MARCH / APRIL 2017: BY JESSICA SANTULLI
On October 31, 2003, a horrific event happened off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. No, it wasn’t a Halloween prank gone wrong; the occurrence had nothing to do with the ghost- and goblin-filled holiday. Thirteen-year-old Bethany Hamilton, an up-and-coming professional surfer, was waiting for the next wave with her friend Alana, and Alana’s brother and dad. Suddenly, out of the murky blue water, a shark surface and attacked her. It bit her surfboard, and ripped off Bethany’s right arm. This young, forceful, athletic competitor was now fighting for her life.
You may know the story of Bethany Hamilton. She recovered, and almost every national and local news source covered her unbelievable comeback and success in the professional surfing world. She wrote a memoir in 2004 entitled Soul Surfer and a biopic of the same name hit theaters in 2011. This film has inspired millions of people to never give up and overcome obstacles. However, the driving force behind Bethany’s willingness to share her story is her faith in Jesus Christ.
Bethany’s parents raised her in the Christian faith, and she gave her life to Jesus Christ as a young child. She became more serious about her commitment to serve God in the years before her attack. Just two weeks before that fateful Halloween, Bethany prayed fervently every day with her mom: Lord, use me. She assumed God would use her to bring the love of Jesus Christ to the often dark world of the surfing community. She was ready to serve God with her whole heart.
After her attack, Bethany realized God wanted to use her not just to impact the surfing world, but the entire world. Before she got back on the board, she journeyed to Thailand for a missions trip after a devastating tsunami, helping children overcome their fear of the ocean. This trip took immense faith; Bethany didn’t know if she’d ever surf again. But God was in control. Bethany got back on the board three weeks after the attack, and went on to win surfing competitions, speak around the country, and make sure Jesus Christ received the glory for it all.
Bethany’s story has turned people towards Christianity, myself included. I saw the film Soul Surfer when I was fourteen years old. I wasn’t serious about my Christian faith. I attended church, going through the motions, but wasn’t living out the teachings of Christ. Watching Bethany’s story on-screen changed my life. I needed to find out more about this incredible girl. Her faith in God prompted me to seek His face. If God can help an amputee thrive at surfing, he is surely King of the Universe. He spared Bethany to tell the world about His love, and I want to do the same, I resolved. To this day, I credit Bethany as the number one influence behind my strong faith (except for God himself, of course).
By all worldly standards, Bethany beat the odds and lives a life of success. She became a professional surfer, married a godly man, and has a beautiful, healthy son, but the main reason I admire her is because of her unwavering faith. Bethany had more faith in God’s ultimate plan for good than she did in her own plan for her life. Bethany still got to achieve her dreams; she just did so on God’s timing. Often in the midst of a setback, I convince myself I have missed an opportunity and my plans are ruined. However, during these times, I think of Bethany’s story, and how God brought hope to millions out of a seemingly hopeless scenario.
I’ll leave you with a Bible verse. Maybe you have heard it, maybe not. I believe it’s the truth, and so does Bethany.
Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Santulli is a graduate of Ramapo College with a passion for storytelling in all forms. She works in a library where she is surrounded by her favorite things: books, films, music, and people. On her free time she loves to run, hike, or just contemplate in nature. She credits God for any talents or abilities she possesses and hopes He is glorified through her life. Connect with her on her book blog, Librelephant.