e need to get off this mountain now! But which way should we turn? I wondered, attempting to stifle a surge of panic. I tried to get our bearings in the fading light, but the thick foliage and towering ridges blocked my view.

I glanced at Dad. He was lying in the bushes, unable to control his muscles. We had no idea what was wrong. We were hopelessly lost. And we were running out of time.

Dad had flown to Kosrae to visit me, where I was serving as a volunteer teacher at a school in Micronesia. He is fit and loves to hike, so we thought that climbing the mountain behind the school would be a perfect adventure. My fellow volunteers, Ryan Thorpe and Tyler Hissong, joined us, and we set off in the early afternoon for what we anticipated to be a three-hour hike. 

As we started up the trail, I began to think we had been overly optimistic. It was slick and muddy from intermittent rain, and we were grabbing onto roots and ferns to maintain our stability.

Finally, we reached the summit of Mount Finkol, where we gazed on the awe-inspiring beauty of rainbows, rugged mountains, and a glorious sunset.

Sunset! We were supposed to be back by now. The realization of our predicament registered forcibly. The trail, steep and not always visible, had been difficult in daylight. In the dark, it would be treacherous. We quickly snapped a group photo and began a hasty decent.

We scrambled down the embankments in the fading light until darkness descended on the mountain like black fog. Stopping to turn on my headlamp, I noticed that Dad was hydrating again. It seemed like he was drinking an excessive amount of water. I was about to ask him whether something was wrong when Ryan yelled from ahead, “I don’t think we’re on the trail anymore!”

As we searched for the trail in the dense thicket, the moon broke free from the clouds. We huddled together, volleying questions back and forth. “Was the moon on our left or right when we started?” “Did we accidently cross a ridge?” “Are we on the correct side of the mountain?” Then Tyler lifted his finger to his lips. “Listen! Water.”

“It’s a stream,” I said hopefully, knowing that water always takes the quickest path downhill. “We can follow it down the mountain.” Dropping into a gully, we followed it several yards until we were engulfed in impenetrable vines.

Dad was walking slower and slower. “Hey, Riv, I don’t feel so well,” he called. “My muscles are cramping, and I feel nauseous. Do you mind if we rest for a second?”

River and his father at the summit of Mount Finkol, the highest point on Kosrae
Without a trail to follow, the hikers were in danger of stepping off hidden ledges
The local families often invited River and his friends over for dinner. Here they are eating breadfruit and soup with Nelly-Sonia

We all welcomed the break, but as soon as Dad stopped, his condition escalated. He starting shaking vigorously and breathing quickly. His voice was soft and high-pitched. What’s going on? I wondered. Is he in shock? Dehydrated? I searched my mind for anything I had learned in nursing school that would explain his symptoms.  

“How is your pulse, Dad?” I asked frantically. “Do you feel like you’re going to black out? Can you think straight? What’s five times two?” His responses frightened me, and he was getting worse by the minute.

My friends and I formed a plan. Tyler would stay with Dad, and Ryan and I would bushwhack up the ridge to see whether there was a way down.

Filled with fear that I might lose Dad, I heaved the machete back and forth, clearing the vines from my path. Finally, we reached the top of the ridge, only to find the vantage point obscured by towering trees.

This was too much. Grabbing onto a branch, I prayed like I have never prayed before. “God, we’re in a helpless situation. Please don’t let Dad die. Please get us off this mountain in time!”

With great difficulty, failing muscle function, and Tyler’s help, Dad was able to join us on the ridge. But as soon as he did, he started hyperventilating. He was mumbling, and his arms were trembling. Is this how it’s going to end, God? I asked.

 “Dad, we have to keep moving!” I pleaded. “We need to get home.” Slowly, he rose to his feet. He urgently needed hydration, but our water supply was gone.

It was then that Tyler did something strange. He wandered off as if he were searching for something. Then he stopped at the base of a coconut tree, where a single coconut hung in the fronds. Shimmying up the tree, he knocked it to the ground. Realizing his intention, I hacked it open and held it up to Dad’s mouth.  

Coconut milk is a good source of electrolytes, and Tyler had felt impressed to find some for Dad in the hope that it would boost his muscle function. It worked! Soon he was able to get up and plod on.

 “Lights!” Tyler exclaimed a few minutes later. It sounded too good to be true, but sure enough, we could see a light by the coast, promising a house and a road. We finally had a bearing and decided to surge toward it at all cost.

Then, with our headlights growing dim, we were hit by pounding rain. Ryan disappeared in front of me with a crash. “Cliff!” he warned from somewhere below. Vines caught our ankles, and the mountainside played tricks on us as we slid down hidden drop-offs. Foot by foot we cleared the foliage with our machetes until we reached a flat banana grove. The light was shining just ahead. We had made it!

When we got home, I whipped up a tall glass of super-strength Gatorade for Dad, and we rinsed the jungle off our bodies. Then we heard a knock at the door. It was our pastor. “Tell me what happened, boys!” he urged.

 We told him everything, and he nodded the whole way through. “I had the church members praying for you,” he said. “People have died up there at night, walking off the top of waterfalls. Thank God you are safe!”

My mind raced back to the location of an 80-foot waterfall flowing off a sheer cliff on the side of the mountain where we were bushwhacking.

 Our misadventure on the mountain was one of the few times that I have felt totally hopeless. When I prayed, I wished I had prayed more in my life, and I felt undeserving of any divine attention. But I asked for help anyway, and God heard me.

I learned many valuable lessons during my volunteer experience, including learning to trust that God is always in control. No matter how bad a situation may seem, God has an answer. He can even use a coconut.


Adventist Volunteer Service facilitates volunteer missionary service of church members around the world. Volunteers ages 18 to 80 may serve as pastors, teachers, medical professionals, computer technicians, orphanage workers, farmers, and more. To learn more, please visit AdventistVolunteers.org.