Joel Reyes’s life was changed in fifth grade by a teacher in a little rural school in El Salvador, who could see beyond his extreme poverty and overwhelming obstacles. The teacher challenged him to dream by saying, “You should be a teacher. You would make a good one.” Today Reyes is the principal of Intermountain Adventist Academy in Grand Junction, Colorado, United States. Here he reflects on finding purpose in life and the role of faith in his experience.—Editors
I remember the jungle. There was no trail. My three friends and I each carried machetes, which we used to open a small path. I have never seen vegetation so lush and thick. We would take turns hacking vines and branches. The process was painfully slow, the temperature high, and the air heavy. The jungle was so thick that we could not see past the space we were creating with our machetes.
We were looking for a waterfall. One of our friends had spotted it from the air, and he was sure we were heading in the right direction, but from the ground, we couldn’t tell.
We had been planning the trip for several weeks. We were young, strong, and determined, and well prepared for the challenge — or so we thought. We started very early in the morning. We followed a small creek until there was no more. Then, we began cutting vines and branches with our machetes.
By noon, we were tired, hungry, and thirsty, and our jungle trail was only a few yards long. We ate and rested for a bit, then continued our task, determined to get to the waterfall we were sure we would find nearby. As the day grew old, we realized we were not going to make it. Our trail had not grown much, and we had no idea how much farther we had to go, or whether there indeed was a waterfall.
As we headed back, tired and defeated, someone commented, “I don’t think there is a waterfall here. We would have heard the sound of rushing water, but we have heard none.”
Never What You Think
I have often thought about that long-ago jungle experience with my friends. I have been hacking with my machete at the vines and branches entwined across this trail called life, and many times I have questioned myself, “What if there is no waterfall?”
I know enough to realize I don’t have all the answers, yet that is not sufficient.
I want to know the truth, but my truth has changed many times throughout my existence.
I am a reader and a learner. But that also brings its headaches. The more you learn, the more you realize how elusive truth is. And this brings me to the point that has become my philosophy: reality is never what you think it is.
The moment I believe I have it together, I am wrong.
We will only know absolute reality when we meet Jesus. Until then, we will keep hacking at the vines and branches, not knowing whether we are on the trail that leads to the waterfall.
One of my students once said to me, “Mr. Reyes, what if we are all wrong? What if our understanding of God and eternity is all wrong?”
The Source of Reality
The world is a dichotomy, and I have struggled with it. It hurts me deeply to see the pain that humans in positions of strength inflict so callously on those without the ability to fight back. And it is even more disturbing when they call themselves Christians and pray to the same Jesus I pray to and quote the same Bible I read as they carry out their deviant actions. Then, when the time comes for them to go, they depart in peace and are even celebrated as righteous by like-minded tribe members.
I so identify with Jeremiah when he said, “Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You: Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?” (Jeremiah 12:1, NASB).
So, for the sake of our discussion regarding worldview, what is important for me at this point is not whether my truth is absolute and bulletproof. What is important is the source of my reality — God Himself.
As a believer, I know that God is eternal, omniscient, and omnipotent. I know He created me. I also know He is coming back to take me home. And when I put those three into perspective, my questions and doubts have one answer in the form of a question, “What is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4, ESV). So I move on, knowing I don't have, and will never have, all the answers until I see Him. And I keep hacking at the vines and branches with my machete. I know there is a waterfall, even when I am not sure whether my trail leads straight to it.
There is a song written by Andrae Crouch called “If Heaven Never Was Promised to Me” that speaks to me. The words say that even if heaven never was promised to me, nor God’s promise of eternal life, it’s been worth just having the Lord in my life. These words provide me with purpose. I am a man who delights in helping others, especially children. It gives me all the purpose for living that I need.
I don’t go around asking, “Who caused the pain?” To the sufferer, it does not matter. Therefore, I shall go on, like the old man walking along the beach picking up beached starfish and throwing them back into the water — one at a time.
I am here for a reason, and the reason is in front of me, every day, put there by the Lord.
And it may look different every day, but as I walk with the Lord, I shall hear His voice behind me saying, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isaiah 30:21, NIV).
How Much Love?
Service should be something we all do. It’s biblical: “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matthew 10:8, NIV). However, I also believe that it is a gift like all others, that we all have a little deep inside of us. For service to achieve its divine purpose, it must be inborn and done with joy.
One of my all-time heroes, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, once said, “I am not sure exactly what heaven will be like, but I don’t know that when we die and it comes time for God to judge us, he will not ask, How many good things have you done in your life? Rather he will ask, How much love did you put into what you did?’”
So here is my reality: I was made by God to serve others. He has given me all the tools I need, and when He comes in the clouds of heaven, may He find me doing good to others. I shall live as one who’s been forgiven.
The original version of this story was posted by the Mid-America Union Conference Outlook.