Joining in God’s Adventure
About the Guest
Ever wonder what it would be like to live in Alaska’s wilderness? Today on the broadcast, join Dennis Rainey as he listens to the tales of Rocky and Sharon McElveen, owners and operators of Alaskan Adventures. Rocky, the son of an Alaskan missionary, tells how his family first ventured into Alaska and what they did to survive while there. Stay tuned to hear Rocky, a master fishing and hunting guide, tell about his fishing trip with President George Bush, Sr., many years later.
Ever wonder what it would be like to live in Alaska’s wilderness?
Joining in God’s Adventure
Bob: Rocky McElveen has led many men on adventures in the Alaskan wilderness.
Rocky: It's not an adventure unless it has an element of danger to it. Otherwise, it's a parlor game.
Bob: Rocky says these Alaskan adventures can wind up being very spiritual experiences.
Rocky: An adventure has that way of changing people. I mean, close calls can really make you rethink and make you appreciate your wife a little more or your family or maybe at the point of losing something that it begins to mean more.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, July 7th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We're going to learn today how the spirit of adventure and the spirit of God are working side-by-side in the Alaskan wilderness. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. This will probably be the last time you hear from me for the rest of today's program.
Dennis: And if our listeners believe that …
Bob: I'm completely unnecessary on today's program.
Dennis: Oh, you are necessary, Bob.
Bob: Yeah, to say "Welcome to FamilyLife Today, and here's Dennis with our guest."
Dennis: Folks, you just don't realize this, but occasionally there is a guest where I go to Bob, and I'll say, "Now, Bob, I really want to have them on the broadcast." And basically Bob is a little bitter that I sent him a note saying, "Get this couple on the broadcast."
Bob: Well, I did ask – now, our program is typically about marriage and family relationships issues.
Dennis: And this is going to be about marriage and family relationship issues.
Bob: We're just going to have to go out in the woods to get there, right?
Dennis: That's exactly right – a long ways in the woods. We have a couple of special folks who join us on FamilyLife Today. We have a radio listener, Sharon McElveen, and her husband, Rocky, who join us on FamilyLife Today.
Sharon, Rocky, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Rocky: Our pleasure.
Sharon: Thank you so much.
Dennis: I introduced Sharon first because she listens to a lot of broadcasts, and she said she really wanted Rocky to be interview on our broadcast. And that becomes special because they run a hunting and fishing lodge in Alaska.
Bob: And this is why I am completely unnecessary for the rest of the program, because you would love to run a hunting and fishing lodge in Alaska, wouldn't you?
Dennis: You know, I have thought about it.
Bob: If it wasn't for ministry and the call of God on your life for what you're doing, you'd be there, wouldn't you?
Dennis: I think I might. In fact, this couple uses their lodge, Alaskan Adventures, for ministry. In fact, that's part of your purpose, isn't it, Rocky?
Rocky: Amen, yeah. We can really reach men where they are most accessible, and that's in the boats and in the planes and in the woods and in the tents. (inaudible) if we get the real open air.
Bob: You dangle them out of the plane and say "Trust Jesus or I'm letting go," that kind of thing?
Rocky: You know, in the service, they tell you there's no unbelievers in the foxholes. Well, when a charging grizzly comes on you, there's probably a real sign to turn to Christ right there.
Dennis: You all had four daughters, and you've raised those daughters pretty much in Alaska. I mean, what a challenge. I mean, think about that – how did you convince your daughters to stay at the lodge and to help out every summer?
Sharon: They really didn't have a choice.
Dennis: The management spoke, huh?
Bob: You didn't take a vote on that one?
Sharon: That's right, and there have been times when they've struggled with wanting to not be there for the whole summer and all, and yet, for the most part, they really do love it. They get to meet wonderful people, they've all learned how to work, and it's been a very good experience.
Rocky: Yeah, they're the marrying kind, you guys out there. They do dishes, they clean floors …
Dennis: You've got to be careful, our listeners take comments like that seriously.
