The Journey Home

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The Journey Home

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The Austing Haus

One of the people who God used to sow the seed in my heart was a fellow University of Florida student, John Hall. As an undergraduate geology geek, summer field camp was a required course to graduate with a B.S. degree. We were loaded up in two heavy-duty maxi vans, or “rock wagons,” as they’re called in the Geology Department… gear, books, students, 2 Teaching Assistants, and a Professor made the journey. The cool kids congregated to one van… the remainder loaded up in the other, and off we went. The route: that desolate road known as I-10, past cows, swamps, bayous, tumbleweeds… to the chic-artsy community of Taos, New Mexico. Our temporary digs for the 6-week field camp was The Austing Haus. A ski lodge by winter, Paul Austing found summer occupants in vans filled with University of Florida, Florida State University and University of Alabama students. From our base camp at the Austing Haus in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains (Spanish for “Blood of Christ”), we worked on a series of projects mapping faults, folds and sedimentary bedding planes; determining and describing the lithology of different types of rocks; investigating fossils; and other golly gee geo-technica. Our projects entailed field work by day, and creating maps and geological cross-sections by night depicting how we interpreted the geologic features.

We worked with partners as assigned by the professor. John Hall and I were assigned as partners for the last project. John and I had been in classes together previously but never really conversed past the casual “hey, what’s up dude?” level of conversation. My impression of John was that he was a nice clean-cut guy (and yes he rode in the nerdy-kid van).

The project at hand… 5 days working in a complex area within the Picuris Mountain Range. The professors saved the most difficult for last. The geology is basically a tight syncline fold, bound by ductile reverse and normal faults. The mixed soup of these mountains includes all three major rock types: sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic. It was very confusing for us geologist wannabe’s.

Blanca Peak in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains

On the second day of our field exercise, John and I were a considerable distance from our drop-off point when an ominous storm approached. An arid part of the country, this was only the second storm we’d seen since our arrival. We were a couple of hours hike back to the vans, and given the terrain and threatening storm, we decided to try to find shelter and ride it out. Our decision to seek shelter was further solidified as the best option when we watched the dry stream bed that we were walking along suddenly turn into a raging rapid as a flash flood filled it in an instant. Shelter turned out to be quite pleasant, a comfortable and dry overhang of a way-cool cliff. We were holed up for a couple of hours, and John told me all about God during that time. He shared with me about Jesus and His journey to the cross, and what He did for me on that day we celebrate as Easter. John seemed like an expert on the Bible and I was impressed not only with his knowledge but also the strength of his faith.

The days that followed were equally rewarding… John was a gift from God to me. The seed was set, and I absorbed a considerable dose of God from him.

When we finished the project all that was left was a one-day “final exam,” a solo mapping project…

and then we were off…

heading for home on a 3-day journey back across I-10. Not only did our vans carry all the load that we took with us, but now each of us also had a fairly sizeable rock and mineral collection too.

Slight glitch making our way home…

As we hammered across I-10 through western Texas in the midday summer heat one of the vans had a blow out.

Guess which one?

Looking back on that day the reaction of every one of us in the cool kid van was “THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN US!!!” We were the crazy ones, the crew that carelessly raced in our van, up and down Taos Mountain every day under the fearless leadership of our Teaching Assistant Jose. We were also the ones who nearly wrecked days earlier on a dirt road, swerving to miraculously avoid a near-flip in a ditch. And, of course, we were just plain careless, invincible, cool kids who really needed a lesson in The Journey Home.

So instead of what we felt should have been our fate on that day in West Texas… we had the horror of vividly watching the nerdy kid van in front of us…

the blow out of the tire…

the swerve…

the van’s loss of control…

and then flipping several times…

spewing gear, rocks, books…

… and our classmates all over the pavement.

Time seemed to stand still that day. It took emergency personnel 45 minutes to arrive at the scene. One student was life-flighted to an El Paso hospital that was more sophisticated than the local one. God took John Hall to be with Him on that day.

I was devastated… having just spent the last week of our lives together… and losing someone who I had grown to love and admire…

yes, I was truly devastated… and a bit confused…

Why would God do this to John?

Didn’t He love John?

Of course He did!

I think John inspired several of us on that trip. I know he had a very deep and everlasting impact on me… on my spiritual journey… and on my message and ministry. John is etched in my memory.

I readily share this story with anyone who will listen…

… and I very much look forward to seeing John again one day… in Heaven.

Do you have anyone who you would say drew you closer to God?




May 4, 2011at 8:36 am

A well-written and provocative post, Chris. There’s so much to be gleaned from your story – the shortness of life, the uncertainty of each day’s happenings, and most important, one should never wait to decide how to respond to God’s call to salvation and relationship with Him.

