I was sexually abused multiple times as a six-year-old child. As a young boy, I was confused, shameful and guilt ridden. I didn’t say anything to anyone. Even as an 11 year old kid, I recalled standing at the doorway of my mom and dad’s room, determined to say something, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was overcome by shame, guilt, and a fear that often comes with abuse. I bottled it up. For decades. But as an adult, I kept having the same recurring nightmare and finally got myself into counseling. For the first time, I broke down and those painful memories were finally verbalized.
What people might not understand about abuse victims is that believing it wasn’t your fault does not come easily or quickly; it’s a process of forgiveness and self-reflection that usually happens in silence. For me, that happened on a river as I was fly fishing at age 38. I loved the serenity of fly fishing and found it to be the perfect place to talk to God. And it was on that river where He and I finally worked out all my demons.
So many people go through painful experiences and don’t do anything with those experiences. But God showed me that He wanted me to do something impactful with this pain. I didn’t know what that might be, so I prayed and gave it all to God. He led me to do two things.
The first was to write a book about my experience called Picking Butter Beans. It allowed me to clearly put my thoughts and experiences on paper through some fictional characters. The book did surprisingly well, and God led me to use the money from the sale of that book to do something even bigger: to start an organization called On River Time.
We help provide hope and healing to children who have experienced abuse and neglect. These kids have endured horrible actions, usually by those they trusted the most. We want to change the trajectory of that child’s life; to let them know that they are not defined by their past and they have a future filled with hope. We take these kids on a week-long trip to Idaho to fly fish for a couple days on the Snake River. I have found that when you change their environment, you have a better chance of changing their perspective.
We team up a camper with a mentor, and they float down the river for about 15 miles, talking and fishing. This change of environment usually has the kids open up and share what has gone on in their lives. When they’re in this beautiful area, the kids see their lives and their futures differently.
We pray at the camp, have small groups and read Bible verses. We encourage the kids to engage in a leadership role at camp, including our small group time.
At night around the campfire, each camper writes down their greatest fears and puts it in an envelope. They are encouraged to step forward and talk to the group about that fear. It’s an emotional time and I’ve seen a lot of fears overcome by that public outpouring. At the end of the night, everyone burns their envelopes and their fears.
The camp ends with a day trip to Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
We also provide a life skills curriculum for the young adults who have aged out of their children’s homes and are now in college. We teach skills that can help with a job interview, resume writing, communication and etiquette. Our goal is to pack their toolkits and give these young adults every opportunity for success in life.
We work with four children’s homes where kids have suffered abuse or neglect. We started nine years ago with just three kids; now we have served 162 children. On River Time has become my passion and a way where God has taken my pain and allowed me to bring some life-changing experiences to these hurting kids.