As a boy, International Justice Mission founder Gary Haugen spent summers camping and hiking with his dad and two older brothers. His brothers would often race up the trail from one dramatic vista to the next, while his father stayed back letting Gary set the pace. Haugen recounts that they always went higher than he would have chosen, but his dad was always present to steady him over streams, help him over boulders, and reassure him that they were almost there.


On one such trip to Mount Rainier, 10-year-old Gary decided he didn’t want to leave the gentle asphalt path around the visitor center to brave the rustic trail used by climbers on their way to the summit.

Gary’s dad suggested that they try to hike to Camp Muir, the base camp used by climbers heading for the summit. A large sign at the trailhead warned of every conceivable danger awaiting those who dared to venture beyond its threshold. Gary’s brothers eagerly accepted, but Gary looked up at the massive, looming rock formations and felt the weight of mounting anxieties in his little chest. His dad assured him that he would help Gary make it, but instead Gary responded as only a 10-year-old would, saying “No, that looks boring.”

Instead, Gary chose to stay behind and spend the day at the visitor center while his dad and brothers braved the climb.

As the hours passed, the warm and comfortable visitor’s center and its magnificent exhibits started to feel extremely small. The video loops became boring after six or seven reruns, and made Gary miss his father and brothers. He started to feel bored, totally safe – but totally stuck.

“One of the biggest regrets in life, I think, is a sense of having gone on the trip but missed the adventure.”

– Gary Haugen

Gary’s dad and brothers returned late in the afternoon, flushed with triumph. They were wet and cold, slightly dehydrated, and nursing scrapes from rocks and ice, but their eyes were clear and bright with delight. They had stories from an unforgettable day on the mountain. Gary said nothing, having endured one of the longest afternoons of his life.

Gary went on the trip, but missed the adventure.

Decades later, he still recounts his experience vividly.

Stuck at the visitor center.

It’s my sense that many of us feel that we are stuck at the ‘visitor center’ of life. We are totally safe, but there seems to be a certain vitality missing, and it remains frustratingly difficult to identify. In my experience, this task necessarily falls to the individual as it relates specifically to the burdens God has knit into your own heart. Fortunately, however, it remains possible to discuss the issue generally as the vitality we long for is usually found in two different areas: Risks and Relationships.


Experiencing the adventure of life requires that we make the most of the opportunities afforded to us to climb mountains. It takes courage to acknowledge dreams and purse them, even though you might fail! Instead, as the challenges loom before us, our anxieties mount and we’re tempted to resist, saying “No, that looks boring.”

Actually, our chosen excuse is usually, “I could do that, if I really wanted to.”

This excuse conveniently allows us to remain safe at life’s ‘visitor center,’ watching looped videos of other people’s adventures and overestimating our capabilities without any actual experience to prove us wrong. It prevents us from having to risk, shifts the blame for our dreams not coming true to a benign scapegoat, and attempts to maintain the appearance of potential without testing our ability.

But if we want to experience the adventure of life, we have to be willing to face the risks that will inevitably loom before us. Whether it’s returning to school, starting a business, or heading overseas, the landscape will be rocky and the journey arduous. We must embrace faith and follow God beyond what we can control, where our own strength and competencies can take us, and what is affirmed or risked by the crowd.

“Faith is spelled R-I-S-K!”

– John Wimber


Deep relationships are the most significant indicator for personal happiness and satisfaction, and we won’t experience the adventure of life without them. Life’s greatest experiences involve other people – and even when we experience them alone, our first inclination is to share them with others!

However, forging the type of relationships that make life worthwhile requires that we face vulnerability, difficulty, and disappointment. Absent a willingness to do so, we’ll never find the vitality that awaits us on the more demanding climb.

Here’s the sign at the trailhead: Seek out mentors to give yourself the chance to become the best you can be, and you’ll eventually run up against limitations; Mentor others and invest in their hopes and dreams, and it will cost you time and they will disappoint you; Be an ‘armor bearer’ and invest in deep, intentional, transparent relationships with a small group of friends with total commitment, and it will cost you vulnerability.

At the end of the day, choosing the rustic trail of meaningful relationships means you’ll be nursing scrapes and cuts – but you’ll treasure unforgettable memories as well.

“God made each of us then whispered, ‘Think symphony, not solo.’ Individually capable; collectively unbelievable.”

– Bob Goff

Take the trip, and embrace the adventure!

As we take the trip of life, we will each be faced with an important choice: Stick to the gentle asphalt path around the visitor center, or brave the rustic trail used by climbers on their way to the summit.

We can play it safe, forgo the risks, and insulate ourselves from the relationships.

Chances are, however, we’ll also feel totally stuck.

As 2012 comes to a close, it’s my prayer that God grant you His courage for the more demanding climb. It’s there we’ll find His power, wisdom, grace, and love – and experience Him steady us over streams, help us over boulders, and reassure us that we’re almost there.

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