita said later that it was like being wrapped in a wet blanket. The believers, seeing that he wasn't surfacing, began weeping and crying out to God, "Oh God, please help him!"
Pita told us that at this point, his strength was gone. He said that he managed to get his hands above the water to wave and say good-bye to his family and friends and he thought, "I'm going to die, but that's okay. I am ready."
Those on the banks of the river saw him wave and in grief, one man wanted to jump in to try and save him. But the rest held him back in order to prevent an additional death.
Then the believers who were watching all say that something amazing happened. Suddenly and unexplainably, God brought Pita right to the edge of the river. He says, "I was like a butterfly and I flew out of the water."
As the believers fished him out, they were weeping and praising God. They had believed that Pita was dead, but he was alive. One man said that Pita was like Jonah in the belly of the whale, because God had rescued him.
That night it seems that no one could sleep. They ate together and thanked God and sang songs. Some of the believers slept next to Pita that night because they said that the incident was playing over and over in their minds like a video and they just wanted to be close to Pita and to thank God that he is alive.
Pita's near- death experience reminds me of how dear the Simbari people have become to me. As I heard the story, I, too, was crying and praising God for His mercy in sparing Pita's life.
Later, when I saw him, I shook Pita’s hand and said, "Oh, Pita, I heard the story about how God saved you out of the water and I'm really thanking God about it."
Pita smiled, but he had tears in his eyes.
Pita's experience reminds me of how we were before God reached down to save us. We were under the power of sin, a weight that would crush and condemn us. All of our own efforts to free ourselves of sin's punishment, which is death, were fruitless.
But then God, through His Son, Jesus Christ, reached down and through faith in Him, we were miraculously saved from the death that we deserved. It was like we had died, but then God raised us to new life in Him. What other reason do we need to praise His holy name?