“Ministry that costs nothing, accomplishes nothing.” ~~ J.H. Jowett
Sometimes pain has its rewards that transcend discomfort. I was backpacking solo up the Weeden Creek trail off the Mountain Loop Highway in Washington on my way to Gothic Basin when I slipped on some wet grass. The torque of my fall broke the fibula in my right leg. For a couple of days I waited for someone to come along to send for help. You can read about it here.
My rescuer was a young man named Boris, who volunteers for Search and Rescue. He was on a random day hike when he found me and radioed for a helicopter to come to our location. While we waited, we talked. I found out he was born in America and moved with his folks back to the Netherlands when he was quite young. They divorced soon after that. I asked if he was married and he said he was going through a divorce.
The chopper arrived and I said goodbye. We connected on Facebook. The conversation below is our first one on Facebook.
Conversation started September 13, 2011
I hope you are doing well. I think about you quite a bit as I mend with this broken leg. Thanks again for helping me up in the mountains. You were extremely professional. I felt completely safe sound when you arrived and took control of my situation.
September 14, 2011
I am doing well and I hope you are doing well too. Have they told you how long it will be before you can walk again?
End of story, right?
On Sunday, September 1, 2013, I stood up to preach in my church and sitting in the congregation is Boris. It was two years to the day after he found me sprawled on the side of the mountain that I found him sitting in my church. I announced his presence to the congregation and they gave him a hero’s welcome. What Boris didn’t know was that it was the anniversary of the day he found me in the wilderness.
I invited him to our house for Sunday lunch and asked him why he came to church today. He said many things, but the one thing that stood out to me was that he said he was missing something in his life and wanted to explore Christianity. We made plans to go on a hike together later that week. Then he came to church again and we met for coffee and we talked further about issues that had hindered him embracing faith in Jesus.
I’ll never forget one of his questions: “Joe, do I have to become a Republican in order to become a Christian?” Of course, I said no. I then explained that hot-button social issues so closely identified with one particular party are not entrance requirements for entering or remaining in the Kingdom of God.
It’s all about faith in Jesus.
It was after that coffee conversation that we exchanged the following Facebook conversation:
I really enjoyed our talk today. I want you to know that it means a lot to me that you desire to further your understanding of Christianity.
Just to be clear about what I heard you say today…you said you believe that God has been leading you to a closer walk with him since we met on the trail, your relationship with Hannah and then coming to Church on the two year anniversary September 1.
All of this has led you to believe that Jesus is calling you to Himself. Is that how you see it?
If so, like I’ve said to you before and again yesterday in my sermon, there is a time when a person is not a Christian and then they “convert” and commit their lives to Jesus and decide to follow him for the rest of their lives. They become an apprentice of Christ. Trusting in Him to forgive them of their sins and taking him at His word that He is the one and only Son of God.
I realize that is a very exclusive idea. But I didn’t make it…Jesus did.
So, I would ask you to step across the line and commit to Jesus by entering into a permanent covenant relationship with him. You can do that privately by praying a prayer. You can show that publicly by being baptized as a symbol of your new covenant relationship. Pray this prayer in your heart to God who hears the motives of our hearts:
“Dear God, I believe you sent your son, Jesus, to die for my sins so I can be forgiven. I’m sorry for my sins and I want to live the rest of my life the way you want me to. Please put your Spirit in my life to direct me. Amen.”
If you prayed that prayer and meant it…you, Boris, are in God’s forever family. I am your brother.
The only thing next to do is find a lake, get dunked and tell the Church that Jesus is your Lord and Savior. After that we will walk together as brothers and I will teach you as best I can how to live out your faith as an apprentice of Jesus.
I am honored to be on this journey with you.
Let me know if you understand this email and if you prayed the little prayer.
Yes you’re right about all that. I think that God knows me, and he knows that I am very stubborn and self-sufficient. But he knows I am a good person and that ultimately I need him. So he has been trying very hard to lead me towards him.
I have no doubt that, that day he send me to Gothic Basin to find you. And just that alone is such a clear sign that I should have no doubts that Jesus is the way to reach him.
But I still didn’t come to him, so he let me figure out my life on my own for a little longer. He knows me very well however and he knows that there is one thing I want more than anything else in the world. And that is to find true love. So what does God do, he sends me the most beautiful girl I could ask for with a heart of gold. The first time we went out together, after seeing an improv performance, we went to a grocery store in Seattle to buy some ice-cream and drinks. Outside the store was a homeless guy. She bought not only the things we needed but also a sandwich and something to drink for the homeless guy.
I was amazed by this selfless act of kindness and from then on I knew that she was not just like any other girl I had met. More dates followed and every minute I have spent with her has been amazing but at the same time there were definitely some differences and a fear of the unknown. She would be leaving soon, for a year, to teach English in Russia and didn’t want to be in a long distance relationship. It also took me a very long time before I felt comfortable to tell her that I was married before as I was afraid that if I told her this too soon, she would have not had a chance to really get to know me and she would probably think very bad about it, being Christian. When I did finally tell her, the opposite was true and she was actually very forgiving and supportive.
I grew up Christian but my parents divorced when I was about 6 years old and slowly stopped going to church afterwards. Spending time with Hannah and her family, especially combined with the fact that she also speaks Dutch, just felt very good and it made me realize that I was missing something in my life. Which ultimately (finally) made me come to your church.
I don’t doubt that this was the right decision, it was in fact immediately confirmed because the first time I came was exactly 2 years after I found you on the trail.
I think the only thing that is holding me back is a fear for the unknown. I hate not knowing what’s going to happen. What will happen now that Hannah is in Russia, whether or not I will get this new job, whether or not I will be able to take time off to visit my family, whether or not…
The ultimate unknown is God. And with that I don’t mean his existence. It’s just that he is so much more than I can ever comprehend. No matter how much you study you will never know everything. So by entering in to a covenant relationship with him, you basically have to submit to the unknown and trust that what will happen is going to be right… which is not easy.
But I think it’s the right thing to do and I want to.
I often have these random thoughts and about an hour before I drove to Starbucks to meet you, I thought this “The only way to discover the beauty that lays beyond your arms reach, is to step outside your comfort zone”.
So that said, I want to do this. I said the “little prayer” (and some more).
I think the perfect place to get baptized is at Foggy Lake in Gothic Basin. That’s where this all started after all and it’s a very beautiful and special place to me (although the water is going to be really cold).
And thanks again for all your time and help,
Boris was baptized on September 19th, 2013, at 5,000 feet above sea level. We stood in the alpine lake waist-deep in icy water and I recited words that I have said hundreds of times in my ministry, “I baptize you, my brother, in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit,” but this time my voice quivered not from cold; but from the mystery of how God accomplishes His will.
The rescuer had been rescued.
And the pain was worth it.
I love this. It always amazes me how God works things out in His own time. I can look back in my own life and see so many times He was at work without my being aware of it. He knows where all the pieces of our life’s puzzle go and will put them in place in His time and at His pleasure. I’m looking forward to meeting Boris.
Joe thanks for that wonderful touching story. What a wonderful, merciful God we serve.