At The End of Hike #3
When we arrived at my dad’s truck at the end of the La Paloma hike I thought for sure that the fundraiser was officially over. We were exhausted, overheated, discouraged, and every square inch of our feet screamed to be let out of the boots they were trapped in. We didn’t take off our shoes right away, for fear of what we would find, but when we finally did, it was as ugly as we had expected. Nadya’s toenails were falling off and my left pinky toe had a blister on it the size of a small grape. The next day we felt horrid, and the day after that Nadya came down with a 24-hour stomach bug which kept us up all night managing it. Things weren’t looking promising, and so I told one of my committee members that we weren’t going to continue. But she encouraged me to give it a few days, and decide then whether or not to press on with the rest of the hikes.
Man Plans…But the Lord Directs
Two ladies were praying with and for us the entire time. The first was Linda Hollis, the committee member who suggested that we continue. The second was Gloria Paredes, a Good News Club teacher from Modesto. While we were meeting over Zoom together the day after hike #3, she prayed the following: “You know, Father, that Joel and Nadya planned to do these hikes in eight days, and that they are disappointed that they aren’t going to be able to do that. But we know your Word says that ‘the mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps,’ so show us what you are doing.”
And that is one of the overarching lessons learned from these hikes. I had planned to hike 80 miles, in eight counties, in eight days, and it wasn’t going to happen. I planned that we would get the easiest hikes out of the way first, and they weren’t at all easy. I planned to get stronger as the days progressed, and we were experiencing the opposite. I planned…I planned…I planned.
Ministry is like that. I planned to have Good News Clubs in Merced and Atwater in 2017, Oakdale in 2018, and Stockton in early 2020, but we were blocked at every turn. I didn’t understand at the time, but God was directing our steps, protecting us from missteps, and using the setbacks to prepare us for future growth. Instead of starting several new clubs, God used the forced downtime in 2020 to secure an office, shore up our finances, and allow us to start advertising for our first staff member. This will enable us to promote the ministry in a way that will, God willing, result in more than just three clubs starting in multiple areas. My plans and God’s plans don’t always align, but when His plans prevail it is always for our good. Always.
Hike #4 – Mono Lake Hike (Mono County) – 7 miles
After four days of resting our feet, and exactly two days after Nadya recovered from her bout with the stomach flu, we decided to make our way over to Mono County to continue the fundraiser. I had planned to do a hike in Calaveras County for the fourth hike, but since we had done that hike before and knew how demanding it was, we opted for the shortest hike on our list with the longest drive (four hours of hiking with eight hours of round-trip driving). Not only would it be a beautiful drive, but it would also give our feet extra time to relax and heal a bit more.
Driving south on Hwy 395 toward Mono Lake.
The shortest route to Mono County (in May) from Turlock is to drive over Sonora Pass (Hwy 108), and then go South on Hwy 395 through the town of Bridgeport. Mono Lake lies between Sonora Pass and Tioga Pass and is considered high desert (6,400 feet). I had planned a 2.5-mile hike off of a service road that went down to the lake and back. It was going to be so short because it was originally planned to be the last hike of the fundraiser. The idea was that we would have already completed the heavy mileage on the previous seven hikes, and that the Mono hike would be the one where we could rest and take it easy. That was the plan.
But as we pulled up to the service road where our hike was to begin, there was a closed gate with a sign across it that said, “Private Property, violators will be prosecuted.” We stepped out of the car, looked again at the GPS to confirm we were in the right place, then scratched our heads and wondered what to do next. We had just driven four hours and couldn’t access the trail.
Finally Some Encouragement
In my rear view mirror I saw a truck pull in behind us and a man get out and walk toward our car. I rolled the window down, told him that we were looking for the Mono Lake Trail, and asked if he knew where it was. He pointed us in a westerly direction. As we made a U-turn and headed for the new location, I saw the man unlock the gate and drive through it. He was undoubtedly the owner of the property, probably wondering what a Rav4 with a San Jose license plate holder was doing parked in front of his gate. We found the new location, consulted the map, and while I wasn’t convinced that this was actually our trail, we started hiking along a dirt road that led in the general direction of the lake.
We were encouraged on two fronts. After four days we had begun to heal, and the soft dirt and sand were easier on our feet. The second reason was the breathtaking scenery. Puffy white clouds dotted a crystal clear blue sky, and the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains towered above us in the distance. We were also able to see large portions of Mono Lake from time to time. All in all, this was a big improvement from the pavement, hard dirt, and oppressive heat of the valley.
I began thinking about the beauty, loneliness, and isolation of the place. The beauty and grandeur of the mountains are offset by the lonely feel of Mono Lake. The quietness reminds you that you are in an isolated location, not easily reached nor left. In a similar way, there are beautiful children in Mono County who are isolated and lonely. Some are children of soldiers serving at a remote mountain warfare military base, and some are Native American children from surrounding reservations. There are only a few scattered schools in the entire county, and although there was once an after-school Good News Club in Coleville (that has since dissolved) there has been nothing going on. I am currently looking into the possibility of a Zoom Good News Club for the children at the military base and the local elementary schools, but any way you slice it, Mono County is a long way away and not easily accessible.
