A massive explosion occurred on December 6, 1917 in the harbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia. At precisely 9:04 a.m. the French cargo ship SS Mont-Blanc, loaded with 2,400 tons of highly explosive wartime cargo, collided with the Norwegian ship SS Imo. Within twenty minutes, a fire ignited the explosives on the Mont-Blanc, resulting in a disaster causing horrific damage, injury and loss of life.
Approximately 2,000 people were killed instantly due to collapsed structures, falling debris and fires. Another 9,000 or so were injured. Within a half-mile radius, nearly every structure in the path of the explosion was destroyed. A tsunami wave resulting from the blast came ashore and wiped out a settlement of the Mi’kmaq, an indigenous Canadian tribe (CBC.CA, “The Halifax Explosion,” 2015).
The adjacent communities of Dartmouth and Richmond were greatly impacted as well. Many people at the time thought the explosion was the result of a German U-boat attack. The blast, estimated to have caused $545 million in damage (in 2014 Canadian dollars), has gone down in history as the largest man-made explosion prior to the development of nuclear weaponry.
Much has been written about this disaster, including the novel Barometer Rising by Canadian writer Hugh MacLennan. There are many survival stories of individuals, including one of two-and-a-half year old Eric Davidson, who was playing with his toys near a window when the glass shattered in front of him and blinded him for life.
As is often the case in disaster scenarios, individuals stand out who display heroic acts of courage and selflessness in dangerous situations. Such was the case that December morning in Halifax, when Vince Coleman, a railway dispatcher working less than a mile from the explosion, found out what the Mont-Blanc was carrying. Observing the burning ship just prior to the explosion, both he and his co-worker decided to run from what they knew would be a life-threatening situation. However, remembering that an incoming passenger train carrying upwards of 300 people was only minutes from the rail yard, Coleman turned back and sent an urgent Morse code message that saved the lives of the passengers.
The message sent has been reported in several variations. The Maritime Atlantic Museum reported this chilling version:
“Hold up the train. Ammunition ship afire in harbour making for Pier 6 and will explode. Guess this will be my last message. Good-bye boys” (MaritimeMuseum.NovaScotia.CA, “Vincent Coleman and the Halifax Explosion,” 2015).
Coleman continued to stay in the dispatch office sending out several additional messages. Coleman was killed in the massive explosion, but the heroism, courage and selflessness displayed that day in the face of imminent danger may well have been responsible for all incoming trains to Halifax coming to a screeching halt.
It has been said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important than fear.” The average individual will not likely end up in dramatic circumstances requiring such a courageous response as Mr. Coleman’s, but this does not mean that courage is not part of the daily life of a God-fearing individual. The Apostle Paul instructed Timothy that one characteristic of the perilous end times would be people who have a “form of godliness but [deny] God’s power” (2 Timothy 3:1, 5). Obeying God in this world takes courage. Trusting God despite the pressure to compromise takes courage. Becoming and remaining converted takes courage.
The Bible records many examples of courage to obey God despite the surrounding pressure to do otherwise. One such incident is recorded in the first chapter of Joshua, set after Moses’ death when Joshua took up the responsibility of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. God encourages Joshua by the use of the word courage three times—courage to follow His instruction and obey His laws:
“No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life; as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and of good courage… Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it.… Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:5–9).
These powerful words from God to Joshua are timeless instructions, and just as applicable in this 21st century as they were back then.
In the New Testament, Hebrews 11 and 12 describe courageous men and women, people of God down through the ages referred to as a “cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1), who set the pace for us. They looked beyond their present circumstances of suffering and danger and recognized that God had called them out of this world to be part of something bigger than themselves—to do His will. That took courage!
It will require courage to keep preaching the wonderful news of God’s Kingdom on earth and at the same time warn people to change and turn to God in heartfelt repentance. In the months and years ahead, those who are called by God to support and pray for this Work will need courage. At the same time, to live a life in conformity with God and His laws will also take courage.
As the Apostle Paul stated, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13).
Canadians, and indeed all the modern nations descended from ancient Israel, are going to experience trials in the not-too-distant future, which will be far more trying and impactful than the historic Halifax explosion of 1917. We will need to demonstrate the courage of Vince Coleman, who in his day performed a selfless work right to the end, saving hundreds from utter destruction.
And, because of individuals in our day who will be close to God, who will be courageous, resilient, standing strong, who will endure, who will be setting an example and who will be doing and supporting the very Work of Almighty God, God will save the world from “utter destruction” (Matthew 24:14, 21–22).
Will you be one of them? Will you “be strong and of good courage”?