A series of decisions can change the entire direction of a person’s life. Such was the case with Jace R. Riley, a high school senior who received his mission call to Johannesburg South Africa in the spring of 2013. “I was excited about my call,” he recalls, “and was looking forward to serving in South Africa. I still had to graduate from high school before tackling the great ambitions of my life.” Among those goals were his plans to serve his mission, become a doctor someday, and, eventually, become a husband and father. It was frustrating just waiting for the realization of the “great ambitions” of his life.
Rather than sit through another boring day of school, Jace and a friend decided to “ditch school” for one day and go hiking in the beautiful Wasatch Mountains instead. They did it, Jace admits, “while knowing full well what the right decision would have been.” That was his first mistake.
Once up the mountain face, however, they spotted a rectangular tunnel with a broken gate and a warning sign: “DO NOT ENTER!” Feeling adventurous, they decided to explore a bit further and just ignored this warning, their second mistake.
Jace recalled, “Upon reaching the opposite side, we squeezed past yet another gate with another 'DO NOT ENTER!' sign and hiked on,” their third mistake. However, it looked like they were being rewarded for their choice. “As we emerged, we noticed that the top half of the tunnel opened up to reveal a beautiful landscape. The bottom half of the tunnel was like a slide that took a sharp angle downward to allow water to reach the river in the valley below. I noted that there were high concrete walls stretching all the way down on either side of the slide.”
“I had a distinct prompting to turn back,” he remembers about that moment, “but I talked myself out of it. After all, I was an experienced hiker and had traveled down steeper angles. I was curious to see what was around that bend just 100 meters down from the beautiful landscape. Without hesitation, I foolishly got on my hands and began ‘crab-walking’ down the slide. Just as I was about to turn my head to let my friend know it was safe to come down, my feet slipped out from under me and the ground gave away. I found myself falling down a slick concrete slide with a thin layer of moss on the surface. My hands and feet could not quite span the tunnel to slow or stop myself. Within seconds I was plummeting down head first on my back at a terrifying speed.”
As people with similar experiences frequently recount, Jace reports,“Time slowed down. I thought about my family and friends and all the things I had planned for my life. More than anything I thought about the mission that I might never serve. I felt that I had deeply disappointed God and had failed to accomplish what He had asked of me. I knew He had plans for me, and I didn’t want them to end because of my own stupidity. Praying mightily, I was able to flip back around as I banged around the bend. Below, the river raged wide open to receive me and suck me underground, but I aimed for a well-placed boulder instead. I absorbed as much of the impact as I could with my legs, but I still suffered a terrific hit.”
Having survived his ordeal, Elder Riley is currently serving in the Johannesburg South Africa Mission and is more grateful for the opportunity than most. “I know that God has a wise purpose for each of our lives,” he says. “I know that God called me to serve these people. I know that He sent His angels to spare my life, not only on that mountain, but here as well. God is involved in our lives, and His love never ceases to amaze me. Now that I’ve learned my lesson, I do my very best to listen and obey the Spirit as I preach His gospel. May we all appreciate each moment of mortality--and pay attention to promptings!”