This is the story of a tough trial I went through two weeks ago, along with my son-in-law and my grandson (and a few others dragged into the process along the way).
A few weeks ago we set out for a four day camp trip to the mountains of Sequoia, the land of the giant redwoods. It was a long 5-6 hour ride, but we eventually made it up to the campground, which was at about 4,500 ft above sea level. This was a “men’s retreat” camp associated with our church, and many had already arrived by the time we got there.
Arrival at Camp, Ready for Adventure
It was about nightfall, so we checked into our cabin, and fell quickly asleep.
In the morning I awoke early, and took a short walk to the lake and back (I like to get up early, and walk before all the activity starts). Soon others were up, and we had breakfast, then attended a camp meeting with others from our local church (this was after all a church men’s wilderness retreat). Interestingly enough, the message was about how “the abundant life”, which Jesus promised to all His followers, was not necessarily all a walk through a “bed of roses”, as they say. We should also expect to be tried, and tested, to demonstrate our faith in the Lord – that we do truly trust Him when the going gets tough. So that by the testing of our faith, we could develop endurance, and patience, and grow in spirit and in Christ (see James 1). Well, I thought, certainly that’s true. Little did I know what our Father had in store for us on this very trip!
After the talk, people broke up into groups to do various sorts of activities – some planned to go hiking, others were bent on making it to the gun range to practice their shooting, while others were going on a supervised rafting trip down the Kern River.
We thought about doing the rafting, but the cost was $120 per person – too steep for our wallets. So we, along with a friend Steven and his son, decided to go out on our own, and raft down the river by ourselves. after all, what could go wrong? We headed out in Steve’s 4 WD SUV for the Kern river. On the way, we picked up a couple of two person inner tubes, so 4 of us could float down the river – while one of us (me), would drive down and pick the inner tuber’s up about 3 miles down the road. Any way, that was the plan.
Steven assured us that the river around here was safe, and that he had done this before (we were warned by others that parts of the river were indeed dangerous, so please be careful). But as I looked at the river, and all those playing and wading in it, I felt no concerns. After all, he had done this before, he showed us the point where they would jump in, where to expect them to arrive and be picked up, so all seemed fairly safe. I didn’t think much about what could go wrong. What could go wrong, after all?
An Unexpected Journey Tubing Down the River
As I stood on the shore watching, my son-in-law, grandson, my friend Steve and his son jumped in the river on their dual inner tubes. Laughing, smiling, they were having a great time! I took pictures, and was happy for us all. I watched as they slowly started drifting down the river toward our planned meeting spot. All seemed good and going according to plan.
I jumped in the car and drove slowly down the road that ran adjacent to the river – 3 miles down, to the place where I was to meet them. In a few minutes, I arrived at “Cemetery Road” – the place I was to turn off and park, and await their arrival at the river junction just there. As I got out of the car and stood on the bluff, looking down at the river, I thought to myself – “what a curious name for a road leading to a safe meeting up spot – ‘cemetery road'”. I wonder what that means? Surely this is not a warning of ominous things to come!
The Long, Frustrating Horrible Wait
And so, at 1:15 PM, I began to wait. Let see, I thought to myself, they jumped in the river about 1 PM, and Steve said it should take “no more than 45 minutes” before they meet me at the pickup point. The river was running slowly but smoothly, and based on his previous experience, I should reasonably expect to see them around 1:45 PM at the pickup point.
Well, come 1:45 PM, no Steve, and no sign of thee others. Some other people drove up, and walked down to the shoreline with a picnic basket and chairs. At 2 PM I walked down and shouted, “Mind if I ask you a question?” No, they said – please do. I asked them, “In your view, how long should it take for people who jumped in the river about 3 miles up, until they arrive here?”
They chatted and said, “Well, it depends. The river is a bit shallow now, so in places they might have to pick up their inner tubes and walk over rocks, then jump back in and float on ahead. It could take an hour, but it could also take 2 or even 3 hours at the most”. I thanked them, and decided to wait longer.
