My father often tells the story of a man and woman who lived between
two rivers. One day they believed a serpents lie, bit into a fruit and gained
knowledge that diverted the course of the rivers and flooded the world. This is
why, he says, we live like we do in a town on stilts and why every morning I
only have to walk to the edge of our deck to see what life would have been like
without the visitor who helped us.
Years ago, he arrived by boat with a book on building houses on stilts. He
taught my ancestors to build strong structures that floodwaters could not
destroy. He brought timber with him, and then he showed us how to make lumber
from the trees. We watched him day and night. He would show us how to cut and
level and reinforce the wood with metal. Then he would make holes in the
floodplain and insert the stilts down deep into the earth where nothing would
move our foundation. Soon we lived above the dangerous flood waters.
I was not around then, but I listen to the stories and tell them as if they
had happened to me. I believe them, because I see the flood that sweeps through
several times a year carrying away new growth and large trees.
I, too, was almost swept away when I wandered from the safety of our town
built above the floodplains and connected by bridges and wooden decks.
The ground was dry then, and I didnt believe my parents or the book they
read to methe book the visitor brought to us years ago. I thought life in our
town on stilts was boring, and I wanted to explore the remnants of the old town
before it was completely washed away. I snuck off.
The torn and tattered buildings were beautiful with new flowers growing
around them. I could hear the townspeople and my family calling for me
frantically, foolishly. I laughed at them and decided I would live in the old
town, at least spend a night there. But before I could lay down my blanket, the
waters came fast and high, and I was swept under like a loose rock. I thrashed
against the ground and against the walls of buildings for what seemed like
hours before I looked up and saw my fathers silhouette, blurred by the water
rushing above me. I surfaced. Peter! he screamed. Take hold! My father held out
the pole Id seen him carry many times. He calls it a shepherds rod. I took it,
and he pulled me up to the safety of our home above the waters.
Peter, he said, not angrily. When I was young, I thought I loved the old
town. But it is a deadly beauty. It is the beauty the Book warns us about.
My father was crying, and I started crying, too. I knew how foolish Id been.
Id been living in the old town long before I traveled there. I made a decision
never to entertain thoughts of the old town again. I had seen what happens to
people who never fully commit to life above the old town. Not even their
skeletons are seen again, and their families do not stop mourning for
After that day I no longer lay awake at night dreaming of life down there. I
discovered there was no life below. That is what the visitor had told us years
ago, my father said. I have never returned there since.
I am 14 now. That was almost seven years ago. Now I help my father and
others in our town to reinforce the buildings and the stilts that support them.
I have been working seven years and during those years we have added a number
of people nearly taken by the flood. My father has taught me how to rescue, and
I alone have pulled in dozens from the water. Often people walk for days in the
floodplain without a hint of danger.
I see their distant fires orange and bright in the evening. I hear them
laughing. Then the waters come, and they are swept toward the ocean where
they will be lost forever. I shout Grab on! and extend a rod or toss a rope.
Many take hold and are saved. But there are some who look at me, then turn and
sink out of sight. Sometimes they are laughing at me just before they go
I have heard stories of other towns over the distant mountains. Each year
our people gather supplies of lumber, clothing and food, and every spring we
are visited by men who take boatloads of our supplies to their distant towns.
They tell us how grateful they are for towns like ours. The men of our town
smile at this. The women bring our visitors baskets full of bread and nuts.
Then the visitors are on their way. I watch them float off and disappear.
My father tells me towns over the mountains are dying. They cant survive and
they cant leave, because no one has constructed stilts or taught them how to
build a boat. No one with the Book has been able to visit them. Each year I
watch my father walk slowly back into the house with his head bent low. He
wants to help, but he tells me he is needed in our town. And besides, he cant
leave us behind.
But I feel the pull toward those people that I know he feels. I hear him
praying alone when he thinks no one is listening.
Soon the visitors will come. Its still the cold season, and the distant
towns will need their help soon. My father has joined my mother in gathering
supplies for them, and Ive heard them talking more about how little help they
have in their efforts to reach those towns. There is something different about
my parents this year. Usually my father is solemn in his preparation, and my
mother works quietly around him. But this year they are talking.
I watch my father every chance I get. I wonder if this recent change in him
means he will stop his longing looks across the valleys. Will he walk away
again with a long face? Will he watch the visitors disappear as they float off
in their boats? Will he be sad?
The day before the visitors arrive, my father and mother wake me early. I
can tell theyve been up for some time. Peter, we need to show you something. I
wipe my eyes and walk with them outside to the porch where there is a lump
under a tarpauline. My father pulls back the cover to reveal a rowboat. He
admires it, feeling its freshly sanded edges. I look at them, then at the boat,
then back, and I dont know what to say. I am almost crying as I look at my
father. He looks at me and smiles. Peter, your mother and I have rediscovered
something weve known for a long time. The Book teaches more than how to build
houses on stilts. My father opens the Book hes pulled from his pocket and reads
a passage. It tells us how we must build these boats. Peter, it is our job to
send supplies with the visitors who are building in other towns. And, yes, we
are commanded to reach out to those who come through here. Butwere also told
that we must reach out to the people who live over those mountains far away. My
father nods toward the point his eyes would long for. Tomorrow, I have decided,
I will not watch the visitors go alone anymore.
I am not surprised by this. What he says awakens in me something I have let
sleep too long. Without a word I get to packing. Tomorrow we will gather the
supplies, my father tells me. Eventually our home on stilts above the waters
will be a place we remember as we look over the mountains. This time next year
we will be the ones gathering the supplies, working from the Book, helping the
lost find their new home.
Adam Miller is associate editor of On Mission.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC