Martin Strel once swam the entire length of the Mississippi River. Oh, and I should mention the Yangtze. And the Danube. No kidding. Martin Strel just has this fascination with swimming big rivers.
A pastor I know about jumped into a cab in New York City recently and as it pulled into traffic he struck up a conversation with the driver. “Where are you from?” “Slovenia,” the driver replied. “And what do you do when you’re not driving cab?” “I swim rivers.” From the seat beside him the driver handed the passenger a book. “The Man Who Swam the Amazon.” It was the driver’s own story, Martin Strel.
At the age of 52 Strel had swum the entire 3,272 miles of the Amazon from its headwaters in Peru, across five countries clear to the Atlantic Ocean. Dangerous place. Crocodiles. Anaconda. Pirates. Drug runners. Miles of contaminated water. But every day for 66 days he got in the river. He developed a brain infection and his blood pressure shot up to stroke range; a debilitating fever followed. But every day he got in the river. He made his goal – and he made history.
After a few minutes trying to absorb the impact of the story the pastor casually asked, “Whew, so what’s next?”
“Well, I’m 62 now and I’m planning to swim around the world.”
“Wow, is that even possible?”
“Hmm, all the experts say it can’t be done, but I believe I can and I intend to do it. I work out every day and I’m in the process of raising $27 million for a crew, equipment, and a tender to follow me but I believe I can do it and I’m going to keep working at it till I get it done.” $27,000,000! The pastor thought about his monthly church expense budget and it felt a bit puny alongside Strel’s goal. Here was obviously a man obsessed with a staggering purpose.
The pastor found himself thinking, “If this man can give himself to a cause like this, and raise this kind of money for it, maybe my church and I aren’t thinking big enough. Maybe we’re not praying big enough. Maybe we’re not dreaming big enough. Strel is giving every bit of who he is to these transitory measures. Our cause is greater; our dream is bigger; our purpose is grander. Our motive is not to get our names in the record books, but to make sure they are in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Right there beside our neighbors and families and friends.
“As their leader,” he vowed, “I want to help my church re-think, re-vision, re-design our strategy to reach our city. And our world. Moved by a staggering purpose, we need to begin thinking – and praying – really, really big.”
By Don Jacobsen