RICHMOND, Va. – A magazine headline recently caught my eye: “What adventures are actually left?”
Summits reached for the first time. Deserts crossed. Daring journeys never before attempted – or survived, as the case may be.
It’s a subject worth considering in memory of one of the greatest adventurers of them all, Neil Armstrong, first man on the moon. Armstrong, who died Aug. 25, made no secret of his disappointment in America’s flagging commitment to human space exploration. How long will it take us to get back to the moon, he wondered aloud in his later years, much less Mars? The cosmos awaits.
Back here on earth, though, “are there many meaningful challenges left for intrepid explorers?” asked an article in the BBC News Magazine. “[G]enuine firsts in exploration are getting hard to find. The world’s greatest peaks have all been climbed. The earth has been circumnavigated many times by plane, foot, bicycle and balloon, among other means of conveyance. Many of the major rivers, lakes and seas have been swum or canoed. There are few genuine unknowns. Satellite navigation technology allows mankind to see almost every river, copse and hill.”
It’s a far cry from the great ages of discovery, when wanderers trekked and sailed across vast, unknown expanses in search of new lands and peoples, trade routes, knowledge, gold.
“In the late 19th century a ragbag of missionaries, gentlemen explorers and speculators began the scramble for Africa with little knowledge of what awaited them,” the article observed of the last such age. “Exploration today is a dying art. The new feats are often about endurance as much as discovery. Firsts are ever more specialist and technically defined – first successful dive at the North Pole … first person to jetpack across the English Channel … oldest woman to climb Everest….”
There are plenty of such specialized challenges for adventurers with the time, money and guts to pursue them. Want to ski the fearsome heights of K2 in the Himalayas? Go for it, if you have your will in order. Want to swim the Pacific? Someone is planning to, but if you hurry you might beat him. Or take a dive: The world’s ocean floors remain a greater mystery than the surface of Mars, according to the BBC.
The spirit of adventure also burns brightly beyond the arenas of extreme sports and scientific exploration, however. There are people willing and eager to do whatever it takes to speak the name of Jesus where it has never been heard.
Aaron Juergens,* for instance. He’s a 20-something guy who grew up climbing mountains in Colorado for fun.
“[A]fter high school I started climbing ‘fourteeners,’“ Juergens says of Colorado’s 54 peaks that soar above 14,000 feet. “I would climb three mountains a week.”
Today, as a Christian worker, he hikes the Himalayas, the “roof of the world,” adapting inadequate maps and using GPS units to find people who have never heard the gospel. (Read his story and watch a video here.)
“Not all people live in the cities where you can take a taxi to their front door,” Juergens says. “People live in places that we would never dream of living in but the fact is they live there. That’s where they’re put and they’re not coming to us. We have to go to them.”
That’s exactly what he and his teammates do. The people groups in the remote regions he visits aren’t just hard to reach geographically. Juergens also must cross mountains of superstition, tradition and spiritual resistance. But that isn’t a reason to quit, Juergens says, even when you’re freezing and sick on top of a mountain.
“I’m up there, wearing six jackets and three gloves and five socks and I really just kind of want to sit in a bed,” he says. “But then you think about those people [who haven’t yet heard about Jesus]. If we turn around, who is going to come next? I mean, how many people have turned around? The world is getting smaller. The day is coming when everybody is going to have no excuse whatsoever for not hearing. There’s no excuse for turning back. We keep going.”
That’s the kind of determination that moves the Gospel across mountains, physical or spiritual. Think about that the next time someone tells you the age of adventure is dead. Many mountains remain unclimbed. Are you up for it?
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Erich Bridges is IMB global correspondent. Visit “WorldView Conversation,” the blog related to this column, at http://worldviewconversation.blogspot.com/.)