[Editor’s note: This article, by Matt Soper, presents an innervating challenge to us to get out of “the visitor’s center” and “climb the mountains” of faith that intimidate us.]
I recently began reading Gary Haugen’s book, “Just Courage: God’s Great Expedition for the Restless Christian.” Haugen is president and C.E.O. of International Justice Mission, a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression (see ijm.org). It is a tremendously impressive and inspiring organization whose mission is founded on the Christian call to justice articulated in the Bible (Isaiah 1:17): Seek justice, protect the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.
In his book, Haugen relates that IJM’s mission is so overwhelming, and the forces arrayed against it so powerful and prevalent, that he and his co-workers are continually reminded of the improbability of their success without God. “God has called us into a battle with violence and aggressive evil that, every day, my colleagues and I know we cannot win without the specific intervention of God. … And we have found him to be real — and his hand to be true and strong — in a way we would never have experienced strapped into our own safety harness.”
Ah, the safety harness. Haugen urges Christians to find a passionate pursuit in service to God that takes us out of our safety and comfort. He tells the story of the time he, his father, and his two older brothers were preparing to hike partway up Mount Rainier outside Seattle. Haugen balked. The strenuousness of the impending climb scared and unnerved him. He persuaded his father to let him spend the afternoon in the visitor’s center.
“The visitor’s center was warm and comfortable, with lots of interesting things to watch and read. I devoured the information and explored every corner, and judging by the crowd, it was clearly the place to be. As the afternoon stretched on, however, the massive visitor’s center started to feel awfully small. The warm air felt stuffy, and the stuffed wild animals started to seem just – dead. The inspiring loop videos about extraordinary people who climbed the mountain weren’t as interesting the sixth and seventh times, and they made me wish I could be one of those actually climbing the mountain instead of reading about it. I felt bored, sleepy, and small – and I missed my dad. I was totally stuck. Totally safe but totally stuck.
“After the longest afternoon of my ten-year old life, Dad and my brothers returned flushed with their triumph. Their faces were red from the cold and their eyes clear with delight. They were wet from the snow, famished, dehydrated, and nursing scrapes from the rocks and ice, but on the long drive home they had something else. My brothers had stories and an unforgettable day with their dad on a great mountain.”
Many Christians are in the visitor’s center. We watch the video loops of the heroic exploits of the people of old. We feel a vague, or maybe even a profound, sense of restlessness. The air inside is stuffy and still. But the mountains are steep and the air cold. What to do?
Friends, step out the door and start walking in the direction your heart points. Don’t worry about how far you will climb. Just start climbing. Aren’t you tired of looking at stuffed animals? How much hot chocolate do you need? The mountains beckon.