Our team of 20. Trip dates March 11 – 20, 2016.
Here is the link to view pictures of the Ecuador trip
Team: Becky Winsor, Katie Beals, McKayla Struble, Megan Struble, Tatym Plath, Spencer Shook, Hope Vusich, Victoria Hodges, Tina Biehl, Amber Haubert, Becka Jones, Ron Winsor, Preston Kissling, Anna Ziegert, Julia Contreras, Hannah Lutz, Jamin Lorch, Kurt Keranen, Jerry Kissling, David Winsor
This was written by Pastor Jerry Kissling, a reflection on a hike the team took to a waterfall.
It was raining… just like it was supposed to be. What would hiking through a rain forest be without rain? My lifelong dream of experiencing a rain forest ecosystem was becoming a reality.
There are no rain forests in Michigan where I live. I was on a mission trip to Ecuador with 19 other brave souls from my church. It had been a great week of loving Christ and loving on poor children from both local churches and orphanages; of blessing local missionaries by giving ourselves away to encourage and serve them. Today we had planned for us a hike through the jungle to a beautiful waterfall. Little did I know that the physical and the spiritual would intertwine in my soul to speak powerful truth during this challenging endeavor.
The hike was long and difficult. Our group headed out on a narrow, muddy path; up steep embankments and down slippery slopes; through tunnels of dense vegetation; across fields of high grasses; always on a narrow ledge that hugged a mountainside on one side, and a dangerous drop off on the other. The air of this mountain jungle was thick of humidity but thin of oxygen. It left our lungs heaving for more, especially on what seemed like endless uphill climbs. Many times we went ankle deep in mud. Sometimes small streams crossed our path. More than once we slipped and fell. Our attempts to stay dry were in vain once the afternoon rain set in. Things got even more slippery. But the plants and trees were amazing. I was hoping to see many insects and maybe even an animal or two, but daylight is nighttime in this world. And nighttime is when things really come to life. So an occasional spider, or brightly colored caterpillar, was the only fauna additions to the amazing abundance of flora around us. Each plant competed with all the rest for its share of the direct sunlight. Huge leaves supported on stems the size of broom handles, vines everywhere, trees and ferns of tremendous beauty and variety surrounded us. At one point I slipped and had to catch myself with my left hand against what appeared to be a welcoming fuzzy barked tree trunk with beautifully regular shapes etched into the fuzz. Little did I know that the mossy softness covered quarter inch long spines embedded within its supple surface. It didn’t take me long to discover them! I finished the hike with one stored deep in the palm of my left hand. I used the machete I carried to fashion a small straight tree into a walking stick to brace myself against other slippery accidents.
Hope and I were in the middle group of our entourage. After a couple of hours of unsteady progress, we could hear both falling water and excited laughs and shouts of the speedier members of our group ahead. We knew we were close. Just up a rise we observed the path diving sharply downhill to our right. It was really steep; almost vertical at some points. A blue cord had been strategically tied here and there to aid the hiker in his ascent down this steep terrain. I had to drop the water bottle, the machete, and the walking stick I was carrying, down below, so I could hang on to the blue cord. At the bottom we were greeted by a beautiful 20 foot cascade of rushing water to our left! We had made it (so we thought)! Our initial elation at the beauty of our surroundings gradually gave way to confusion. Where was our group? We had heard them. Had they moved on? And if so, where did they go? No trail led on from this point. We were confused. We had been warned before we began our hike about staying close to our guides. Getting lost in the jungle is not a comforting thought. We were miles from anywhere. After discussing our dilemma, we were relieved to see Ali and Jero, two of our guides, making their way to us down the steep slope. We had taken a wrong turn. This was a waterfall, but it wasn’t the right waterfall. As we made our way back up the steep slope after our guides, we were surprised to see that a branch of the path went straight where we had turned to the right. We were rescued, put on the right path, and soon were reunited at the larger, even more beautiful waterfall!
After waiting for the last members of our party to arrive, the kids formed a human chain trudging into and under the cascading falls. Not to be outdone, I followed suit. I mean, if you are going to hike to a rainforest waterfall, you gotta go all in, right? The force of the cold water beat down upon me. I came out gasping again for the thin air, this time from the cold. We reluctantly decided it was time to head back. Two hours of slippery hiking later, we arrived back at the camp.
In John 7:37-38, Jesus referred to Himself as living water for the thirsty. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” Let’s consider our jungle hike as an allegory. Let that waterfall represent the living water of Jesus Christ. Let our hike represent our pursuit to discover Him; our effort to “come to Him and drink”.
