Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lost and Found

I come from a big family.  No, I mean a BIG family.  My Grandma and Grandpa Johnson loved each other, but more importantly, they loved the Lord.  My mom was the fifth of ten kids.  I am one of forty-three grandkids, and my kids have been a part of being my grandmother's 100+ direct descendants.  Family get togethers are regularly over 100 people, all of us knowing each other and being a part of one another's lives.  I know it's unusual, but I think a big part of our closeness relates to the fact that the majority of us are not only bound together because we're "Johnsons", but we're bound together as a part of the much larger family of God.  We not only share blood in common, we share his blood in common.  Which leads me to the following story of God's great love and faithfulness.

Last January, my cousin Matt Johnson, was on a business trip to Japan.  He'd been there before, and being that he was an experienced mountain climber, he had attempted to summit the great Mt. Fuji.  He had been unable to, as weather had grown bad and he had to turn around.  Mt Fuji then became a goal, something to prepare for, something to research, something to go after.  So he did.  Knowing that he'd return again on business, my cousin spent months preparing to summit the peak of Mt. Fuji.  He had developed an exhaustive training regime, he'd researched and purchased equipment, he'd looked over maps, and routes and ways to get to the top.  He had gotten as prepared as he could to climb, and this time summit Mt. Fuji.

On January 16th, Matt did not show up to work in Japan, his coworkers knew something was wrong.  They knew he had attempted the climb, and they went looking for him.  His family got a call that no one should have to receive, and then the calls went out to the extended family from there.  I remember where I was when I got the phone call from my mom.  I remember collapsing in sobs to my knees, and I remember my sweet Melodie Joy, kissing me and giving me a hug on her way out the door to school saying, "Oh it's okay Mom.  I'm going to tell my teacher, and we're going to PRAY!  It's okay Mom, we're going to pray."  Thank you Jesus that my three year old daughter knows who to go to first when crisis strikes.  Thank you Jesus, that you are not a God who is far off.

Desperate to do "something", "anything", I went to facebook.  Yes, facebook has a horrible reputation about many things.  People are mean to one another, share things that they shouldn't, are to the millionth degree passively aggressive towards one another, or air their business that should remain private, BUT I thought, "I have a BIG family, most of whom is on facebook, most of whom need to know what is going on, and the family needs to not have to make a million calls to get the info around."  So, I started a private facebook group called, "Please Pray for Matt Johnson", thinking that at least a couple of hundred of my relatives may join, or Matt's sister's friends, etc.  I had no idea what was about to unfold.

The Please Pray for Matt Johnson page quickly spread like wildfire, with my cousins, friends etc sending invites to their friends to come and join.  Not to gawk, not to watch a show, not to passively look at and say, "oh, that's so sad".  Rather, over facebook, an entire family that is spread out throughout the country, along with their friends, relatives and aquaintances were able to come together to do one thing.  We came together to pray.  Now, I grew up in a family that prays.  I grew up with an extended family that prays, and many people have often commented about how special that is.  But now, seemingly in an instant that prayer life, that family of believers was on display for the world, literally the world to see.  Again, not to gawk, but to be welcomed in to pray with us.  To go before the Lord, and to not be satisfied in leaving until an answer was given.  My cousin went missing on a mountain in Japan, and 3,200 strangers banded together to pound on the doors of Heaven seeking his rescue and safe return.  3,200 strangers, many, oh so many of whom had never fasted in their lives, never lamented with such weeping before the Lord, never had gone to a prayer meeting, went.  They fasted with us, they prayed with us, and they were able to go to a prayer meeting with us, many for the first time in their lives.  Strangers committed to praying around the clock for my cousin's safe return.  A 24 hour prayer schedule went out, and everyday the time slots were filled.  Two weeks of night and day prayer, fasting and worshipped happened.  And the best part?  It wasn't bound by denomination.  It wasn't bound by doctrines or theologies.  It wasn't bound by time (as many could look at the prayers people had said from minutes, hours, or days past and join in), it wasn't bound by location, and it wasn't even bound by knowing Matt.  God was up to something.  He had a plan for this.  He'd given an answer (Daniel 9:23) as soon as we had begun to pray.

But two weeks after the prayer surge, the rededicating of peoples' lives to the Lord, the witness of faith and the testimony of Matt's life going out, the disheartening news went forth that the last search.  The search that carried the list bit of hope of finding my cousin alive had turned up empty.  He was not found, and most likely would not be until the snow melted.  For many, that would have been the crushing blow.  For many, that would have been the point of going back and saying that they were done.  But how could we?  You see, for us, faith is, and has always been "being sure of what we hope for, and confident of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1  While the news and reality of my cousin having died on Mt. Fuji was terrible, it would have been horrifying had we not known that Matt had known the Lord.  I love the way The Message - Bible puts 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 "That's why we live with such good cheer. You won't see us drooping our heads or dragging our feet! Cramped conditions here don't get us down. They only remind us of the spacious living conditions ahead. It's what we trust in but don't yet see that keeps us going. Do you suppose a few ruts in the road or rocks in the path are going to stop us? When the time comes, we'll be plenty ready to exchange exile for homecoming."  And you know what's cool?  3,200+ people got to see that verse lived out by a family who was hurting and grieving the loss of a son, a brother, an uncle and cousin.  You see, we, and very much Matt's parents and sisters, grieve the loss of their beloved because it's the finality of it here on earth.  But they very much rejoice in knowing where Matt is with 100% assurance, with no doubts and no regrets.

