March 2024 blog RA Virtues Courage Perseverance
Missions Discipleship

A Series on the RA Virtues: Courage and Perseverance (and Snakes!)

This blog is the fourth in a series on the RA Virtues.

Some fellow once wrote that a journey of a gazillion miles starts with a single step — or something like that. I can assure you he was absolutely, positively wrong: A journey of a gazillion miles starts with working up the nerve to take the first step.

Mr. Earl, our infamous Royal Ambassador leader of yesteryear, was known for his unique teaching tactics, one of which was to place boys in dangerous scenarios in order to teach them about themselves, God, and life in general.

I recall one such teachable moment, which was engineered out of a desire by Mr. Earl to have our RA chapter canoe down the Saline Bayou. According to the Congress, Saline Bayou, better known to locals as simply “the creek,” is a National Wild and Scenic River, having been awarded that designation by the people of this nation in 1986. They got the “wild” part right.

Our trip was to last a single day, commencing at the northern end of the Saline Bayou, lunching halfway through, and finishing some 19 miles later at the Goldonna boat ramp where men from our church would meet us to prepare supper and cart us back to town.

The trip started uneventfully enough. Around a dozen boys and our fearless leader put in at the boat ramp where Highway 126 crosses the creek and began making our way south. Uncle Sam’s Forest Service had just cleaned the creek of downed trees, so the going was smooth and easy. We stopped regularly for breaks, and by noon we had made our way to the designated lunch spot where we were to eat our sandwiches before continuing southward.

Except we had an unexpected guest to our picnic. As we boys dined on epicurean ham and cheese sandwiches and the latest and greatest in Vienna sausage innovation, we paid little attention to our surroundings. That is, until the longest, deadliest snake in the world wriggled through our lunch site.

Now I cannot be exactly sure what type of snake this was or even how long it was. My memory, colored by the fertile imagination of a grade-school boy, tells me it was one of those venomous cobras Indiana Jones had to contend with, except this one was 29 feet long and stood on four legs. It was probably a harmless water snake, but that was beside the point to me and all the other boys.

When the snake made its way through our midst, we scattered — boys went to the left and to the right and up into the trees. A few even attempted to imitate Peter and walk on water (unfortunately the Lord hadn’t invited them to do so like He had Peter, and they sank to the tops of their short pants). Many invoked the Name of the Almighty while doing so, calling down curses upon this serpent (surely of the devil) that had so rudely disturbed our lunch.

The boys that attempted water-walking were soon dismayed when the snake, obviously after them (and not, to our mind, scared out of his), launched himself into the water. Said boys hiding in the water shot out like a dog after a duck, almost losing their religion and short pants in the process.

Meanwhile, Mr. Earl calmly chomped his sandwich (a delicate blend of peanut butter and homemade muscadine jelly) and chuckled at us boys.

Once all was clear, we found our way back to the lunch spot and finished our repast, loudly recalling our close encounter. Mr. Earl soon declared it was time to move on down the creek.

Nope. No, sir. No way were any of us going in the water with that creature. Did Mr. Earl even know there was a snake in the creek, said snake having just tried to take a dozen boys down to the depths? Yes, Mr. Earl knew the snake was in the water, but we were in canoes and the snake didn’t have wings to fly, so we’d be fine.

We were unamused and unconvinced.

Mr. Earl’s next comments were so fitting, so well-placed, and so on-point, that it makes me wonder to this day if he didn’t plan the whole thing. He reminded us that missionaries we studied about went to some of the darkest places on Earth to tell others about Jesus. While on mission they faced probable harm and death, not only from snakes, but also from big cats, spiders, scorpions, and especially the local inhabitants. We all knew missionaries had been killed spreading God’s word, didn’t we? If they had the courage to face such dangers and deprivations to do God’s work, surely we could muster the courage to climb in our canoes and finish our mission.

RA Virtues Chart Highlighting Courage Perseverance

He was, of course, right. Our missionaries exhibit unmatched courage and perseverance in spreading the message of Christ around the world. They are a fantastic example to Royal Ambassadors of these virtues as we seek to live out the RA Pledge in our day-to-day lives.

The courage and perseverance to carry the message is the central point of our Pledge, and should likewise be central to our lives. May we exhibit those virtues and carry on with our mission — even in the face of 29-foot cobras.

Keith Gates is the WMU ministry consultant for Royal Ambassadors, Challengers, and Youth on Mission. This article is the fourth in a series on the RA Virtues.