STAYING IN THE CAMP: The first thing I consider is that the ‘narrow road’ of our seeking Christ is taken by only a few. We knew this hike was going to be hard. We could have stayed back at the camp where we would have been safe and dry and comfortable. I’m sure we would have had a good time there. Many people in life do just that. To pursue Jesus is to be unpopular and considered ignorant by the mainstream culture. And besides that, we hadn’t even seen this waterfall before. How did we even know for sure that it exists? The same question is asked of Jesus in our world. So the comfortable camp is crowded with the eating, the drinking, and the merry; while only a few opt for the hope of discovering the living water of Christ. In our group, all 20 of us took the narrow road. I trust in life, that they will all continue to do the same.
HELPING OTHERS FIND JESUS: There were a few in our group that could never have endured the rigors of this hike without someone by their side every step of the way. One man had a physical handicap, but he elected to take the hike anyway. We all witnessed the absolute beauty of Jamin and Dave, two of the strongest in our group, walk every step with this man; holding him up; one hanging on to belt or arm in back; while the other was held onto in front. Uncle Ron (Dave’s uncle) made it all the way to the waterfall and back with the help of these two strong servants. And Uncle Ron, bless his heart, worked hard and with great humility. He accepted their help and rejoiced along the way with great thanksgiving and appreciation to have it. Some people need help all along the way to make it to the living water of Jesus Christ. But few in our proudly independent culture will humble themselves in order to accept it. Ron did, and he was glad!
ON LEADERSHIP: Dave Winsor was the leader of our group. But that did not mean that Dave was out front blazing the trail, and the first to reach the waterfall. Instead, Dave was last because he was helping Ron to get there. This is the truest form of leadership. IN Mark 10:42-45 Jesus called His disciples together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The world teaches that the leader is the one to get there first. Jesus teaches that the true leader is the one who serves. Some people need help to pursue Jesus, and Dave and Jamin gave us a real life picture of the beauty of what that looks like.
SLIPPING AND FALLING: I slipped about 20 times on the hike to the waterfall. Once I went totally down on my back. I think everyone did. But none of us stayed down and gave up. We got up and kept moving toward that beckoning waterfall. The same must be true in life. As we pursue the living water of Jesus, we slip and fall… a lot. We get slimy and muddy from the many falls into self and sin. But the living water cleanses us. Since Jesus died for sinners, then there is no reason to let sin keep us dirty and down. We can get up, get back to putting one foot in front of the other; we can cut a walking stick or two along the way to keep us from falling the next time. We can lean on a brother or sister for support to keep us upright; and we can persevere toward Him. Forgiveness and grace are not reasons to enjoy the slips and falls, but they are great motivations to get back up.
THE WRONG JESUS: Hope and I had taken a wrong turn. We ended up at the wrong waterfall, lost and alone in the jungle. We needed someone to come find us and show us the way to the right waterfall. There are many ideas and teachings in our culture today that go by the name ‘Jesus’. Jesus warned us that many false Christs would come in His name. Sometimes we get sidetracked by religious lies dressed up in some truth but that lead us to the wrong Jesus. When we do, we need the Word to set us straight, and we need someone bold enough to come find us and show us the way to the true Jesus. Our guides came to find us and set us on the right path. Now, it is true that Hope and I thought this waterfall very beautiful, but we both knew that something wasn’t quite right. Sometimes we need help to keep from getting lost on the way to the Living Water.
ON CLEANSING: When we finally arrived, just how close were we willing to get to the waterfall? Some plunged right in! It was scary, but Oh so refreshing! The water just took all the sweat and slime from all the falls we took along the way! I watched the kids eagerly line up to go right through and under that waterfall… and I couldn’t resist. I was afraid but compelled at the same time. It’s like that with Jesus too. How close are we willing to get? When we read in the Bible of His fearlessness to speak truth to power, it takes us back. When we read of His compassion to draw close to broken and hurting people, it gives us pause. And when we read of His suffering and death to bring us life, we cringe at His determination to give Himself away. We could never be like that. Do we even want to be like that? But every person that plunged into the waterfall… every person that let that cool refreshing water fall hard on them… every one came out with hands raised high in victory! It is true, we can’t be like that. But drawing near… very near… to Jesus, He is like that in and through us! The nearer we get to the Living Water of Jesus, the more frighteningly exhilarating He becomes!
I hope that you benefited from this real life allegory drawn from our Ecuador experience. But beyond that, I hope and trust that you have left the camp and are on this dangerous hike yourself; a hike to the Living water of Jesus. I hope each time you slip and fall along the way, that His forgiveness and grace gives you the motivation to get up and keep moving. I trust that you are equipped and strong in your faith, and humble enough in your service that you can help others along the narrow road to get to the Living Water too. I encourage you to be alert to the fact that there are many Jesus’ advertised in our culture, but only one true Living Water. So be wise and discerning! And finally, I encourage you to plunge right in! Put it all on the line for Christ! Let that waterfall of grace wash you clean and exhilarate you all the way to glory! We only get one chance at life. Jesus said of Himself, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12) He also said that you and I are the light of the world. The only way the second statement can be true is if we follow Him on the narrow road and plunge right in! It’s a jungle out there people of God! Let’s hike!