Joe was small. One of two city kids who were on the trip. He was the only black fellow in the group. This was probably the first time he’d ever been out in the wilderness … yeah … I’m sure it was. And it was immediately obvious that he had a lot of fear in his life. This short backpacking trip was placing him in a context ripe for producing fear.
On the second day we went on an excursion. Our purpose was simply to see how far we could get, not to get to a particular point, so we purposefully chose a difficult route off-trail. As we pushed forward we got to a place where there was so much thick underbrush you couldn’t see the rocks below your feet. I went ahead and determined it was safe and then I called all the boys across. They all marched through, carefully picking their steps …all except the two boys from the city. Fear had begun to play on their hearts. My words were having no effect on either of them so I walked back across to where they were.
I managed to coax the one boy into movement and led him across. I then came back for Joe.
He was now sitting down more frozen in fear than ever. I slowly sat down next to him and began to talk to him. The more I talked the more I could see this just wasn’t going to happen. He was weeping, crying out “I don’t want to die.” I placed my hand on his shoulder and could feel the tenseness in his little frame. Fear was contorting his face. He was genuinely concerned for his life. I felt at a total loss how to help him.
Having been a salesman I knew that one of the principles in sales is you say your point and then you don’t say any more. I wasn’t thinking about sales principles at that point but I knew that I just needed to be silent for a bit. For all the boys who had so easily crossed that unseen path this excursion was just another fun adventure. But for Joe, this was a moment that would change the course of his life. He was either going to leave this moment and view himself with the courage to face fear, overcome it, and feel like a winner, or he was going to leave this moment dominated by fear and feeling like a loser.
I refused to let my own feelings of inadequacy dictate that I give up on this boy. I knew that it was very very important that he accomplish this.
I Finally I broke the silence. “You like to win don’t you?” I asked. “Yeah.” He sniffled quietly as he nodded his head. He hadn’t yet looked up at me. “Today you are going to be a winner” I said gently but with the all-knowing authority of a seasoned coach. I wanted him to know that I knew he had the strength he didn’t think he had.
Without hesitation I just held out my hand and didn’t say anything else. I kept my hand there and didn’t take my eyes off of him. As my hand was hanging there I was praying. I had to trust God in this situation because there wasn’t anything else I could do. If I took my hand back I would lose this moment, but he would lose far more. So regardless of how long it took I had to hold my hand there hanging in the air feeling helpless. Minutes passed and he didn’t move except that he would periodically peek to see if my hand was still there.
Then, without warning, his hand began to move and he reached out and took my hand! He stood up and we started to walk together. When we got to the section he was afraid of I literally picked him up and carried him across before he had a chance to hesitate or let fear grip him again.
After joining the group on the other side we hiked up the hill until the brush got so thick we couldn’t go any further and that’s where we stopped to have lunch. On the way back down there was absolutely no fear in his life. You could hear the joy in his voice and see the new-found confidence in his face and the way he walked. When we reached that section that only an hour before had frozen him in fear he walked across it like there was nothing to it. He had won!
This is why I have continued to serve for so many decades in the special ministry of Christian Service Brigade. It wasn’t anything special in me. This ministry has simply given me a unique place to be a spectator as God works in the lives of boys and men, and every once in a while God has been pleased to let others see His love in my outstretched hand.