And that really is the grand excuse to not reach into counties like Mono, isn’t it; distance, and the time it takes to bridge that distance. It is, after all, a four-hour, one-way drive. But I will travel all day to do the things that I really want to do. Going to a Giants baseball game could be up to three hours one way (depending on traffic). By the time we leave early to get there, get into and watch the game, get back to our car and go home, it could easily be a 10-hour day. Disneyland is five hours away, Lake Tahoe is four hours, and Las Vegas is seven hours. I go camping at Highland Lakes and Lassen National Park, four to six hours’ drive from my front door, respectively. The question for me isn’t really whether I can or can’t reach Mono County. The question really is if I really want to, and whether or not I will. Already I find myself praying more for Stockton, Modesto, and Merced than I do for Bridgeport and Coleville.
And that leads to the other excuse; that my time is better spent reaching the multitudes in the valley rather than the scattered few in the more remote places. But it isn’t either/or; it’s both/and. It is recorded in the book of Acts that Jesus sent Philip on a 90-mile walk to reach just one Ethiopian. Do you know what Philip was busy doing when he received that call? He was in the middle of a successful ministry to the multitudes in Samaria. But God called him away from the crowd to go and reach the one. While it is true that God whisked him away to another place after he preached to the Ethiopian, it is not the case that He brought him out there. Philip walked 90 miles to have that encounter, which would have taken him four or five days if he walked 20 miles a day. We can drive to Mono County, minister to children there, and then drive back in one day. Will we do it? These are convicting thoughts.
And so, on this hike I thought about feet, encouragement, beauty, and excuses. Our feet were toughening up, there are beautiful children in even the most isolated of places, and there are all kinds of excuses I use not to reach the children in counties like Mono. Linda, Gloria, Nadya, and I prayed on that dusty trail by Mono Lake (via Zoom) for God to raise up workers and churches that will be challenged and trained to do just that.
Hike #5 – Rancheria Falls (Tuolumne County) – 14 miles
When we returned from Mono County, we had hiked 40 miles in the eight days that I had allotted to the fundraiser. While disappointed that we didn’t complete what we had advertised, we were also encouraged that exactly half the miles (40) and half the days (4) were in the books. What’s more, we had turned a corner in our minds. Maybe it was that the five days between hikes allowed us to heal, and maybe it was that the weather was cooler in the mountains than in the valley, but our feet didn’t seem to hurt as much. For the first time since beginning this adventure, we actually believed we could finish. The plan now was to rest for two days and then head to Tuolumne County and begin the first of two Yosemite hikes.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir from the Rancheria Falls trail.
Running Out Of Time
The most immediate lesson from the Yosemite hikes was the urgency of getting the job done in time. Because Yosemite was going to impose a reservation system for entry before the end of May, we decided to complete both hikes while we could still get into the park without needing a “golden ticket”, because if you didn’t have one, you wouldn’t get in. As it turns out, the Hetch Hetchy park entrance doesn’t require a reservation, so we would have been just fine without one. However, because this area closes at 4:30pm each day, time was still a factor we had to consider. Our hike was 14 miles out and back, and since we average around two miles per hour, we figured we had seven hours to complete the hike. If not, we would be ticketed and have to sleep in our car overnight.
The End of The End
I am no great theologian, but even I recognize that we are in the end of the end, and that Jesus is coming soon! I have committed my life to reaching children for Christ, but lately I have been burdened that the clock is ticking. It is 4:00pm, we are 13 miles in on a 14-mile hike, the park closes in a half-hour, and we have a mile yet to go. We are running out of time to reach the children for Christ!
Many well-intentioned believers insist that relationship building and meeting physical needs should always precede a proclamation of the Gospel. “Unless you can disciple them,” one man told me, “you shouldn’t be leading them to Christ.” This makes about as much sense as seeing a drowning man and letting him die because you don’t have the means to clothe him and get him to a hospital. I believe wholeheartedly in relationship building and meeting physical needs, but they are secondary. Of primary importance is a clear and consistent proclamation of the Gospel.
Uphill All The Way
This was a difficult hike, perhaps even more so than La Paloma Road (hike #3). It was extremely hot, despite the elevation, because we were walking up against a south-facing wall of solid granite, and the blisters reared their ugly heads at about the eight-mile mark. On the map this hike looks somewhat flat, meaning that the elevation at the end is not that much higher than when you start – but this is deceiving. The first half of most mountain hikes is straight uphill, then straight downhill on the way back. The Rancheria Falls hike instead rolls up and down the entire way. You don’t hike straight up for 3,000 feet, but you gain and lose 100 feet about 30 times. This means that the second half of the hike is as difficult as the first half. It is essentially uphill all the way.
It struck me how this is descriptive of the Christian life, and ministry; there is no coasting. Christina Rossetti captures this idea in her poem “Up-Hill”:
Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.
Interestingly enough, even though our feet hurt, we didn’t have time to pay much attention to them because we didn’t have time. We had to get back, and we knew that we could rest when we got to the car. Isn’t this how we should view our lives and ministry? In this life we have troubles, but time is short and we will have time to rest when we get home.