I will say this, I had many, "I don't get it God" conversations over the next several weeks.  Many, "God, why would you do things this way?  It felt like you were doing something big God...why would you make it so that you didn't get the glory?  What are you up to God?  Again Lord, why would you have so many people gather together, believing in you?  Believing in your power, believing in your miracles....I mean, many actually believing for the first time?  You were on stage God, and you didn't show up.  I don't get it.  What happened?"  And in the midst of these conversations, a deep peace continued to well within my spirit.  But honestly, I was irritated.  I had many more conversations with the Lord, "Thank you for your peace God.  I know that we came to you first, and had we not done that, we would've been in trouble, we would have had regrets, but why?  Why didn't you take this opportunity to show people that you're still in the miracle business?  I know you are, but I wanted them to see it.  Why would you gather 3,200+ people together, waiting for you miracle and then nothing?  I wanted my cousin to walk off that mountain by your might God.  I still don't get it.  Please still take the glory God.  Find something.  Make it meaningful, Lord.  Have the glory God, even when I don't get it."

Prayers changed over the next several months, and again, I thought that this random group of people who had bonded together over such a great tragedy would diminish, but surprisingly it did not.  People stayed, praying, fasting and praying for peace, answers and for Matt to be found soon.  Even more remarkably, people continued to daily post what a blessing it was for them to see faith in action.  To see a real family bonded together in Christ, unshakeable, immoveable.  My thoughts shifted to, "Is this what this was all for God?  For people to REALLY see what faith looks like?"

Last week my cousin was found.  He was found perfectly whole, intact and with answers showing that he had not suffered.  From all counts, things indicated that he had made it close, if not to the top of Mt. Fuji and had either been blown off the summit or fallen on the descent.  And it was bittersweet.  Bittersweet to know that he had been found and that the worry of him never being found was over, but also sad that he hadn't been one of those that just gets lost on the way down and was traversing the back country of Japan only to turn up in a tea house saying, "Hey, I'm Matt Johnson and I've been lost for a bit."  And while it was nice to know that he didn't suffer,  there were still many questions about what happened.  Questions that it was thought may never be answered or known until yesterday when Matt's camera was found.  So much more than a needle in a hay stack, but on it, pictures of Matt on Mt. Fuji, and most importantly, standing proudly on the summit.  He'd made it!  Short of him walking off Mt. Fuji whole, this was more than could ever have been expected.  Prayers and intercession of thousands have lead to answers and peace for a family who has lost someone incredible, and the big and small blessings continue to flow.  What a mighty God we serve.  I had wondered what Matt had been picturing before he had climbed Mt. Fuji when in his last facebook status he wrote, "A picture is worth a thousand words - especially in a foreign country!"  God cares about the details.  He'd cared about the details since before Matt had even gone missing.  He cared about the family having seen him on Mt. Fuji.  He cared about Matt being found whole, and he cared about the 3,200+ people that came together.  It's never been about the numbers.  My cousin posted once during this whole ordeal that she wished people would stop posting the numbers, and she's right.  She said simply, my brother is missing and we want him to come home, that's what is important, not the numbers, and again she's right.  I bring them up for one reason and it's this.  My cousin Matt Johnson was a christian.  He lived his life for the Lord.  When my Aunt and Uncle went to clean out his apartment in addition to all of the preparation for the climb of Mt. Fuji, they found his Bible, open, preparing, well, for his climb of Mt. Fuji.  Matt didn't know that the day he would summit Mt. Fuji would be the day he also went home to be with Jesus.  But he went prepared.  He was ready.  And as a result of his departure, 3,200+ people were able to see and taste for the first time, or rededicate themselves for the rest of their lifetime to a lifestyle of serving Jesus.  Many saw faith in action, and what a real Christian family looks like.  While mourning the great loss of Matt here on earth, I rejoice at the great testimony that God gave Matt.  Because truth be told, Matt was safer climbing Mt. Fuji with Jesus, than he would have been lying in a hotel room without him.
Matt Johnson at the summit of Mt. Fuji.  
Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?  If you don't, I'd love to tell you about him.  He's my best friend, my King and savior.  And although he's King of the universe, he loves me enough to answer my pleas for answers.  He'd love to do the same for you.


Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing that Becky. I am one who did not know Matt, but said many prayers for your family. I went to school with Jimmy & Kelsie Johnson, my mom, Kathy Powers & both my grandmothers Gert Bogue and Marilyn Powers used to bowl with your grandma. Your amazing large family is a helpful reminder of how small & connected our world is. It is wonderful that our Lord has given all of you closure to Matt's life on earth.
Kristy (Powers) Breseman

Joe said...

Thank you for posting this. I have wondered what happened to Matt and his family.

This brought tears of joy this am. I am glad always to be reminded that my way is better because Jesus is here.

Joe Miller