This can’t be happening I thought
She sat above the small cliff on a bold mossy rock weeping over the angry flooded river scene below. Drenched and weak from her own capsized canoe experience she knew the big man in a back eddy current was floating toward the edge and would soon be taken by the rushing white water into a mass of trees hanging on a house sized boulder. She knew she couldn’t help.
No No No, this is not happening!
He was going to die. He knew it as he couldn’t swim, his life jacket still strapped to the canoe seat and the big pack he was hanging on to was sinking. “Tell mom I love her” he said to his two sons who were hanging on to bent over saplings in the mad waters barely able to hang on as they only partially body surfed the churning foamy water. She cried louder as one of our guys picked up a canoe to portage to the lake above us laughed, and muttered “The poor sucker,” and walked away.
Normally this was a gentle, but fast, knee deep gurgling stream winding it’s way between lakes on the Canadian Minnesota border waters. Wilderness travelers, the early voyagers and various tribes had used this route for hundreds of years. Now, the river was carving a new path straight through the woods after seven inches of rain the night before.
Someone Please Save him!
I and a couple of strong teenagers had just finished rescuing a couple of canoes, some packs and paddles from our own group getting across the river in a deeper pool before the rapids. Our plan had been to get beside the waterfall and paddle at an angle with the water flow from a back eddy on one side and hopefully catch a back eddy on the other side unscathed. The fast water was really fast and at last second two of our canoes tipped as they entered the back eddy.
Everyone wore their life jacket in our group and all we did was get really wet. We were safe. Our gear and paddles were safe. Then came a big loud mouthed man and his two college aged sons. I had urged them to put on their life jackets and directed them to the back eddy to run with the current. They refused and tried to cut straight across the river current. Their canoe was instantly rolled. The boys swam across and ended up down stream dangling in the water while pleading for dad to try. Dad grabbed a floating pack, panicked completely and began yelling for help with “I can’t swim” with mutterings of “help me Jesus” messages and then began to accept his fate.
“Let’s rescue him” I said to the strapping teen next to me. “you’re nuts” he replied. “You are going to be an Army Ranger” I said. “Let’s do it” he said. She cried “No” and wept all the more.
We cinched the life jackets and pushed into the current and heavy rolling waves. Adrenalin shot through us and I feared breaking our canoe paddles as we paddled hard to the edge of the waves on the other side, dangerously close to the down-sloped rapids edge. Approaching the dad I saw he did not recognize help had come. He had that “eyes glazed over” look. When I spoke to him to grab our canoe but not to tip us, I saw him coil as if to spring at us. I raise my paddle to put him out as I saw the danger and he raised a hand to protect himself and said “I’m Ok, just help me”.
The next big danger was to drag a huge man to shore with just two paddles against the progressively stronger current before going over the edge. I saw we were not going to make it and urged the man to drop his pack as we were not making headway to shore. He wouldn’t let go. To this day I’m surprised that we made it within 15 feet of shore before going over the edge. In the last second another group of travelers came through, formed a human chain out and extended a long canoe paddle for the next Army Ranger to grab.
“Saved” is a good word. “Saved” is an unbelievable feeling being pulled from the foamy waters of death. Now she was sitting on the rock bawling. Yes, “Saved” is beyond description, just ask her. She knows. Jesus knows.
Two weeks later they say I kept a whole building of youth directors awake at three in the morning as I barked out orders and rescued drowning people in a raging river from atop my sleeping bag.
The big man that two sons called dad was never thankful or acknowledge he needed help in the waters of certain death. “Come on dad, at least say thank you” urged one of the sons after the family was reunited. “I was ok, I had it under control” was all he said. She, ranger and I debriefed with the group later, for the next six days in the campsite and are still affected to this day.
This morning I sat in an easy chair with a cup of coffee and was reading some Psalms from the bible and I read Psalm 27 starting in the middle of vs10 and 11, “Do not leave me or abandon me God of my salvation. Even if my father and mother abandon me. The Lord cares for me”. I’m immediately brought back to the raging river again. Kids trapped in a different disaster are praying these prayers right in front of us while some laugh, pick up their canoes, mutter “the poor suckers” and walk away.
Now, I am the one on the riverbank of life crying. I’m weeping at pictures of life in this world. People die by people in a myriad of ways. I know how helpless I am from my rock. So many are drifting toward the edge while we all watch and are told “It’s OK, everything is under control”
So, who is in position to save some kids, the homeless? the war refugees? Honestly I have no idea what it will take or where to start. I have no solutions but I’m willing to bet someone out there does! I’m just here on the riverbank crying and someday hoping for joyful tears. Jesus please send someone, you know all about rescues!
Some debriefing notes: True story. Picture above was a different group with a different adventure. I’ve both rescued and lost people in my nightmares over the years. I spent a few minutes lecturing our rescued dad in an adrenaline driven raging mad state for putting our group in that position. The kids told me I said other things as well that Jesus might not have mentioned. I cannot help but think how precious being rescued is for one person and unrecognizable by another. It makes me beyond sad to think that Jesus Christ rescued us all from the death penalty of sin before a Holy God and He died for us. Some will believe and follow Jesus into an eternal life in heaven. Many are like the dad. How sad for eternity. I pray for the illegal immigrant kids abandoned by everyone. Breaks my heart the shape this world is in. We all need Jesus, He has solutions. I wish it was as easy as mine and rangers rescue.