After drifting in the Pacific Ocean for three months and living on juice, honey and fish, a family of four – including an eight-month-old – searching for religious freedom finally returned home to Arizona on Sunday, after attempting to sail from San Diego to the Polynesian island of Kiribati.
"We didn't feel like we were going to die or anything. We believed God would see us through," said Hannah Gastonguay, who decided with her husband Sean to leave the U.S. because they became intolerant of abortion, homosexuality, taxes and the "state-controlled church," according to AP news.
"We were in the thick of it, but we prayed. Being out on that boat, I just knew I was going to see some miracles."
Initially, their plan to settle in Kiribati, a small nation of over 100,000 people where about 96 percent of the population is Christian, seemed promising until they encountered a series of storms that damaged their boat, which left them unable to continue sailing on the path towards the island.
During their ordeal, a Canadian cargo ship came in contact with them to offer supplies, but left without giving assistance after pulling up alongside the Gastonguay's ship and causing more damage to it, but they continued to survive on juice, honey and catching fish.
After two months of uncertainty, a helicopter that had taken off from a Venezuelan fishing vessel, spotted their boat and rescued them. Hannah said the captain asked them, "'do you know where you're at? You're in the middle of nowhere.'"
Their failed efforts were a "leap of faith" to "see where God led us," according to Hannah, whom brought along her two daughters, a 3-year-old and an 8-month-old, and her father-in-law for the journey.
U.S. "churches aren't their own," said Hannah, implying that the government interferes with her right for religious independence. Additionally, she said her family had a problem with being "forced to pay these taxes that pay for abortions we don't agree with."
Although the Gastonguays consider themselves Christian, they are not members of any church, but claim that their faith and beliefs stem from reading the scriptures and through prayer because "the Bible is pretty clear."
After they were taken to the Venezuelan ship where they remained for a week they transferred to a Japanese cargo ship for an additional three weeks. Eventually they landed in Chile where the U.S. Embassy made arrangements through the State Department to fly them back to the U.S.
"They were looking for a kind of adventure; they wanted to live on a Polynesian island but they didn't have sufficient expertise to navigate adequately," said Jose Luis Lopez, a Chilean police officer, according to AP.
Now that they are home, Hannah said the family will stay put for the moment while they "come up with a new plan."