Dennis: We get pictures of young men.
Rocky: I don't know of a better cook, and we pay a professional cook at the lodge, but my daughter has this gift of creating in the kitchen, doesn't she, Sharon?
Sharon: Yes, she's awesome.
Dennis: Now, Sharon, you grew up in California, is that correct?
Sharon: Actually, my parents were missionaries in India, and I grew up in Pakistan for the first 10 years of my life, and then we moved to Southern California, and my dad was a Grace Brethren pastor, and so – but other than that, I've been in California. So I'm a California girl.
Dennis: And, Rocky, you grew up on the Kenai River in Alaska.
Rocky: Yup, wild Alaska. This – 2009 will be our 50th birthday in Alaska.
Rocky: Alaska's been a state since 1959. Next year it will be 50 years, and I've been a part of that whole 50-year experience.
Bob: And what was your family doing in Alaska 50 years ago?
Rocky: Well, unless my dad was an escaped murderer running from the law, he said he was a conservative Baptist missionary. But we went as far as we could from civilization, and we never knew if it was the call of the Lord or the call of the wild, as my mother was a hunting and fishing widow. No matter where my dad went, through college or seminary, at night he went out calling on the fish and the ducks and things like that.
Bob: So he was a fisher of men in the day and a fisherman at night.
Rocky: He loved the woods, and so when he told us he was going to Alaska, we didn't know if it was the call of the wild or the call of the Lord, and so that's what happened.
Dennis: You know, your marriage really illustrates one of the things we talk about here on our broadcast a lot – that opposites attract.
Dennis: Sharon, if I had to nail you down into the top one or two biggest differences between you and Rocky – you have now been married how many years?
Dennis: Thirty-one years.
Rocky: Oh, baby.
Dennis: What would you say are the biggest differences between you two?
Rocky: I'm fat and she's skinny.
Sharon: Oh, stop.
Probably, he's just a much more spontaneous – he's creative, he's that creative genius, and I'm just much more black-and-white, you know …
Dennis: More of a processor?
Sharon: More of a processor.
Dennis: And Rocky's always pressing the limits out?
Sharon: Always, yes.
Bob: So when Mr. Spontaneous over here said to you back 30 years ago, "Hey, let's go up to Alaska and open a hunting and fishing lodge," you were involved in ministry. You were a youth pastor at a church, right, Rocky?
Bob: And you'd been there for a year.
Rocky: One year.
Bob: Went to a hunting and fishing show, and the scales fell off your eyes, right?
Rocky: Yes, it was like going into the temple of the outdoorsmen, and I walked down these aisles, and I saw these incredible places of leisure and recreation that men could go to all over the world and then, all of a sudden, there was Alaska, where I grew up, and the same rivers and the same creeks where I fished, and the guy was selling those trips for $300 a day, and I said, "Honey, not only are we going to start a hunting and fishing lodge in Alaska, but God is going to get 30 bucks a day."
Bob: When he came home from that, do you remember him coming home from that show?
Sharon: I do. I didn't believe him, I really didn't believe him.
Bob: You just thought he just had a wild day, and it will be over.
Dennis: Had you been to Alaska at that point?
Sharon: Never been to Alaska. In fact, you know, I just really – being from Southern California, we didn't fish. I mean, I'd never gone fishing or hunting – nothing.
Bob: So when did you realize this wasn't just a passing moment in his life, but he was serious about this?
Sharon: It was a process. It probably took about six months to a year to realize that he was really serious. Because he found someone that believed in what he wanted to do …
Rocky: Amen, amen, thank you, Dr. DeHaven.
Sharon: Yes, yes, a dear friend who said, "Rocky, this is something you need to do. You need to pursue it." And I'm, like, "Are you kidding me?"
Bob: Yeah, now, you had said, "Whither thou goest, I will go."
Sharon: Oh, I had, yeah.
Bob: But when he said "Alaska is where we ought to go," did you say "No!"
