October 21, 2013


The John Day River drains the Strawberry Mountains of central Oregon and meanders for 284 miles before it empties into the mighty Columbia River. It’s a pretty little river, the second-longest free-flowing river in the United States. My wife, Diane, and I had floated the John Day many times before without incident in our two-person raft. But on this day I had no idea the river had the heart of a dragon.

It was sunny with temperatures in the low 80s when my son Pat and I reached the little town of Spray, prayed, and started out. I was at the oars while Pat fished. The current didn’t seem overly strong as we started down the river, and I had no idea that danger loomed ahead.

For the next three and a half hours everything went smoothly. We ran a few rapids and looked for good holes for Pat to fish, and we had great conversation as we took in the spectacular beauty around us. 

Just as we neared the place I had parked my car, we hit some violent white water, and I was suddenly catapulted out of the raft. I found myself in a raging torrent of 40-degree white water fighting for my life. I would barely break the surface, gasp, spit water, and immediately get dragged under again, with my life vest helpless to keep me afloat.

Words are inadequate to describe the violence of the rapids and the power of the current. As the river tried to pull me down, I remember praying, “Dear Jesus, please. Not here, not now!” My 72-year-old body weakened rapidly after being sucked under at least four times as I was dishragged through 75 to 100 yards of white water. I was sure I was about to die.

A quarter of a mile downstream, I came off the white water, but was still in trouble. The powerful current kept me in the middle of the river, and after five or six minutes my efforts to swim became increasingly feeble as my body began to shut down in the frigid water. 

I was close to giving up when the current suddenly veered to within a few feet of a bank lined with small bushes. I gave a desperate lunge and grabbed a handful. Still in the water, I began an agonizingly slow crawl to inch my benumbed body out of the river.

Pat found me and ran back for our car. We struggled up the 30-foot rocky embankment to safety and took off to find medical help in Spray, but none was available. We next headed 33 miles to the nearby town of Fossil. More than 45 minutes had passed since I’d made it out of the river. By now my temperature was only 96.8°F rather than the normal 98.6°F. But I was alive.

So what can you do if you fall into a powerful current and can’t get out? Really, the only option is to cry out for help, as I did. “Jesus, please, not here, not now!” 

Are you in a current that is killing you? Perhaps it’s a current of doubt, of an addiction, a current of selfishness or a critical spirit. Maybe it’s a sinful relationship or sin in a relationship. Whatever current may have you, crying out to Jesus should be the first thing you do—and, of course, the most important.

After all, it’s Jesus who promised, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over [and drown] you. . . . For I am the Lord your God . . . your Savior. . . . And . . . I love you” (Isaiah 43:2-4).