2:30 PM arrived, and I was getting concerned. I jumped in the car and drive back 3 miles to the drop off point. I got out of the SUV and walked down to the river bank, scanning up and down the river for any sign of them. Nothing. No sign of them (I thought they might have walked back after some slight mishap). Now what? I thought.
I drove back to the bluff and again began to wait. 3 PM approached, then 3 :30 PM. I gazed out at the river, and new people had arrived and were fishing in the midst of the river (on an out cropping). Still no sign of my son-in-law, grandson, and friends. What was I to DO? I felt HELPLESS. I prayed to the Lord: “Lord, please keep them safe. Let nothing terrible happen to them. I am powerless, but You hold the universe in your Hands. Please bring them back safe.” I prayed not once, not twice, but continually for 2 hours at least.
So what had happened while I was waiting? Later I found out that the river, being low, had created a side tributary that streamed to the left and down toward the lake. The way that they SHOULD have gone – to the right, toward me and our meeting point – was partially blocked by rocks. And having fun, and not thinking, they drifted to the left – down this new tributary that had been formed. Drifting down a new small river that no one expected or anticipated! This being the case, I would never have seen them – they were on their way to the lake, via a different route!
Between prayers, I began thinking and reflecting on how I got into this jam. I realized that they had NO cellphones on a raft, and there was very poor or no cell phone coverage in this area anyway. So I could not just give them a call, as we are so often used to doing in civilized areas. Then I thought, why didn’t I have a walkie-talkie with me, and why hadn’t I given one to my son-in-law? After all, I had brought two walkie-talkies with me, but had left them back at the cabin! What good did that do! I felt really stupid.
No way to contact them, I thought. No way – they were out of touch, and so was I. I also realized it was blazing hot, and Steve, his son, and Ryan had no shirts – they would be toast in this heat! Why hadn’t I ensured they all had shirts!? And they also had no life-jackets! That was really foolish. Even if it looked safe where they jumped in, that did not mean it was safe further down the river. What could have happened to them? WHY WEREN’T THEY HERE? I went over these things time and again in my mind. Something must have happened. Something terrible I thought!
At about 3:30 PM the Lord spoke to my heart – its time you DO something. I was terribly frustrated. I could wait no longer. I certainly could not wait until dark, when – if they were indeed lost – it would be next to impossible to find them.
I jumped back in the SUV and headed back 3 miles to the drop off point, where there was a store, other people paying in the water, and I notice – a Ranger Station! Yes, here is help I thought. I drove up to the station, jumped out looking for a Ranger. But alas, I spotted a sign on the door “Closed Today. I you need help, please call this number”.
I thought to myself, “Great, I have an emergency here, my son-in-law, grandson, and friends may be drowning or worse, and the Ranger is no where to be found!” So I called the number anyway, and a young lady answered. I explained the situation, and she replied that she wished she could help, but they were working from home today. She suggested I call 911 right away, and then she added “I will pray for you”. Which I didn’t expect, but took note of this. Thank you Lord.
Called 911, and the Calvary Arrived in Force!
I spoke to the 911 operator, and described the situation. She asked me to stay put, and await for the Sheriff to arrive. There I stood outside the closed Ranger Station, for 3, 5 10 minutes. Then a parade of Sheriff’s patrol cars pulled up beside my car in the parking lot. I think there was about 5 police cars that had arrived!
Wow – what a response! I was very impressed with the local Kern River Valley Sheriff’s office. One of the sheriffs, a younger chap, asked me to described what happened. I told him what had happened, and that four people – my son-in-law, and adult friend, and two 10 year old boys were floating down the river, and had not arrived at Cemetery Road like they were supposed to. And I had no idea where they were. No way to reach them. I suspected they were in trouble.
He understood, took a moment to radio other sheriffs, and then asked me to jump into my vehicle and lead them to the pick up point. We arrived a few minutes later, and we all stood on the bluff overlooking the river. I told them “this is exactly where we were supposed to meet up. But no sign, and they jumped in around 1 PM. I have no idea what could have gone wrong.”
