Many years ago, I took our middle school youth group on a whitewater rafting trip in Pennsylvania. It was the first time that Sally and I had ever done this, and none of our youth had ever before been on such a trip. Since this was a trip for our younger youth, I was advised to select this venue because it was more suitable for beginners. I would take the high school youth to West Virginia a few weeks later for a more challenging rafting trip on the New River.
After a brief lesson by the river guide, we were ready to shoot the rapids! Megan (Morris) Bibbey and Katie Cross were the two youth fortunate enough to be on board with Sally and me. The trip began easy enough as we gently paddled down the calm river. "This is easy," I said, "It's not that challenging at all!" Then, the trouble began when we spotted the rocks ahead! We began paddling furiously when we saw the rushing waters and the tight passages through which our raft needed to pass, before being launched over what seemed to be like Niagara Falls! The guide had paddled ahead of us in his kayak and stood on the rocks shouting instructions to us that would insure our safe passage. The sound of the rushing white water was so loud, we couldn’t decipher anything the guide was saying, and I remember him throwing his arms up in frustration, when we did not properly respond to his gestures. Unfortunately, each of us was paddling in a different direction, which spun the boat around. One thing we all did remember, was him saying before we left, that if all else fails, pull the oars in and lay down flat in the boat, which we did. Boom! We hit the rocks hard, ricocheting between them, and bouncing down the falls...backwards! Ouch! The impact against the rocks through the bottom of the raft would leave me with one of the largest bruises that I have ever gotten. However, because we had listened and remembered what to do in a critical moment, we escaped mostly unscathed, except for my bruised knee. The raft didn’t flip over and none of us were ejected.
We approached the next rapids with a little more confidence. The river guide stood on the rocks, his arms again waving in frustration, we hunkered down low again, saving us from being capsized, and again, we managed to squeeze through the rocks, though this time, sideways. We traversed a few more rapids, hunkering down again and again. The results were similar, but we got a little better each time. Finally, when the trip came to an end, we were relieved to have to survived our first rafting adventure. With adrenaline still pumping, we shared our stories of terror with the other youth who had also managed to finish the trip. Some of them did not take the advice about laying down in the boat, though, and were ejected into the water, having to be pulled to safety by one of the guides. The four of us were proud that we had stayed in our raft the whole time.
As a church, we will soon be entering uncharted waters. We will likely encounter some rough waters, find ourselves in some tight spots, and we will definitely hit some rocks. We will probably paddle in all different directions at times, and we might even end up going through the tight spots backwards. The thing to keep in mind, is to pay attention to the guide who is standing on the rock. He’s been there before, he’s seen what’s up ahead, and he knows what he is doing. When we’ve made mistakes and all else fails, he will instruct us to hunker down to keep us from capsizing. We may sustain some bumps and bruises as a result, but it is for our own good. We are all in this together. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you,” Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV).
Please contact me if you want to jump in the CCC raft with me and others by connecting with the church. firstname.lastname@example.org.