Published in  
September 21, 2021


“Pasaportes por favor,” asked the Panamanian customs official in full biohazard gear. Three months of total lockdown in our home country of Panama had chased us onto a humanitarian flight back to the US. 

It was an eerie feeling to be the only passengers walking the halls of an empty Tocumen airport in Panama City as the normally vibrant storefronts were tightly boarded shut. Our plane was filled to capacity with American citizens returning home from Central and South America and when our wheels squeaked down in the U.S. a strange new reality suddenly hit. We were back, but not to visit family or share about our ministry work; we were pseudo-refugees looking for an opportunity to breathe and move and work and surf.

Laying on the warm white New Jersey summer sand and watching my kids paddle out in the Atlantic was medicine to my bones. Hot noisy summer days quickly turned into chilly quiet fall mornings and marked the season that every Jersey surfer and fisherman waits for with eager anticipation. In late September we were offered a house adjacent to the cedar-shingled seasonal church that my dad helps run, and we quickly accepted and filled the garage with boards, bikes, rods, and lures. We thanked the Lord for his provision as salt air drifted in and out of the windows as wetsuits dripped from the railings.  

Late fall in New Jersey means big storms churning up the coast and one was on the way.

My friend and former Rio Missions intern, Matt, had texted me that the forecast for South Jersey looked blown out and he was thinking about coming North. I quickly replied with a “game on” and we planned to meet up at my place the next morning. Matt pulled up in his black Nissan pick-up and we hid our cold hands in our hoodies as we talked about the plan of attack. The swell was hitting hard and had size and energy, but hadn't cleaned up yet and still looked angry. We talked about driving to check a few spots but decided to walk across the street and watch the conditions in front of the house; we were in no rush.  

Our feet echoed up the stair set boards and we reached the top of the dunes. From our empty lookout, we could see a tightly grouped pack of surfers two blocks to our South, who Matt quickly identified as “the boys.” A heavy three-wave set lurched up and we could see a surfer quickly turn, grab rail, and take the drop on the first and biggest wave. The thick peak threw over and the small silhouette of the rider disappeared–swallowed up deep. All of a sudden Matt and I grabbed our beanie-covered heads as the surfer was miraculously blown out of the dark cavern well after the leviathan exhaled. “That was Rob,” said Matt immediately, and although the surfer was far away, I knew that he was right. Rob was a friend of Matt’s, but also the only surfer in New Jersey that could have pulled off what we had just witnessed.  

Rob Kelly went on to win the 2020-2021 O’Neil Wave of the Winter contest for the East Coast with that ride and I am still thankful to the WaveMaker that I was one of the few people privileged to see the feat live. Rob is a dedicated professional with generational talent and a gritty disciplined work ethic; he was designed and determined to do what many would have considered impossible.  

Lately, I have been reflecting on the biblical truth, that like Rob, all of us have been designed uniquely for a purpose that others may view as overwhelming or impossible. Ephesians 4:15-17 clearly states that

we are all essential to the body of Christ and each of us is designed in specific ways that collectively are intended to transform the world for Jesus.

What are my gifts? In what unique ways was I fearfully and wonderfully made? As I seek the answers to the questions above, I am finding that my true identity lies in understanding that the body of Christ is so much greater than each of its parts; but without all of its unique people and pieces, it is incomplete.

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