by David Sisler

Tommy Thompson had a dream. He wanted to explore the waters of the Atlantic Ocean for sunken treasure. As an eighth grader he built homemade diving equipment. He constructed scuba gear out of propane tanks and a gas furnace regulator.

In 1975 Tommy graduated from Ohio State with a degree in mechanical engineering and moved to Key West, Florida. He went to work for a treasure hunter who had already found gold on one sunken wreck.

The Florida Keys abounds with stories of treasure-laden shipwrecks. The one that intrigued Tommy the most was fate of the side-wheel steamer, U.S. Central America.

On the morning of September 8, 1857, the ship sailed from Havana. The weather was clear. A storm hit the next day, and on September 11, the 272-foot wooden vessel was being pounded by a hurricane and it started taking on water.

For 40 hours passengers and crew bailed their sinking ship. Listing to starboard, it was impossible for the crew to fire the boilers, the boilers went out, and the ship was then completely at the mercy of the storm. On September 12, the Central America sunk. 100 people, including 28 of the 29 children who were on board were rescued by the Maine, another steamship which was in the area (a Peruvian boy, Adolphe Oliagne refused to leave his 21 year old brother). 478 passengers and crew still remained onboard the stricken vessel.

At approximately 6:30 p.m., the ship tilted at a 45 degree angle and disappeared beneath the waters of Atlantic Ocean. The next day a Norwegian bark, the Ellen rescued 50 survivors. More than 400 people drowned. The ship's manifest listed a cargo of more than three tons of gold.

Tommy Thompson became obsessed with the story. He researched old newspaper clippings, bought books on salvage techniques and eventually raised $1.4 million to begin the search for the Central America.

Because the area where the ship went down was up to two miles deep, Tommy designed and built the Nemo, a remote controlled recovery vessel. The robot arms could pick up objects as small as a coin.

Tommy gathered data from a 1968 search in the Atlantic made by the U.S. nuclear submarine Scorpion. Using side-scanning sonar, his team finally located the Central America exactly 131 years after it started taking on water.

The investors had put up over $8 million, but as bullion alone, the haul was worth more than $10.5 million. As collector's treasure, it is worth much, much more. One $50 gold coin is valued at $15,000 - and they've recovered 2600 just of that denomination.

The treasure hunters estimated the haul from that first full season was only one-third of the total treasure. A treasure whose total value could approach half a billion dollars was housed in a wooden vessel. There is an even greater treasure which millions of people have discovered, and it's kept in clay pots, in earthen vessels.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "We possess this precious, priceless treasure, the Good News of Jesus Christ, in earthen vessels - little jars made of a little dirt." We have this treasure in earthen vessels. It is a startling contrast: a lovely picture in a tawdry frame, a priceless jewel in a flimsy cardboard box, a royal diadem in a cracked and dingy case.

Paul says emphatically, "We have this treasure!" Do we realize that even when compared with Tommy Thompson's discovery of the Central America, we have a treasure far greater? Do we realize in a world where a few people make billions, and governments owe trillions, there is a prize beyond human comprehension?

Jesus told of a dealer in precious stones who spent his life enriching his collection. One day he found a pearl which was beyond anything he had ever imagined. The merchant sold his entire collection to raise the money to purchase just one single pearl. Jesus said to find eternal life in Him is to find a treasure greater than any imaginable.

Why, do you suppose, God placed this treasure in such a pitiful container? A man who observed the ministry of D. L. Moody made a comment which answers the question. "I believe your ministry truly is of God because I can see no possible relation between you personally and the results you are achieving. Therefore it must be of God!"

It is exciting to know that God can use us, not merely in spite of the little dirt jars of our lives, but because of them. We are so quick to say, "God can't use me. My life, my sin, has disqualified me. God will have to find someone else."

No, you're wrong. It is precisely because you recognize your weakness that God can use you. When you've sunk to rock bottom, you can find the Rock of Ages. And He'll put priceless treasure - His very own life - into your life of clay.


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Copyright 2001 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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