Sharon: No, I don't think I ever said no. I just – I was kind of like the frog in the cold water, and then they turned on the boiler. I mean, it just happened really slow and very gradual and, you know, I just – I love adventure, too. That's why I married him. So for me it was just kind of a gradual thing. And when we first started out, it was just something that we did for a few weeks on the side, and at that time we just had two little girls, and, you know, there was already a maid and a cook, and it was just – it was something that was really very interesting.
Dennis: And in that process you saw your husband blossom, though, because he was doing, really, what God designed him to do.
Sharon: He was, and it was really interesting just to see what he does. When no one else can catch fish, this guy can catch fish. Or he can direct people to catch fish. And so it was fun to see him in his element in Alaska.
Bob: And we should explain to our listeners who may say, "Okay, Rocky McElveen, I've never heard of him," and I get the picture, you're a hunting/fishing guide up in Alaska. You've had the privilege of leading some very notable people into the wilds of Alaska, haven't you?
Rocky: Oh, yes, and …
Dennis: A guy by the name of Swindoll?
Rocky: Yes, Chuck Swindoll.
Dennis: Another guy by the name of Bush. In fact, you took President Bush fishing, didn't you?
Rocky: Yes, I did, and what a remarkable way to model curiosity and just to get excited about the eagles that are flying by and how the planes come and just an incredibly enthusiastic person who looks around him at nature and marvels at it.
Dennis: Share the story about taking him fishing.
Rocky: Well, it's amazing, when you have governors that accompany him, and oil people, and all of this entourage.
Bob: There's a Secret Service …
Rocky: Yeah, four Secret Service. They had two boats, they had guns, and they took my .44 Magnum away, which was probably good, because you shouldn't be standing next to the president all day in your boat with a .44 Magnum, because, you know, he might lose a fish, and that might upset you.
Anyway, I have a long, 18-inch knife that I keep on my vest, and I pulled it out one time, and I was fixing fishing line, and I looked up into the steely gray eyes of the Secret Service, and I thought, "They're going to kill me, one flip."
"Sir, I'm just fixing his line, I'm just fixing his line, don't shoot, don't shoot!"
And they had a frogman in the icy cold waters of Alaska.
Dennis: You're talking about a diver?
Rocky: Yes, sir. Floating down by my boat. I don't know if they thought those …
Dennis: Were they looking for mines? What were they looking for?
Rocky: If I was a terrorist, I would never get in that icy water. It would float down – I guess that's a rule – that if he's on the water, someone has to be …
Bob: … in the water.
Rocky: … in the water, but we would catch these beautiful little grayling and hand it to that guy floating down the river protecting our president, and he would go over and throw them on these big, rocky sandbars, and the eagles would come down …
Dennis: Oh, yeah, I've seen this.
Rocky: And the president said that he was very involved in the legislation to make sure that the eagles were protected and how wonderful it was to see these beautiful – that the eagles were actually having lunch on the president.
Dennis: You know, I have to tell you, I have fished out on the Pacific Ocean near an island and caught some rockfish, all right, and caught them so deep that they died because they were brought up to the surface, and we would – they were small, they were like perch, sunfish, and we would toss them off into the ocean, and you'd see an eagle that was on the island, like, a quarter-mile, half-mile away slowly drop off the limb of the tree, drop his landing gear, his talons, and pick up that fish in the middle of a swell, and then fly back to the island to have his lunch. And he wasn't having lunch on the president with me, though.
Rocky: Well, eagles are just a part of this incredible nature that we are able to witness. We have seen eagles come into salmon and lock on with those back talons, and the fish has been too big, and it literally pulls the eagle underwater. So they are – then, all of a sudden, the fish is fighting for its life, the eagle is fighting for his life.
Rocky: Amazing stories in the …
Dennis: Well, but, the president caught a fish, and then you floated by someone who hadn't voted for him.