Thank God you responded to the seed John planted. Excellent post for the month’s topic, my brother.

    chris vonada

    May 4, 2011at 11:57 am

    Thank you Traci !!

Keith Wallis

May 4, 2011at 9:16 am

Looks like you provided John his opportunity to be an angel. Wonderful story.

    chris vonada

    May 4, 2011at 11:59 am

    Thanks Keith, John’s story is still going strong in the UF Geology Department, I had a Facebook friend comment this morning that he heard it there 10 years later.

Tracy Krauss

May 4, 2011at 10:37 am

Wow. that was a powerful story. It just goes to prove the proverb ‘don’t boast about tomorrow’ to be true. Blessings

    chris vonada

    May 4, 2011at 11:59 am

    yep, John is the true “cool guy” and hero of this story! Thanks Tracy

Janna Dyck

May 4, 2011at 11:42 am


Your post touches the heart with the importance of sharing our faith at every opportunity. Thanks for sharing your journey.


    chris vonada

    May 4, 2011at 12:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing here Janna 🙂

E G Lewis

May 4, 2011at 7:34 pm

What a sobering end to your story. What would have happened had your friend never said anything?

It re-inforces the old thought: “I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow human being let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

Thanks for sharing it with us. Peace and Blessings

Sarah Grace

May 4, 2011at 7:57 pm

What an experience, Chris. Thank you so much for sharing. I guess we will never really know all whom we touch in this life, nor when our last opportunity to share comes. We shouldn’t pass up a single chance.

    chris vonada

    May 4, 2011at 9:14 pm

    good point Sarah, thanks!!

Carol Peterson

May 4, 2011at 11:03 pm

Chris – a powerful story. Our son just graduated with a BS in Geology from Idaho State. I’ve heard the stories of the driving and the escapades and the wrecked cars. You’ve made it come alive in a real and horrifying way. But what a testament to John’s faith and to yours.

Sheila Hollinghead

May 5, 2011at 9:01 am

How many geologists are Christians, I wonder? How great that John was willing to share Jesus when science majors are bombarded by atheistic teachings at every turn. Thank God for people like John. And thank God for people with hearts ready to receive the seed!

    chris vonada

    May 5, 2011at 6:11 pm


Nona King

May 5, 2011at 3:49 pm

Wow. Such a touching and inspiring testimony, Chris. Thank you so much for sharing this aspect of your Journey as a Christian.

    Jan Christiansen

    May 5, 2011at 11:27 pm

    What a touching story. I’m so glad you shared it with us. Thank you!

Debra Ellioyy

May 7, 2011at 7:05 am

Powerful! Great job.

Cindee Snider Re

May 7, 2011at 8:12 pm

Chris, wow! What a story! I can’t even imagine all you felt and experienced and questioned in that short space of time. Sometimes God’s plan is incomprehensible to us. I know I felt that way when my brother suddenly and unexpectedly died. From the perspective of time, I’ve seen God’s Hand and witnessed brief glimpses of His plan for all of our lives. At the moment of my brother’s death and weeks later, leaving behind a two year old son, an unborn son, and his wife, I could see no good reason for what God had allowed. What a gift John shared with you the day of the storm! We just never know what’s around the next bend. I’m so glad John followed God’s lead and shared his heart with you. Thank you for sharing this story.

Scott Fields

May 9, 2011at 10:39 pm

I can imagine your reaction, Chris, when you saw what the theme for May was going to be. I can see you thinking, “I believe I have a story that’ll fit that pretty well.”

Staggering testimony, my friend. The best and most authentic are always the ones where you see God’s actions overwhelming your own. And it’s great that you can recognize how God used John’s death have just as strong an impact on others as you.

Quite a journey, both then and since. I praise God for it, and thank you for sharing.

    chris vonada

    May 10, 2011at 8:24 am

    I knew it was God’s message to me to write this one the moment I was Nona’s suggested theme for the month.
    Thank you Scott for your thoughtful comments!

Lynn Mosher

May 11, 2011at 9:09 pm

Oh, my! Chris, what a testimony! I’m so sorry it had an ending for John but, boy, what a beginning for you! Wonderful post, Chris!

    chris vonada

    May 12, 2011at 5:58 pm

    Thank you Lynn!

Adam Collings

May 14, 2011at 6:51 pm

Wow Chris, thank you for sharing this powerful reminder that we should live every day of our life for God’s kingdom, because we don’t know how many days he have ahead of us. Your friend put the Kingdom of God first and your life was the fruit of his good decision.
Great post.

    chris vonada

    May 14, 2011at 7:21 pm

    Thank you Adam!

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