This past year in early October, a Montana hiker parked his vehicle not far from our family cabin, went fishing and then promptly went missing. The Sheriff’s department dispatched the local Search and Rescue. Because of our cabin’s proximity to the search area, it became the new base camp for operations. To add to my family’s involvement, my mom is a four-year Search and Rescue member and was also the last person to see the young man before he went missing. I too found myself involved in the search, spending weekends donning a jacket and hiking boots, reading tracks and trails. However, there was a poor taste left in the mouth of my dad, brother and I as we searched.
Due to the steepness of the terrain (the search took place along and within the Clark’s Fork Canyon), we really needed a helicopter to scan the walls of the canyon for unreachable ledges and to provide a quicker survey for us bipeds because we were limited to only searching areas that could be reached on foot. Present were this young man’s family members and a few close friends, searching each day and pleading each evening that something more than ground search take place. After a week, the case was presumed a body retrieval—snow and freezing temperatures prevented the search dogs from picking up a scent trail and Search and Rescue wasn’t permitting teams to descend the canyon because of slick surfaces and ice. My dad and I left base camp/the cabin with SAR walkie-talkies and only a four-wheeler and daypacks. We searched a trail my dad was convinced this young man must have been on. We searched all day, thoroughly soaking our clothes in mud and snow, but we didn’t find him. We were almost convinced we just might have missed him.
Our definitive attitude about his possible location was slighted in favor of “higher probability”areas of search. Still no helicopter was brought in. Explanations were given about high winds in the canyon, no helicopter being available and no pilot who was talented enough to fly the narrow chasm. And the related parties and friends held their tongues in the presence of Search & Rescue but questioned the narrow thinking outside the cabin door each night, crying for their missing son and friend.
So, I contacted the Forest Service. I should be honest though, I didn’t call the Department of the Interior and demand to speak with the powers that be. No, instead, the new Forest Service ranger stopped into the Clarks Fork and Spoon for breakfast as I was waiting tables–with his nice eyes and sweet smile, I discussed the situation. The Forest Service hadn’t been asked for help by SAR; they had men on horseback willing to cover some ground, and they had a helicopter that flies the canyon each year to get a more precise count of mountain goats. Later that day, a helicopter was in place to fly the canyon and take digital footage of canyon walls. The ranger stated to my dad later at the cabin that a rift had been cast between the two organizations and now Search and Rescue doesn’t use or even ask for Forest Service equipment, bodies or expertise.
The helicopter recording video did not disclose the location of the young man, and it wasn’t until two weeks later that my dad and brother called to explain that the young man’s body had been recovered about thirty feet from where my father and I had hiked that day weeks before. My brother helped carry his body out to a weeping mother and a best friend exhausted by days spent in what seemed an endless search in a vast wilderness.
But the helicopter piece revealed something sadly intrinsic in our culture, ourselves and even the church: we don’t like to share, we don’t like to ask for help and our ego tells us to go at it alone. Mavericks. Lone Rangers. It seemed to me that SAR leaders felt they had something to prove; they’d been, in many respects, reduced to a joke of an organization. If they found this young man, independent of outside organizational assistance, they could take the credit and redeem themselves as a valid use of public tax dollars. But it shouldn’t work like that in the face of an emergency. There should be a sense of urgency about the central goal: find that lost young man, bring him home to his weeping father and take all the help you can get.
When I was in Zaandam, a town in the Netherlands, at the oldest Pentecostal church in Europe, the pastor explained that new believers are so few and far between that all the churches rejoice when one person chooses Christ. In fact, outreach posters there have the logos and names of nearly all the churches on them because they’re past the “this is my side of town” or the “we’re reformed and you’re not” mentality. They’re about the mission of God, its urgency, and they don’t have anything to proclaim except Christ crucified and risen.
Imagine if believers took Acts 2:42-47 and 4:32-35 seriously. What if we shared our resources, our monies, our bodies—laid aside our pride and laid aside the devilish notion that we could one day say “First <fill in the blank: Baptist, Presbyterian, A/G, you name it> Church took this city by storm”? What if we yield and say, “The Holy Spirit did it. We, as the corporate Church, was just His vessel”? What if there became an urgency about the call of Matthew 28’s Great Commission and that who receives the credit didn’t matter? Perhaps if we are called to share resources, there is more than enough to do what is asked (Exodus 36:7). And there may be more fruit. Imagine if we partnered with other churches, other ‘secular’ organizations doing the good work rather than creating competing organizations. What if we didn’t feel the need to say, “Yeah, well we can do that too, better than you, with nicer letterhead and colorful event T-shirts?” Just remember: there are no resources to waste, no time to lose, only our egos that can be tossed to the wayside. And more importantly, there are missing sons and daughters in a vast wilderness still.
* I must admit that this idea stems from Patrick Lencioni’s book Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars. It’s a must-read for all individuals in the church. Also good reads by Lencioni: The Three Signs of a Miserable Job and Death by Meeting. He’s not a “Christian” author, so don’t be disappointed by the lack of scriptural references. Thank you, Justin Smith, formerly a rep for Ceebs, for introducing Lencioni to me and for explaining to me about how my heart is a locked tower, and I should pity the young man trying to break in. I still have that stick figure drawing on the white board engraved in my mind.