Take Your Outdoor to New Heights
This story of Mike Johnson and men climbing Mt. Rainier (The Climb Out of Homelessness)appears here in Shout! Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine partly by chance and partly by intentional pursuit. I think if you’re really going to discover the depths of what you believe, if you passionately want to experience God you have to get outside of the comfortable confines you create. Yes, I am talking about getting out of your safe home and your convenient car. But, I’m talking about more. When we get outside of our environment, out of our control, out of our definition of normal and acceptable then we’re vulnerable and that gives us freedom to be a greater part of God’s strength.
One man’s adventure is another man’s way of life.
If you’re like most people, you take an interstate exit ramp because you’re going places – you have an agenda. That was me. So, when I glanced and saw a tarpaulin hidden amidst the undergrowth I had nothing more than curiosity and a fraction of a second to take a quick second look. But, that’s all God needed.
“That’s not trash. There is someone there… living there.” God interrupted my busy thoughts with an invitation, a challenge and a ‘check’. It wasn’t a, “Just checking to see if you’re paying attention – say a quick prayer.” It was God’s chess move. It was the ‘check’ that calls for either the end of the game or checkmate.
It took a good bit of effort to find the correct back streets to navigate. I parked alongside a forgotten stretch of hidden pavement – an access road between a rundown hotel and a gated self-storage facility. Continuing by foot through a parking lot I was now part trespasser, part explorer and part hunter. At the corner of civilization I found it, a small worn dirt path that led into a thin strip of trees – the urban wilderness sandwiched between commercial real estate and an endless flow of busy commuters unaware of who I was about to find.
Actually, Jim found me. I had cautiously made my way back to his tent. It was remarkably well kept, clean and carefully all in order. There was no electricity but basic provisions like water were on store. The tarp, I discovered, was actually stretched a few feet higher over the tent as a second roof. This wasn’t a weekend campsite – this was home. Nobody was there and after a moment I left amazed and even more curious. By the time I got back out to the parking lot I realized that my incursion had not gone unnoticed. People who casually keep an eye out for Jim and his family had alerted him. He walked up to me directly, “Can I help you?”
For the next few minutes I shared with him about me, learned a bit about him and opened my heart and mind to consider God’s thesis: The outdoors can be a place for enthusiast and homeless to come together to learn, support each other, grow stronger and discover God through fellowship.
A COOL CONCEPT THAT IS REALLY HAPPENING TODAY
My East Coast epiphany landed me in the Northwest where Mike Johnson serves at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission. UGM provides emergency care and long-term recovery services to hurting and homeless people in the greater Seattle area. They're dedicated to serving, rescuing and transforming those in greatest need through the grace of Jesus Christ. As the gap widens between human need and public resources this mission has five initiatives: hunger, homelessness, poverty, high-risk youth and addiction. Johnson leads an annual event called Climbing Out Of Homelessness. He trains and then leads a group of men recovering from addiction and sheltered at UGM on a climb to the summit of Mt. Rainier.
THE OUTDOORS IS JUST OUT YOUR DOOR – AND THE HOMELESS ARE TOO
Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission is a member of the 100-year old Association of Gospel Rescue Mission (AGRM). The association represents 300 members in North America. There is likely one or more missions near you. Gospel rescue missions have a long history of providing lifelines for those drowning in the waves of adversity and the undertow of addiction. Gospel is part of their name because their leaders are compelled foremost by Jesus’ instructions to actively care for those in need, and to introduce them to the liberating good news of His kingdom and all it represents. Their name includes rescue because delivering those in need from danger is the critical and consuming first part of a sometimes slow but always exciting journey that leads to new desires, choices, and direction in life. The word missions is in their name because those in need see each of their structures as a bastion of protection and a refuge from fatigue and failure, similar in concept to those Southwestern sanctuaries built by pioneering padres long ago.
The exciting story of Mike Johnson and team with men resident at Seattle’s Union Gospel Mission has been documented in the compelling film New Heights, which was nominated for the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. Johnson shares the adventure with you here in Shout! Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine. But, this story offers much more than adventure. It is in invitation to add an extra challenge to your outdoor passions and experience life with those who are homeless. Certainly there are opportunities to climb Rainier with Mike Johnson and men. There are also opportunities to bike with the Denver Rescue Mission or run a race with Wheeler Mission Ministries’ in Indianapolis or perhaps whatever you like to do outdoors to support the ministry of one of 300 rescue gospel missions throughout North America. Find one near you, pray, contact them and then Be Life to others by taking your outdoor to new heights.
Brad Bloom is the publisher of Shout! Outdoor Lifestyle Magazine and Faith & Fitness Magazine. He is president of Lifestyle Media Group, a ministry that develops content to help you connect your daily lifestyle with the Christian faith so that you can Be Life to others. You can Contact Us to schedule him to speak at your church, business or community gathering in 2015.