by Brett Baddorf
I graduated seminary in 2006, convinced I’d be ministering to people in a traditional brick-and-mortar church. Then I met my wife, Sarah, an ER doc. She wanted to see the world. Her dream was to work in Antarctica. I thought hers was one of those out-of-this-world dreams that people only talk about. I mean, who really goes to the South Pole?
Apparently us! Sarah and I have traveled everywhere, from New Zealand to the South Pole. What started out as a rugged attempt to follow my wife has changed my life and, more important, my faith. I’ve discovered God reveals himself in ways and in places I never could’ve imagined. Here are a few of the incredible wonders Sarah and I have seen.
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Sarah finished med school and promptly got a job on the other side of the world: New Zealand. I was a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings movies, which were filmed there. But nothing prepared me for the country’s staggering beauty.
Lush valleys, gorgeous beaches, hidden coves, waterfalls—even curious seal pups! I felt as if Sarah and I had embarked on our own magical quest.
One time, Sarah and I set out on a three-day hike on New Zealand’s famed Routeburn Track, a 20-mile sojourn past massive waterfalls and dazzling lakes. At one point, we’d climbed more than 4,000 feet above sea level. I stood there for a moment, breathless, gazing at the verdant valley below, transfixed by the sheer perfection of everything around me. Not even one pebble seemed placed by accident. Everything added to the grandeur of the moment, a panorama of God’s fantastic creation. It was impossible not to be moved to deep prayer.
In 2016, after Sarah got hired as a doctor on a cruise to the Arctic Circle, we set off for the top of the world. I’d read up on the history of the Northwest Passage in the journals of early explorers. What a privilege to glimpse a part of the globe that so few get to see.
One night, the expedition leader announced, “There’s a great view of the northern lights.” Sarah and I rushed on deck. The sky was enveloped by a sweeping, billowing curtain of purples, pinks and greens. I’d heard of these magnificent plasmatic lights before. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of seeing them in person. I craned my neck and took it all in.
My experience in the Arctic was otherworldly. Humbling too. To think that the same God who imagined the wonders we saw had also imagined me.
On another cruise, this one to the coast of Antarctica, we climbed into Zodiac boats for an up-close look at penguins clambering about the edges of the ice.
All at once a massive shadow passed through the water, just feet from our boat. A second later, another shadow followed close behind it. I peered into the deep, curious. That’s when a humpback whale the size of a school bus slowly surfaced. Its black-and-gray, bumpy skin was so close, I could almost reach out and touch it.
A second whale appeared; the two swam about, barely making a ripple. With the slightest flip of their tails, they could’ve sent us flying. But it was almost as if they were being gentle around us, studying us. One flipped on its side and waved a dorsal fin. The other bent its giant head into the water and blew out a long stream of bubbles. I didn’t feel the slightest fear, only awe at the chance to commune with one of God’s most magnificent creatures. A deeply spiritual experience, one I could’ve never found inside the walls of a church.
In 2017, Sarah and I made it to the South Pole, where we lived for 10 months. A few dozen scientists work there, along with support personnel and medical staff like Sarah. Spouses aren’t allowed to tag along without a job. Unfortunately, there are no openings for chaplains in Antarctica! After a long application process, I was finally hired—as a logistics specialist, ordering supplies and getting them where they were needed.
The average temperature at the South Pole during winter is negative 70 degrees Fahrenheit. From March to September, the sun is barely inches above the horizon. It’s possible to live there completely indoors, but I’d try to go outside for at least a few minutes each day. At first, I’d scurry from one building to another. Then one day, I stopped and looked up. Far, far above me were four stars, brighter than I’d ever seen before, arranged perfectly in the shape of a cross. It was the Southern Cross, a constellation that’s revered by astronauts and polar explorers. From that day on, I’d stop and turn my gaze heavenward. The Southern Cross was always there. A constant presence, just like its creator.
Sometimes you couldn’t help but feel total isolation at the South Pole. Outside our base, the closest human life was 800 miles away. There were no animals, no penguins, nothing. Even with the beauty of the constellations above, you could feel forsaken.
One afternoon, while at work outside, I stopped in my tracks. In the darkness, I saw a ghostly pillar descending from the heavens. It seemed to reach all the way to the earth, its arms extending on either side. A moon pillar, a phenomenon caused by the moonlight hitting ice crystals. It was beyond cool. Transcendent. As if heaven had lifted the veil to reveal wonders beyond our own world.
One thing I’ve learned on my travels with Sarah? You don’t have to look hard to find God at the ends of the earth. He is there, as he is everywhere, with miracles to behold.
To follow more of Brett’s travels, visit his blog The Wayfaring Baddorfs.
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