They asked – “Did they have life jackets on?”. No, I said (feeling stupid). Had they done this before? “Yes, I said – my friend had, but the others, no.” I felt so helpless, so frustrated. I told myself, I could have done so much better – made sure they had proper shirts on; given them a walkie-talkie so at least we could communicate. I thought, my goodness, they didn’t even have shirts, and it was burning hot outside under the sun. An no sandels either. I stumbled stupidly into this disaster, and I had no ability to get myself or my loved ones out. God my Father was my only refuge and strength, and to Him I cried out for help!
I asked God’s forgiveness for my foolishness, and pleaded with the Lord – please let nothing bad happen to them please bring them back. The police were calling out more sheriffs to help. Sheriff trucks were driving in and exploring the shores of the river along the 3 mile stretch – and ever beyond, further south for 2-3 miles. There must have been 25-30 sheriff and police cars searching, with dozens of law enforcement officers, plus a search and rescue crew. Dozens of people were searching the 3 miles, and even beyond toward the big lake – in case they had drifted off course, and toward the lake.
While we were praying, and the sheriffs were searching up and down the river, my son-in-law, friend, and their children were running into problems! About this time – between 2 and 3:30 pm – both Steven and his son, and my son-in-law and grandson, had hit impediments in the river. Stephen’s raft punctured over some rocks, and started to deflate. My son-in-laws raft hit a tree which punctured their raft. They had drifted several hundred yards apart, so they could not help each other. Both made it out of the river to shore, but my son-in-law had no sandels and neither did my grandson! As they tried to walk over hot rocks (it was 105F), and stickers, their feet were burning. Ryan told me later that at this point he too felt helpless! He prayed, “God, PLEASE, help us. I can’t do this. I am not in control. You are! And at that moment, he looked up, and he saw a “cross” on the hillside in the distance! He felt a ray of hope – that they would make it to the highway, and somehow be rescued.
Ps 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” NKJV
Back to me on the bluff. Scanning the river. I decided I could wait no longer, and so I called my wife (I hadn’t called her earlier, since I didn’t want to worry her or Ryan’s wife if I had found them). No answer (sometimes she is just too busy to get to the phone). So I called my daughter Sarah for help. I thought if she could put me in touch with someone at our church, they could contact one of the pastors back at the base camp, to see if perhaps my loved ones had hitch-hiked a ride back to the main camp.
Sarah got hold of Katherine, the executive secretary for one of the pastors at the camp, and she patched her into our call. Katherine assumed that my friends has gone with the official rafting trip, but I explained that no, we had decided that was too much money – and so we had gone off on our own. I explained to her that they jumped in around 1 PM, and here it was 3:45 PM, and no sign of them. They should have been here, and they weren’t! She then paused, and said, “Before we do anything else, lets pray. Dear Lord, you know all things. You have the world in your hands, and You have the power to save them, and rescue them from any calamity. Please Lord, we pray, bring them back to us, safe and sound.”
Our God is a Very Present Help in Times of Trouble
Just as Katherine and I were praying to the Lord, a sheriff was cruising down the road and had spotted my son-in-law and grandson waving their hands. My son-in-law Ryan, and my grandson had finally made it over hot rocks to the highway, and were hoping for some help. The sheriff spotted them and pulled over. He asked “You wouldn’t happen to be Ryan, would you, and your son Liam?”. “YES”, he exclaimed, that’s us! The sheriff replied, “Well, we have been looking all over for you! OK – jump in and let’s get you to safety”.
The sheriff handed them cool bottles of water, and they were on their way to the city center back a few miles up the road. The sheriff radioed one of the sheriffs who was with me, who walked up to me with a radio in his ear and said “I … I think we found them!”
Steven and his son had been separated from my son-in-law, but got out of the river and hiked up to the highway a few minutes earlier. Fortunately they had sandels, but Steven no shirt. He was badly sun burned as a result. They flagged down a passing motorist, and hitched a ride back to to town and the civic center near the point of origin.
Ryan, Liam, and the sheriff who had picked them up arrived at the civic center a few minutes after Seven and and son. They were all safe, and joyful to be healthy and safe!
