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?