Imagine my surprise when my nephew Perry and his wife Amber presented a newborn child to our family and announced his name as “River.” No “Rivers” in our family, and only the father’s fascination with the extensive system of rivers in Texas seems to have been the impetus for the beautiful and unique name. Rivers are fascinating and exercise a storied history in our lives. How could I ever blot out of my mind the romance of a British high tea with my sweetheart Dorothy under the glowing moon overlooking the Zambezi River in Zambia? Zebras and giraffes sauntered by while monkeys dropped inedible berries from trees overhead as hippos cavorted and snorted in the river.
This rocketed me back to my childhood to the 1951 rendition of Show Boat. William Warfield, as Joe, sang in his bass voice the unforgettable “Old Man River” as he considered his life on the Mississippi River. Or was it the memorable float down the legendary Nile River in Egypt, talking theology and evangelism with my brother-in-law Chuck Kelley as we were gliding into Elephantine Island in the middle of the Nile? Or perhaps, though my wife would prefer to forget, night fishing for piranha and hunting caiman with our hands on the mighty Amazon, down river from Manaus in Brazil! The Rio Negras flowed into the Amazon as the two ran concurrently together.
Or how could I neglect the Jordan River? Standing in its waters just as it flows out of the Sea of Galilee, baptizing my daughter Carmen, who had trusted Christ as her Savior. Or in another location slipping off the banks of the muddy but famous Jordan to baptize Randy Best, a high school friend, and his family, who had received the Lord. No wonder we are fascinated by rivers. Yes, rivers give us many memories.
The picture of Mama (Dorothy) getting into a small horse-drawn, wooden cart to cross the hand-drawn cable ferry on the Salween River in Myanmar is forever impressed on my mind. We are on our way with Gina and Richard Headrick to the location of Adoniram Judson’s imprisonment not far from the magnificent Irrawaddy River, which divides the oriental country of Myanmar into two parts.
The mystique of the world’s rivers was part of what summoned Teddy Roosevelt, who, following his term as president, set out for South America and the uncharted River of Doubt. Never navigated in its journey from Argentina to Paraguay to Brazil, Roosevelt desperately desired to go where no other man had ventured. For three elongated months, Roosevelt put his life at risk to traverse the tree-carpeted Amazon jungle until it opened into the great river.
At times, Roosevelt must have anticipated the 1954 movie The River of No Return and thought that he was experiencing it! From childhood, I can remember Tennessee Ernie Ford’s distinct enunciation as he crooned, “There is a river called the river of no return. Sometimes it’s peaceful and sometimes wild and free.” The romance of a river is a treasure for every born pilgrim.
As I think about it, there is in reality a body of water called the “River of No Return.” And it is preceded by the “River of Doubt.” The serpent chortled, “Has God really said?” planting a river of doubt about the goodness of God in the mind of Eve. And that journey of doubt is a “river of no return.” Trust every Word from God as revealed in His holy Book. Inculcate every syllable into your life. And you will someday discover another river.
“There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her just at the break of dawn” (Ps 46:4-5).
The biblical prophet Ezekiel went for a millennial swim in that river. In Ezekiel 47:1-12, he describes his picturesque pilgrimage from the ankle-deep water of the beginnings of that river until the self-multiplying deluge became “waters to swim in” (verse 5). The river was lined with the luscious trees whose leaves were for healing. The waters themselves gave life to the Dead Sea, which becomes a fisherman’s haven.
John, too, caught an apocalyptic glance at the “river of life” (Rev 22:1-5). Bathed in the shadows and shade of the tree of life, the river wound its way salvifically from the throne of God and ferried healing to the nations.
Despair and confusion abound. Even churches cast about in confusion. Politically there is worldwide upheaval. Has hope perished from the earth? In these days, remember the romance and the promise of the river. “There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God!”