An Open Letter to the Families of Missing Oregon Hikers

E-mail Father Jonathan

For 10 days now, we have accompanied you as you wait for the rescue of your loved ones, three stranded hikers on the 11,239-foot peak of Mount Hood in northern Oregon.

Admittedly, as a nation, we were somewhat guarded and detached when we got wind of their plight.

You surely understand.

It is easy to tune out reports of missing people. Some religious folk, no doubt, when at their best, offer up a few quick prayers for strangers in peril. But most of us, emotionally saturated with problems of our own, don’t even get that far. We go about our day, and hope bad news goes away, at least for us.

This time, it hasn’t. In fact, the news gets more intense and more personal even as natural hope for a positive outcome dims, with the setting of yet another day’s sun.

I've been ruminating today about what has made the difference. Why do I now care so much about Kelly James, Brian Hall and Jerry “Nikko” Cooke, three men I’ve never met? What makes this story different?

It’s you, all of you, three families that in tragedy have become one family. Together you have approached this never-ending nightmare with dignity, fortitude and shocking faith. You are an icon of what we would like to be.

This icon looks monolithic from afar, but up-close we see it is made up of precious little parts, virtues hard to come by in good times, and virtually inexistent in times of crisis, times like these.

• You are selfless. Your spokesman, Frank James, is Kelly’s brother, but when he speaks about Brian and Jerry - someone else’s husband, father, son, and brother - he does so with the same force and passion as when he speaks of Kelly.

"We are in this together, all three families. We are doing a lot of hugging and a lot of praying.”

• You don’t complain. Instead, you call the rescuers heroes even when they are forced to rest for a day or two because of weather and fatigue.

"We want everyone to know we consider the rescue teams to be heroes for what they are doing.”

• You don’t lay blame. For days you prayed for good weather, and for days it never came. You kept praying, trusting God’s mysterious ways could be even better than your own.

"Today’s the day for courage and for prayers. Courage can help us see through this snowstorm, and our prayers can literally move mountains.”

Last night, deputy sheriff, Marc Smith, said rescuers have found one body, yet to be identified. No matter who it is, we know your spokesman will weep with all three families and then talk to us.

Because we now know him, and know all of you, he is sure to say something similar to what a family friend of Nikko Cooke said early this morning:

"This is extremely harsh news to receive now. But irrespective of which of the three has unfortunately lost his life, we share the grief.”

That’s the kind of selfless virtue that has seeped into all of us, from you.

You went to bed last night without knowing which of the three men had died. We can’t really imagine the pain of such a sleepless night, but we can imagine what was on your heart and mind. You were hoping for the best for your own loved one, while also hoping for the best for the other two. And somehow, this hope for the best for all included a humble overture to God’s mysterious ways.

That’s something we’ve learned from you, and it’s something we won’t forget.

Today will be another day for search and rescue. Be sure and be comforted that no matter the fate of James, Brian and Nikko, your fate has become ours.

God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. If you have anything to say to these families, or about what you have learned from the crisis, send me a note and I will post a few in the coming days.

P.P.S. Last week we had a great discussion about conceiving children through a third-party sperm donor. I want you to see this incredible article from an 18 year old girl who tells us what it has been like for her from a child's perspective. If another young reader wants to share a personal experience that contradicts this one, send me a note, and I'll consider posting it.

Here's a sample of what I've been reading:

Ethics and Values

Ten Million Girls in India killed in 20 years

New stem cell procedure - no embryos involved

Dr Death Gets Out of Jail


Top 10 Religious News Stories of the year

Amish Outreach Tops Beliefnet Vote of 'Most Inspiring Person'

Atheists bleak alternative

Window on Religion and Tolerance

Ideas about religion's role in European life back in the spotlight

Religion professor backs atheistic view

A (Boston) common place for worship

Shiite? Sunni? Some in U.S. learn who's who

Don't Abandon Bethlehem, Mayor Urges Christians Worldwide

Different Popes a reflection of different periods


Dickens' 'Christmas Carol' is no ode to religion

Report says TV losing its religion

Brutally Honest: Mel Gibson's 'Apocalypto'

The Greatest Story Never Told

Comedy Goes Clean: The F-word falls from favor

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