Sometimes pain has rewards that transcend the temporary discomfort.
I was backpacking alone up the Weden Creek trail 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. I endured severe pain for several days as I waited for someone to come along and send for help.
My rescuer was a young man named Boris, who volunteered for Search and Rescue. He was hiking on his day off 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 Search and Rescue helicopter arrived and I said goodbye. I yelled as loud as I could over the sound of the chopper blades, "Thank you, Boris!"
During my recovery in the following weeks, we connected on Facebook. The following was our first conversation:
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 and sound when you arrived and took control of my situation.
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 was Boris. I announced his presence to the congregation and they gave him a hero's welcome. What Boris didn't realize was that it was the anniversary of the day he had found me in the wilderness two years before.
I invited him to our house for Sunday lunch and asked him why he had come to church that day. 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 talked further about issues that had prevented him from embracing faith in Jesus. After that coffee conversation, we exchanged Facebook messages again. I wrote:
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.
I have no doubt that [God] sent me to Gothic Basin to find you that day. 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. [. . .]
I don't doubt that [coming to church] was the right decision; it was in fact immediately confirmed because the first time I came was exactly two 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. [. . .] But 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. [. . .] 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.
[. . .] About an hour before I drove to Starbucks to meet you, I thought this: "The only way to discover the beauty that lies 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 19, 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." 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.