Rocky: Right, and he had two big huge Austrian/Germans in the boat. Very rarely do we see another guide on our river. We are so remote, and it's so wild, and I knew that this was an esteemed native guide on the river, and I went over – before I could even introduce the president, he said, "Rocky, this isn't your blankety-blank river. Get out of my blankety-blank fishing hole. You don't own this river. Get out of the way." And I just said, "Sir, I just wanted to introduce the President of the United States to you," and both Austrians were going, [speaks German]. And they had their cameras, and they were snapping pictures and snapping pictures and, all of a sudden, this guy realized that it was really President Bush and, at the time, we were really hitting big fish consistently, big kings. And he would have me catch a king, he'd get up to the front of my boat, and we would ease back up into that fishing hole, and he'd say, "Look at this one. Isn't this a great fish?" And then he would ease it slowly into the water.
Dennis: You know, here you are, you're hunting and fishing and yet as you moved from being a youth pastor to running a hunting lodge and a fishing lodge, your purpose didn't really change all that much.
Rocky: I really believe that we catch men, and God uses every vocation; that every calling – at the highest part of that calling, whether you're a plumber or a fireman or whatever you do, that the ultimate part of your calling is to reach others for Christ.
Dennis: And you do that, literally, in the wilderness.
Dennis: In some incredible settings.
Rocky: Right. It isn't only danger – now, remember that adventure – Alaskan Adventures – it's not an adventure unless it has an element of danger to it. Otherwise, it's a parlor game, right?
Rocky: I mean, right now, I don't feel like there is any risk to me at all in this room, I don't feel like …
Dennis: The microphone can be risky.
Bob: You're saying this is no …
Dennis: With somebody like you, Rocky.
Bob: You're saying this is no adventure that you're in right now, is that what you're saying?
Rocky: I don't feel any physical …
Bob: Because we do have some questions we could ask.
Rocky: Is there someone behind me?
Bob: That I think could lead you into danger.
Dennis: Bob and I do have some inside information.
Rocky: Oh, no!
Dennis: I do want to read a quote that's in your book. Your book is "Wild Men, Wild Alaska," and you quote the author of a book called "Shadow of Victory." His name is T. Davis Bunn. He said this – "He was a safe man; one who never took any risk; someone who always wears a hat when it's raining. He does everything by the book and lives a dull, boring, life of tranquility."
Now, you use that as an illustration of a lot of modern men …
Rocky: Yes, sir.
Dennis: … how they never, ever step out of the predictable and live a boring existence.
Rocky: I think that there is a world of men out there that have run from their responsibilities and their joy with their wives and with their children and have retreated and isolated themselves, and the only thing they want to do is either medicate or just get away from everybody and everything. And I don't know what the source of the hurt has been to those men, but that is a huge part of men that I see – they are isolated and lonely and are trying to reach out for something.
An adventure has that way of changing people, I mean, close calls can really make you rethink and make you appreciate your wife a little more, or your family, or maybe it's at the point of losing something that it begins to mean more, you know?
Bob: Sharon, I'm wondering – your husband was talking about how he's in a high-risk occupation and wondered if he'd live past 53. Just as I am listening to him, I'm thinking if he hadn't gone and done what was in his heart to do back 30 years ago, if you'd dug in, and you'd said, "No, I want to stay in California. You can be a pastor here. This is not what I signed on for." He might have been dead at 53, or if he'd been alive, something would have been dead inside, wouldn't it?
Sharon: I can't even imagine what might have happened, you know, and I'm really thankful that we've had this incredible opportunity. It's been a very adventurous life. I knew when I married him that life would never be dull, but I think that even taking this turn that I had no idea. It's been just an incredible journey.
Dennis: If Barbara were here, she would be identifying with your words, because I have pushed her out of her comfort zone over the past 36 years in our marriage, and it's interesting – we do marry because we are different, and we are attracted to those differences and yet when you get in a marriage relationship and you begin to grow, the tendency is to change the other person to make them like yourself instead of embracing the differences and allowing that to make your life more robust, more colorful, more adventuresome, in your case, Sharon.
Dennis: I have to ask you, Rocky, how has she added to your life and brought that Technicolor to you?