So, on this hike I thought about feet, time, and the grind of ministry. The urgency of the task at hand puts our injuries into perspective, and there is no time to relax or to coast. And I thought about the children of Tuolumne County. We are reaching local children, yes, but on this hike we saw more tourists than we did locals. In fact, at a 5-Day Club we held in Tuolumne County this summer (not 30 miles from Hetch Hetchy), the one child who received Christ was from New Jersey! Any ministry strategy for this area will have to include thinking about ministry to children from around the country and around the world.
Hike #6 – Yosemite Valley Loop Trail (Mariposa County) – 21 miles
A few days later we were back in Yosemite, but this time in Yosemite Valley in Mariposa County. Nadya and I have hiked literally hundreds of miles in Yosemite National Park, but most of those miles have been outside of Yosemite Valley. This is because the valley is one of the most heavily trafficked vacation spots on the planet. Many people wait an entire lifetime just to make one visit there, but because we live only a couple hours away, and have made numerous visits, we do our best to hike elsewhere and steer clear of the valley floor. But this was still early Spring, which meant the high country trails were not fully cleared of snow, and we wanted to keep this hike within Mariposa County. These considerations, plus the fact that we had hiked this trail once before, led me to choose the Valley Loop Trail.
Shot of the Three Brothers from the Valley Loop Trail.
The Few People Who Quietly Labor
Getting a parking spot in Yosemite Valley is always a challenge, but since our trail was going to be a loop, we carefully avoided Yosemite Village and instead found a trailhead parking spot with only a few cars in it. After putting on our gear, starting the GPS, and stretching out, we started off on what was supposed to be a 16-mile hike.
One of the crazy things about hiking is that when you get just 100 feet off the main road, you are all alone. There were hundreds of people in the valley that day, but for most of our hike we saw only a handful of them. Only when our trail met the main road did we see crowds, and they quickly disappeared when the trail headed back into the woods. From the trail we could see cars lined up for miles but, for the most part, they were unable to see us. This is why, when hikers meet on the trail, we give each other a smile communicating a mutual knowing that we are among the few who quietly labor to walk a path most will never discover.
The parallels to ministry here are striking, because children’s workers are some of the few people who quietly labor in a ministry that is both beautiful and fulfilling. We give each other knowing smiles when we see children understand and respond to the Gospel, and when we hear of those same children continuing to follow the Lord when they are grown. The difference, however, between hiking and ministry is that while hiking in solitude is preferable, ministering alone is not. Jesus said that “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” More people are needed to reach the masses for Christ in any ministry, and this is especially true in the ministry of CEF. There are many lost children on the trail, and we are praying for hiking companions.
Part of Valley Loop Trail near Mirror Lake.
More Than We Thought We Could Do
I had penciled this in as a relatively “easy” 16-mile hike. We were going to walk around the north side of the Valley, skip the five-mile Mirror Lake Loop on the east side, and continue on around the south side. The only issue was seeing where to turn. We had hiked this trail a few years earlier and had wandered around in circles for a while because we had missed a crucial cut-off point. We, however, had a GPS map this time, and I was confident it wouldn’t happen again. But, lo and behold, we shot right past it. By the time I figured it out, we were already on the Mirror Lake Loop Trail, and just like that our 16-mile hike turned into a 21-mile hike.
I stopped and suggested that we turn around, but Nadya just kept pushing on. We had talked about doing a 20-mile Yosemite hike before, but had never attempted it. Well, she decided for us that we were going to do it. I thought it was going to be more than we could do, but her determination won the day. By the time we were done we had logged 21.2 miles, and as we hobbled to the car, we were tired but completely satisfied. We also realized that we were within striking distance of logging 100 miles on our eight hikes, which was much more than we ever thought we could do!
It got me thinking about what is possible in CEF, and what it will take for us to get there. Certainly it will mean more staff, and we are actively searching for our first one now. It will also mean more committee members who will lead us into a COVID/Post-COVID world. And it will take many volunteers thinking creatively to enable us to flex and think differently. We need people like Nadya who will “win the day” and let us see that we can do more than we thought we could.
And So I Thought…
…about feet. While they hurt, we weren’t discouraged, because the thrill of the accomplishment outweighed the pain of the blisters. I thought about the privilege of being one of the faithful few in children’s ministry, but also of the need for more to join us. And I thought about Mariposa County. This county has been a closed door for us for many years. The whole area is so spiritual, but not necessarily Christian, and the children are easily lost in a sea of tourists. People go through Mariposa on their way to someplace else, and it is easy to see the tourists and miss the locals who live there. I don’t ever want our ministry to pass through this mountain county on our way to somewhere else and fail to lift our eyes and see the lost children who are there. They are important to Jesus and so should be important to us. Jesus passed through Samaria on his way to another place, but stopped to save the Samaritan woman and her village. Jesus passed through Jericho on His way to Jerusalem and stopped to save both Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus. Let us never forget, on our way through Mariposa County to places like Yosemite, the children there who Jesus dearly loves and wants to save.
Six hikes were down, with two to go, and the end was in sight. Only Alpine and Calaveras County remained. My thoughts on those, however, are for a future post.