As a teenager in Papua New Guinea, I was introduced to snorkelling and spearfishing on the reefs just a boat ride away from Lae.
I loved the sea experience and, when I moved back to Australia, began to explore some of the marine life around northern New South Wales. I had no real fear of the water or what was in it, and had never seen anything poisonous or vicious—after all, I was only 16 and what could hurt me? During the school holidays, the Murwillumbah Seventh-day Adventist School (now the Tweed Valley College) organised a group of students to attend a professional scuba diving school in nearby Byron Bay. I was one of the first to sign up. But two weeks before the course was to begin, I slipped and fell down a two-metre waterfall headfirst and was “blessed” to have broken only my collarbone. This did not stop me from doing the course but the broken collarbone could not take the weight of the oxygen-tank straps, so all I could do was snorkel. I was not happy, but what could I do? A few years later, I was able to do a short scuba dive in Lake Macquarie (near Newcastle, New South Wales) with an uncle who was an experienced diver. I enjoyed it but saw nothing spectacular—seaweed, a few fish, dirty rocks and junk. It was not an exhilarating experience at all.
Almost 30 years later, while holidaying with friends in Exmouth, Western Australia, another opportunity came to scuba dive. I did not know whether to be excited or not. This time, it meant the deep, blue sea between Australia and Indonesia, at least a kilometre off the beach of Lighthouse Bay. My friends were experienced divers. They asked me to come out on a sea dive the first day.
I am no longer 16 years of age and I have a real respect—read fear—for the sea. I settled for snorkelling on the shallow Ningaloo Reef. However, seeing my first reef shark, which was as big as me, gave me quite a fright. It snuck up on me while I was looking at the coral and fish—I left the water quickly and did not go back in.
But somehow my friends knew I wanted to dive—despite the inner hesitation— and so persuaded me to go with them the next day.
As the others rigged up, I copied them. Wetsuit, weights, flippers, vest, tank, mask, snorkel—I had it all on but was still safely aboard the moored boat. The fear within kept me silent. I felt it but acted anyway. I stepped into the water only when most of the others were already in—it had to be safe, and whatever was in there would get them first. I tried to descend and easily sank three metres; but my ears were aching badly, as I could not equalise the pressure by holding my nose and blowing gently.
While in this nervous state of stress, my eyes were working perfectly well.
t of the corner of my mask I saw the first sea creature swim past within a metre of me—a 1.5-metre yellow, deadly- poisonous sea snake. That was it. I was out of there—walking on water.
My diving buddy was right there and must have noticed the pain or panic in my eyes—he actually took me back to the surface.
With heart still pounding, I practised blowing a blocked nose gently to release the pressure in my ears, as he let down the anchor. I now had a rope to hold onto and follow all the way to the bottom—14 metres below. I prayed silently, God, this is supposed to be pleasure but I still need Your help.
Eventually, I cleared my ears and, before I knew it, this awkward novice was swimming around the bottom among the reef fish, as if I was meant to be there—kind of. The visibility was poor, so I stayed close to my buddy.
I had problems with my weight belt and buoyancy for awhile but the magnificent colour, and variety of size and shape of the fish, soon mesmerised me.
In the next two days, I did three dives. I swam with and patted a turtle, saw more sea snakes, moray eels, stone fish, stingrays, octopus, sea slugs and dozens of varieties of coral and fish. It was amazing. I loved the new life at the bottom of the sea. The highlight was seeing a three-metre manta ray effortlessly glide a couple of metres above me and the others. Awesome.
Fear was gone. Yes, I was still respectful of the potentially hazardous environment but I had experienced divers with me, and had been trained (even though it was years earlier). I learned to trust myself, others and my God a whole lot more.
Earlier in the year, I had asked God to go to a new level with Him—deeper into who He was. And it happened at the bottom of the sea (in better circumstances than Jonah of the Bible story).
My fears and lack of trust was an obstacle to this deeper spiritual experience.
Overcoming the fear, with the support of others, and just trusting helped me go deeper with God in the deep, blue ocean—and above it as well (where I normally live).