Rocky: I think with guys like me, we need a point where we become real, and there's a certain point when Sharon gives me validity in what I do. Otherwise, I would probably be called crazy or stupid or outside of the borders or something like that.
Bob: You're saying she keeps you grounded?
Rocky: Centered, and when we have 15 or 16 guests every week, and we walk down to the dinner every night, and the cook in the lodge, and that's not the time to share our differences. We have to exercise a lot of self-control because we are surrounded by a lot of people all of the time.
Bob: And she helps you keep that centering and that self-control in place?
Rocky: I would say, for me, definitely. I'm probably not as good about that with her, and I don't know what I bring to her in terms of our relationship, but I do know that we are tremendously excited about the people that we know and that we are involved with all over this country.
Dennis: And what I've heard you both share in the midst of this is this is a unique mission with a purpose of introducing people to God through Jesus Christ, and you see your Alaskan Adventure Lodge is literally a place that turns people's hearts toward Almighty God through one of the greatest amphitheaters in the world.
Rocky: Restoration through recreation.
Dennis: The state of Alaska.
Rocky: The state of Alaska, amen.
Dennis: I don't know what heaven is going to be like, but there will have to be some snapshots of Alaska in heaven, because it is a cathedral that declares the glory of God.
Bob: You didn't get to the question I was sure you were going to ask Rocky, so can I go ahead and ask him for you?
Dennis: Do it.
Bob: Do you have any openings? That's what Dennis really wants to know.
Rocky: Just give me a call. We have a wonderful staff, a wonderful weekly program, and …
Bob: No, he wants to be a guide. We're not talking about a guest. He wants to come up for the summer and see if he could take people fishing.
Rocky: Well, remember the old saying, "Let your guide be your conscience."
Bob: You know, the reality is that most folks will never not only be a guide, but they'll never make it to Alaska or get a chance to go on one of the outdoor adventures that are a part of your life, but if our listeners know anybody who loves to hunt or to fish or who loves just being in the outdoors, the book that you have written is a book that they need to buy and put in that person's hand.
It's a book called "Wild Men, Wild Alaska," and we have copies of it here at FamilyLife that we would love to make available to you. You can find out how to get a copy by going to our website, FamilyLife.com. On the right side of the screen, you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn More," it will take you to the site where there is more information about Rocky's book, and there is a link to his website, so you can find out more about his lodge and what he does up in Alaska.
Again, our website is FamilyLife.com, and you click on the right side of the home page where it says, "Today's Broadcast" to get more information about what we've talked about. Or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, someone on our team can make arrangements when you call to have a copy of Rocky's book sent to you.
We want to say a word of thanks today to the many folks who not only listen to FamilyLife Today but who also make this program possible in this city and in other cities. Those of you who have contacted us from time to time to help with a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today, you are the ones who make it possible for us to be hear here in this city and in other cities all across the country, and we appreciate your partnership with us.
This month, if you are able to make a donation to help support the ministry of FamilyLife, we'd love to send you a CD that features a conversation Dennis and I had with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, the host of the radio program, "Revive our Hearts," on the subject of forgiveness.
Nancy has written a book called "Choosing Forgiveness," and we talked about why this issue is such a difficult one in family relationships between husbands and wives, between parents and children, siblings, all kinds of family relationships that are locked up in bitterness and a lack of forgiveness, and it falls short of God's call to us as Christians to be forgivers.
Again, when you make a donation of any amount this month to FamilyLife Today, you can request this CD of our conversation with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. If you are making your donation online, when you come to the keycode box on the donation form, type in the word "Forgive" or call 1-800-FLTODAY and simply mention that you'd like the CD on forgiveness, and we're happy to send it out to you. We appreciate your financial partnership with us, and we always appreciate hearing from you.
Well, tomorrow we're going to hear how Rocky McElveen and Franklin Graham were once face-to-face with a couple of grizzly bears, big 800-pound grizzly bears, and we'll hear how that adventure went on tomorrow's program. I hope you can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.
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