Several years ago, a good friend of mine named Ed approached me about going on an Extreme Mission Trip to the Himalayan Mountains to reach a group of people in China who had never heard the Gospel. I prayed about it, and God did not tell me “no.” I had gone with Ed on mission trips to Honduras in the past, and they had been physically challenging—on the first trip, I had to ask one of the ladies if she could let me ride her mule for a while. At that point, all pride was gone! You should also understand that being a Boy Scout is not in my background. I really like a comfortable bed, hot shower, and indoor plumbing. Still, after my first trip into the mountains, I was hooked.
This trip into the Himalayas, though, would be much more rigorous than any I had been on before. It would require eight months of training. Nine of us would be making the journey together, and in a group of outdoorsmen I was the odd one out. This is how I saw the trip: how far am I willing to go to share the Good News of Jesus?
Randy, our leader, told us in our first meeting that we would have to hike four to five hours at a time with up to fifty pounds on our back at an altitude of twelve thousand feet. I had no idea what I had agreed to do! After buying my gear, it was time to start training. I worked my way up from walking with an empty backpack to filling it with a large landscape rock from our flower bed. I carried the rock in my backpack while I walked and, eventually, did the stair climber at my gym. After only a few minutes on the stair climber I was very fatigued. My personal trainer, manager of the club, and good friend Jim stopped by and asked a question I will never forget: “So, how much weight do you have in your backpack?”
I answered with, “I’m not sure, but it has to be close to fifty pounds.” He suggested I weigh it on the scales and I agreed, wanting to show off my prowess. To my dismay, the scales said that rock weighed thirteen pounds. Could this be some joke? Could the scales be broken? This meant I had thirty-seven pounds to go. This is impossible, I thought.
However, God has a history of making the impossible possible, and sometimes it is in the places we feel the least prepared and most vulnerable that God does his greatest works through us. I did complete the training, and six months later, our team left for the Himalayas.
I left with a team of nine and it took thirty-three hours to arrive at our destination. When we arrived at the airport in Kunming, China, we retrieved our luggage and I was assigned the bag with the religious materials that could land me in jail for a day or two.
“Go through last,” Randy told me, “and whatever you do, do not let them put that bag through the x-ray machine.” He must have seen the look on my face, because he added, “It’s very unusual for them to run the bags through the x-ray, so don’t worry.”
All of the other guys got through security without any problems and were looking back at me. As I approached the security area, I was stopped by a Chinese officer with a rifle in hand. He said something in Chinese and I just ignored him and kept walking. He persisted and I tried to communicate with my body language that I did not understand him. He pointed his rifle at the bag and then at the x-ray machine.
I began to panic. All I could hear were Randy’s words: Do not let them put that bag on the x-ray machine. My next step towards the door brought the rifle to my chest as if to say, “You are not leaving.” My mind was reeling. All this way, I thought, all this training, and I am going to a Chinese jail?
As the bag was put on the conveyer belt, I could see my teammates’ faces and knew this was bad. All I knew to do was pray that God would intervene. I was standing there with my head bowed, slowly walking to the exit, assuming they would tell me what to do next. When the bag went through with no problem, I picked it up and headed outside. What had just happened?
The guys told me that as my bag was traveling through the x-ray machine, the person watching the screen was interrupted at the precise moment it passed. There is no question that God protected us. (Coincidences do not happen very often. If you are a Christ follower, God is working constantly in your life. Look for those glimpses each day of him working miracles. Instead of saying, “Guess what happened today,” we should be saying, “Look at what God did in my life today!”)
During the trip, including leech infestation and other things I will not mention, I became very ill. We were climbing straight up a mountain with no place to even stop and sit down. By noon, I began feeling very weak and nauseous. By 1:00 I felt so ill it was the thought of dying that kept me alive! I was vomiting every few minutes and the team was becoming very concerned about my health. I do not think any of them wanted to explain to Cindy when they got home that I did not make it back.
This was my worst nightmare. I was so sick I wanted to die, but there was no stopping in sight. The team discussed turning back, but I refused that option. It is not that I am a hero, but I could not fathom the mission being a failure. There was now an urgency to find a place to camp for the day. According to the GPS, we had at least another six or seven hours to our designated spot, but I could not imagine another ten minutes, much less six or seven hours.
Dr. Michael Walker took point to lead the team up the mountains. Ed was behind me to balance every step. I will never forget Ed’s words: “Slow and steady.” After each passing hour, I kept thinking I could not go on. Around 5:00, I heard we still had two hours to go. I remember crying out to the Lord, “I cannot make it, I am done.” Then it hit me. Part of my motivation for making this trip was the macho side of me. Yes, my pride put me in a desperate situation. I confessed to God, and within a few minutes, Michael said, “I found a large enough clearing that we can camp for the night.”
The next day we completed our mountain climb and reached the area inhabited by the Nosu people. We walked down the paths they often travel, placing cassette tapes of the Bible, sealed in plastic bags, along the weeded trails. We knew that eventually they would be found by the Nosu. It was pure joy to finally do what we trained and prayed to do—to drop off our precious packages of God’s Word of life. We had to leave before the packages were found in order to avoid possible arrest, but His Word is powerful!
Going down the mountain was much easier, and I was able to take in all the beauty around me. Obviously it took many hours to hike back, followed by the rides and flights home, but we accomplished our ONE Focus mission—to get the Gospel to the Nosu people of China.