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Sea Gypsies Saved by Alertness to Danger Signs

In a recent book, Mark Batterson writes that on December 26, 2004, the third-largest earthquake ever recorded by seismograph occurred deep beneath the Indian Ocean. It registered 9.1-magnitude on the Richter scale, and the shock waves produced tsunami waves more than one hundred feet in height, traveling five hundred miles per hour and reaching a radius of three thousand miles. This deadliest tsunami in history claimed 227,898 lives, but one people group living right in its path miraculously survived without a single casualty.

The Moken are an Austronesian ethnic group that live on the open seas from birth to death. Their handcrafted wooden boats, called kabang, function as houseboats for these sea gypsies. Moken children learn to swim before they learn to walk. They can see twice as clearly underwater as landlubbers. And if there were an underwater breath-holding contest, it would be no contest. But it wasn't any of these skills that saved them from the tsunami. What saved them was their intimacy with the ocean. The Moken know its moods and messages better than any oceanographer, reading ocean waves the way we read street signs.

On the day of the earthquake, an amateur photographer from Bangkok was taking pictures of the Moken when she became concerned by what she saw. As the sea started to recede, many of the Moken were crying. They knew what was about to happen. They recognized that the birds had stopped chirping, the cicadas had gone silent, the elephants were headed toward higher ground, and the dolphins were swimming farther out to sea.

Fishermen in the same vicinity as the Moken were blindsided by the tsunami and had no survivors. "They were collecting squid," said one Moken survivor. "They don't know how to look." The waves and birds and cicadas and elephants and dolphins were speaking to those Burmese fishermen, but sadly they didn't know how to listen.

A local anthropologist who speaks Moken said, "The water receded very fast and one wave, one small wave, came so they recognized that this is not ordinary."

Possible Preaching Angles: Listening to God; Attention; Prayer—Like the Moken, Christians are people who can pay attention to the presence of danger and the presence of God.

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