One June night in 1969 while camping out along the White River in southern Missouri, something took place that still to this day completely blows me away. Perhaps never before or since has something happened in my life which so totally portrays God’s abounding mercy than what took place that night.
I was 16 years old at the time. I had no relationship with God, shy and so introverted my parents worried about me day and night. I had gone on this Boy Scout float trip because I had bonded with some of the guys in the troop and really respected the troop leader.
The second night on the river, we camped out right next to the water on a large sand bar. After an evening of talking and stories around the campfire, we all climbed into our tents exhausted yet very happy. The only two negatives were the heat and the trillions of mosquitoes.
Sometime during the night, I managed to crawl out of my sleeping bag, open the tent and take off walking with neither shoes nor a flashlight. I did this not because I wanted to, but because I was sleep walking. Alone and disoriented, I awoke deep in the underbrush with feet bleeding and covered from head to toe with mosquito bites.
Afraid, alone and confused, I didn’t know what to do. I remember vividly collapsing against a tree and weeping with all my heart. I knew I was going to die and never be found again. Fearing wild animals eating me I decided to take off walking in hopes I would find our campsite again.
The other kid in my tent suddenly awoke and immediately felt something was terribly wrong. He went to wake me up but I was gone. In a panic he rushed to the troop leader’s tent and woke him up frantically telling him I had vanished. Immediately the leader woke everyone up and told them to put on their boots and grab their flashlights.
For nearly an hour, in the middle of the night the troop trudged through the wild Missouri wilderness calling my name. Finally I heard them and yelled back to them. A short while later they found me and later told me I looked like a monster due to the blood and bites. Never in my life was I so happy to see anyone. I cried and cried and held onto the troop leader for dear life.
God did not have to save me that night. He could have turned away and allowed me to perish for I had never bothered to know Him. Yet, in spite of not being a believer, God stepped in and saw fit to rescue me from a very dangerous situation. That, to me, defines what grace and mercy are all about. God gave me something I didn’t deserve and saved me from something I did deserve.
Almost three months to the day after that ordeal along the river, God stepped into my life on a mountain in New Mexico and didn’t just rescue me but SAVED me. This time I completely turned my life over to Him and allowed His grace, mercy and love to transform me into an outgoing young man who would not quit talking about the love of God.
God is rich in mercy and loves us more than we could ever know. Through two events in the summer of 1969 I learned by experience how loving, gracious and merciful our God really is and amazingly, 43 years later I stand in awe of how great and good our God really is.