Swiftwater Journey

faith, culture, and growing up in a rapidly changing world

Jesus walked on my campus November 26, 2011

I fell off a 70 foot cliff while serving as a volunteer in a mountaineering class at San Carlos High School. I’ve decided to celebrate the friends who saved my life by writing some posts about the experience. I do not pass a single day without reflecting on November 16, 1981 and the courage it took for my friends to make decisions and take action that spared my life.

You can read part one here: the best job I could imagine – November 16, 1981. You can read all posts related to my mountaineering accident by searching the Categories for Accident.

 

Part Two: Jesus Walked on My Campus … and his name was John.

In addition to teaching outdoor skills to students, John Woodhall served as the head football coach at the San Carlos High School. John is by nature a gentle man, but demonstrated his capacity for strong leadership at practice and on the sidelines. Though he rarely raised his voice, he could get a linebacker’s attention when needed. John was strong, focused, disciplined, and deeply loved his students. His strength and care emerged out of a heart deeply transformed by the grace and compassion of Jesus Christ. I am not exaggerating when I say that John seemed to me to be the embodiment of Jesus walking about his campus. Kids loved and flocked to him. Students wanted to be near him and touch him. John made himself freely accessible to kids–all kind of kids. This is what set John Woodhall apart. He loved and cared for all kinds of students. Not just the strong athletes, or the Christian kids who mirrored his spiritual values. Every person found it possible to easily slide into his span of gentle care. This was especially true of the kids who desperately needed a mountaineering class to keep them engaged in the relentless and unforgiving grind of public high school.

I met John through the Student Ministries family at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, CA. The church has a long legacy of quality leaders in ministry to adolescents, including not only professional staff, but maybe more importantly, gifted and called volunteers. I tried to be sensitive to John’s schedule–as a teacher/coach his life was full. Add his deep commitment to his family and it continued to amaze me that he made himself available as a trustworthy volunteer youthworker at PCC. Through John’s faithfulness in ministry to students both at church and school, I came to be his friend and co-worker. In some ways, we had a reciprocal friendship–he served as a volunteer in the ministry I supervised, and I served as a volunteer in the classes he supervised. John’s involvement with students through church became a natural extension of his growing relationships with teenager’s all over our community. John would often invite students at school to join him at our weekly high school gathering. My involvement with John and outdoor mountaineering trips was a natural extension of the ministry I was carving out through the church. Our joint ministry was externally and outreach oriented–we kept the trajectory of our main weekly gathering on the widest range of students, especially those not likely to come inside a church building. In retrospect, the students enrolled in the San Carlos High School Mountaineering Courses were blessed and fortunate. They gained intimate access to a grace-filled teacher in John, and by extension, received the mentoring of caring adults whom John invited to help lead the “Field Study Projects.” As I reflect on my experience, I could not have been happier. I had boundless energy, considered it my calling to be with adults and students in ministry, and was invited to make my second office the mountains of California.

More to come …

 

The best job I could imagine – November 16, 1981 November 16, 2011

Today marks the 30th anniversary since I was rescued in the Ventana Wilderness area, some thirty miles south of Big Sur, California.

I fell off a 70 foot cliff while serving as a volunteer in a mountaineering class at San Carlos High School.

I’ve decided to celebrate the friends who saved my life by writing some posts about the experience. I do not pass a single day without reflecting on November 16, 1981 and the courage it took for my friends to make decisions and take action that spared my life. I also freely admit that human effort and courage can not fully explain my survival from the fall and the 18 hour ordeal till I was plucked out by helicopter and transported to the nearest hospital. I am alive, I believe, by the grace and choosing of God. Every day and every step is a gift not taken for granted.

I intend to write briefly about the experience and the lessons learned. I won’t take too much time refining my words, so apologies in advance for poor sentence structure, or disjointed paragraphs. I’m just going to get the stuff that I have spent years talking with others about into written form. I’m writing mostly for me, but I know some of these posts will strike a chord for someone else and prove helpful.

In 1980, I graduated from Fuller Theological Seminary and began as an energetic youth pastor at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City, CA. One of the best parts of the ministry I was privileged to engage was to help out my friend, John Woodhall, as he taught several Mountaineering courses at San Carlos High School. Students learned basic mountaineering skills in the class room and then took their Mid term and Final exams, affectionately called “Field Study Projects,” in the wild. I participated in many projects and thoroughly enjoyed the treat of hanging with kids in the beautiful outdoors. I loved camping, backpacking, rock climbing, and sleeping under the stars. I couldn’t imagine a better job–getting paid to explore the woods with high energy, risk-taking, adventurous kids, and my good buddy John.

The only challenge of this particular weekend mid term was the torrential down pour of rain. I love to sleep outside, but I hate to sleep in the rain. Especially when the students were responsible for our rain shelters.

More to come …

You can read all posts related to my mountaineering accident by searching the Categories for Accident.