Moss wedged under my fingernails as I clawed at a seven-foot boulder.
“We’re almost there, Stefani!” the triumphant call sounded from what seemed a thousand miles off. Voices of my comrades encouraged me onward as my bruised feet slipped into the grasp of two rocks. Perspiration caught in my eyelashes. Fierce humidity made me wonder if the dampness of my clothes came from my frequent falls in the river or the condensed air of the rainforest.
But it didn’t matter—I was almost there. With a few more paces I would enter one of Borneo’s natural treasures.
Using my last reserve of energy, I pulled myself free from the relentless water, stomach sliding over the rough boulder into a rocky river bed. Breathless, my eyes lifted in hope. The scene before me turned my stomach sour.
How could our chaperone insist coming all this way for that minuscule waterfall?
A few choice words ran through my mind as a bat vacated its cave to circle my head. After traversing a solid hour in a rushing river, wading in proximity to a snake, and bruising the lower half of my body on this treacherous trek I outwardly composed myself by digging pebbles from my quivering knees. Inwardly, I was furious.
Denying multiple offers to be “assisted” (carried) back to Bambangan Village, I hobbled home. And then I realized what bothered me most: What if my waterfall debacle stands as a metaphor for my high anticipations of heaven—seeking treasure but being gravely disappointed?
Within me, spiritual battles constantly rage. Most of the time, the Spirit succeeds and I deny my selfish desires, instead taking up my cross because of Jesus’ precious gift. Yet, occasionally I wonder how New Jerusalem will keep me happy. Of course, that’s a dangerous path to wander, but it’s not new to Christ lovers. Jesus’ friends and closest followers often found themselves in doubt, evidenced by Paul’s reassuring words to the church in Corinth.
Paul writes, “But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. . . . If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 19). The plight is also not absent from the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. It was after early disappointments in the Advent movement that Ellen White experienced her first vision, and concluded “heaven is cheap enough” (Spiritual Gifts vol. 2, p. 34.1).
Once I returned to the tiny Borneo village and had a chance to reflect on the Scriptures, I swallowed my pettiness. If I shouldn’t let trials keep me from following God’s path, why should I let one puny waterfall deter me from experiencing another culture?
River of Righteousness
Thank God for the spirit of adventure.
A waterfall in Danum Valley, Borneo, called my name. Embracing the rainforest, for two hours straight I encountered obstacles more hazardous than those overcome at the little waterfall. In Danum Valley, I watched Marty the tour guide pretend to eat a leech as my blood fed another. My water bottle ran dry at the halfway point of the two-hour journey. Marty and the rest of my 7-member Union College Scholars study tour pushed onward. We balanced on log bridges, shuffled across cliff shelves, hiked hills, and plucked leeches from my skin, all while soaked to the bone (Florida’s humidity isn’t close).
After sliding down a muddy mountainside, we approached the base of a knoll. Marty quickly hopped up the mound as I followed along, my pasty legs wobbling from the strenuous climb.
“Don’t touch that bush. It’s itchy,” Marty cautioned in broken English.
Ninja-dodging the itch-inducing shrubs, I crested the hill.
Marty beamed while ripping off his lime green leech socks. “No leeches here! Swim!” he shouted before cannonballing into the pool formed by the cascading water. But I couldn’t yet. My eyes locked on that majestic beauty, framed with foliage and the trunk of a fallen tree, that so rightfully deserved the title of waterfall.
Exhaustion gone, I crawled under the slanted trunk of the fallen tree, and then ripped off my boots and leech socks. After taking a breath, I jumped into the pool and dogpaddled to where the water plummeted, then pulled myself to a narrow ledge behind the watery wall. As my foot broke the heavy stream and my toes dipped into the glistening water of salvation, I knew the price was cheap enough.
Stefani Leeper graduated from Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 2017 with a BA in communication.
Photo: Emily Wood