“I believe in you Porter. You belong here. You are going to make an impact.” Nate Hausman smiled a reassuring smile at the trembling pale face in front of him. I was a nervous wreck my first summer up at base camp. I felt like an inadequate phony, somebody who truly did not belong in the role he’d been chosen to perform. Yet my boss Nate consistently encouraged me that I belonged, and that despite all evidence I could stack up to the contrary, I was ready to lead groups of students on backpacking trips.
“I’m here for you,” Nate said.
I knew he was there for me. And that made a difference.
As I embarked on my first trip as a Sherpa, I did not trust my own abilities and I struggled to believe that God trusted them, but inexplicably, Nate Hausman did trust them. At first, that was the truth I clung to in my life as a Sherpa. My first trip leading students, I dealt with getting lost, three serious medical situations and three phone calls to base camp asking for assistance. Not exactly smooth sailing. But as the trip came to a close, I began to see the truth that God would continually illuminate to me throughout the next six La Vida trips I would lead. My inadequacies as a leader were the very thing that drove me to relentlessly rely on Jesus during trips. And that relentless reliance on God became an inspiration to students who were struggling in similar ways to me. In my weakness and failure, I got to experience the supreme provision of a loving God who somehow impacted the lives of my participants through my feeble attempts to guide them. My mindset began to shift away from clinging to Nate’s trust, to trustfully clinging to God Himself, knowing that in Him I could become the leader students needed me to be.
This impacted my life at Gordon in several ways. Ever since that first summer, my heart has been consistently pushed by the idea of a commitment move. At La Vida, a commitment move is the description of an action on the rock climb when a climber decides to take a leap of faith, trusting their belayer is holding them up should their feet slip. This concept altered my life at Gordon. I began to wrestle with how I could make a difference at Gordon while remaining others-focused, not just trying to gain popularity and attention for myself. My floor theme as an RA was “Epic Fail.” I wanted to create an environment where Christian men could talk about failure. Because of lessons I’d learned from La Vida and God’s grace, it worked. Several of the men I lived with bought into that idea and shared deeply with the guys living on their floor about their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Then they continued to spread those environments with them as they continued their Gordon careers.
When I got back from my first summer as a Sherpa, I prayed that God would give me a great commitment move I could make to impact the campus. I was hoping God would call me to do something radical to call the campus onto its knees in worship and repentance. God’s message to me? “Get in the pool and learn how to swim.” I began the prayers of “No really” and “Surely you’re not serious”, but persistently that was the message I heard from God. You see, I was terrified of swimming and could barely do it, even at the age of 19. One of the places in the world where I felt the most panic and felt the least trust in God was the deep end of a swimming pool. Eventually, it became embarrassingly clear that swim lessons were the commitment move I needed to make. I happened to have two swim instructors in my prayer group, and mentioned to them, “I think God might sort of maybe be calling me to learn how to swim maybe.” My Jonah-esque hiding was done for and like him, I was plopped in the water. My friend Abbie lovingly and patiently taught me elementary strokes, how to control my breathing and how to avoid panic. Little by little, I began to see that God was present with me in even this, too. I became a person who no longer was terrified of his own weaknesses and fears. I became a person who was willing to say. “I am inadequate. But God is perfect. So I’m going to listen to him.”
La Vida is a perfect time to learn how to accept God’s grace and learn how to extend that grace to the people around us. I am not an outdoorsy person. I am a book nerd. Yet God has used me to guide, protect and lead seven groups of college and high school students on treks through the woods. I am terrified of water. Yet God used that fear to give me courage over much bigger challenges. Where does any of that come from? It comes from the God of Paul. The God of Nate Hausman. The God of Rich Obenschain. The God of La Vida. The God who is even now smiling at you and me saying, “You belong here. You are going to make an impact. I am with you.”
Article by Porter Sprigg ’19. Porter worked for the Adirondack Expeditions program for 3 years, first as a Sherpa and then as the Spiritual Curriculum Coordinator. He’s currently teaching his first Discovery class at Gordon College and diving into studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.