November 21, 2021

Answer the Phone

Where have you been? The whole county has been searching for you!

Dwight Nelson

It was to be a simple day-trip hike in the beautiful, autumn-colored Colorado mountains of the United States in October 2021. What’s not to like about that “Rocky Mountain high” of deep blue skies towering over rugged gray rock terrain amidst the you-can-smell-them rich conifer greens? Ahead is Mount Elbert’s peak and the South Trailhead that climbs toward it. What a day for a hike!

But at the end of the day, around 8:00 p.m., someone called Lake County Search and Rescue, reporting the hiker was long overdue. Could they please help locate the individual?

All night long, search and rescue teams combed surrounding areas to find the missing hiker. “ ‘Multiple attempts to contact the subject via their cell phone were unsuccessful,’ ” a Lake County statement later reported.

But lo and behold, more than 24 hours later, the hiker returned home. “Where have you been — the whole county has been searching for you!”

According to the Lake County statement, the subject (whose identity and gender were being protected) lost the trail around nightfall, spent the night searching for the missing trail, finally found it, and reached their car the next morning. “ ‘They had no idea that SAR [search and rescue] was out looking for them.’ ”

But the closing to this news report (several readers sent me) is a classic. From the Lake County statement: “ ‘One notable take-away is that the subject ignored repeated phone calls from us because they didn’t recognize the number.’ ” Can you believe it? The hiker’s phone kept ringing through the night from an unrecognized phone number, but since they didn’t know who was calling, they decided not to answer. Help was one phone call away — but they wouldn’t answer the phone!

When social media turned critical of this hapless hiker, the Lake County Search and Rescue came to the hiker’s defense: “ ‘Please remember that what seems like common sense in hindsight is not obvious to a subject in the moment when they are lost and panicking.’ ”1

I’m amazed at how many of us have lived through the double-header crisis of this pandemic, watched from afar the still erupting Capitol meltdown, tracked the global headlines of climate change, bemoaning the moral hemorrhaging of this culture and its collapsing values, and complaining about supply chain disruptions that threaten our Christmas gifts from China. All the while, our phones are ringing off the hook from an unidentified caller. Has it occurred to anybody it might be God on the other end? And that we might be more lost than even we think?

How did our Lord put it? “ ‘But be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man’ ” (Luke 12:34-36, Message).2

In other words, please answer the phone!

Or, in the words of the American author Ellen G. White: “God of heaven, wake us up!”3

Answer the phone.

The original version of this commentary was posted on the New Perceptions television ministry blog, The Fourth Watch.


1. Elisha Fieldstadt, “Hiker lost for 24 hours ignored rescuers’ calls because ‘they didn't recognize the number,’ ”

2. THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

3. Last Day Events (Boise, ID: Pacific Press, 1992), 26.