Isaiah 65:24: “It shall come to pass That before they call, I will answer;
And while they are still speaking, I will hear.” NKJV
When I heard that they were all safe and sound, I was SO, SO RELIEVED. God had heard our cry, and answered our prayer. It remind me of the passages in Isaiah, and in Daniel, when the angel told Daniel that he was greatly loved by God, and while even while Daniel was praying and had not even finished his prayer, the word went forth from God to the angel to go down and console Daniel.
Looking back, I can see now how God’s hand was working behind the scenes, even as we prayed. While we were praying, God had already things in motion!
- He moved me to call for help at just the right time.
- The ranger who picked up the phone answered the call, and said she would start praying.
- I called 911, and they heard and acted swiftly. He brought out the sheriff’s entire police force in mass, to search everywhere for my loved ones. He specifically moved a sheriff to drive down further – several miles down on the other side of the river and highway – to scan the roadside.
- Ryan realized that he could not control the situation, and that he needed to reach out to his Maker for help! He looked up, and saw a CROSS on a hill! God heard his cry, our cry, and came through big time.
- Just when our last prayer went up, my son-in-law and grandson were spotted waving their hands, and were rescued from the hot sun and burning highway by this sheriff.
What The Lord Taught Me Through this Trial
This was a VERY tough trial for me, and I think its safe to say also for Ryan, and Steven. I learned several things though this testing of my faith:
- I realized that really you have very few things under YOUR direct control. You have the ability to control what you do, what you eat, when you go to sleep, and what you do with the life God has given you. But you can not control things OUTSIDE of yourself, or your sphere of influence. You can control what you thin, and the degree to which to plan and prepare for contingencies. But many things are outside of your control Like the wind. Or a fierce storm. Or what a river suddenly turning rough might suddenly do to your life raft.
- I appreciated that I have to use the mind that God has given me to assess the situation before me, and make wise choices. This why the Bible in Proverbs speaks about getting knowledge, and getting wisdom. Because, like the wise king Solomon, if you have these things, life is so much easier, and in the end you realize that our Lord is ultimately the source of all knowledge and wisdom.
- I realized that planning is so important, and having options in case something unexpected happens. Especially when you are in unfamiliar territory. I hadn’t been down this river, and people told us that in some place (but not everywhere), it CAN be very dangerous. Knowing this, I should have “taken stock” of the situation, and planned for contingencies. I should have suggested wearing life-jackets; equipped myself and my son-in-law with a walkie-talkie (at least in a waterproof bag). Shirts, hats and sunglasses should have been a no-brainer. Wearing sandals should have been mandatory. An agreement to circle back to the point of origin by 3 PM if anything went wrong should have been agreed upon in advance.
- Finally, I realized that prayer is the way to call out to your heavenly Father, and something we should always do – and especially in difficult situations. The Bible says “Pray without ceasing”, and “Who ever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved”. Of course, many years ago I had called out to Jesus, and was indeed saved from destruction, and translated into the “Kingdom of His dear son”. But we ought always to pray, all throughout our life journey. This is the way of a believer.
And so I do my best to walk as a child of my Lord today. But that does not mean I am exempt from trials, and tribulation in this world. Jesus told His followers that “In this world you shall have tribulation. But be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”. Jesus Christ our Lord has overcome the evil spirit in the world by His sacrificial death and resurrection to life, and He promised anyone who believes in Him shall have eternal life as well. He shall be in you, by His Spirit, and you shall be in Him, as He is in the Father, and the Father in Him. And NO ONE will be able to puck you out of the Father’s hands. And so this gives us hope, and courage, even in difficult times.
So I reluctantly expect trials, and tests, knowing that this is part of the walk with Jesus. I realize that these are only temporary, for the perfecting of my faith in the Lord. They will come, and they will go, and by trusting in the Lord, using the mind He gave me intelligently, I will make better and better choices, and in the end will see Him one day in His Kingdom. With my family, my fiends, and all those who believe.
Paul. M. Dooley
Evidence to Believe