Madhouse Promenade

Madhouse Promenade

December 14, 1897. A twenty-five ton, ninety-foot long vessel, retrofitted from its original purpose as a steam whaler, sailed out of Punta Arenas, Chile, its destination — Antarctica. The ship was the Belgica; the voyage was the Belgian Antarctic Expedition. Three months later, on March 3, 1898, the Belgica became trapped in the unforgiving ice flows of the Antarctic. A haunting reality soon set in — the Belgica was going to winter in Antarctica. Aside from the blistering cold, and the howling wind, winter in the Antarctic is completely dark.

On Tuesday, May 17, 1898, the sun’s final ray dipped below the horizon; they would not be seen again until Saturday, July 23, 1898 — 67 days later. This would be the first time in modern history that mankind would endure the long night, and its effects were dramatic. Living in perpetual darkness drew most of the crew to the brink of insanity, and a few took the plunge. The men of the Belgica were living at the mercy of the season they found themselves in, and the only answer was a change of season. Roald Amundsen, a member of the crew later said, “Insanity and disease stalked the decks of the Belgica that winter” (Stuster, 1996). 

Fredrick A. Cook, the ship’s physician, was soon forced to take over leadership of the vessel. Searching for an answer to the crew’s depression and growing insanity he instituted what he dubbed the “light cure” where “ailing members of the crew were forced to sit before the heat and light of open fires for several hours a day” (Baughman, 2007). On top of this, the men were to take regular trips around the ship several times a day. This merry go round of insanity, daily journeying around the ship, like a kettle of vultures circling the sky, the crew of the Belgica circled their problem day-after-day. The voyage came to be known as madhouse promenade (Lansing, 1999). 

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Much like the ice flows of the Antarctic, life has this way of narrowing our focus. Stress, worries, and the overall weight of life can lead us into feeling trapped. Trapped in fear. Trapped in debt. Trapped in health problems. Trapped in martial problems. Trapped in problems at work. Trapped.

The danger of these situations soon becomes apparent as we allow where we are to become who we are. The lame man in Acts 3:1-11, the woman with the issue of blood in Luke 8:40-56, and the Gerasene demoniac in Mark 5:1-20 are only three examples of individuals in Scripture who we only know by their problem and not their identity. All three people were healed and no longer dealt with the titles that we have ascribed to them today. The lame man was not always lame, the woman with the issue of blood was made whole, and the demons in the demoniac were cast out. Their circumstance lasted only a season. Whatever problem you might be facing today, allow me to remind you that you're more than the name of your sickness, you’re more than the crisis! You’re going to come through this season. 

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In Joshua 6 we read the classic Sunday School story of the children of Israel marching around the walls of Jericho. Imagine how demoralizing it must have been for Joshua and God's chosen people to arrive at Jericho, the place that God had promised them, only to discover that it was inhabited. Much like our present circumstances, God’s promises rarely come without a fight. Their answer to victory: walk around the walls, for six days.

I wish I could have seen the face of Joshua went God tells him this. I can imagine Joshua instantly thinking, “We’ve been walking for 40 years! Is that not long enough?” God has quite the sense of humor. The Israelite nation had 40 years of practice leading up to their six-day journey around Jericho. After 40 years in the wilderness, they were pros at walking. God can prepare you for your destiny even when you're wandering in the wilderness. Finally, the sixth day arrives and the people take their final lap around the city, trumpets sound, people shout, and the walls fall. Madhouse promenade.

The Belgica was trapped in utter darkness, in of the most unforgiving climates on the planet, and the men climbed out of the ship each day and took their daily treks around the ship. Their only hope was that eventually the weather would change, the sun would rise, and the ship would be free. The situation was completely out of their control, but they just kept circling. Even in the most hopeless of situations, the men found a way to keep walking. Every step was a step closer to spring, a step closer to the rising of the sun. If you cannot walk out of your situation, walk in your situation. 

Nearly two-thousand years ago a tomb was sealed, and hope was laid to rest. Hope was nailed to a cross and pierced with a spear. Hope died on a hill just outside of the Jerusalem. Yet, when the sun rose on the third day, the Son rose in victory. The crew of the Belgica waited day-after-day for the sun to rise, today my friend, the Son has already risen. 

There was an appointed time for the Ten Plagues (Exo 9:5). There is an appointed time for all life (Job 7:1). There is an appointed time for the judgment of God (Jeremiah 8:7, Daniel 8:19). There was an appointed time for the coming of Jesus (Galatian 4:4). There was an appointed time for the crew of the Belgica. There was an appointed time for the destruction of Jericho (Joshua 6). There is an appointed time for your life. 

Every step you take might feel like madhouse promenade, but there is an appointed time coming where the sky is going to brighten and the season of your life is going to change. Keep moving. Keep pressing. 


Baughman, T. (2007, October 18). The Frederick A. Cook Society. Retrieved from

Lansing, A. (1999). Endurance: Shackleton's incredible voyage. New York: Caroll & Graf.

Stuster, J. (1996). Bold endeavors: Lessons from polar and space exploration. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.